At Blizzcon 2009, fans were treated to a sneak peak at the next expansion for World of Warcraft. Cataclysm would change the game forever, taking the old world that players had gotten used to and after six years of Warcraft, the world was destroyed. The cinematic was all over the place even making it into a commercial during an NFL broadcast. With all the hype, let's start the review of Cataclysm by looking at what Blizzard has done to the world of Azeroth.
Old zones and areas on both of the continents of Kalimdor and the East Kingdoms were changed. The WoW team changed how quests and leveling worked and made it much easier for players to find their way around the zones. Players who now wanted to level up new characters could do so much more quickly than the old days of 2004 and 2005. Of all the zones that changed, the most extreme was a place called Thousand Needles. Thousand Needles is a rocky desert zone which offers some questing and leveling opportunities in the thirties level range. Now the zone has been completely flooded and redone. This is the best example of the extremes that Cataclysm has bought to the old World of Warcraft. The re-imagining of zones is a plus and gives the old environments a new twist. Also the quest hubs and work the team has done in making the areas much easier to level through has helped a lot with the pacing of the game. Overall Blizzard has done an excellent job in this aspect of the game, new players or veterans leveling up new characters will be happy.
Goblin & Worgen
The two new classes added to the game are always a plus. The Goblins joining the Horde has given us the equivalent of the Gnomes which taunted us from the other side for years. Players can now create an equally small and annoying character to harass the other side.
In playing a Goblin, there was much more than an annoying small green guy created to taunt the enemy. The design is strong for what the race is and the options give the player some fun with character creation. The class options are many and the template is there to build a full character with a lot of depth. The Goblin starting zone is also great fun with a steampunk car and lots of mini games to keep you occupied. Despite some serious doubts when the Goblins were announced, they have proven to be fun and a welcome addition to the Horde.
The Worgen give the Alliance something they have needed for a long time, a more sinister race. As Warcraft continued to blur the lines between good and evil races, the additions they have made give the player an appealing race no matter which faction they play. Years ago there was talk that the female races for the Horde were all ugly. Thus the Blood Elves were born. The Alliance did not have a monstrous race and they were given the Draeni. Now two other roles have been filled by the Goblins and Worgen. The Worgen however have a dark past and give the player a rich story line for their character. They also look fantastic and provide a great, meaner looking, race option for someone on the Alliance side.
The one thing missing from the addition of the new races is a new class. The Death Knight from Lich King gave players a great change to the class system and after a while they have woven in nicely to the fold of original Warcraft classes. It is too bad that we did not get a new class with Cataclysm. Instead, Blizzard gave us a lot of class changes and streamlined the talent system so each class can essentially become three. They also broadened the race and class combinations for players. While these additions are helpful, a new class would have been a great addition to the expansion.
Levels 80 to 85 have not changed much in terms of overall Warcraft game play. Pick up quests, go through the zones and level up in the process. The additional zones such as Mt. Hyjal offer some great lore in terms of the Druids regrowth in Azeroth, but there is not a sense of a huge change being added to the game.
The Maelstrom being added offers players the chance to quest underwater and discover lots of new areas to swim through. These zones almost directly mirror something that was done years ago in the game Dark Age of Camelot with their Trials of Atlantis expansion. Characters are now swimming from quest to quest and facing down all types of oceanic foes. The Maelstrom does offer some nice touches with a seahorse mount and all sorts of pirate themed fun. Still, any veteran MMO player cannot help but make the comparison to Trials of Atlantis and the underwater zones that were added to the Dark Age of Camelot. Overall, Blizzard has done a great job of creating the environments and giving players very solid quest chains to explore the new areas.
Another addition to the new areas is the mini games that Blizzard has added to the zones. Throughout some of the new quest chains there are nice breaks in the grinds of killing endless monsters or picking up under water loot. Two that stand out are the Joust mini game in the fire of Mt. Hyjal. Joust was a popular arcade game in the 1980s and Blizzard has recaptured the fun. The other mini game which made me laugh was the very short but funny Gnaws quest line. Gnaws is a giant shark, you do the math. These types of additions which were tested in Lich King have now become a staple in Cataclysm. Warcraft keeps the game moving well and the mini games are great fun to break the grind of leveling.
Leveling and Guild Leveling
Adding levels 80 to 85 may seem short for players, and honestly it is. The addition of the five new levels plays very quickly and many players are already 85 after only a few weeks from launch. Having levels move faster for the player works very well for Warcraft as the end game has always been popular. Keeping the level curve fast also allows players to level up multiple characters without feeling like they have been left behind from their guild's progression. It is almost as if WoW has hit the reset button on the game.
Guilds that work together have the benefit of gaining some extra bonuses for all their cooperation. Gone are the days of forty man raids and fights over Ventrilo. Now a team of ten can manage to explore all of the content in the game, something that had been lacking from the original design. Guild leveling has become a staple in MMOs and it was no surprise when Blizzard added the system into Warcraft.
Archaeology and Talents
Archaelogy is an added profession which allows the player to explore the world for artifacts and bones that will eventually lead to making some items, etc. It seems like this was one area that Blizzard fell short in the expansion. Archaeology does have some fun elements to it but overall is not as dynamic as the other content in the expansion. Many of the existing professions are not really dynamic, yet crafting is a staple of any MMO. While Archaeology may unlock some fun options for players it seems to be an afterthought of the expansion, still the skeletal raptor mount you can get looks amazing.
The streamlined talent and ability systems in Cataclysm are probably some of the largest changes to the game for veteran players. While some were upset about hearing the changes when they were announced, it seems like the system has worked in Blizzard's favor. Speccing a character has become much easier and players no longer have to go through guides and gather specific items to reach the ideal set up for their class. With talents easier to spec the game has taken on a more casual feel. Something more and more MMOs have been doing. Warcraft has done this but maintains the hard core feeling for guilds and players that like to go to the extremes. Even though talents are much easier to manage, they still give you plenty of choices to make your character work in any of the choices.
Cataclysm has moved Warcraft into the next decade. The game's graphics remain the same, the designs are all still there from the early days, but the new changes give a welcome feeling for players. New players will really enjoy Warcraft if they enter into an MMO for the first time, mostly because the veterans have gone through all the hard knocks to really discover what works and what does not with MMOs. Again, Blizzard has adapted systems and designs that are new necessarily new to the genre, but they have made them better and players will be thankful for it. The changes to the world and new zones add a breath of fresh air to a game that is older than people think. The lack of a new class is still frustrating, but the game continues to remain on top and the changes will only add to its success.