Late last year the world of Azeroth started to change shape; strange events started to occur and the ‘world’ was thrown into disarray as the Cataclysm became reality (albeit a virtual one). It’s now been a month since the release of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, but was the two-year wait worth it, or has Activision Blizzard spun out a commercial cash cow to keep the franchise chugging towards the next decade?
A lot has changed in World of Warcaft since the original took over the MMO market in 2004. Cataclysm transforms the world of Azeroth by using the arrival of Deathwing as a means to carve out new landscapes and alter almost all the zones which are so familiar to long-time players.
The approach to quest design has been drastically overhauled – no longer are players sent out to grind mobs and pick up an elusive drop at the expense of their sanity (at least not all the time). Instead, a lot of thought has gone into developing an actual flow to quest chains, which results in a much more enthralling experience across the board. Considering there is now around 10,000 in-game that’s certainly a huge accomplishment and deserves a /clap, /cheer, /applause or any other relevant ‘emote’ you can think of. The increased use of phasing which was introduced in Wrath of the Lich King has been far better implemented in Cataclysm, instilling a far greater sense of accomplishment while playing through the new content.
The game feels more streamlined, with tweaks made to the user-interface, skills, professions, achievements and PvP systems that players have been crying out for since they first started playing the game. Blizzard has finally implemented useful raid frames which have previously been the domain of community mod-makers (and probably always will be). At last, it’s nice to see Blizzard listening to the community and delivering a game which, while becoming easier to enjoy, isn’t necessarily becoming easier to master.
The new expansion unlocks all of the level 80-85 content: five beautifully designed levelling zones, a world PvP and daily questing hub, two new battlegrounds, seven new dungeons and new raid content for the hardcore among us. Two perennial low-level dungeons have been given the heroic level treatment for level 85 players (Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep) which provide a nostalgic thrill and an easy way for Blizzard to bump up the amount of content.
The inclusion of two new races, Goblin and Worgen, give the game new starting zones and a deliciously crafted set of quests to introduce players to the rich-lore surrounding the new factions. The Horde finally has a light-hearted race in the Goblins, much like the Alliance has the Gnomes, and the Alliance now has a dark, broody race in the Worgen. In fact, the starting zones for the new races were so well crafted, Blizzard has given the same treatment to all of the others too.
While the game has had a major graphical update, it is plain to see that World of Warcraft is still aimed at the mass market. The visuals haven’t had the same revamp other games have had since 2004 but, smartly, the art-style fits the low-spec PC market perfectly. With the next expansion, the world will be watching to see if a graphical overhaul can keep the franchise from becoming graphically outdated all too soon. If the replayability of the Diablo franchise in all its faux-3D, isometric RPG glory is anything to go by (still being played 10 years after release), then Blizzard has all the reasons in the world to have your faith continue.
Wrath of the Lich King fell down in its dungeon difficulty; even early into the expansion’s life cycle, players were ‘facerolling’ their way through dungeons all day and even creating rag-tag groups to blast through the high-end raid content. While that gave a lot of subscribers a chance to experience all the content Wrath of the Lich King had to offer, it did mean a large proportion of the WoW population put a hold on their subscriptions due to impending boredom. Cataclysm has no such problems, at least for now. The group experience at level 85 is far more involving; crowd control is a necessity and healers will have an impossible task of keeping their party alive if they haven’t taken the time to pick, enchant and reforge their items wisely.
But here’s the problem with reviewing a game like this, with constant patching, bug-fixes and the slow trickle-feeding of new content: Cataclysm stands to change a lot in its lifetime. If the initial product is anything to go by, this latest expansion is far superior to what has come before. For returning players, there is a bunch of new content to keep you busy over the next couple of years. The newbies will find that while the low-level world may not be filled with other players, the levelling experience is improved beyond expectation and will keep the level 1-85 grind interesting.