World of Warcraft is an international phenomenon. With millions of subscribers shelling out $15 a month just to play, Blizzard is in a pretty good position to keep pumping out expansions and patched content, leading more and more people to become sucked in to the world of Azeroth. Yet as of late, some people have said that WoW has lost a lot of steam with the recent expansion, leading a lot of core gamers to make the claim that “the game is too easy”.
Enter World of Warcraft: Cataclysm; the newest expansion, and Blizzard’s latest attempt to make the game “hard again” – an admirable conviction in which they succeed. But Blizzard hasn’t just made the game more rewarding for hardcore players: they’ve also redone every level 1-60 zone in the entire game, and streamlined the entire questing and leveling experience as we know it. Read on to find out why you may want to get back into World of Warcraft.
[Because of the sheer breadth of the MMO genre in general, I've broken up the review into two sections - Pre-85 content, and beyond]
See that giant Dragon in the header image? That’s Deathwing – master of evil, and well, cataclysmic events. Great efforts were made to subdue him many years ago, but when Deathwing recently returned to the world, he literally ripped a rift into the world, and completely tore the world apart. As a result, all of Azeroth (Levels 1-60) has changed to accommodate the cataclysm. For instance, a few zones have underwent significant changes in weather, temperature; and some have grown entire land masses, or vice-versa, have had a lot of land eradicated.
Because every original zone on Azeroth has changed significantly, even if you already have a dedicated 80, you might want to try making a new alt. In fact, in addition to taking in the unfamiliar surroundings, leveling a brand new character is also a lot more streamlined. Early abilities are now custom tailored so that they’re easier to use and understand (such as the free mana-cost arcane missiles), and you’re always notified upon leveling which abilities need to be learned. Also, when you reach level 10, the game will force you to choose to specialize in one of each classes’ skill trees (such as a fire, ice, or arcane Mage), and explicitly tell you the bonuses of each. You still have to level from 60-70 in Outland, and 70-80 in Northrend, but once you get to the new 80 zones, it’ll be worth it.
Additionally, if you choose the new Worgen or Goblin races, you’ll earn access to the completely new starting zones of Gilneas and Kezan/Lost Isles, respectively. While Kezan’s unconventional quests and humor may not appeal to everyone, I can easily say that Gilneas is the best starting zone in the entire game, and simultaneously captures your attention while managing to lead you on a straight forward, cinematic path to your redemption. You’ll also find that a lot of races have new class options – so if you were upset that your favorite race couldn’t take on your favorite class, you might be pleasantly surprised at the full official list here.
To add to the new, fleshed out feel of the debut zones, each new zone has a main quest – for instance Deepholm requires you to repair the World Pillar: an important landmark that was damaged during Deathwing’s return. The mostly underwater zone of Vash’jr will have you embarking on an epic quest to help Neptulon, Lord of the Seas. In Uldum, the area inspired by Ancient Egyptian architecture, you’ll find yourself helping an ancient guardian race dispose of an evil force – and so on for the other three new zones (Hyjal, Tol Barad, and the Twilight Highlands).
As you can see, every zone has a major characterized feel to it, and the situation as a whole feels more dire than most of Wrath of the Lich King. If you do every quest in every area, and explore a bit, expect at least 50 hours of playtime on your quest to become 85. There’s even a large, 5 hour questline that’s almost a scene for scene remake of the first Indiana Jones film, starring the famous WoW badass Harrison Jones.
Once you’re able to fly in Azeroth, you’ll find things are a lot easier considering you can swoop just about anywhere, and a few quest mechanics are significantly changed. For one, a lot of main quests can be instantly “handed in” when you’re completed – no returning to the questgiver is needed. Also, a handful of quests can be done while mounted – which makes things even easier. Either way you look at it, whether you’re starting a brand new character and leveling to 80, or just going from 80-85, it’s a lot of fun.
Level 85 and beyond (End-game content):
In addition to the four below 85 dungeons (with heroic versions) and five 85 dungeons (with heroic versions), Cataclysm ships with three large 10/25 man raids, and one small PVP raid that will unlock more bosses as time goes on (just like Lich King’s VoA). But as you venture into the heroic content, expect some adversity to overcome. Even on simple pulls, you’re going to have to use crowd control, which is going to be a shocker for a lot of newer players who started in Lich King. Unfortunately for myself, a large percentage of those players ended up being constantly paired with me in the random dungeon finder – leading to many failures due to the difficulty.
Back in Lich King, it was easy to just dive into a dungeon (or even a 10 man raid) with little experience, and let your gear do the talking – but that’s not the case in Cataclysm – and just like the first two original iterations, your best bet is finding a guild to run heroics with. If you don’t, you’re probably going to end up becoming extremely frustrated. Also, once you hit 85, your gear choices are extremely limited: the valor badge rewards aren’t that great, so you’re going to have to grind out those difficult heroics if you want a shot at a decent raid spot. Once more and more patches hit (which means higher level raids), Blizzard will no doubt make gear easier to obtain: but for now, you’re stuck with grinding out the same nine dungeons.
However, with the increase in actual instance difficulty comes the other edge of the sword: preparing for them is a whole lot easier with the new talent system. Instead of having to juggle 71 (!) talent points at level 80, and choosing from almost 100 total abilities, in Cataclysm, once you reach 85, you simply choose the straight forward specialization you want, then point 31 points into it, with 10 points left over for anything else you want.
In addition to the ease of talent-crafting, you’ll also find that a lot of abilities have been slimmed down – making it even easier to choose the spec you want. Whether this will lead to people picking the exact same slim cookie-cutter builds is yet to be seen: but from my point of view, it makes the game a whole lot more accessible for players who don’t want to spend 40 hours a week theorycrafting.
For my playtest, I experienced every heroic dungeon in the game, and a small amount of raid content. The heroic dungeons this time around are very challenging – to the point where almost every pull has a strategy, and small mistakes can wipe an careless group. To me, the challenge is a welcome one – but, as I previously mentioned, for those who prefer pugging (pick up groups), you’re going to have some trouble.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm reminds me a lot of Burning Crusade, only with a lot more streamlined features for leveling and questing. It’s challenging, original, and exciting for both new and old players. Also don’t forget: multiple raids and extra dungeons are on their way with subsequent patches – up to, and including the finale with the all-powerful Deathwing. So grab your authenticators – you’re going to want to re-install your copy of World of Warcraft.
[Editor's note: a level 85 Death Knight, with a tank/dps spec was used, and all dungeons and heroic dungeons were sampled - in the interest of getting the review out, minimal raid content was tested, as only a few guilds are raiding progression this soon]
Cataclysm, despite upgrading the water effects and the graphical effects in general, still has that dated feel - and some of the character models for enemies have been reused.
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World of Warcraft might not be the *most* hardcore MMO out there, but it is the easiest to pick up and play in the genre - provided you have a gameplan for end-game content.
The soundtrack is still pretty much a background affair, but the voice acting this time around is stellar, and more prevalent.
With the multitude of patches that are forthcoming, there will be tons of end-game content to deal with - not to mention the added fun factor of making a new character, and playing in completely new environments.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is sure to welcome many new MMO players and satisfy the core fanbase at the same time.