Deathwing has ascended from the depths of Azeroth, laid waste to many cities, even shifted continents and created rifts in the world. All the world’s heroes were in Northrend battling the Lich King, only to come home and find that the entire world of Azeroth as they knew it was no more. Welcome to World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. The Goblins have joined forces with the horde, while the Alliance have embraced the Worgen, hailing from Gilneas. Now players will have to return to Azeroth and prepare for the battle against Deathwing and once again save the world of Azeroth.
As you begin your adventures in Cataclysm, you will find the world has changed significantly, entire zones have been refaced. The graphics for most areas have gotten a much needed overhaul, particularly in the main cities for both factions, cities forgotten over the last 2 expansions, which took players through the Outlands and then on to Northrend before finally returning now to Azeroth. These graphical changes can be seen throughout the game, but are most noticeable in the zones which received major changes, and of course, the new zones in the world. Though the world itself has seen significant upgrades in graphics, it’s apparent that the original character models that have been around since World of Warcraft’s inception did not get the same treatment. By standing next to one of the new races created in Cataclysm, or even a Deathknight, the hero class from Wrath of the Lich King, it’s apparent that they are old and dated.
The larges change to Azeroth in many players eyes was the ability to use flying mounts in all of Axeroth. This was a change that many felt was long overdue, however Blizzard felt that it was going to be a very large undertaking for certain cities, Undercity in particular, to allow flying mounts proper access. The coming of Deathwing provided this opportunity perfectly and allowed Blizzard to make all the necessary changes, and now flying mounts are usable anywhere in Azeroth.
I mentioned new races, this expansion brings us 2 new playable race, one for each faction. The Alliance welcome the Worgen, a race of wolfmen, while the Goblins have joined forces with the Horde. Each race brings with it new racial abilities and, of course, new class/race combinations. Worgen can play as all classes except for Shaman and Paladin, while Goblins are unable to be created as Paladin or Druid. Unique to this expansion as well, we get to see some of the old races learning new tricks. Human Hunters, Night Elf Mages, Gnome priests, and Dwarven Mages, Warlocks, and Shaman on the Alliance side. As for the Horde, we now have Orc Mages, Undead Hunters, Tauren Priests, Blood Elf Warriors, and Troll Druids and Warlocks.
The starting zones for the new races are unique, and provide a fun, all be it short-lived, leveling experience both for new players and long-time World of Warcraft players alike. The Worgen starting zone finds your character as a Human in the city of Gilneas, which is under attack from the scourge, all the while being at unrest within itself due to a growing problem of Worgen. The new quests, specifically for the new starting areas, play much more like story than the quests of old which you found in the starting areas in the days of the original World of Warcraft. In the case of the Worgen, you find yourself bitten by a werewolf, and actually undergo the turmoil of turning into a werewolf. After much persecution you are released and asked to go help and save humans for a man who believes that the Worgen still have a soul, and that they should not be put down as they plan on doing to you. You proceed to help fight off the scourge invasion before finally finding your way out of Gilneas by boat, moving you out into Azeroth, and continuing your Journey from there.
The Goblins find themselves in the isle of Kezan, an engineering mecha. You're greeted by society with the keys to a car. This starting area is by far the most fun I have had playing a low level character in some time. It's a very whimsical, fun-loving society where you do will find yourself doing quests like going to pick your friends up in your car, getting to the mechanical "football" type game, and eventually buying your way off the island. Unfortunately, you're sold into slavery upon getting off the island. However on your way to the mainland, your ship is shot out of the water by an alliance gunship. From there you are shipwrecked into The Lost Isles, and your journey continues.
While some new content was added for the low-level areas. Most was simply changed and streamlined to allow players to level from 1 to 60 in a more storyline fashion, and not requiring as much movement from zone to zone, which at low levels, can be quite painful. Even with the new playable races, changes to the zones, new zones for low-level characters. All of that comes with a change in the level cap. This change, only 5 levels, takes players from level 80 to level 85, and opens up a whole world of new content. Blizzard decided to add only five levels of content to this expansion, as opposed to the 10 released in the previous two expansions. This was for two reasons, first they felt that adding only five levels would allow them to focus more on the quality of the content which they were putting out. Also, as they began to decide what to change about Azeroth, they came to the realization that there was so much they wanted to change, make better, or simply reface all together, that they decided this was going to be a large project in and of itself, and that adding only five levels, while changing Azeroth significantly, would provide a better experience for the player. The quality of the content they delivered is definitely what is to be expected of any World of Warcraft game.
Players will see many other changes as they begin to work their way through this expansion. The number of talent points available to max level characters has been significantly reduced. There are only 41 talent points for a level 85 player. Blizzard felt this allowed for more customization and did away with the “required” points in each tree, those skills are now trained without needing talent points added. Many classes saw mechanic changes including Paladin’s receive holy power, Druids have a new eclipse mechanic, Rage has been normalized for warriors and Bear-form druids, rune system changes for Deathknights. Hunters see possibly the largest change by completely doing away with mana and giving them a new system based on Focus, similar to that of pets. Racial bonuses also saw some new changes.
Players who are already at max level (80) from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion will dive right into new worlds such as The Sunken City of Vash’jir, a zone submerged completely under water. Or make their trek through the peaks of Mount Hyjal, a place previously visited by some in The Burning Crusade as a raid instance for max level(70) players. Vash’jir provides a new and unique experience that was previously unexplored in World of Warcraft. This does, however, provide some challenges while playing your character underwater. Because you are underwater, you have a 360 degree range of motion, as do all of the enemies. This created several problems as I played through this zone. Possibly because I play a hunter, and range also played a part in this situation. Due to the fact that enemies would run straight by you and begin to attack you from behind, and depending on your camera view, you wouldn’t even realize they were behind you for several seconds as the game began to tell you that “your target must be in front of you”. You get used to the camera angles under water after a short time, but the annoyance is definitely there, and 360 degree movement can take some getting used to.
Other zones available to players in their quest to reach level 85 include Deepholm, a mountainous zone which contains the faction of Therazane. The Therzazane have new daily quests similar to that of the Sons of Hodir faction in Wrath of the Lich King. Uldum, a new Egyptian themed zone, complete with pyramids and sphinx. And the Twilight Highlands, the level 84-85 zone in which you learn much about the Twilight’s Hammer Cultists, a group that has been around since the original World of Warcraft, taking up much of the Silithus zone. This zone also gives you the gear you will require in order to do dungeons, if you so choose, at level 85.
Cut scenes and phasing are two other aspects that Blizzard has seemed to take a focus on in this expansion. You will encounter many cut scenes as you travel through the new worlds. While not overdone, there are enough to add a new flavor and aspect that was scarce in previous expansions. Phasing, the ability to put players next to each other while doing two different things and completing different quests, has also been used more in this expansion. This is something that Blizzard had previously only used very limitedly, but it adds a great variety and allows for multiple trips through the same zone, while completing different quests on different “planes” of existence so to speak.
Each zone you visit in Cataclysm seems to have its own story this time around. Unlike the quest days of old, it seems Blizzard truly made an effort to immerse you in the tasks being assigned to you. No longer is it simply a matter of “find 10 of these and kill them”. While there are still plenty of those quests, more often those quests have a larger scope which you are given, and later on in that quest line you will see the effects of it. This is something Blizzard has steadily improved upon since the original WoW was released, and I believe they have truly gotten it right with this expansion. While these new zones have their strengths, there are some flaws as well. Something that Blizzard has increased is spawn rate on mobs which are required for quests, and even just regular mobs in the zones. This is a mostly welcome change seeing how in high-populated areas there is a need for plenty of these mobs at all times. I, and several of my friends, did run into an issue with this. If you happen to be standing where a single mob spawns, and you catch it at a point in time when it’s been killed recently, you can stand in a place, and have that mob respawn on you two or more times. While fine sometimes while questing, this can be a major annoyance, and even kill you at the lower levels when it’s required for you to stop and regain your HP/MP between fights.
To accompany the five new zones, players are also given seven new instances, as well as two old world instances, Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep, that have been completely revamped, and given a heroic difficulty. These dungeons range from level 80 to 85, and all come with a heroic difficulty setting. The dungeon system has undergone some minor changes as well. You are now required to obtain an average item level before being able to enter certain level dungeons. Your average item level is used to determine this. While the system is welcome in some ways there are flaws. For example, all items, even those in your bags, count toward your average item level. That is to say that even if you have a piece of gear that you are unable to equip in your bags, you will still get credit for that adding to your item level average. Heroic difficulty dungeons see a significant step up in difficulty from Wrath of the Lich King. These dungeons are no longer simply bosses with more Hit Points than their normal mode counterparts. They now have added mechanics, and prove to be much more difficult and demanding than the heroics of the previous expansion. For those wishing to do these instances in Pick up Groups(PUG’s) patience will be a virtue, as you will spend a lot of time learning the new boss mechanics.
The dungeon changes also come with a new point system for buying heroic and raid gear. The previous badge system has been removed, and a new Justice and Valor point system has replaced it. This system allows for players to purchase heroic level gear with Justice points, while Valor points allow for the purchase of epic-quality raid level gear. Justice points are obtained by killing bosses on heroic difficulty in 5-man Dungeons as well as completing your daily dungeon on regular mode. Valor points are earned by kill raid bosses on regular or heroic mode, and can also be earned through doing a heroic daily dungeon quest, also known as a random.
Player vs. Player(PvP) has also undergone changes in the new expansion. Rated battlegrounds are now an option for serious PVP players. Two new battlegrounds are also available, the Battle for Gilneas, and Twin Peaks. A new zone for world PVP has been added as well, players can fight for control of Tol Barad, a new version of Wintergrasp from Wrath of the Lich King. Controlling Tol Barad opens up daily quests for your faction as well as a new 10/25 man raid Baradin Hold. Arena points are no longer awarded every week, but rather every time you finish a rated arena match, allowing for the immediate purchase of PVP gear with your points.
Other significant changes include a new secondary skill, Archeology, which allows players to dig up artifacts from the various races. Rewards include an undead raptor riding mounts, non-combat pets, and Epic-quality weapons. All professions have had their maximum skill raised from 450 to 525. Players have seen a major change in the Glyph system, with all glyphs only needing to be learned one time, and allowing to be swapped out at any time in which a player is not in combat with the simple use of a dust sold by a vendor. This is a welcome change for players, but has affected incsriptionists due to the fact that all players will only need to buy glyphs for their characters once. The character User Interface (UI) saw some nice changes. Simple things such as your bars now highlighting when an ability comes off of cooldown, or putting an aura around a character when a certain proc-based ability is ready. These changes had been in the game through add-on for years, but Blizzard has finally incorporated many of those things directly into the game, definitely a welcome change in my opinion.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is everything you would expect from an MMO expansion. We have new levels, new dungeons, new zones, and new raids. There’s plenty of content for both the casual player and the hard-core raider/PVP player. It’s another best-selling MMO title by the best in the business. However even with all that, I believe they still have some work to do. Graphically, World of Warcraft falls drastically short of the new MMO’s coming out, or even some MMO’s released in recent past. Even the graphics in the new content are a far cry from that in the latest and greatest of any genre of video games today. The music score, all be it repetitive, is a work of art.
So what does that leave us with? World of Warcraft: Cataclysm delivers great gameplay, amazing content in both story and sheer amounts. However, on the other side, we have a game that graphically falls drastically short of games today. All that being said, the true question when we talk about an MMO is going to be value. Everyone will see it differently when it comes to presentation and gameplay, but when it comes to value what are you truly getting with a game like World of Warcraft? The expansion, at $39.99 is definitely worth every penny. But we can’t possibly overlook the fact that we as players pay a $14.99 monthly subscription fee. So value becomes a bit of a tricky subject. In my opinion, the $14.99 is well spent, simply because I don’t spend a lot of money on other games, due to playing World of Warcraft. So to me, the value goes up drastically for this reason. But if you plan on playing other games while playing WoW on occasion, then I believe that would devalue the game severely, depending on what you are playing, and how much time you end up spending with the game. All rating are subjective, this I get, but for me, I believe the value to be extremely high, due to the amount of time I spend on this single game, for about a fourth the cost of a single console game.