Goblin Nazis. I hate these guys.
Hey everyone. Josh’s imaginary friend here again. You may remember me from such works as my Pulitzer-nominated Final Fantasy XIV review. I suppose after we’ve been through so much together, I ought to have some name to go by. You can call me Ishmael, and while you’re at it, you can call MMOs my Moby Dick. I’m here to pick up the slack once again while your “real” reviewer lies comatose from another MMO review.
[image1]But this time the reasons for Josh’s state of being are quite the opposite. FFXIV battered him with its profound stupidity and inadequacy such that his mind simply couldn’t take it anymore. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm awed and consumed him until his body simply shut down from the lack of rest. Blizzard has spent nearly seven years engineering the perfect drug with WoW, and the latest expansion is more addictive than ever.
The first and most important thing to know about Cataclysm is that the old world (of Warcraft) is gone forever. If you’re a lore junky like myself, you’ll be stoked to see that the insane and malicious black dragon Deathwing has literally torn Azeroth apart with his eruption into the mortal world from the elemental plane, where he’s been licking his wounds ever since Warcraft II. The after-effects of this… cataclysmic event, referred to in lore as The Shattering, reach far and wide to every pixel of the world we once knew and loved (if you’re a WoW player, that is... if not, well, why are you reading this instead of playing Black Ops or something?).
Every old world zone has been overhauled and redesigned for Cataclysm. Some are incredibly drastic, like the fissure now separating the Northern and Southern Barrens into two distinct zones, the goblin takeover and mechanization of Azshara, or the return of life and greenery to the Western Plaguelands. But even zones that have stayed mostly intact have still been tweaked with tons and tons of new quests. Blizzard’s been anything but lazy with this expansion; while the new level 80-85 zones offer hundreds of new quests, the old world zones have thousands.
Which is all the better if you choose to roll a brand spankin’ new Goblin or Worgen character. The two race additions have great backstories and far more engaging starting areas than any other race thus far. Both wind back the clock a little bit to get you situated in life before the actual Shattering occurs, and then when Deathwing’s inevitable clusterfuck wrecks your home (around level five, give or take), it’s time to step out into the brave new world, join up with your respective factions, and give all those massively changed zones a spin.
[image2]Of course, most people will spend their time leveling from 80 to the new cap of 85 in some truly impressive zones that can easily make you forget that this is a game running on a seven year-old engine. The almost entirely underwater zone of Vashj’ir is stunningly, hauntingly beautiful and easily wins the prize for visuals, while Egyptian-inspired Uldum takes the cake for pure entertainment value. It’s got a 50-some-odd quest chain that recreates the entire plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, featuring goblin Nazis screaming “Hide your vives, hide your keedz, hide your husbands coz zey’re killing every von out here!”. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to play that?
Cataclysm takes a few key, somewhat underused elements from Wrath of the Lich King and pushes them to the forefront to really set the experience apart from the WoW of yesteryear. The most obvious of these is the abundance of in-game cutscenes that litter the quest lines. Whereas WoW used to play out nearly all of the game’s events with simple character dialogue and animations, you’ll now be treated to (sometimes overly) dramatic clips of Goblin explosions, dueling elementals, Naga sea battles, and the like.
If you’ve played Wrath, then you should already be familiar with the phasing mechanic. Phasing basically puts you in a tailored version of specific areas on the world map based on your quest completion for the given area, and you can only see other players and NPCs who are also at your same level of phasing. Epic quest lines involving warring factions, for example, often make use of phasing to immerse you in the progression of the war. An invading force might be attacking a city, and you’ll witness and participate in the fighting. When you’ve completed the relevant quests, the new phased version of that city will be calm and peaceful again, while a front further down on the map may have suddenly erupted into phased combat.
Phasing did wonders for Wrath’s ability to immerse players, but only took advantage of it in a few major areas. Cataclysm applies phasing so much that your reaction soon goes from viewing phased areas as “new and different” to being the standard for major quest hubs. After a while, it’s actually the unphased areas that don’t seem quite normal anymore.
[image3]Cataclysm does some amazing things with this feature. A Horde quest line in Vashj’ir puts you on a Goblin submarine that’s trying to aid the elemental lord of water in repelling a titanic Naga invasion, in the same space where you were just swimming around blissfully ignorant minutes before. Probably the coolest moment happens in the early Worgen zone, where you spend a few quests fighting against undead Forsaken encroachment amongst some ominous rumblings of the earth. You go down into a cellar to turn in one quest, feel a massive earthquake outside, and come up to realize that Deathwing just tore up the world while you were down there. You now stand on the new shore where the ocean floods the same fields where you were battling the Forsaken, littered with the drowned bodies of the combatants fighting just seconds ago.
Among other new additions to your favorite ever-expanding virtual crack addiction is a new secondary profession, Archaeology, which will send you around the remade old world zones hunting for artifacts unearthed by The Shattering. Spending time with Archaeology’s hot-and-cold style mini-game will eventually yield fun flavor items, like special pets and mounts, for you to show off in town. (And really, why else do people play WoW other than to be able to strut around with all the shinies and phat lootz that represent the thousands of hours they sunk into the game?)
Of particular relevance to the community is the guild advancement system, a new feature that enables guilds as a whole to level up and earn achievements similar to individual players. Not only does this enable members of the guild to unlock perks such as increased experience, gold, and reputation gains as the guild progresses, the system strengthens the sense of camaraderie among players and just might make the community seem a little less, well, douchey. Perhaps even more importantly, joining a guild has a bit more weight and permanence to it, since people who flake and ditch a guild will now be losing all the progress they made in it.
But hey, this is an MMO, and just as sure as a male Blood Elf is more-than-slightly effeminate, there’ll always be bugs aplenty to nitpick over. Any MMO launch is naturally accompanied by a slew of them because of the sheer amount of content, but Cataclysm seems to have more than its fair share. Most are simple annoyances (or amusements, depending on your patience), like typos or phasing glitches, but some of them have the potential to ruin your day. One notorious group of quests in the Twilight Highlands had me wanting to punch a baby for a couple hours because of how horribly designed and buggy it was (err, Josh wanted to do that, I mean. I’m not the violent type of imagined persona, I swear).
[image4]Other bad news to some of the casuals, but good news to most players: Dungeons are actually difficult again. Combat mechanics in Wrath got to the point where everyone was overpowered and strategy was unnecessary; tanks would pull, dps would AoE everything, healers would barely have to pay attention. Blizzard tweaked the mechanics in Cataclysm, especially for tanks and healers, so that now it’s actually important to use crowd control abilities and play smart again or your healer will run out of mana fast. Unless you’re a complete casual, it’s a very welcome change to have a little bit of challenge back in the game.
But just to be absolutely clear: This is still WoW. No matter how much Blizzard refines and perfects it, if you’re not a fan of the formula to start with, none of the myriad improvements and additions are going to fill your care cup. If “kill 10 of these, bring back 15 of those” doesn’t sound like your ideal quest parameters, keep moseying along, partner. But if you’ve ever enjoyed WoW before, this expansion will reignite that feeling with a vengeance.
The fact that Cataclysm has changed virtually every aspect of Azeroth forever is just mind-blowing for an expansion pack. It’s running on the same engine as previous incarnations of WoW, but everything, even the old world, is fresh and new again. This is, in fact, the closest I can imagine coming to WoW 2 without implementing a brand new engine for the game. You can call Blizzard many things, but "unambitious" definitely isn’t one of them. To say that they went above and beyond the standards for an expansion pack is a severe understatement.
And with that, I must retire. I could write pages and pages about this expansion, but it’s far better to discover all the nooks and crannies for yourself. Besides, Josh will most assuredly need the computer to launch into yet another marathon excursion once he’s fully rested. Maybe when the next big MMO hits, I’ll show up again. Until then, stay classy, Azeroth.