Review: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (+ New Writing)

Review: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm:

It may seem odd to review a game more than a year after its release, especially when I’ve been playing and blogging about that game all the while, but MMOs are never really finished upon release. Only now that the expansion’s final major patch has come and gone can we really take a step back and judge it as a whole. So now, as the expansion winds down, I bring you my thoughts on World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.

The world redesign:

The massive revamp of the old world is perhaps the biggest change brought by Cataclysm. People have very mixed feelings on this, and I myself am conflicted, but the fact is it had to be done. The old 1-60 zones were simply atrocious, especially when compared to higher level content.

Unfortunately, people are correct when they say this took a lot of development time away from the endgame, and the expansion did suffer as a result. While I think Blizzard was right to redesign the old world, I don’t want something to like this to be done again.

Gameplay – The good:

One of the chief things I liked about Cata is the way it improved the questing model. Some people found it too linear, but I found the more story-focused design extremely enjoyable. Gone were the days of wandering around a zone, doing disparate and dull quests with no connection to each other or the greater plot. Nearly every quest in Cataclysm was part of the zone’s unified plot, and often connected to the greater theme of the expansion as whole.

NPCs were also given more depth and character. Often, instead of every hub featuring a new set of no name NPCs, zones would have a standard cast of characters that would travel along with players. This allowed Blizzard to give them more interesting characterizations and for the player to form greater bonds with them. I still smile whenever I think of Gwen Armstead, or Erunak Stonespeaker, or Thisalee Crow.

The quests themselves were also better designed, with unique and fun mechanics. The Molten Front was the best example of this, with its mobs of various strengths, diverse quests, and the way its terrain also played a role in questing (something I pray we see more of).

The other major gameplay improvement brought by Cataclysm is the Raid Finder. As I’ve already stated in past posts, I think this is a revolutionary improvement and one of the best ideas Blizzard ever had. The endgame is no longer only for the select few.

Gameplay – The bad:

Cataclysm is likely going to be remembered mostly for its difficulty, which most agree was rather steep compared to Wrath of the Lich King’s. It didn’t bother me as much as it did some people, but it did make for a great deal of stress, especially in the early days.

What really bothered me about it was the effect it had on the community. There has always been conflict between casuals and the hardcore, but Cataclysm fanned the flames rather severely. The entire expansion seemed calculated to drive a wedge between the game’s fans, right down to the way only raiders could get access to tier shoulders and helms, giving an obvious visual cue to differentiate the “bads” from the “real” players.

I also found that I had very little to do at max level in this expansion. This slowly improved over time with the addition of more dungeons, the Molten Front, and finally the Raid Finder, but even so, I often found myself struggling to find reasons to log in. Heroics were really the only option I felt I had (especially before the Molten Front came along), and this felt particularly stifling considering that Cata launched with fewer dungeons than previous expansions.

My paladin takes in the sunset in StormwindMaybe it wasn’t all Cataclysm’s fault. I reached level 80 very late in Wrath, and it took me a while to work through all the content. By comparison, I’ve been at 85 through most of Cataclysm, so the content’s had to tide me over for much longer. But I’ve also heard a lot of other people say that Cata left them with little to do, so there must be something to it.

The story:

I’d say Cataclysm’s story can best be described as inconsistent.

There are a lot of individually amazing zones in Cataclysm, and not just for high level characters: Vashj’ir, Hyjal, Southern Barrens, Gilneas, Silverpine Forest… As mentioned above, minor characters were fleshed out like never before, and there was plenty of emotion and drama to be had even without going into a dungeon or raid.

I enjoyed Thrall’s journey to becoming the World Shaman. I don’t at all understand these complaints about him being over-exposed. Aside from a few cameos, he only appears in one short and optional quest chain, one dungeon, and one raid. Yup, Thrall has certainly been rammed down our throats this expansion.

Certainly, it’s nice to have one of the greatest heroes in Warcraft lore actually doing something, instead of sitting in Orgrimmar picking his nose like he has for the last three games.

On a more nit-picky note, I did enjoy the way the Night Elves finally returned to their savage roots from Warcraft III. They’ve been pigeon-holed into tree-huggers for far too long.

On the other hand, the expansion’s story is extremely scattered. A lot of the zones, especially for high level characters, have little or no connection to each other in terms of story, and a lot of plot threads were left hanging, such as the Neptulon arc from Vashj’ir.

Deathwing was also very underwhelming as a villain. Aside from the final raid and one quest in the Twilight Highlands, he’s hardly present at all, and the player is given no real reason to hate him. His story is all telling and no showing.

After how memorable and in your face the Lich King was last expansion, this is a big letdown.

Cataclysm’s story has many, many amazing moments, but somehow, it does end up feeling like less than the sum of its parts. But at least it wasn’t the nightmarish, rambling lorestrocity that was Burning Crusade.

The verdict:

Cataclysm is a very inconsistent expansion in many ways, and it’s hard to judge it, but I think it did WoW more good than harm. 4.3 went a long way towards restoring my belief that Blizzard will always make things better in the long run.

Overall rating: 7.4/10 By comparison, Wrath probably would have been at least a nine, whereas classic and Burning Crusade would have earned sixes or lower.

New writing:

WhatMMO posted another of my articles: 6 Legendary MMORPG Bosses. What do you think of my picks? What are the most memorable bosses you’ve fought?

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