Tuesday, December 14, 2010

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Review:

The story of WoW: Cataclysm follows the leader of the black dragonflight, Deathwing the Destroyer, as he ascends into Azeroth. Hundreds of years ago, Deathwing was a serious threat to all of the inhabitants on Azeroth. Such a threat in fact, that the other dragon Aspects used their powers to force him away into the elemental plane of earth, Deepholm. In Cataclysm, Deathwing is finally reemerging from Deepholm, and when he does he shatters the earth down its very core, thus causing "The Shattering," an event which forever alters the face of Azeroth, leaving fiery devastation in its wake and changing the world as we once knew it. On the bright side, this catastrophe leads to an improved experience for both new and veteran players alike, as fresh and inventive quests, re-tooled rewards and destroyed zones have taken over the land.

With World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Blizzard has perfected their quest model, taking it to brand new heights. Gone are the days of every single quest sending you to gather crap off the ground, or kill five random beasts. Now you’re flying fighter jets and taming lions, or killing thousands of gnomes with a fiery ball of death. The questing experience in Cataclysm is truly one of the best parts of the entire expansion, and it all starts with the new and improved starting zones.

Starting All Over Again…Again

With Blizzard's last expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, one of the most highly praised implementations in the whole expansion was the Death Knight starting experience. It was phased brilliantly, fun, offered great rewards, and really taught players how to use the brand new class. With Cataclysm, Blizzard introduces two brand new playable races: Goblins for the Horde and the werewolf-inspired Worgen for the Alliance which both have starting experiences that easily rival that of the Death Knight.

In particular, The Goblin zone houses one of the most hilarious series of quests where you ride around in a hot rod, pick up friends, play some Goblin football, and even attend a party. All before the volcanic island you’re on begins to erupt. The Worgen area takes you through the story behind your character's transformation from a Gilnean citizen into a cursed werewolf-like creature. As you are helping the citizens flee the Worgen infested city of Gilneas, you get bit by one of the rabid beasts and become a target yourself. While not quite as gimmicky as the Goblin starting zone, the Worgen experience is fantastically told.

However, it's not only the Worgen and Goblins that get new starting experiences. Every race has been revamped with a much more streamlined opening to start you off in the right direction. In Cataclysm, every zone in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor has been overhauled and updated with brand new content. Not to mention both of these continents are now fully accessible on flying mounts.

The amount of alterations in the zones varies, but for the most part all of the zones for level 1-55 offer a much better experience. Gone are the days of traveling across continents for one measly quest. Now, players will receive a few quests from NPCs and then be "bread crumbed" to more areas to get new quests, similar to how it works in the Outlands and Northrend.

Quests integrate vehicles and scripted events into their chains, making them feel more like dynamic events. A great example of a zone that has been completely revamped is Silverpine Forest. As you go through Silverpine, you start out as a worthless Forsaken, recently brought back to serve Sylvanas, the Banshee Queen. Eventually, you’ll progress through the zone, learning about the Worgen, and helping Sylvanas bolster her forces to push back the Worgen threat with the help of some new allies. One quest called “The Waters Run Red…” puts you in the driver seat of a cannon and you have to kill 50 invading Worgen that are coming across the river. It’s gruesome even for WoW standard, but by this point you’re so enveloped in the story that you really feel like you’re doing a good thing by keeping these Worgen out. I won't ruin the end of the story, but let's just say it's worth doing. Instead of grinding out levels, you actually feel like you're part of the lore now. It's finally fun to quest again.

The Journey to 85, Now With 450% More Seahorses

Beyond the 1-55 changes, the new level 80-85 zones introduced in Cataclysm offer players brand new experiences with very interesting mechanics as well. Each zone is completely different from the next, with one in particular standing out: Vashj'ir. Vashj’ir is a level 80-82 zone that is played entirely underwater and is unlike anything else you’ve ever seen in WoW. Blizzard also invented an anchoring technique to help you get around as well. When you land on the sea floor, you get anchored to it and walk very fast, and then you can jump up to begin swimming again. To get around faster in this massive zone, you’ll also get a seahorse mount (I named mine Pickle).

Vashj’ir as a zone  is gorgeously designed with kelp forests, coral areas and some inspiring Naga ruins. It's truly the best looking zone in all of World of Warcraft, and holds some very fun quests. In one series you get to transform into a Naga in order to watch the unfolding of history and do quests for the Lady Vashj's minions.

Another great zone is Uldum, Blizzard's take on Egypt which plays out like an Indiana Jones movie. Amid pyramids, oasis, and hidden artifacts, you assist famed archaeologist Harrison Jones in uncovering the vast secrets of this once hidden land. There are tons of in game cut scenes all throughout the zone, and it's like playing in a mini WoW movie. One quest in Uldum has you fighting off fighter jets in a turret while Harrison pilots you away from the enemy encampment. This is the type of content that is all over Cataclysm's new and overhauled zones.

What’s Your Arena Rating?

Finally, Cataclysm also adds a new rated battleground system where players can make teams of up to 25 players and venture into battlegrounds together. This means more vicious PVP players can team up and face off against people of equal skill, rather than play with (or against) players that just give up when they see they're facing off against a pre-made team. There are also two entirely new battlegrounds to go along with this system: The Battle for Gilneas and The Twin Peaks.

The Battle for Gilneas is a 10v10 map that is somewhat reminiscent of Arathi Basin. Players have to control points on the map to accumulate resources, and the first team to 2000 resources wins. In Twin Peaks, it's another version of Warsong Gulch. In this 10v10 map, whichever team captures the flag 3 times first wins. The map is a lot bigger than Warsong, and it's much more balanced this time around because of its size.

There's also Tol Barad, which is the Cataclysm equivalent of Wintergrasp. Every few hours up to 160 Horde and Alliance get to duke it out for control of the zone. Whoever wins will then gain access to a daily quest hub and an Archavon type raid called Baradin Hold. Baradin Hold has bosses that drop both current tier PVE and PVP loot.

Closing Thoughts: Deathwing Just Wants A Hug

While Deathwing did bring with him a slew of new features for Cataclysm, some things were left out. With WotLK, Blizzard offered players an entirely new melee class to play with the Death Knight. This time around, it would have been nice to see a new caster Hero class, or a new Hero class in general. Also, there's no in game atlas for the bosses like what was mentioned at Blizzcon this year. Plus, where's my fricken dance studio? I want to get down!

But really, if the worse part about Cataclysm is that it didn't implement a new class or give me my dance studio, I can't complain that much. Blizzard did something that no developer has ever really done before in this expansion: they permanently erased their five year old content in order to bring  their players something new. And what they’ve created, while a massive undertaking, has proven incredibly successful. Nearly all of the additions to the World of Warcraft are clever, tuned and fun, and different enough to invite exploration from the players. And in the end, we have to remember that playing World of Warcraft is supposed to be a game, and games are supposed to be fun; Cataclysm succeeds on all fronts.


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