Reviewed: January 8, 2011
Released: October 19, 2010
It’s been a busy couple of months for World of Warcraft. First, patch 4.0 hit and dramatically changed the way every class played the game. Shortly afterwards, the Sundering hit, releasing Deathwing, leader of the black dragonflight, from his prison in Deepholm and dramatically reshaping Azeroth. Now, Cataclysm is coming out, presenting new options and challenges for new and experienced adventurers alike.|
Starting out at the low end, Cataclysm introduces goblins and worgen to the mix. The goblin Bilgewater Cartel joins the Horde after Deathwing destroys their homeland and a series of unfortunate events sets them opposed to the Alliance, while the reclusive Gilneans find a way to control the worgen curse and rejoin the Alliance after years of estrangement when the Horde takes advantage of the Cataclysm’s destruction of the landscape to invade Gilneas.
Both races have a suite of impressive abilities, with the worgen able to shift between human and werewolf forms, resist curses and diseases, do ever so slightly more damage than other races, sprint, and skin without knives, while the goblins are able to buy and sell with the best discount, use their rocket belts for attacking or escaping enemies, get a leg up on alchemy, summon a hobgoblin to act as a portable bank, and attack faster. With some of the most impressive racial abilities in World of Warcraft, players are bound to see the world flooded with the new races, even if it weren’t for their novelty.
As if it couldn’t be guessed by the descriptions of the new races and, well, the title of the expansion pack, Deathwing and the destruction of the world are front and center in Cataclysm. While players are able to see the effects of the destruction wrought upon the world as they level from 1 to 60, once they hit 80 and return to Azeroth, they take center stage in the battle against Deathwing, the Twilight’s Hammer cultists who have come to serve him, and the elementals which Twilight’s Hammer worships.
The new zones range from the island fortress of Tol Barad, to the undersea depths of Vashj’ir, the deserts and temples of Uldum to the scorched slopes of Mount Hyjal, and the shattered elemental plane of Deepholm to the embattled hills of the Twilight Highlands. Each zone puts the player squarely in the position of the hero who saves the day, emphasizing how far characters have come since their humble beginnings. Additionally, each of these zones has several dungeons or raids tied into its lore, or at least has the planned, in the cast of Mount Hyjal, giving a vast amount of content for when you’re done leveling and settling into the late game.
Once you’re in the late game, dungeons, raids, and PVP is the order of the day. The new heroic dungeons amp the difficulty up from Wrath of the Lich King, and it can take some practicing and some heavy gearing up until players are back on their game, but it’s good to see the return of crowd control to dungeons. The raids seem shorter than Wrath’s, with only a few bosses in each, but with a broader selection, with players able to fight the black dragonflight in Blackwing Descent, Cho’gall and the Twilight’s Hammer cult in Twilight Bastion, and the wind elementals of Skywall in Throne of the Four Winds. A fourth raid, Baradin Hold, is available to the faction who currently owns Tol Barad, with plans to expand the raid as content patches are released.
In such an excellent expansion, Tol Barad is a black mark on the game, though Blizzard has started to tweak it to try and make it work properly. The successor of Wrath of the Lich King’s Wintergrasp, Tol Barad takes place on the prison island razed by the Horde back in Warcraft 2. However, it’s been rebuilt, and made into a prison for beings too dangerous to let live, and too hard to kill, and mysterious happenings are unfolding as the Alliance and Horde battle for control of the strategic location. While a promising concept, when it comes to the actual battle, Tol Barad stumbles.
In a PVP zone with rewards that both sides covet, including the Baradin Hold raid and a daily quest hub, the mechanics of the zone currently heavily favor the defenders, making it difficult for a pickup group of attackers to seize the zone from defenders with any amount of coordination. While Blizzard has been experimenting with altering rewards, it’ll take some fundamental changes to how the fight plays out before the battle for Tol Barad hits the heights that Wintergrasp did during Wrath. In the time being, though, the old world is still worth exploring.
To get around the revamped old world, players can now use flying mounts in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms from level 60 onwards, making it much more convenient to head from place to place. What effect this has on world PVP remains to be seen, although it may give player versus environment servers a new appeal, in so much as new players won’t have to worry about older players dropping from the sky and murdering them without recourse like the fist of an angry god.
Rounding out the expansion, archaeology is being added as a new secondary profession, which can be taken in addition to the two primaries. Designed for casual players, or as a relaxing diversion from the rat race of leveling, raiding, and PVP, players can survey areas for fossils and relics to learn more about the history and races of Azeroth and Outland, assembling what they find into flavorful items. Rare archaeology finds will allow players to build weapons and armor or utility and vanity items that express parts of the world’s lore. While it’s one of the most understated parts of the expansion, it’s bound to be a favorite of collectors and lore nerds.
With everything recently added to World of Warcraft, and everything that’s coming in Cataclysm, there’s no better time to renew your subscription or pick it up for the first time. From the friendlier, better-executed early content to the high-end zones and dungeons that make you feel like a hero bringing about major changes in the world, Cataclysm shows how far World of Warcraft has come since its beginnings and why it’s still the best fantasy MMO on the market.