My name’s Mike and I’m an on-and-off World of Warcraft junkie. It’s not as bad as my hardcore Everquest addiction that left me with five novels of fan fiction, 9,600 hours of played time, and a wife. Over the past six years, I’ve played WoW heavily for a couple of months, then put it aside for six, only to return when Blizzard does something interesting. It’s a good way to play. It gives me the maximum rewards for the time I put in.
I hadn’t played WoW for about six months before Cataclysm came out but now that it has, about a month ago, I’ve put in a good deal of time into the new expansion and I liked what I got. Today I’m going to talk about I’ve seen over the past month, what I liked, what I didn’t, and where I plan to go. You might call this a review, but reviewing a game expansion with such a large amount of content isn’t really possible. So really it’s just my experiences so far.
For $40, Cataclysm gives you a whole lot of gaming with World of Warcraft. You can spend just about as much time as you’re willing to give it and get a lot of good entertainment for that time and for your dollar. It might not have the sort of cohesive story and gameplay with a game like Uncharted 2, but it holds up well. On the negative, while the large detailed quest line ties together a great story, it’s mainly a linear path through about 500 quests that follow the typical formula of “pick up 8 things, kill 12 people, hunt a boss, go to the next quest quest-giver” model we’ve seen for the past six years. Still, it’s a beautiful enjoyable ride for those who know how to live in moderation and find the right balance of effort and reward.
A touch of new in our beautiful old world
Taking place in the main continents of Azeroth, we return to our home cities as our new hubs as the global threat of Deathwing hangs overhead. Both Stormwind and Ogrimmar have been redone to act as our portals to the rest of the world. This reduced a lot of the chaos of previous hub cities like Dalaran and Shattrath. With Catacalysm, Blizzard rebuilt much of the old world as well. I presume they did this so we could fly over it, but it also gives the game a much different feel than simply being shipped off to some other part of the world or some other world entirely. The world, old and new, is beautiful.
A constantly present antagonist
Since Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard knew how important it was to have the main antagonist in your face as much as possible and they’ve done so again in Catacalysm. Right on the box and in the awesome intro movie, you know exactly who you’re going after – Deathwing. Single player quests and random events bring you right in front of Deathwing himself, though you never actually battle the creature. This brings some of the raid-level joy to those who choose nothing but a solitary existence in WoW and I applaud it.
This threat doesn’t only exist from level 81 to 85 either. With the rebuilding of the old world, the Twilight Hammer, the cultists awakening Deathwing in an attempt to destroy Azeroth, exist at all levels of play. From level 1 to 85 you’ll run into camps of these cultists and foil their plots just as you’ll deal with the results of Deathwing’s awakening first hand. It’s a great way to bring the story to every single player who plays WoW.
A streamlined story or on-the-rails RPG?
Though the basic mechanics of quests remains much of the same; kill 12 critters, collect 8 geegaws, kill this boss, and run to the other guy; a zone-based thread ties all of these quests together and the storyline is a good one. Each zone has about 100 to 150 of these story-focused quests all tied together and, while I liked working towards a larger goal, I also felt the whole thing was a bit linear. Instead of dropping into a town full of glowing exclamation points, you might not get any if you haven’t finished the entire line in the previous town. It seemed like there were very few opportunities within each zone to step out of the current line to work on a new one for a while. A hub-based quest line might have worked better than a single stream like they have now. That said, the story lines are entertaining and, except for the lame-ass quests in early Vashj’ir quests (who even names a zone like that), are suitably epic for your high-level 81+ Kingslayers.
High reward for very low effort
Another thing that becomes instantly apparent is how much Blizzard resets gear power. Within my first day in Cataclysm, I replaced a purple epic breastplate I had spent about 40 hours earning through instance runs with a common green one I received for a quest that took me less than 30 seconds. As you level from 81 to 85, you’ll replace just about every piece of gear you had multiple times.
Once you hit level 85 and complete the zone quests, the super-sharp gear power curve tapers out. Now you’ll have to work on reputation with various factions and repeatedly run dungeon instances to improve your gear. Doing so gets you to the point where you can run heroic dungeon runs. After that, only 10 man raids give you better gear and thus the raid grind begins.
World of Warcraft’s effort to reward curve gives you the greatest result until you hit the level cap. At that point, where many people say the game begins, you need to spend more and more time earning each piece of gear which is the only way you really advance after you hit the level cap. At this point, the curve leans towards more effort.
My advice? Run dungeon instances until you’re tired of them and then quit. Don’t grind. Eventually Blizzard will reset the gear again and you can once again reach that great gear growth curve.
The glorious dungeon “looking for group” tool
The best improvement Blizzard has made to World of Warcraft since its very first days is the new “looking for group” (LFG) tool. It’s the one thing solo players can easily use to get into groups and have some fun. Released about half-way through the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, we now begin Cataclysm with this tool available to us and it works very well. Click a button and you’re queued for a five-man dungeon run. If you happen to be a tank or a healer, you’ll usually get pulled right in. If you’re a damage class, it might be between fifteen and forty minute wait so go work on some quests in the mean time. When it’s ready, you and your group are teleported into the dungeon and off you go.
For normal dungeons, the tool works very well. Normal instances have loose requirements for equipment and the tactics for defeating bosses aren’t too severe. You’ll usually win a run on normal. Unfortunately, when you hit 85, there are only three normal dungeons that offer anything for you. You’ll soon get tired of running Halls of Origination with it’s eight bosses over and over again.
Heroic instances, those instances designed for well-equipped PCs, are something else entirely. These instances have very specific requirements for gear and knowing the tactics of each boss is critical to your success. This means it doesn’t work real well with the LFG tool where you’ll get a mix of PCs with different equipment levels and different levels of experience. It can be a frustrating experience.
There’s a large difficulty gap between level 85 normal dungeons and level 85 heroic dungeons. You might find yourself easily getting through normal instances only to hit the wall with heroics. Unfortunately, you don’t get a lot of rewards for your runs through normal runs. Heroic runs, however, offer much greater rewards. If you can find a way to defeat heroics, you’ll find yourself much better equipped in a much shorter time than running normals. It’s a bit of an imbalance.
A good month of entertainment so far
For the time I’ve put in, quite a bit over the past month, I’ve gotten a lot of entertainment in my Cataclysm run. I’ve just hit the point where I have to run heroic instance runs to progress and that’s a bit of a challenge, but thus far, with about five hundred quests and a few dozen dungeon runs behind me, I easily state that Cataclysm is an excellent expansion well worth $40 for the time and entertainment. I’m looking forward to another 30 days in Azeroth and, who knows, maybe another 30 days after that.