Six years of hard work. Hundreds of thousands of man hours. Twelve million subscribers who have spent billions of hours hacking, slashing, grinding, looting, and every other vaguely dirty term you can think of. So, how do you follow that? “Blow it all up,” says Blizzard. “And use a dragon.” The end result? A total reinvention of World of Warcraft that’ll have you hooked from the first second and keep you there for—oh—a couple hundred more hours. At least.
Don’t get us wrong; at the end of the day, Cataclysm still follows the basic MMO formula of killing and collecting. However, the extent to which Blizzard has rebuilt the process is nearly mind-blowing. In Cataclysm, quests are focused and generally tied into an overarching narrative. Unless you’re piloting a bomber plane, you won’t see any more “kill 60 of x monster” quests. Instead, you might be tasked with killing 10 of something, looting them, and interacting with the environment nearby—all at once. Presto: That’s three quests finished in roughly 10 minutes. No muss, no fuss, and, unlike the majority of MMOs, it actually makes sense. Also, it’s completely epic.
Giant encounters like this are a regular occurrence during Worgen quests.
We don’t use that word lightly, but nowhere is it better exemplified than in the starting areas of the two new races: Goblins and Worgen. Both are brilliantly paced storylines with giant 100-man battles, appearances by legendary WoW lore characters, and a couple of cameos from the life of Cataclysm’s party, Deathwing himself. Beyond that, however, the two races couldn’t be more different. Worgen watch their society crumble as it’s slowly consumed by a mangy, howling curse while Goblins go on a hilarious, pop-culture-referencing romp that includes wild parties, fast cars, and being turned into a tornado that shoots lightning bolts. In both cases, it’s almost like playing a single-player RPG—and a damn good one at that. To play Cataclysm, you’ll need both previous expansion packs—Wrath of the Lich King and The Burning Crusade—but who plays WoW without those?
And giant, er, parties are a semi-regular occurrence during Goblin quests.
The new high-level questing content is similarly excellent, if not better. The five new zones are pretty much uniformly fantastic, with only Mount Hyjal descending to a level even resembling mediocrity—but that’s more a case of failed ambition than lack of effort. The seven new high-level instances, meanwhile, are some of the best WoW’s ever seen. Fast and focused yet inventive and tactical, these dungeons will eat you alive the second your brain goes on autopilot. Bickering pick-up groups need not apply.
PvP, unfortunately, is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have the two new arenas—Battle for Gilneas and Twin Peaks—which are great. The new PvP zone Tol Barad, however, favors the defending side to the point where attacking is often an exercise in futility and frustration. On paper, the zone’s got a lot going for it, but it needs some serious work. Speaking of “serious work,” we’re not even sure that’ll save the new profession, archaeology. Much as we wanted to love it, it’s mostly boring, time-consuming, and requires far too many steps. Sure, the rewards are occasionally amazing, but by and large you’re basically digging for gold in a landfill.
In the grand scheme of things, though, those flaws are extremely minor. Hell, there’s a good chance you’ll never even encounter them. What you will find, however, is—to butcher a classic Disney song—a whole new World of Warcraft. And whether you’re a vet haunted by flashbacks to your days in Molten Core or an outsider wondering what all the fuss is about, there’s no better time than now to dive in.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Streamlined, story-centric questing; excellent new races and starting zones.
Mount Hyjal; an unbalanced new PvP zone; a new profession that’s mostly a waste of time.