Tuesday, January 11, 2011

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm - First thoughts

If you have been living under a rock, you may not have heard of the release of the next expansion to the World of Warcraft franchise called Cataclysm. To summarise what this expansion adds:

  • Two new races. Worgen for the Alliance (a shape shifting, werewolf race coming from the Kingdom of Gilneas which, through WoW's 6 year past, were hiding behind the Greymane Wall in Silverpine Forest) and the Goblin's for the Horde.
  • Level cap increase to 85 with all the associated questing zones for those 5 levels as well as dungeons and starting raids.
Now that seems par for the course when it comes to a new expansion for an MMO. But what Blizzard did in addition is that before the expansion was released they "shattered" all the old, 6-year old content. Essentially, they gave themselves licence to go back and change, well, everything of the old world that was released with the World of Warcraft 6 years ago. This specific change has me so excited, and I have delved deeply into playing the rebooted content.

My first impression of it? Holy crap its awesome! They have taken every lesson learnt from the last two expansions (Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King) as well as the technologies employed in Wrath like the phasing technology to make questing in starting zones feel more persistent. One of the oddities of questing was when you did a quest such as fight off a horde of invading forces, go hand in the quest where the quest giver thanks you profusely for helping them and it will make life so much easier and yet you go back to where you did the quest and things are still the same. Now, with the phasing tech, they can actually make "permanent" changes to the world for your character.

One of my favourite moments was levelling my new Night Elf Mage (yes, Night Elves can now be mages), and arriving at Astranaar, the town is under attack by the Horde. Your first quests are to kill the fires burning all over the town and then hop into a glaive thrower and kill off a bunch of Horde flyers attacking the town. When you hand the quest in, the fires are gone and the Horde are no longer attacking. Definitely makes it feel like your doing quests actually has an impact on the game world.

The other thing that Blizzard has changed is reducing (and in some zones, eliminating) the stupid quests where you need to kill some bunnies or a few pigs that the guy asking you to do it could probably get it done himself. Now, starter quests make you feel a lot more epic. Every starting zone I have tried so far has that "epic" quest line just before you move onto the next zone. This is important because Blizzard has said they have a large number of new accounts that get created and then never progress past level 10. Making a new player, still getting used to his or her class, feel like they are important to helping save Azeroth will make them want to continue on with their adventure.

There is one exception to this however that I encountered. I created a Human Hunter, just to see what the newer starting area for humans felt like, and unfortunately you still have those rather silly quests in Elwynn Forest where you need to help two love struck farmer's children meet up in secret because their families are feuding. Not exactly inspiring for whats to come but I guess Blizzard had a few limitations as to what changes they could squeeze in before release.

All in all, this is by far the best expansion Blizzard has produced for a game I enjoy playing (as well as, apparently, 12 million other people) and they deserve the record breaking sales they are getting. With all the changes to all the starting content it is far less intimidating than it used to be to get started in WoW as a new player and old players can find some extra fun checking out what was ripped to shreds and replaced.

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