Authors Note: While this is a review of Cataclysm, I’m writing it from the perspective of somebody who has a pretty good idea of how WoW works already. What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t the most MMO or WoW noob friendly review. Actually what I’m REALLY trying to say is: Sorry Zenestex.
So readers of Faceplant, some of you probably remember back when World of Warcraft: Cataclysm came out I posted an impressions article. Well actually, who am I kidding, most of you probably don’t. (That article is here!) I wrote that to give an impression while it was all still fresh, but I never considered it to be a true review. MMO’s are that breed of game that are insanely difficult to review. Experiencing all the content is almost impossible. Patches come in all the time, adding new stuff, making some things better, totally breaking others, a review is only a snapshot in time of an MMO. However, as the first major patch of the post Cata WoW approaches (patch 4.1, for the record) I want to give Cataclysm an actual review. As somebody who has played the game since back in the vanilla WoW days it’s somewhat amazing to see where the game is now compared to where it was. So let’s nerd out hardcore and see what the results were of Deathwing obliterating a good chunk of Azeroth.
So the first thing any veteran WoW player will have to do if they’re coming in to Cataclysm is quest. Well, not really. While I still believe that questing is the best way to level a character, Blizzard wanted to make sure there were OPTIONS. So god damn everything gives experience points now. Herbing? Xp. Mining? Xp. Archaeology? Xp. My illustrious comrade Tophat actually got over 50 percent of the way to level 81 from 80 without doing any Cataclysm quests. Speaking of, this is a good a time as any to confess something: I did not go back with a new character and level through the newly created old world. Tophat, however, did. And he has vowed to discuss this revamped old world questing experience he had in a future article. Anyway, options! Battlegrounds are a viable way to level up too, remember your pvp heirloom items. And of course, ye olde Dungeon Finder groups are an excellent source of Xp as well. I think the absolute quickest way to level up would be to quest and sit in line for an instance if you’re a dps or healer, or just chain instances together if you a tank. For me personally, questing is the way to go. Blizzard took what they did in Wrath of the Lich King and went full-bore. Every single zone in Cata is its own story, of which you are the star. Blizzard accomplished this primarily through two things. First is extensive use of phasing. For example, take Deepholm. This underground realm looks totally different to a person freshly zoned in than to somebody who completed all the quests and is just visiting to do the daily quests. Some of the graphics will be different, mobs will be different, NPC’s will be VASTLY different in some cases. The phasing technology really enables the feel that YOU are making a difference in the zone to shine through. Part of the reason this works actually leads in to the second reason, which is questing is now best done solo. Now, I’m not saying that you should ignore other people on the same quest. As far as I’m concerned, if you need to kill an ogre named Grishnak The Merciless, and so does the silly looking boomkin druid next to you, invite the guy and get the kill together. We’re all friends here. But group questing is a thing of the past. Not ONCE in Cataclysm did I encounter a quest that had the (Group) heading next to it. With such heavy phasing going on, the cave you’re in with a giant ogre might be a new quest hub for most everybody else, so the ability to ask for help would be severely limited. Blizzard wisely thought about this and just decided you are better off alone. This is not to say that there is no epic feeling to these things. To make up for the fact that you never have to group with players for quests, many times NPC’s will join you in the fight. The zones feel very single player RPG like, with each one taking somewhere between 3-5 hours to complete. While some quests can definitely FEEL epic when npc’s are fighting with you and shouting awesome catch phrases (THRALLS BALLS), the one complaint I have about the questing in Cataclysm is difficulty. Namely, they aren’t. I’ve leveled a hunter and a paladin through all of the zones in Cataclysm, and never did I feel like a quest I was on killed me because I didn’t play well enough. Now, I fell off cliffs or thought “…I get I can aoe all 7 of those” but that was just me being dumb. But I don’t consider that to be a huge drawback. The stories of the zones kept me interested, the gear rewards keep you motivated, and it’s just plain awesome to see how much an area can change because of things YOU are doing. Cata zones engaged me at a level that no previous expansion can compare too. Do a dungeon run at the end of each zone to “complete” the entire quest chain, but I wouldn’t move on to the next just because you’ve gained a level. These are worth finishing. Level gaining does outpace the zones though, and that is because…….
Guilds! Guilds can of course gain levels now, but I underestimated how effective the perks gained from doing so affect the game. A ten percent experience bonus is earned very quickly via guild leveling, and it makes a major difference. When I hit 85 on my alt paladin, he still had a little over two zones left to do. Gaining the guild experience becomes a compelling reason to do things you normally wouldn’t do, such as murder critters. Yes, one guild achievement involves killing 50,000 adorable little Azeroth critters. This number was tracked in our guild message of the day, we were so obsessed with it. I say we, but really, it was one guy. I will not reveal his name here because it’s quite possible he’ll be killed by a small band of rabbits or something, but he truly became obsessed with this achievement. As I went to bed and updated the guild message one night, my guild was at about 20k/50k critter kills and the unnamed bane of small animals everywhere remarked he was going to work hard on that achievement. When I logged in the next day he had BRUTALLY MURDERED 30,000 CRITTERS IN ONE NIGHT. The guild was rewarded with a tiny non combat pet armadillo. Truly, he is a hero among men and a dark legend among fauna. I said it in my previous article but it bears repeating ; get in a guild with people you actually like, it makes working towards those goals much more rewarding.
So my end game is all about instances and raids. Pvp doesn’t do much for me. As such, I have run the hell out of every dungeon in Cataclysm. And they’re good. But not nearly as hard as first thought. If you read my previous article I talk about how hard heroics are…..that isn’t true anymore. First and foremost, Blizzard did nerf some of the more difficult encounters (though not all). I think the major thing that made the heroics seem harder than they really are is that the gear check system Blizzard uses of checking your item level is sort of flawed. Some heroics are definitely harder than others. A group of fresh 85’s who don’t know the fights who get thrown in to Grim Batol is going to have ISSUES. But, as is the way of the MMO, these things change very fast. Better gear is fairly quickly acquired from running the heroics (and the raids of course, I’ll get to that). Knowledge of the fights goes up so nobody is going in blind. At this point, as I wear mostly raid gear, heroics are now no big deal and fairly easy. They remain more difficult than the Wrath of the Lich King heroics though. The dungeons are longer and there are almost no boss fights where mechanics can just be straight ignored. But most of the time my guildies and I will just do entire pulls by rounding them up and aoe’ing like crazy. Crowd control isn’t absent like it was in Wotlk, but it’s becoming more and more rare. As better gear comes out I think this initial tear of heroics will eventually reach the status of a kind of joke that groups just run through quickly, but Blizzard seems to be ok with that.
Raiding, on the other hand, I feel like is in a really strong place right now. I run as part of a ten person group two days a week, and progress has been measured but consistent. That isn’t a shot at my group, just that I think Blizzard has put the encounters together in such a way that you constantly feel like progress is being made but without making things so easy that after one month of raiding you’ve seen everything it has to offer. Blizzard also did a good job of making a raid feel like a real EVENT within the guild. Any bosses killed and loot earned all appear in the news tab of the guild. It’s fun to log on and see an epic item and guild mate looted to congratulate him. This applies to any epic item crafted or purchased, which creates a nice atmosphere. (It can also create confusion: hunter in my guild bought two pairs of hunter set gloves…..why did this happen, I don’t know. But I would have never had a “wtf” moment if it wasn’t in the news tab!) I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the encounters here, but all of them have something interesting going on without feeling cheap (unless you’re the tank of Chimaeron, that seems like it might suck). So while the quests and raids are very engaging, it brings me to my one real problem with Cataclysm, namely:
It doesn’t feel big enough. (…wait for it….almost there……THATS WHAT SHE SAID. Ok, we can move on.)
Cataclysm came out on December 7th. Now, I’m a crazy person. I played the SHIT out of that expansion, I took days off work, I ran heroics like it was my job. All that being said, about halfway through February, I started leveling my alt pally. Why? Because my main felt “done” with the expansion. There were no gear upgrades I could get anymore unless I was raiding, which has to be a scheduled event. I was exalted with every new reputation in Cataclysm. I had run every dungeon ten times over, there were no surprises. I had gotten all the achievements for doing the various new daily quests introduced. Now, this has happened to me in every expansion thus far. It just normally takes much much longer. I cut Blizzard some slack because I know a large chunk of effort went into redoing that old world leveling experience to bring it up to par with the rest of the game now. It was a good idea and just from a visual perspective from all the flying around Azeroth I can do now the game looks fantastic. But the fact of the matter is, if like me you are a player that focuses on end game and already has the one or two characters you use and isn’t interested in leveling another at the moment, this expansion doesn’t feel as big as the previous two.
That being said, MMO’s in general and WoW in specific still blow any other game out of the water in terms of replay value. The initial experience of leveling again, seeing the new zones and running the new dungeons is just as compelling as it ever was. I’m still raiding twice a week and logging in daily even if it’s just to chat with my friends. The first major content patch is fast approaching, which will put in two new heroic dungeons (with higher tier loot and more difficulty!) and new quests. I will devour that quickly too and get back to where I am now. This is all Blizzards fault, WoW is such a well crafted game that I can’t help but dive head first into it.
Filed under: Games | Tagged: archaeology, azeroth, Blackwing Descent, Blizzard, Cata, Cataclysm review, deathwing, Deepholm, dps, Elrood, healer, heroics, hunter, instance, Lich King, NPC, paladin, phasing, questing, raiding, tank, thralls balls, Uldum, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, WoW, xp |