World of Warcraft: Cataclysm – Review

Title   World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Developer  Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher  Blizzard Entertainment
Platform  PC
Release Date  December 7th 2010

It was a Friday and, in true Yorkshire style, it was raining.  Stood in the station with my future fiancé and a friend, we waited for the train amongst the crowd of smartly dressed businessmen and not so smartly dressed students. Discussion between us over what race/class combinations we’d be choosing was rife while a rather loud “Well I’m playing a Paladin” bellowed from the group a few paces to our left. Resisting the urge to make contact with our Alliance brothers in arms, we boarded the train and made the short trip into Bradford where I made one of the single biggest mistakes of my gaming life in not buying the original collector’s edition.

That was the start of my World of Warcraft adventure just shy of six years ago now, and it’s still on going to this day; in fact, as I write this on one monitor, on the other I’m stood in the city of Stormwind perched upon the clock tower watching the hustle and bustle of the city beneath.

Horde players put your differences aside for the next five minutes, we can go back to killing each other later.

The last time new races were added to the game was back with the release of the Burning Crusade in 2007. Now, almost four years later, the population is once again getting a bit more variety with the Alliance gaining the feral-like Worgen and the Horde the swindling Goblins.

They both fit into the current faction setup as well as can be expected and while the Goblins were probably the better of the ‘fit’, that’s not to say that Worgen don’t have their place. It’s in fact the Worgen that can boast one of the best starting experiences the game has to date which, in my mind, surpasses that of the critically acclaimed Death Knight’s starting experience when it released with Wrath of the Lich King.

Worgen have always been in the Warcraft storyline, but those familiar would know them better as Gilneans, a seafaring race of Humans. A proud nation was Gilneas but after the second war they’d had enough and did what all people in fantasy worlds do when they can’t take anymore: they build a sodding huge wall blocking them off from the outside world. Their greatest weapon against the threat from the outside world became their worst nightmare as they began to become affected by the Worgen curse thus setting up the events of Cataclysm. Gilneas itself resembles that of Victorian England, from the looks of the architecture to the way people dress, which includes the rather dapper top hat and tails. Even their voice acting has been taken care of in this respect with phrases such as “aren’t you a chipper one” quite often present. There’s so much personality with the race, not just limited to player characters but that of NPCs as well.

Goblins are very much the same in that respect, with so much personality and character that it’s literally oozing from their oversized ears. Having been operating on a neutral basis on a ‘go where the money is’ attitude, it was always going to be a difficult race to align with a faction. With arguments for them defecting to either side being valid, it was the Horde they eventually found a home with, but it works and that’s all that matters. Goblins add that extra layer to the Horde that perhaps they did not have before. While the Worgen may bring a bit of roughness and a darker look to the Alliance, the Horde already had that in abundance but what the Goblins really bring is that sense of mischief; the sense of ‘can I really trust something with THAT grin’. People will likely make comparisons with the Gnomes of the Alliance, and rightfully so, as you can’t help but feel the Goblins are their counterweights, just with a bit more grit and a lot more gnarly teeth.

You're hot, then you're cold...

With both races bringing a new set of possible class combinations (in addition to the existing ones also getting a greater selection) there’s plenty of room for manoeuvrability once you have an idea of what you want to play. Fancy playing a Druid but didn’t quite fancy Night Elf or Tauren? Then you’ll be in luck if you quite like the look of the Worgen or Trolls. It’s perhaps not one of the massive changes people will talk about when they mention Cataclysm, but it’s certainly among one of the most important. A greater selection of play possibilities means a greater variety of the races inhabiting the games cities which in turn all adds to the players immersion into the game because, let’s face it, nobody wants to see a city full of Night Elves; we’ve got the seedy side alleys of Goldshire for that.

It would be cruel to wait any longer before talking about the biggest change arriving with Cataclysm, which just so happens to be the biggest change the game has seen since its release. For six years Azeroth has stood fairly unchanged; sure a few new areas have been added as part of previous expansions but, on the whole, it’s largely the same.

Who's afraid of the big bad woooaaah!

For six years the bridge within Redridge Mountains has been under construction, the Barrens remaining a harsh land where the general chat would likely result in injury before the boredom kicked in; Azshara was a wasteland of beauty, and just don’t get me started on Desolace. With Deathwing’s comeback, the world has been sundered anew, lands have been torn apart, some shattered beyond recognition, settlements destroyed completely and life has even found a way to exist where none had previously. Azeroth has simply been reborn and it’s fantastic.

Stepping into the world again was like taking those first footsteps into a brand new game; the sense of the unknown, that feeling of anticipation at the end of every quest line and the joy of finding a rare item.

Even putting my new Worgen character to one side to once again visit the snowy peaks of Dun Morogh like I did so many years ago proved to be a real eye opener to the level to which Blizzard has actually taken the whole “Azeroth Reborn” ethos. This isn’t the World of Warcraft that I’ve been playing for over half a decade; this is something entirely new. Even with past expansions nothing ever felt this way, you were still playing the same old WoW, sure there were improvements along the way but nothing quite to this level of grandeur.

The scale of the changes involved don’t ever become as apparent as they do when you first fly within Azeroth, a feature players have been asking for ever since flying mounts were added to the game in the first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Things are impressive from the ground but as soon as you soar into the air the sheer enormity of the changes really hits home. But it’s not just the changes; it’s the beauty of it all.

With the upgraded graphics engine providing the power behind a number of advancements such as better textures and improved quality on water the game looks smoother than ever while, at the same time, always retaining the traditional Warcraft art style. Going from standing among the cobbled streets of Stormwind to soaring high above its parapets is a truly remarkable experience and I doubt there’ll be too many that don’t find the sight impressive.

That’s not to say that the restructuring of the world has had nothing but glowing effects, with perhaps one of the biggest knock on causes for concern surrounding previous expansion content. Levelling within the new Azeroth is a fantastic experience (more on that later) but once you hit the point where you have to leave the world behind in favour of Outland, your mouth begins to taste rather sour as you go from brand new content to running around lands that are now four years old. While in their prime they were seen as beacons of light against the previous iteration of Azeroth, things have moved on. Blizzard’s design ethos has changed numerous times since then, resulting in a rather disjointed experience. Thankfully it’s only for a maximum of eight levels and, while it won’t take you a great deal of time to get through it all, the experience will leave you drained of enthusiasm with the only saving grace being that once it’s done, the road ahead looks a hell of a lot brighter.

It’s a tricky situation with the only fixes available being rather unattractive for a number of reasons (at least from Blizzard’s stand point), do they bypass the Burning Crusade content entirely or spend vital development hours retuning it? One of those situations where you can’t win, but such is the nature of MMORPGs. It’s by no means a game breaker, but it certainly does affect you and while there may be one or two quests there you like, by and large it’ll be a forgettable blot on the levelling landscape.

So much had been said about the new levelling experience that it would be ridiculous not to actually try it out, which is the reason why this review took so long to actually find its way onto these hallowed pages. With over seven full days of gameplay chalked up, with the in-game counter standing at 7days, 15hours, 38minutes, 28seconds it’s safe to say that it’s been a bit of a journey. Another way to look at it is that, since its December 7th launch, I’ve played for a total of 183hours and counting.

With Worgen being one of the new races, it seemed like a good match to take one from the basement of level one to the dizzy heights of level eighty five – the game’s new current level cap. I’d not played a Druid much before due to a bit of a seething hatred for anything resembling an Elf (previously Night Elf exclusive for Alliance) so, deciding to take the plunge, I was quickly stood within the Worgen Capital city of Gilneas.

It’s safe to say that levelling through WoW has been improved, not just by a little bit either – we’re talking improvement that is literally off the chart and poking through next door’s Venn diagram.

Levelling plays such an important role within any MMO; it’s the bread and butter of the genre and a game will be held in good stead should a pleasant levelling experience be present. Gone are the days where you’d have to plot the quickest way through the levels ensuring you maximise nearly every zone within the game just to avoid the dreaded grind, a task that was seemingly impossible.

By the time I had hit the middle range of level forty I already had to make a number of decisions in relation to where I’d actually be adventuring. Zones that I’d normally clear to 100% were just ignored with the in-game maps remaining eerily blank. What this, of course, comes down to is player choice: the ability to be picky and choose your own journey through the levels. It’s strange how something so minor can prove to be such a big addition, but isn’t that what RPGs are supposed to be about, even Massively Multiplayer ones – choice?

Looks like a nice place to go with your China Plate to the local Battlecruiser to get Brahms and Liszt

By now I’ve reached the rather exciting level of sixty, and it’s time for me to leave Azeroth behind and venture into Outland but before I go, a quick look at the in-game achievement menu informs me that I’ve only completed quests in approximately one quarter of the game’s zones. Surely that can’t be right? I double check, running down the list of zones that I know I definitely quested through. Such are the advancements to the one to sixty levelling curve that even someone who happily creates alt characters by the bucket load will have plenty of options to keep it all fresh.

It’s obviously aimed at attracting the fresh blood, the new players who perhaps were put off by the previous levelling structure (which, in hindsight, was absolutely horrible), but it also appeals to existing players who may want a fresh start from their aging character of two expansions, or for those just wanting a break from their end game lives every now and then.

Outland, as mentioned above, was a particular horrible experience which actually saw my playtime diminish during the few days I spent there, before eventually sucking up the torment and ploughing through. In contrast Northrend, the levelling area added within the game’s last expansion (Wrath of the Lich King), still remains a fully enjoyable experience and it’s not long before the horrors of Outland are left behind and you’re happily traversing your way through the Lich King’s grasp.

Level eighty is when the game, thanks to the new zones added within Cataclysm, begins to shine even brighter. It’s probably a testament to Blizzard themselves when you can see clear as day just how far they’ve come in terms of quest design. While you’ll still have to do the generic collection quests, there’s always enough to keep you occupied. Granted, you may be collecting ten flanks of dragon meat, but you’re having fun doing it.

It’s not just the quests that have seen a dramatic improvement but the zones themselves; Wrath of the Lich King has some pretty impressive scenery but nothing compares to that of Cataclysm. Be it the undersea world of Vashj’ir where Sea Horses are at your beck and call, the shattered land of Deepholm, and the lore filled zone of Mt Hyjal that has been a centre for so much of the Warcraft narrative. Then you have Uldum, a desert that feels like a mix between Tatooine of Star Wars’ fame and something out of Stargate, while the Twilight Highlands really hits home with just how big the predicament hanging over the world is: a zone coated in war and it’ll be here when you get that first “ok, this shit just got real” feeling.

For me though it was Uldum that will have a lasting impression; the variation of the quests was just about perfect, but it was the injection of humour through characters such as Harrison Jones (see you around, kid!) that made for a nice break of pace from saving the world. There was definitely that element to the zone too, as you occasionally found yourself battling against epic boss battles, the likes of which you’d only ever really see in a raid environment. You just can’t beat a zone that has a quest featuring an Undead playing a guitar, whilst riding a dinosaur that is also surfing a shark.

A majestic creature of beauty, I want one.

Even after hitting the level cap I’m still going back and doing quests; there’s no more experience to be had and, save for a little bit of extra gold, no real reason to but it’s the enjoyment factor of it all, and that’s likely all Blizzard could have asked for. The biggest improvement for me while levelling, however, was that it was very much a story driven experience. The use of in-game cut scenes, especially within the new Cataclysm created zones, is superb and delivers a narrative based gameplay that is very rarely seen within the genre, often reserved for the standalone RPG heavyweights. For many though, levelling won’t be that important; it’ll simply be a case of get it done now so I don’t have to do it later and, thankfully, Cataclysm comes packed full of improvements that will keep even the most devout anti-levelling person happy.

First up is the addition of a new profession, Archaeology, which allows players to visit dig sites and unearth artefacts and is a nice way to live out your Dr Grant fantasies without any fears of velociraptors becoming just a bit too clever. Unlike other professions, you won’t be creating magical bits of armour out of two thousand year old dragon nipples but instead all the rewards will be purely cosmetic, or economic. There’s no real improvement to your character, no stat advancements but the bone dinosaur mount may be a reason for you to spend a good many hours travelling around the world with your trusty spade.

It goes without saying that there’s also a whole host of new content in the form of dungeons and their big brother counterpart, raids. Learning from the mistakes of Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard have returned dungeons and raids to their “you’ll have to work for this” mentality, as gone are the days where you could simply steam roll it – now it’s back to the good old days of challenge. The dungeons on the whole are rather impressive with a good mix of brand new and revamped classics. It’s likely that, if you’ve been playing the game for a few years already, you’ll no doubt be salivating at the lips at the thought of a Heroic Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep.

You’ll be spending a lot of time in dungeons at end game, grinding for items and the needed reputation to, again, buy better items – some things don’t ever change but even with the grind still there it’s predominately subliminal. There’s always enough going on with your character to take your mind off it – professions, achievement hunting and of course PvP. The Player versus Player aspect of the game hasn’t been left to just fend for itself, with a whole host of new features at the player’s disposal.

But it will be the new rated battlegrounds that players welcome with open arms. A much requested feature that will no doubt please the diehard PvP addicts who can now find like-minded opposition, while also pleasing the regular Joe that perhaps enjoyed a bit of PvP every now and then, but not at the risk of running into an enemy team made up of battle hungry pros that spend all their time maiming anyone that stands in their way.

Tol Barad is the new world PvP zone but, interestingly, it’s also one of the main daily quests hubs (an area used during end game to gain money, reputation and item rewards) and battling for control of the citadel as well as having your faction capture the prison will open up more daily quests, bringing with them a host of new rewards. The mix between daily quest hub and outdoor PvP is quite interesting; it certainly gets a lot of people involved in world PvP that perhaps wouldn’t have been should there be no extra gain.  With battles lasting for a whole thirty minutes, and on a cool down of two hours, you can expect some fierce action within as both factions go all out to claim victory and retain those vital extra quests as rewards. It’s insanely good fun and the conflict was some of the most intense I have so far experienced.

The changes brought about with Cataclysm aren’t necessary massive; minor alterations to the User Interface has seen it improve considerably especially within the guild page. Guilds now play an even greater role, with them getting their own levelling system which sees a number of perks ranging from extra experience, faster mounts to the ability to summon an entire raid of guild people. The interface was in a dire need of improvement and, while it still is in places, the changes made are more than enough to bring it up to today’s standard.

  • Excellent levelling curve.
  • More story driven experience.
  • Graphical overhaul keeps balance between quality and accessibility.
  • Excellent audio work.
  • The vastness of changes, something for everyone.
  • Will get your money's worth ten times over.
  • Some previous expansions now feel outdated.
  • Balance issues still remain problematic at times.

To say Cataclysm is an expansion is probably underselling it. Granted, it may technically be one but it may as well be running a World of Warcraft 2 logo on the box. It has breathed so much new life into the game in every possible way. Improvements to the game's storytelling abilities will really slam home the Role Playing tag prefixed in its genre, along the way appeasing the many that called out for a more story driven experience. There’ll still be those people out there that hate everything WoW stands for but, regardless of what you think of the game, of Blizzard or people that play it, you simply cannot deny that it’s ahead of its class and with the changes that Cataclysm has wrought, it’s one of the best all round gaming experiences I’ve ever had - MMO or otherwise.

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  1. Jace says:

    Great review. I’ve always wondered about WOW, always felt slightly embarressed at regarding myself a serious gamer but never having experienced it. Always wished it was an Xbox 360 game. This review renewed the excitement I once felt about playing it, so when I do finally take the plunge, i’ll have to name my Worgen ‘Ben’

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    A funny thing happened on the way to the Cataclysm review… I switched from “Would never touch this”, meaning Warcraft in general, to “I may just lose my life to this!” and it happened between the Cataclysm preview, Adam’s “Cataclysm Or Genesis” article cemented my interest in it. This review, however, has me genuinely thinking that I now WANT to play it rather than just “It might be good” and that can’t be a bad thing. The problem is the time sink. I have so little as it is, and I know unequivocally that this will require serious dedication.

    It’s a tough call. Between the three articles mentioned above, I have an urge to go for it. The level of playability is beyond that which I’d expected and even though I have no idea how the levelling worked before, the fact that it has been cleaned up and made more user friendly is quite exciting to me. I’m level 42 in Two Worlds II just now and was surprised that it even went that high… then last night I picked up some level 56 weapons, and that gave me a little flutter in my stomach as I knew that there was so much more character building possible. THAT is what excites me the most about Warcraft or, more specifically, Warcraft with Cataclysm. I can take or leave the MMO part of it; I just want the quests and the levelling.

    Sounds like a genuinely great game and, as you say, more of a sequel than an expansion pack. Awesome stuff!

  3. Ste says:

    I’ve only played abit of WoW on my brothers account and I did actually enjoy playing it. At the time though I was at uni still and I dared not sub up myself for fear of losing both my degree and my social life. Nowadays I just don’t have the time for MMO’s so I tend to steer clear of them. Should circumstances change in the future though I would probably end up picking up WoW and seeing what all the fuss is really about.

  4. Knikitta says:

    A fantastic review (as always Ben) and it really shouts out how much easier it is play World of Warcraft, without it seeming so daunting to any newcomer to not only the game, but also the world of Online gaming in a MMO form.

    Whilst old players are still trickling back, it was fantastic to log in a week after the ‘expansion’ and so see many of our old friends returning to Azeroth to explore the new areas and rekindle their love for the game.

    As much as the game can, and will take up a lot of your time, I found that if I set myself a certain amount of time every other night to play. This does mean that I do not get to see any raids (yet) but as I am not a raider anyway, it is not something I can miss… I can still do instances because most of them are so fast (15 mins some of them) plus I still quest and Roleplay.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to jump on my Seahorse and catch me a Clacker! :P

  5. Adam Adam says:

    I never thought that Blizzard could carry on as long as they have with Warcraft and that no amount of patching or new content could ever see the game grow or even sustain its subscription base. From the pre-Cat ‘The Shattering’ patch, everyone playing it knew that this expansion was going to be the greatest and that we could never doubt Blizzards ability ever again.

    A unique review Ben, the first I’ve read where it’s apparent that the writer has actually looked at EVERYTHING that Blizzard brought to the table with Cataclysm and been informed enough to review it, great job :)


    It’s not so much that it requires dedication, it’s that it takes it from you and won’t let you see that until the cat’s died :)

  6. [...] the hustle and bustle of the city beneath. To read the rest of the review, please hop on over to Gaming Lives.Reverie0.0/60votesVoting statistics:RatePercentageVotes60%050%040%030%020%010%0 Tags: cataclysm, [...]

  7. Tania Tania says:

    Wow, epic review. That’s a lot of play-time! Well done that man.
    If it wasn’t for the whole online/multiplayer thing I’d be sold. As it is I’m waiting impatiently for Dragon Age 2 and Skyrim ;)

  8. Edward Edward says:

    A fantastic review Ben!
    Like Markuz said, it’s making me consider taking the plunge.
    Now if only I had money, a half decent laptop and the spare time…

    Also, 183 hours? Wow.

  9. Lee says:

    Between you and Adam I was talked into it and I felt the need to jump I to wow, I’m am a complete spanner at it though. I start fights with level 80 horde guys, I spent two days looking for the post box, I have two pet dinosaurs with the same name (dunno how that happened) and I spent longer than I should of in a rather questionable inn in goldshire (I think that’s where it was)

    As always ben a good review :D

    @markuzr you should play it’ll be good, you can join our gang thing.

  10. Kat says:

    “You just can’t beat a zone that has a quest featuring an Undead playing a guitar, whilst riding a dinosaur that is also surfing a shark.”

    Sold! I shall be joining you guys, hopefully sooner rather than later. Awesome read Ben, sounds fantastic.

  11. Knikitta says:

    Shall I start sending out invites now then? Throw your emails my way! *grin*

  12. Kat says:

    Ha! Well my PC seems to be on it’s last legs. Doesn’t always switch on, doesn’t always recognise discs, incredibly slow despite running virus checkers etc etc. I’d like to pick up a semi-decent laptop that would run WoW and some of those PnC games Lorna’s article mentioned. I’m guessing I’m looking at £400+ though? :(

  13. Knikitta says:

    My Laptop was £379 and it runs Wow – admittedly I can not have it on highest graphics settings, but it works alright if I turn all the settings down to low, or medium if its not a highly populated area… Might be an idea to call upon the help of our tech geeks on the forum! :D

  14. Kat says:

    I shall derail these comments no further! (Sowwy Ben) And go rob a bank :D

  15. Lorna Lorna says:

    The more I read about WoW, the more it pulls me in to the point I am now seriously considering putting some money aside to get it. This was a fantastic review Ben and you fully explored everything that the new content offered, however, I have to curse you and Adam for pushing me to this point. ;) It looks and sounds fantastic and the fact that there are some story driven elements, a pervy pub, and professions to keep ‘potterers’ like me busy in between exploring means that it is more a question of when I now get it, than if.

    I’m also seriously loving the old worldy look of the Worgen city… it looks gorgeous!

  16. [...] Well that’s today and I decided to get back filling in my crappy little wordpress blog before I venture back into Azeroth tonight after reading Bens review yesterday [...]

  17. Paul says:

    But it will be the new rated battlegrounds that players welcome with open arms

    You have to be joking. A poll on the WoW forums had XP-capped twinking three times as popular as rated BGs. They’re the biggest PvP flop since lolsand.

    Also: improved leveling doesn’t help someone stay in the game once they reach level cap. The end game content is tuned beyond the level of desire of the average player, as the collapse in raid completion stats demonstrates. The questing “on rails” also lacks replay value in the 80-85 range.

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