As we should all be fully aware of by now, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has been out and playable for three weeks. The expansion was greedily and enthusiastically gobbled up by fans and newcomers alike, all wanting a piece of the new, forever transformed Azeroth that we were promised (and delivered). So now that the hype, server lag and ganking has calmed down, and the festive season is nearly over its time for me to take a step back and reflect on what has changed and what has not (but may seem like it has).
Now, please bear with me for a moment - perhaps it is something to do with being a woman, being my age and having the friends I do, but right now seems to be a great time of year to get engaged and/or married. People have weddings on the brain. For some reason that has got me thinking about wedding stuff, and because I am the geek that I am I somehow managed to connect this way of thinking into my article today. If you think about it, a lot of us feel like we are married to the game, our loved ones think we might as well be, and some poor souls even forsake their real marriages in favour of it.
Get your sheep ready...
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, like many expansions before it, has recycled a lot of things. However, unlike many expansions before it, instead of just recoloured items and bosses that bear a striking resemblance to others that came before them, this time around they’ve also reverted back to an older playstyle. Gone are the days of barely geared groups being able to stomp their way through a dungeon with nothing but a healthy arsenal of aoe and half a clue; no longer can we obtain a slew of epics from our first heroic at maximum level, and just about all classes are having to search through their spellbooks for those crowd control spells and make room for them on their action bars once again.
For those of us that have been playing WoW for an extended period of time (read: since Vanilla WoW or early Burning Crusade), we remember these times and (mostly) welcome the booster shot of skill required to succeed at end game in Cataclysm. For those who joined us during Wrath of the Lich King, it may be somewhat difficult to grasp, but well worth the effort, particularly in the case of instances such as the Vortex Pinnacle (pictured above), where you will be faced with groups of ~5 mobs where two of them are healers. Remember - crowd control is your friend.
The blasted lands as you've never seen them before!
Zones. Artwork. Quests. Races. The world of Azeroth is completely changed, and I believe Blizzard did a great job this time around. We’re back in our old haunts of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, but places such as Mount Hyjal and Gilneas that were previously unavailable to us are now open for play. Even as we revisit old zones that we may have levelled through previously, they too have changed. Barely anywhere in Azeroth has escaped Deathwings influence, and in some areas in particular the changes are astounding. Our entire game has transformed - even to start a new character in an old zone is a completely new experience. If you haven’t taken the time to explore the world past the current area you’re questing in, I highly recommend going for a fly just to take a look at how different the world is. Some of my favourites include Darkshore, the Blasted Lands (check out the South Western corner, pictured above), Thousand Needles and Ashenvale (check out those tentacles).
In the world of video game design, and indeed the world of any kind of design, borrowing ideas is a common practice and often the entire basis behind how a game or artwork progresses. One game implements a new feature or approaches something differently; and its competition assesses this and uses it as inspiration for their own take on that feature. If it’s good, then its likely to appear - if not then it might be ignored. Some people view this borrowing (or stealing as they may call it) as some kind of underhanded technique, that Blizzard should be able to make up their own ideas and implement features that have never been seen before. But why would they do that when there are perfectly viable, already tested options out there that they can use and adapt, not from just other games but also from the modding community?
One such borrowed feature that has come into play in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is that of guild advancement, whereby participation in different aspect of the game by guild members contributes towards guild experience, and as the guild levels then the members of that guild are able to receive various rewards and 'perks'. A new feature for WoW, but one that has been around for a few years already and tried and tested by a large portion of the gaming community. The first guild levelling system was devised by Mythic Entertainment, and appeared initially in Dark Age of Camelot, and then again in Warhammer Online. As a guild leader, I am particularly pleased with this feature as it brings an extra level to being in a guild and experiencing success together as a group - and at the risk of sounding mushy it really does promote a sense of community. People strive to participate and contribute towards that experience bar so that they too can reap the rewards of the next perk, and nothing quite beats the feeling of watching a group of people celebrate together as guild-wide achievements are attained.
Preparing for raiding? Expect to be covered in these.
Ahh, blues. Our new best friend. As mentioned above, heroics in Cataclysm no longer gift us with raid-ready epics. Instead, they gift us with blues. Good blues, and blues that are perfectly fine for entry-level raiding, but blues nonetheless. It is really only a colour, yet removing the purple from such easily attainable items seems much better. To me, we should earn our epics through epic means - such as raiding, or perhaps by shelling out epic amounts of gold, or spending days farming the mats for things we craft for ourselves. By reducing the frequency and availability of epics dropping throughout the game, Blizzard has once again raised their value. You can now inspect someone and if you see an epic, you can safely assume that that is a good piece of gear in relation to other items. In Wrath of the Lich King, unfortunately, the word epic became a contradiction of itself and in fact meant very little with such a huge difference between items supposedly of the same class, thus forcing us to focus on item levels and ignore the basic colour classification entirely.
With so many new and revamped features that have provoked so many feelings (good and bad) amongst it's player base, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has certainly done more than enough to stoke the proverbial fire. The game as we know it has changed completely, and everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that it's for the better. So whether you’re a long time player approaching (or passed) your sixth anniversary, or still in your honeymoon period the result should be the same: You may now kiss your expansion pack.