Nothing ruins a perfectly good fantasy world like an enormous angry dragon tearing through the surface of the planet, destroying everything in its path. How does Blizzard's ridiculously popular online role-playing game fare in the face of this Cataclysm?
That whole dragon-ripping-through-the-planet scenario is exactly what happened prior to the release of Cataclysm, the third expansion pack to World of Warcraft, the subscription-based online RPG that every other subscription-based online RPG wants to be like. The dread dragon Deathwing has returned to the world of Azeroth, leaving a swath of destruction in his wake. Newly displaced races join the struggle between the Alliance and the Horde, while sinister forces muster to take control of ancient lands uncovered by the violent emergence. The fate of the entire world rests in the hands of millions of World of Warcraft players around the globe. I guess it doesn't sound so bad when you put it like that.
Cataclysm is an expansion pack that requires the original game to play, so the ideal Cataclysm player is someone that already plays World of Warcraft, or those looking to hop into the world's most popular MMO and don't want to miss out on the two new playable races the expansion brings.
Why You Should Care
World of Warcraft is one of the most successful subscription-based massively-multiplayer online games of all time, and the release of the Cataclysm expansion pack brings with it sweeping changes to the way the game is played, bringing lapsed players back to the fold. If any of your friends suddenly disappeared two weeks ago, this is likely where they went.
Cataclysm is the expansion pack that changes the face of Azeroth forever, right? Not really. The transformation of the Azeroth mainland brought on by Deathwing's passing, sweeping changes to the way character classes progress, and new starting areas for each existing playable race came a few weeks before the release of the expansion as part of a major patch. That patch was almost an expansion pack unto itself and it was delivered to all World of Warcraft players free of charge. You don't need to purchase the Cataclysm expansion to experience any of that.
Then what's in the actual expansion pack? Well for starters the expansion pack gives players access to two new playable races. The Alliance gains a race of feral, shape-changing werewolves known as the Worgen, and the Horde welcomes scheming Goblins into the fold. Both new races deliver compelling new character experiences, allowing the player to take on an active role in the events leading up to their induction into their respective factions. The Worgen story is dark and desperate, while the Goblins' tale is filled with light-hearted humor. Neither should be missed.
What about new high level content? Cataclysm raises World of Warcraft's level cap to 85, giving maxxed out players five more ranks to attain as they adventure through the expansion's six new zones. It doesn't sound like much, especially when compared to the massive, sprawling new continents and ten additional levels included in the game's first two expansion packs, but if you take the time to experience the intricate quest lines and atmospheric landscapes of the watery depths of Vashj'ir or the sand-choked mystery of ancient Egypt inspired Uldum you'll discover that Cataclysm is a textbook example of quality over quantity. Each new zones tells its own epic tale, and never before have I felt like I've played such an integral role in shaping major events in the world of Azeroth. I've been a key participant in cataclysmic battles between demigods. I've stepped into the role of a naga battle maiden to learn how Vashj'ir came under control by that aquatic threat. I've even dabbled in real-time strategy during desert skirmishes that shift into a top-down perspective, giving me strategic command over friendly forces. There's a fresh experience around every corner.
What's in it for the raiders and PVPers? Cataclysm comes packed with three high-end raiding zones for coordinated 10 and 25-man raids to take down, plus a special raid dungeon unlocked by defeating the opposing faction in a player-versus-player battle in the end-game zone of Tol Barad. The expansion also introduces two new level 85 PVP battlegrounds: the control-oriented Battle for Gilneas and Twin Peaks capture-the-flag. Sadly I am not currently a member of a raiding guild and did not hit level 85 - a requirement for the new PVP zones - so I could not partake of this content yet.
Why didn't you hit level 85? Because I'm a more casual type of player. I'm perfectly satisfied spending a couple of hours practicing Archaeology, the expansion's new profession that has players flying all over the map searching for artifacts that eventually unlock fabulous prizes. Or browsing the auction house to see what sorts of ridiculously powerful items players have started selling in the Cataclysm's wake. Hell, I'm sure I've wasted at least a half hour listening to the expansion's soundtrack, which has more character than many of the players I've met.
And you've got no complaints? Nothing that requires a World of Warcraft official forum-sized rant. Solo questing feels a bit too easy, despite the fact that the monsters in Cataclysm have obviously been beefed up in comparison to the higher level creatures from the previous expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. The updated graphics for the new areas and playable races are quite pretty, but the older races are really beginning to show their age; a human looks downright primitive standing next to a higher-polygon Goblin model. The older zones have received upgrades. Perhaps it's time to revisit those older characters.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm In Action
The Bottom Line
The traditional massively multiplayer role-playing game audience looks for one thing in an expansion pack: More content. With World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Blizzard goes above and beyond, delivering not just more, but better content. The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansion packs may have covered more ground, but Cataclysm's shorter journey is a deeper and more satisfying experience than anything that came before it.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was developed and published by Blizzard for the PC and Mac, released on December 7. Retails for $39.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played a Goblin Rogue to level 14, a Worgen Druid to level 29, and a previously Undead Worgen Mage from level 80 to 84. Mainly quested in Vashj'ir and Uldum, with stints in Mount Hyjal and Deepholm. Ran the Throne of the Tides and Blackrock Caverns instances. Fiddled about with Archaeology. For a more complete accounting of my time with the expansion pack, check out my World of Warcraft: Cataclysm MMO Logs.