Our second and final MMO Log for World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion begins with a five-year-old Horde character defecting to the Alliance.
Kotaku's MMO reviews are a multi-part process. Rather than deliver day one reviews based on beta gameplay, we play the game for four weeks (or in this case, two) before issuing our final verdict. Once a week we deliver a log detailing when and how we played the game. We believe this gives readers a frame of reference for the final review. Since MMO titles support many different types of play, readers can compare our experiences to theirs to determine what the review means to them.
I've gotten a lot of comments in our Cataclysm coverage regarding a supposed Horde bias on my part. It's not that I prefer World of Warcraft's more monstrous Horde faction over the more traditional fantasy races of the Alliance. It's just that I've been playing Horde for years, and it's hard enough to focus on the side I'm playing without worrying about what the other half of the game is doing.
I do feel the Alliance players' pain, however, and because of this I dropped $30 to transform my level 77 Undead Mage into a Level 77 Worgen Mage. Then I spent two days reaching level 80.
There are two choices for the discerning level 80 character when it comes to questing through the new Cataclysm zones. One can either enter Mount Hyjal and join the battle to protect the wounded World Tree, Nordrassil, or travel into the briny depths of Vashj'ir to join the battle between the Elementals and Queen Azshara's naga forces, the latter of which has teamed up with Lovecraftian horrors of the deep.
I poked around Mount Hyjal a little bit before dedicating myself to the underwater world of Vashj'ir. Hyjal was pretty enough, and the quests were engaging, but Vashj'ir offers an entirely new experience in World of Warcraft, and I couldn't tear myself away.
It went swimmingly! Get it? Ha!
I spent the majority of my post level 80 time swimming about the oceans of Vashj'ir. First I grabbed the Call to Action quest off of the post board in the Alliance capital of Stormwind, and then I waited on the docks for my ship to come in. The ship was then destroyed by a giant octopus, and I had to learn to swim rather quickly.
A convenient buff made it possible for me to breathe underwater as long as I was within the Vashj'ir vicinity, so my first stumbling underwater steps were spent getting used to the fact that enemies are no longer limited to one plane. The shadows of elite sharks passing overhead served as a chilling reminder that just because I could move in any direction didn't mean I should.
After a handful of initial quests I got the chance to wrangle my own sea horse, which serves as a very fast underwater mount. It's the only way to travel in Vashj'ir, unless you count the gigantic Gnomish submarine used in some of the storyline's more epic moments and the odd bout of shark riding.
The basic questing structure is the same as it usually is in World of Warcraft. You complete a series of quests in one location and then get ushered on to the next. The main difference I've noticed in Cataclysm questing is the story connecting the various quest lines is much more developed.
It bears noting that I didn't run into one group quest throughout the entire quest line. Everything is solo-able, at least until you reach your first instance.
The quests in Vashj'ir lead directly into the five-man instance
Abyssal Maw Throne of the Tides. In order to play in the Cataclysm instances you have to find the dungeon entrance first, and the Vashj'ir quests lead you directly to the Throne's front door. The quest line culminates in a massive battle where an elemental god is attacked by a giant squid and an important NPC is kidnapped. Inside the Throne you're tasked with saving said NPC and helping the god defeat the squid. It's one of the most natural progressions from questing to instancing I've experienced in the game.
Other highlights of Vashj'ir include the aforementioned submarine rides and a sequence where you get to relive a major battle in the role of a naga warrior princess.
Since Vashj'ir I've wandered through Deepholm, the starkly beautiful elemental plane that Deathwing used as a point of passage into Azeroth, damaging the column that keeps the two worlds from collapsing into each other. I've also taken a caravan ride into Uldum, the new Egyptian-themed zone located off of Tanaris in Kalimdor. I even took a trip to the Blackrock Caverns instance, which proved ridiculously easy, especially when compared to the relative toughness of the Throne of the Tides dungeon.
Oh, and I joined a new guild called The Mended Drum, filled with the sort of mature, relaxed players that appreciate the series of books The Mended Drum is in reference to. Nice group of folks!
When Blizzard first revealed that there would only be five new levels in Cataclysm instead of the ten tacked on with World of Warcraft's Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions, I was skeptical that it wouldn't be enough. What I've seen so far shows that the narrow focus has allowed the developers to create a much more intense experience. In other expansions I was simply traveling from zone to zone, picking up the next series of quests. Here I'm actively playing a part in a larger story, and when I finally reach level 85 I've got the feeling these will have been the most memorable five levels I've ever earned.
It makes me feel bad for the folks that rushed to level 85 in order to gear up for the big raids and player-versus-player combat. They're definitely missing out.
Look for our full World of Warcraft: Cataclysm review later this week.