Monthly Archives: December 2011

Cataclysm Pre-Mortem

(Yes, I realize I’m probably using the word wrong, but still, this is supposed to be a look back at Cataclysm, prior to going through all the zones. So… yeah.)

There are two aspects that have to be considered when looking at the Cataclysm expansion: The Gameplay and the Story.

On the Gameplay side of things, I think it was largely a success. The new battlegrounds were entertaining, even if they were a bit of a retread on Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin. The new heroics tended to be fairly difficult, requiring enough competence from players that they could not simply be overwhelmed by gear, at least before significantly high level gear came into play.

Of particular note are the features that were added. Looking For Raid is a phenomenal success, even if I find the difficulty a bit lacking, but its giving a lot of players a chance of seeing content they would never have even touched previously. Their expansion of the Dungeon Finder tools has made instancing a breeze. For the most part, all of the features they added feel great, or would be great with a few adjustments that are sure to come.

But, as for the story?

Eeeeeh.

To be honest, it started off strong. The advancement of the Horde/Alliance War from WotLK came across wonderfully, particularly in the leveling zones. The progression through the 81-85 zones did show you the danger that Deathwing’s forces possessed. You went to strange locales, saw things never before seen in WoW, and played sidekick to Indiana Jones.

…yeah. He’s #1 on my list of mistakes. Expect a lot of swearing when I get to Uldum.

But, for the most part, it had a lot of elements that worked, and the ones that didn’t were understandable given the massive amount of changes they made (except for Harrison Jones). It wasn’t as good as WotLK at launch, and the lack of a “Wrathgate” event really didn’t help matters, but it wasn’t bad either.

But the updates killed the story. If you remember the three story arcs I mentioned last time, Omnicidal Deathwing, Horde/Alliance War, and World Got Blowed Up Good?

Well, patch 4.1, the Zandalari Go Evil patch, didn’t touch the first and the third plot arcs. Looking back, there was no element of that story which tied into Deathwing’s desire to kill things, and it didn’t really touch upon the changed world. While there was an element of the Alliance/Horde War, it really only detracted from the rising tensions. Horde Trolls go to Stormwind to join forces against Zul’Gurub, while the Alliance High Elves go to Zul’Aman to lend aid to Silvermoon. And… that’s it. No real closure to it all, besides “Woo we killed shit! Hooray for genocide!”

Patch 4.2 at least dealt with Deathwing a bit, or at least one of his allies, Ragnaros. The problem again is that its Horde and Alliance joining forces to deal with Ragnaros, with absolutely no conflict between the two sides. I realize, they’re dealing with a greater threat, but there was still conflict going on between the Alliance and Horde at Arthas’ doorstep in Icecrown Citadel. The tension between the two sides was never even touched upon. Oh, and we kill Ragnaros. Again. Hooray.

Oh, and Thrall got a quest chain where we learned a bit more about his character. More on him in a later filler post, as I have too much to talk about with him.

At least 4.3 got to Deathwing himself again, only, well, the Old Gods seemed to steal the show. The last of the Heroics and the first three bosses of Dragon Soul had a huge focus on the Old Gods’ forces, only for them to be entirely forgotten after we reach the top of Wyrmrest Temple, even though it becomes clear that the Old God N’zoth is the real threat.

And the final cinematic… I could do a whole post on that. I’ll put a pin in that, along with a longer look at Thrall.

Anyway, there’s my long and slightly ramble-y look at Cata, prior to going over the whole shebang in depth. Coming up next: Drinking Game!

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An Introduction

First of all, I love WoW. I want to enjoy every single quest and aspect of the game. I want this game to be the best it can be, even though I’m merely just a paying customer.

The reason I bring this up? I’m probably going to end up tearing parts of WoW apart in the course of these reviews.

You see, Cataclysm was billed as having an entirely new 1-60 leveling experience. The old leveling experience would be (mostly) thrown by the wayside, and the new quests and zones would be designed to make leveling much smoother, instead of the frequent-flier heavy leveling experience that 45-58 could be. Additionally, these new zones would have updated storylines, to reflect the evolving status of the world.

And, well, it was needed. World of Warcraft was launched in November of 2004. By the time the Cataclysm expansion was being planned out, WoW would have existed for 6 years, gone through two full expansions and dozens of patches. Leaving aside how the story had been evolving ever since release, Blizzard had developed new techniques and new technologies that had done wonders to improve both gameplay and storytelling ability, most notably Phasing.

Boy, did Blizzard use Phasing in the new zones…

The thing is, a lot of existing players don’t play through these zones much, especially compared to the 80-85 zones. At this point, I’ve played through most of the new Alliance zones and a few of the new Horde zones, but gone through all of the 80-85 zones multiple times (well, only once doing ALL of Uldum). So, while I have, for the most part, enjoyed the leveling experience and the new zones, I feel its worth taking a closer look at the 1-60 leveling experience Cata has to offer.

And, hey! WordPress is free and I occasionally have spare time!

So, that’s what I’m going to aim to do here. Each week, I’ll try to put up a pseudo-review of one of the Cataclysm leveling zones, progressing from lower level zones to higher level zones, as that seems to be a bit of a progression in time. I WILL be jumping around a lot, and I’ll also probably be cutting the Goblin and Worgen starting experiences in half, at least. Those are freaking long quest chains and there’s a lot in there to talk about.

That said, I do have a few rules for this:

1: Each Zone’s story will be considered on its own merits.

This might be a bit much to demand of the zone stories, but unless there’s a big, obvious hook between the two (like there is between Ashenvale and Stonetalon), I’m going to expect to be kept in the loop on what happened previously, partly for players who happened to skip the previous zones somehow. On one of my new chars, I got to 60 with my gnome after entirely skipping two full zones, so I don’t think its too much to ask that I might have missed the previous episode.

This is also partly because, well, the zones tend to be self-contained with their stories, which is a GOOD thing. There might be side arcs that lead into future events, but the story tends to wrap things up at the end of the zone.

2: Zones should tie into Cata’s plot arcs.

Essentially, there’s three story arcs of note within Cataclysm’s leveling zones:

War between the Alliance and the Horde: Cataclysm has a level of overt conflict between the Alliance and Horde that’s above and beyond any level previously shown in WoW. Shit’s been hitting the fan fairly regularly, and there’s a lot of fighting going on. In some cases, this may also extend to internal politics of the Horde and Alliance.

Deathwing wants to destroy the world: The ‘Main Arc’ of Cataclysm is pretty much DW’s attempts at killing everything. This generally includes whatever the Twilght’s Hammer is up to, or any other self-described omnicidal maniacs.

Holy Shit Look At What the Cataclysm Did!: Probably the most common of the story arcs, really. The Cataclysm tore up Azeroth pretty heavily, and a number of zones got outright devastated by it. 

3: I will not compare to pre-Cata Zones (mostly)

This took a lot of thought on my part, really. Should I penalize a zone if it wasn’t changed much? Should I praise it for being changed hugely? Or should I be more forgiving of a zone that didn’t get much update time?

Answer I came to, largely, was that it doesn’t matter. We’re a year past Cataclysm now, and as such the lack of any changes to the zones since then (aside from phased bits in Stranglethorn for 4.1) has to mean that we’re probably not going to see many changes in the future either. As such, I have to deal with the zone as it stands now. 

Similarly, I can’t be too gushing about a zone that got a complete overhaul, because it took a lot of design time to rework the quests entirely, and the question would have been “Was that time well spent?”. And, well, it doesn’t matter that much, from the viewer’s perspective. They should care more about how things stand NOW.

That said? Most of the changes to the zones are due to the Cataclysm or the War. I won’t praise Blizzard for the design work in destroying Auberdine, for example, but I will praise them for destroying it, as it is possibly the most poignant example of how devastating the Cataclysm really was.

4: I’ll be (mostly) ignoring Horde/Alliance bias.

Sorry, brothers of the Alliance, but I’m going to keep my own biases about it in check as much as I can. I do believe Blizzard has unintentionally given the Alliance the shaft in Cata, but its more important to give the whole ordeal a pass, at least for now. I will be commenting on actions that make little to no sense, though, and inconsistencies in power levels, so I won’t be ignoring the ‘bad writing’ aspects that come along with this.

I hope this wasn’t too much of a wall of text for you all! I’ll start with the Gnome starting experience, just to cut my teeth on it all, and probably jump to the Horde soon after. I’ll be sure to give out the character and realm name too, in case anyone wants to give me a call.

But, before that all starts? I have two more posts to write first: A pre-mortem on Cataclysm (just for posterity’s sake, and to provide a contrast against any changing opinions I might have as time goes on), and a drinking game!