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World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Review

An ancient evil lies dormant within Deepholm, the domain of earth in the Elemental Plane. Hidden away in a secluded sanctuary, the corrupted Dragon Aspect Deathwing has waited, recovering from the wounds of his last battle against Azeroth and biding his time until he can reforge the world in molten fire. Soon, Deathwing the Destroyer will return to Azeroth, and his eruption from Deepholm will sunder the world, leaving a festering wound across the continents. As the Horde and Alliance race to the epicenter of the cataclysm, the kingdoms of Azeroth will witness seismic shifts in power, the kindling of a war of the elements, and the emergence of unlikely heroes who will rise up to protect their scarred and broken world from utter devastation.

For this review though, I started at level 1.  Many of Cataclysm’s new features flew past me as things that had already been included in the game as this was my first experience with the game.  My first experience with any MMO for that matter.  I wanted to see if WoW would appeal to me, and boy did it ever.  Trying to wrap your head around the World of Warcraft as a full package is a daunting experience, and much of what I loved came towards the back half of the game.  As you can tell from the release date of Cataclysm this review has been in the works for some time now.  For the new player, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is a great time to get into the game.  Most if not all of the gripes that many players had have been fixed.  The new races are fun to play, and the existing infastructure and millions of players make finding a guild, dungeon group, or pvp match, a breeze.  But what kept me so infatuated with the game is the detail and beauty of the world itself.  Opening of new areas brings about a level of excitement that is just not matched by many games, and calling the World of Warcraft easy on the eyes is a gross understatement.  The artists manage to mix a rainbow of colors in such a manner that is not only visually appealing, but has you combing the ever persistent world for small nooks and crannies to uncover, if just to see the sights, and of course pick up new goods.

In now it’s third expansion, Blizzard has released World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and like much of the marketing says about this game it truly has changed the World of Warcraft for the better.  For starters, the games travel options have gotten a much needed upgrade.  So firing up WoW as if it’s you first time, will allow you to open flight hubs in the old worlds.  Long gone are the days of miles long treks to get from zone to zone.  With this, it also gives veterans a reason to return to older areas being much more accessible than ever before.  There are actually quite a few tweaks to the game that have made life easier in the World of Warcraft for this expansion.  The starting zones for all classes have been redone to offer a more streamlined and story driven approach.  This  helps immensely in guiding the newcomer in the game.  There has always been a clearly visible barrier to entry in WoW, and that barrier was a very steep learning curve.  In Cataclysm, while the core principles of questing for loot and XP are still the central part of the game, they do have a much more linear feel.  This leads you down a more defined path, opening new areas in a way that is a more traditional gaming experience than ever before.

Aside from the reworking of the starting zones for the classic alliance and horde character classes, two new races have been introduced in Cataclysm. The Goblins and Worgen are the newcomers to the Horde and Alliance respectively.  Notably, these two new races look better than nearly all of the old races.  Many of the details in the new character models can make the old ones feel a tad dated.   But like all races, these two new ones have unique traits that make them good fits for certain classes.  The major reason for playing with one of the new characters are the all new adventures that begin in the starting zones of the new characters.   Much more so than before, the game gives your character a bigger role in a smaller story before disembarking onto the rest of the game.

Much of the good that was added to WoW looks to have had the beginner in mind, no?  Well there’s quite a bit of content for the WoW veterans out there as well.  The new high level zones are for the most part, story focused.  If you were looking for more on the whole Deathwing storyarc you are going to get that in the new zones.  Five in all,  and none of them disappoint.  And although you may cap out before you finish all five of the new areas, there are certainly some unforgettable moments to be had by seeing them all the way through.  New high level dungeons have been thrown in for good measure as well, and while not as large as some previous incarnations, the new dungeons require much more teamwork than before.  Tackling them with friends that communicate with each other is the preferable way to go, because running in LeeRoy Jenkins style is gonna get you a case of the black and white real quick.  World of Warcraft: Cataclysm offers great content for the experienced player as well as the rookie.

As a newcomer to the game,  I was amazed at how quickly I picked up on how to play WoW.  There were a couple of reasons that I attribute this to, but I think that mainly the World of Warcraft Community is one of the best, and friendliest in gaming.  I can’t speak for every guild, or every player in the game, but the ones that I encountered were helpful and extremely knowledgeable.  Making the transition from an online network like PSN or Xbox Live you will find that there are a lot less harassing players to be found in a game like World of Warcraft. Sure, there are dark and seedy parts of the world, I have no doubt.  I however, didn’t encounter this at all, nor did I seek it out. This was one of my main concerns with starting a game like WoW.  How would I take advantage of many of the online features, knowing noone, and by all definitions of the word I was indeed a n00b.  Those concerns were soon squashed as the helpful and mostly generous community play a huge part in the game.  Although,  I’m sure that not everyone has the same experience that I had in starting out.

This level of community interaction really showcases the new guild based achievements in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.  These additions allow guilds to work towards unlockable achievements.  These achievements offer perks such as quicker leveling, faster mounts, and progressively get better like mass resurrections.  A very big part of World of Warcraft is finding like minded players to enjoy your time in the world.  Regardless of which faction you choose.

By all accounts World of Warcraft in it’s current state of Cataclysm has something for every type of gamer.  The grinding soloist will find hours upon hours of quests spanning continents of content.  The cooperative strategist will find raids and dungeons a blast to play.  The instances are of epic proportions, and even the multiplayer fantatic will enjoy the PvP arenas which feature a surprisingly fun gauntlet of games to run through.  It’s safe to say that World of Warcraft: Cataclysm truly does have something for everyone, and for the player who wants to experience it all, it’s gonna take a while.

Since this was my first try at World of Warcraft, there were some things about the game that left me desiring for more.  The world itself is a joy to look at, but interacting with said world feels a little dry.  All environments are static, as beautiful as they may be, the level of interaction with the environments is zero.  Most interaction occurs only when opening an object to loot, and this leaves alot to be desired.

Taking this further, when interacting with and accepting quests you are given just a dialogue box to read.  It gives much of the game a flat feeling, there is no sense of urgency or emotion conveyed whether the quest involves saving a life, a town, or just picking up mushrooms, they all have the same uniform dialog box which in many cases isn’t even read.  It’s understandable that in a game the size of WoW, it would be quite a task to make cutscenes for each and every menial quest, but for the bigger ones, the more important ones, it would be nice to see some more emphasis on their importance.

Having put in a fair amount of time with the game, 5 days, 23 hours, 55 minutes, and 43 seconds as of this review, I resigned to the fact that I would indeed find some things that I disliked.    First and foremost WoW is a consuming game.  It’s hard to be a casual World of Warcraft player and get anything accomplished.  There is no “Oh I’ll just pop in to play an hour or so”  No.  There is none of this.  With no clear starting or stopping points it is entirely up to you, the addicted WoW fanatic, to shut down the computer and return to reality.  So, the gripes that many have about the game being addictive are very true.  This has it’s finer points and lowlights but in the end WoW is very time consuming.

In a game as massive as World of Warcraft you will find quests or areas that are just broken.  Fight your way through a dungeon only to meet up with an objective that you are unable to interact with.  I ran into one instance of this, but then upon doing further investigation (google) there are a handful of areas in the game that seem to have unfinished quests and the like.  A minor annoyance and as a percentage of the total quests in WoW I’d have to say it’s probably under %1.  For the most part, things seem to play out pretty smoothly.  But when you do run into something like this it can be quite frustrating.

To do it all, to see everything there is to see in the game is a task that only few will achieve.  This is especially true for the beginning player.  Many of the most important things to learn from the game seem to fly over your head for many levels.  This causes extensive backtracking.  For me, I attributed this to the fact that for the first 30 levels or so I tried to play the game much like a traditional RPG.  Even with the added tutorials, the game is overwhelming at times.  The sheer size, control options, camera options, fighting options, inventories, navigation, and the other layers of menus and options don’t help in the overwhelming department.  If you have the wherewithal to learn the ropes though, I’ve never seen a more comprehensive system for managing your character in any game.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is one of those games that you either really love or hate.  If you love it, you allow yourself to get pulled into the world and focus on all of the great things about the game.  If you hate it, well there’s not much that’s going to really change your mind in Cataclysm. Many of the changes improved upon the core of the game, and it’s by all accounts the best version of World of Warcraft to date.  Having the opportunity to play it for the first time, I admit I got sucked in.  I love the game, the art, the grind, and the community.  It’s got so many things to do and see, it’s no wonder that the game is still relevant six years after it’s initial release.    Blizzard’s persistent approach to keeping things fresh for the community makes the monthly fee to play the game feel negligible when talking about entertainment per dollar spent.  Even with over a hundred hours booked into WoW: Cataclysm I’m still asking questions, learning new things, meeting people, exploring new places, but above all else, having fun.

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