In this installment of World of Warcraft Wisdom, I move to the most recent expansion: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.

This whole idea of doing a series was spurred by the release of Cataclysm (Cata) – an expansion, which in my mind, brought the game back into balance to help casual gamers move up, yet give serious gamers a reason to stay in the game. Cata has proven why Blizzard and World of Warcraft have been able to last and grow as long as they have. Where most MMOs fail after a relatively short period, WOW has managed not only to sustain a core group of players, but grow. Within each expansion, Blizzard has given various patches that include new content, reconfiguring of talent trees and specs, along with other gems.

Cata began well before the actual release, as Blizzard did prior with WotLK in preparation of patch releases. We logged off one night, downloaded the patch the next day, and immediately we saw Azeroth had changed. Cities were fighting off elementals and we had to find out what was happening with the Twilight Hammer. The Shattering event happened and Azeroth was changed forever.

Before going further, I must note again, that in my heart I am lover of the written word. One of my greatest weaknesses as a writer is creating a sense of place in my work; therefore, I get shivers along my spine when I see an author create that sense of place – so much that I seem to be sitting at the table for a meal with the characters. Blizzard keeps geeks like me in mind: I have been, and continue to be, a fan of the setting and the changes with Cata did well in making it new, lively, and vibrant. Meandering, after downloading the expansion, I saw the damage wrought by Deathwing – from the scorching of Ashenvale to the flooding of Thousand Needles, the place had been changed. If you were lucky enough, you might even get a glimpse of him as he flies around, even luckier if you get scorched and receive the achievement.

Upon Cata’s release I created a Goblin warrior and decided I wanted to take my time leveling to better explore Azeroth, so I cast aside any heirlooms and leveled the old fashioned way with diligence and effort (I would say work, but this is a game, so little actual work is needed). However, neither much effort nor diligence were needed. Blizzard streamlined many of the quests and increased the experience so much that leveling went by rather quickly. What’s more, in a nod to keep the causal gamer interested and a sense of hope that this game can be easy, the price tag of training for mounts and dual specialization have been lowered to ridiculously low levels. Dual specialization used to cost 1,000 gold, now it is a measly 10 gold. When you couldn’t fly in Northrend until level 77, unless you bought a “Tome of Cold Weather Flying” for 1,000 gold, now you can spend just over 200 gold at level 68 and you’re off and flying in Northrend. And here I am, 8,000 gold poorer because I bought it for four toons and paid the old 1,000 gold fee for dual specialization.

World of Warcraft-Cataclysm: Ashenvale burned

In reconfiguring the game, some dungeons were updated for the lore, as well as many areas for leveling. Several are already well aware of the changes in Shadowfang Keep and the Dead Mines, but one welcome surprise is the changes to the Temple of Atal’Hakkar, or Sunken Temple. This dungeon used to be a royal pain in the backside and could take two hours to get through. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a long dungeon, but this one just got tedious to the point of knitting with pencils. But, with Cata, it made it more friendly on gamers. The dungeon can be done quickly, with the removal of the upper deck portion where you had to light this and that in a particular order – building-up to the  final boss.

Along with instance changes, as I leveled my baby Goblin, I noticed how many areas changed for leveling. The old Plague Lands, which used to be for the end game, were now for players in their 30s. As well, Blizzard went and made it easier to level by adding goodness knows how many flight points. No longer, for example in Arathi Highlands, do you have to run from one end of the place to the other (to turn in a quest), now there are handy flight masters throughout.

But, that is where the easiness really ends, as once you return to Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms, the challenge begins for all players. Where a pick-up group (PUG) could easily make their way through any dungeon or raid in WotLK, players need to be coordinated enough to get through them in Cata without wipes. Moreover, it is not enough to simply be level 80 and hit all regular instances in order to get through heroics, one must have a sufficient level of gear to do so. As well, just having that item level may not be enough, especially for healers and tanks. Speaking of which, DPS finally has some challenge and get to use their brains for a change. At one point, alll DPS had to do was sit there and hit a series of keys, then repeat until the boss fell, with Cata, they need to be aware of what is going on and be ready to take on adds, shed a debuff, run from the group, etc. Finally, I wont mind running DPS.*

The new system does well in giving all players a nice challenge, so much that when you see a well-geared player, you know that it took effort and determination. Blizzard created three tiers of gear: regular, heroic, and epic, and with this, they gave serious gamers a chance to set themselves apart from the casual players out there. Regardless, with the challenge, which is by no means over the top, casual gamers have the chance to find a good level of challenge. With the previous expansion, a player could knock out three dungeons in an hour. Now, it takes almost as long to get through just one.

World of Warcraft: Grim Batol

Blizzard also added some changes between the regular and the heroic dungeons. Both levels require a different strategy for boss confrontations. Again, this is a nice balance for both types of players.  It gives the serious player a chance to slow down a bit, and the casual gamer a nice challenge of something new and different. There it is: where WotLK really didn’t give any new or different changes, Cata has provided several opportunities.

I could go on and on about this and that, with respect to the changes Blizzard brought to the game with Cata; however, I prefer to look at the big idea of the expansion – and what it brings to the game and the manner in which it provided gamers an opportunity to keep playing. With Cata, like other expansions, much did change. But, what I like most is the challenge for gamers – both casual and serious. Blizzard really did well here in giving players a reason to stay in Azeroth.

Now that World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has been out for some time, what are you liking or not liking about it?

And finally, enjoy the trailer:


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* Author’s note: Before I get flamed in the comments, I realize Blizzard went and nerfed the instances – a topic I will explore next week.