World of Warcraft Cataclysm: The New Start
There I am minding my own business collecting twelve bear asses in the back of beyond when I see that the server is shutting down. Everyone knows what this means. Bags of Cheetos are within easy reach. The stock of diet coke looks healthy. So despite what Illidan Stormrage spouted in a fit of grandiose posturing. “I am prepared.”
Kind of. The server pops back online and cataclysm’s expansion has launched. First things first, buy the new riding skill so that I can fly in Azeroth’s hereto old realms. Then get my ass to Mount Hyjal. Except everyone has the same plan. The servers heave under the number of people logging in and running to the same locations. The new questing zones soon become a veritable sea of name plates. Kuldahar the Patient, Jehannum of the Nightfall, Sheol the Love Fiend. Players swarmed over each quest fighting for the limited spawns, it was chaos. Fireballs whizzed through the air. Hunter’s pets chewed on the rocky faces of poor elementals. I had never up until this point felt sorry for mobs but now looking at this perpetual cycle of killing I couldn’t help but think back to an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. Those poor bastards.
While I struggled for air amongst the roiling masses, messages would periodically pop up stating. [REALM FIRST: Illustrious Grand Master Miner] Someone levelled up there mining already? The frantic scramble to devour Blizzards new content was too much for me. The excitement was palpable. New sights and sounds held together by Blizzard’s incredible art team had players enthralled. However for me this hysterical race only served to dilute the experience. I found myself concentrating more on beating some Death Knight douche to the next quest objective than the quest itself. I bowed out of that rat race deciding instead to level my new Goblin Shaman Turiya.
Cataclysm: Level 1
The Goblin’s starting experience is a joy to play through. The quests really drove home the stark nature of the Goblin’s self-indulgent and reckless pursuit of greed. Every line of dialogue spoken or written is wrapped in humour, self-deprecation and most importantly a cohesive narrative of the Goblin’s as a race. Even in the wake of Deathwing setting ablaze the volcano that destroys there home island they scramble amongst one another in their endless race for gold. Even if that means deliberately setting fire to the headquarters too place a crooked claim on the insurance money.
Once you’ve escaped the doomed island you find yourself on yet another isle new to Cataclysm. Ship wrecked and homeless upon a lush island, the entrepreneurial goblins begin doing what they do best. Almost every quest has you expanding the goblins base of operations with their usual whacky and destructive methods. If a goblin can’t do something with explosives then it’s not worth doing.
The experience gave me the first glimpse of what Blizzard was trying to achieve with Cataclysm. By in large the quests of old were mostly singular affairs that existed within a very small and limited story. Each zone would have areas to gather quests and areas where those quests were played out. In most cases these quests told nothing of that zones story nor the NPC’s giving them and they rarely overlapped one another. Reading each quest would always give you the bare minimum of information with a little fluff detailing why you have to kill some guardsmen. However the quest itself could have belonged in any part of Azeroth without it looking out of place. Such was the vanilla nature of the old quests.
With Cataclysm and the re-writing of almost every quest, Blizzard has shown how it should have been all along. Now each zone has an all-encompassing story arch. Almost every quest within the zone will be in service of this story. This greatly improves the overall experience as it gives a clear picture of what is happening around you. Before Cataclysm’s release the players were asked to provide a great deal of the world through their imaginations. They were asked indirectly to imagine that there was a great level of tension between the alliance and the horde. In Cataclysm and the re-forging of Azeroth’s world players no longer have to strain their imaginations to perceive an on-going conflict. The conflict is all around the player and more often than not has you playing an integral role in each specific battle.
In some cases your efforts become visible as you play through thanks to Blizzard new phasing mechanics, where the player actions seem to change the very look of a zone. None demonstrate this better than the Goblins after they reach the new island. Fuelled by their greed and overzealous expansion across the island, you are given a quest to slay the false god of the local pygmies. You do this by travelling into the gut rock of the islands central mountain to face a massive turtle. Your weapon is an improvised Goblin rocket launcher called the Bootzooka. You’re warned that you have to be careful because it’s been known to fire extra missiles at times. While haphazardly firing your missiles at the beast you can see other missiles striking the walls and roof of the cavern. The screen begins to shake and as you make a mad dash to safety you see the volcano erupting, bathing the once beautiful island in fire an ash. Once again the Goblins are forced to run from an erupting volcano.
I found it strange that after six years the game engine can still produce some beautiful sights. In an age where every other game is bathed in varying hues of brown it’s refreshing to see a bright and vibrant world. The new light shaft effects are glorious. If any players happen to be flying past Thousand Needles, stop and visit the battle that is being fought in the region just south of the Barrens. Angling the camera up into the mesas you can see the fighters silhouetted against the brightness of the sun the shafts of light streak between their limbs as they swing axe and sword. It’s a sight that cannot be captured with a mere screenshot.
The pacing of the questing experience has also been re-approached. Areas that had once required rather lengthy foot slogging to and from the same questing area have been greatly streamlined. There were old quests that asked you to kill ten guardsmen in a distant part of the region. Only to be cheerfully informed by the quest giver after a lengthy return that you now had to collect keys that only those guardsmen have. Standing there, still wet from the gore of the previous slain guardsmen, I’ve got to say I’m more than a little pissed that I now have to go all the way back to kill ten more. Cursing the whole time you dared the npc to give you a quest on your return asking you to collect ten scalps… from guardsmen. Those faux pas and bouts of forgetfulness from the quest givers are now a bitter memory.
I can’t help but mention the experience as seen through a new player’s eyes. As part of our fish out of water gaming challenge Tom was faced with the rather simple task of playing WoW. However he found the whole experience unwieldy to put it nicely. This is in part due to the fact that WoW does not help players new to the genre. Bullshit I can almost hear people cry. My grandmother plays World of Warcraft. There is no denying that Blizzard have managed to accumulate a massive following, however their numbers have quite recently began plateauing. I believe this is not as much to do with the game mechanics and more to do with the new player experience.
When Tom began playing I decided to follow suite and I purposefully played the game as if new to the experience. I did not find it intuitive there were no instructions as to what I was supposed to be doing. How do I attack? What are my abilities? When should I use them? Should I get more strength or more intellect? Plate armour or mail armour? Should I keep killing these creatures? Are they even the correct creature? There is a lot of knowledge that is assumed and as a new player if you can muddle through you are inevitably playing only a fraction of your classes potential. It is only now after six years and hours of reading material on the internet that I can comfortably say I know most aspect of the game. Should a new player have to sift through online materials to gain a better or even rudimentary understanding of the game?
My Goblin Shaman is now level 41. I have just entered the Eastern Plaguelands and I am happy to say the quality and design of the quests and zones has not dwindled. This is by and far the most impressive expansion Blizzard has created. Of the new levelling experience my only concern now is that the levelling from 1 to 85 will feel rather disjointed once the player reaches the content of the previous expansions. After playing in a revitalized Azeroth travelling to the Outlands at level 58 will be a sombre affair. The ten levels of WoW’s first expansion will feel incredibly dated next to Cataclysms refreshing experience. Will Blizzard address this? Maybe… in another six years.
Next up will be Cataclysm: The New Zones level 80 – 85