Cataclysm: A whole new world…of warcraft
World of Warcraft has always been a game in constant flux. Over the last six year Blizzard has spent thousands of people-hours building and endless amount of content for a game that, oddly enough, has no ending to speak of. What’s strange about Cataclysm is that it’s the first time a huge swath of the game has been sacrificed in order to make the entire experience better. And it’s something that very few games before it have even remotely attempted to do.
Think about it, in previous expansion packs (both the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King) the goal has been to give you more stuff to do after you get through the main game. The problem there is the tail end of the experience gets better, but the original experience seems worse, if only because everyone’s played through it once for every character they have. Worse still, with the introduction of the Death Knight in Wrath (think the opposite of a Paladin) starting out at level one was no longer an issue. If I wanted to, I could jump into a fully combat-ready character at level 55 and forget all that “old world” stuff even existed.
Which brings me to why Cataclysm has to happen: over the years, Blizzard has just gotten better at making an MMO. Plain and simple. The quests have gotten more robust and dynamic, the zones design puts anything in “Vanilla WoW”, the affectionate title for the original game, to utter shame, and getting to the end game via the path of least resistance has overshadowed actually enjoying the original content. It’s less like watching the same movie again and again and more like starting off watching a silent film and ending up watching Avatar: the two sides feel so drastically different, it’s like playing two totally unrelated games. In short, the only way to restore Azeroth to its former glory was to shake it up as much as possible.
And Deathwing certainly has shaken things up. Two new races, five new zones, “cataclysm” versions of old zones like Desolace and the Barrens, new class combinations, tons of new armor sets, Heroic Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep (a love letter to the long time WoW players), and hundreds of new quests as well as radically redesigned ‘lowbie’ quests at all starting zones. It seems like they haven’t missed a trick with this one, though my final judgment will have to be reserved until I’ve played a good portion of the new content (and I will be playing it this week…count on it.)
At the same time, it’s tough to part with the way the world used to be. Back in the day, right after the launch of “Vanilla WoW”, both Horde and Alliance players would meet up at their respective towns in Hillsbrad (a small zone just south of the mountains), hop into huge raid parties, and bounce back and forth between the towns of Southshore and Tarren Mill for hours at a time, killing as many of the opposing faction as possible. Since there was no way to capture the opposite faction’s town, winning wasn’t really the point. It was about pummeling the other side as hard as possible for as long as possible. Eventually, after a lengthy battle, both sides would go back to leveling and try to avoid the enemy at all costs. That never did last long, as one side would always, inevitably, pull the trigger and a new, all-out war would break out. It was great fun.
When Blizzard instituted dedicated PVP zones, world PVP was all but extinguished. In the same way, this new add-on is extinguishing all the history of the game that came before it. World of Warcraft is being reborn anew and content that players have known for years will be replaced with all new experiences that people will love and loathe for entirely different reasons. It’s exciting, upsetting, frustrating, and amazing all at the same time. And while there will always be something that sets the WoW community off (already people are complaining about the new Tier 11 epic outfit designs), it seems Blizzard has made it clear that nothing in WoW is sacred. They will change, revise, tweak, and even scrap whatever they feel is necessary to keep the game populated as well as popular.
More importantly, perhaps, this will be the first instance where a game gets the chance to evolve beyond its original design. After Cataclysm launches, WoW will no longer be the game that came out in 2004. That game is gone. This is not the WoW we knew. It’s something different. This is WoW version 2010 and it’s going to bring new players and old veterans, place them on the same page at the beginning of not just one new chapter, but a whole new book, and say “explore”. And it’s something that Blizzard has proven, time and time again, that they are the best at doing.
Color me more than a little excited for the end of the world…of warcraft…as we know it.