World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Review

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Posted on December 10, 2010, David Moss World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Review

After ushering players beyond the Dark Portal and into the frozen realm of Northrend, the folks at Blizzard have taken time off from counting their money and unleashed a third expansion on the unsuspecting public. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will return players to the lands of Azeroth, where familiar zones have been irrevocably — nay, cataclysmically — changed by the predations of Deathwing, the most evil evil force unleashed so far.

Wondering whether the expansion is worth the investment of time and money? Curious about the two new races, Goblins, and Worgen? Just have a need to experience World of Warcraft vicariously, now that you’re off the wagon? Our Level 85 Elite Writer Dave Moss has a four-part series of mini-reviews underway, focusing on his experience with the brand-new Worgen and Goblin races.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Activision/Blizzard
Release Date: December 07, 2010
MSRP: $39.99

Part 1: The Worgen Campaign

Let us begin at the beginning. The Greymane wall has long separated Gilneas from the rest of Lordearon, leading to much speculation as to what was happening on the other side of the silent, looming barrier. Cataclysm finally takes us beyond the great wall to the embattled realm of Lord Greymane.

Prowling the streets of Gilneas is a vicious breed of wolf creatures called Worgen. The mighty city needs to be evacuated, but the undead invasion just outside the walls and the ever-growing Worgen epidemic are making things difficult. This is where you come in. Having chosen the Alliance Worgen race, you begin in human form as a survivor attempting to aid in the evacuation. Things are hectic on the streets of Gilneas, as the townsfolk engage Worgen throughout the city. Your first few tasks focus on killing the occasional Worgen and rounding up survivors. But the missions quickly transition into a futile attempt to hold back waves of the ravenous beasts.

I have to say, I enjoy this frantic, your-life-is-in-peril opening much more than the peaceful starting areas of the original World of Warcraft races. The city is beautifully designed with the feel of London in the 1800s. Cobblestone streets and a pervading sense of dread greet you as you flee for you life from the doomed city.

As usual, the interface is fantastic; action bars make it easy to keep track of your different spells and abilities. Just open your spell book, drag the spell you want to the action bar and you’re ready to go. This time around the folks at Blizzard have added some helpful tips to your different spells and abilities that help clear up any confusion you might have. For instance: When you hover over the “Mangle” ability it tells you that it is “superior to Claw in all
cases should replace Claw on the action bar.” This is a great time saver and will certainly come in handy at the higher levels when your character has many more abilities.

As you progress through the opening missions you are eventually bitten by a Worgen and transformed into one. Aside from looking much more intimidating, the Worgen also has a number of new abilities. One active ability is “Darkflight,” which gives you a 40% speed boost for 10 seconds. It’s excellent for outrunning pursuers when you’re low on health. Using “Second Form” will allow you to transform into a human. “Aberration” increases your resistance to harmful shadow and nature effects by 10. This is going to make the Worgen tough to take down for PvP players who rely heavily on curses and will no doubt induce shouts of “Imba!” from some players. Worgen also have “Viciousness,” which increases their critical strike chance by 1%, a great ability for players focused on DPS. Finally, the Worgen have the “Flayer” ability which allows for faster skinning as well as adding 15 to your skinning skill.

Flayer is great as skinning can give you an increased chance for critical hits but in all the madness I’d completely forgotten to pick up a profession. It would have been nice to see a quick “choose a profession” mission or even a friendly tip from a quest giver. New players coming to Cataclysm could be upset by the fact that they’ve missed out on a crucial part of the game. While we’re talking about faults in the game, I should mention that I did run into a glitch in the “Battle for Gilneas” mission. Apparently a mini-boss failed to spawn which lead to my quest stalling out. I just kind of wandered around the city for about an hour until I realized that something was wrong. I suppose these type of things will happen, especially given the amount of new quests and the massive number of people who logged on during the first day of Cataclysm.

I was also slightly bothered by the vehicle missions. Riding around on a tank or catapult seems clunky and poorly conceived. You feel removed from the action when your comrades are mixing it up hand-to-hand and you’re awkwardly trying to lob cannon balls from a distance. I think there is probably a way to  incorporate vehicles into the missions smoothly, but Blizzard hasn’t quite figured it out yet.

If you can deal with the rare glitch and odd vehicle mission you’ll be rewarded for your patience. One of the Worgen mission involves boarding a Horde Zeppelin and blowing it out of the sky. It’s incredibly rewarding and makes you feel as though you’re making a difference in the eternal struggle between the two factions.

On the whole, I feel like the Worgen campaign is a great addition to the World of Warcraft. The race adds some edge to the squeaky clean Alliance and is great fun to play. Cataclysm is off to an amazing start and I’m off to create a Goblin! Stay tuned for more in this four part review.

Part 1: The Goblin Campaign

The many hours I spent playing Warcraft 2 have given me a special affinity for the Goblin race. The tiny, green-skinned imps remind me of the Goblin sappers I used to terrorize my friends, back in the days before was invented. Yes, with little more than a dial-up connection and a transport loaded with sappers, I used to lay waste to my the mighty empires of my grade school cohorts. Good times.

Naturally, I was delighted to see that the Goblins had once again joined the Horde ranks in their battle against the Alliance. Like Worgen, the Goblins have all-new powers and abilities that are specific to their race. “Time is Money” is a passive ability that adds a 1% increase to attack and casting speeds. It might not seem like much, but during longer battles, the time saved will add up. “Best Deals Anywhere” allows you to receive the best possible gold discount, regardless of faction. They also have “Better Living through Chemistry,” which ads 15 to your alchemy skill. You’ll definitely want to pick up alchemy as a profession so you can easily create your own health and mana potions. “Rocket Barrage” is a ranged attack that does increasing amounts of damage as you level up. I really like this ability as it has been my strongest attack option so far. The Goblin’s other active ability is the “Rocket Jump” which uses boot rockets to propel you forward a few feet. I’ve yet to encounter a situation in which this was useful. Finally, they can also summon a friend to access the bank anywhere!

When you choose the Horde Goblin, you begin on the island of Kezan. It’s a virtual Goblin paradise filled with swimming pools, mansions and mines staffed by slave laborers. Yes, that’s right! Troll slaves work the mines where Kaja’mite is harvested. Apparently Kaja’mite is the stuff that makes Goblins smart. This allows them to build robots, rockets and other assorted anachronisms. You even have one slightly uncomfortable mission where you have to zap some of the lazy troll slaves back to work.

While some of the missions on the isle of Kezan are mildly amusing, most serve only to introduce poorly constructed mini-games or show off some gadget that the goblins have built. It’s also the place where I encountered the most uninspired quest of my entire life. When I first got the “bank heist” quest I thought I was going to have to sneak past bank guards, blow a hole in the wall of the vault and escape via a getaway car chase (goblins have cars, by the way.) Instead, this mission involved walking up to a bank teller machine where you are presented with a series of four buttons. Then a picture of one of the four buttons appears and you press that button. This process repeats itself ten times and that’s it. That’s the end of the quest. It is the most pointless thing I have ever experienced.

Pointless as it may be, the bank does have to be robbed. You see, Deathwing has shown up to your little Goblin paradise and now Mount Kajaro is erupting, forcing you to buy your way off the doomed isle. I have to admit, I was very impressed by the Deathwing cameo. He was conspicuously absent from the Worgen missions and I got a bit of a chill when he flew onscreen in all his fiery glory.

Alas, Deathwing’s appearance signals the beginning of the end for Kezan. I realize I was pretty harsh on the opening missions, but the environment was so engaging and well-designed that I was sad to see it go. Kezan was yet another testament to Blizzard’s ability to pull players into a realm. Sailing away from the island, I felt a pang of regret that I might never get to complete another quest there.

The cinematic after you flee from Kezan is superb and features an amazing nautical battle between the Horde and Alliance. After you wash up on shore of yet another volcanic island, the missions become much more fun. You get to fight a giant lava turtle and take out Alliance assassins using heat-sensing goggles. The story succeeds in making you feel like a vital part of the world and you even get to meet Thrall!

It may start slow, but the Goblin campaign finishes strong. It’s yet another chapter that gives the world depth and reveals more about the place we spend so much time. Even if you don’t plan on leveling up to 85, it’s worth your time to make a Goblin and experience the story.

Part 1: New Troll and Gnome Content

In addition to adding two new races to Cataclysm, Blizzard has revamped the opening of both the Troll and Gnome characters. The new quests provide more insight as to how the story is progressing. You’ve also got some new class options. Trolls can now be Druids and Gnomes can be Priests.

Let’s start with the Gnomes. Their city of Gnomerang is under attack from two sides. The vicious Troggs are ascending out of a cave and the diablolical Thermaplugg has sent his minion Razlo Crushcogg to terrorize the gnomes. If that weren’t enough, you’ve also got a bunch of irradiated leper Gnomes running around Gnomerang.

Your first mission is to deal with the leper gnomes. These radiation-addled gnomes act suspiciously like zombies. In fact, I would venture to guess that they were supposed to be zombies until someone at Blizzard pointed out that zombies were featured prominently in the Goblin campaign.

You start off with the buff “irradiated” which does nothing but inform you that you are in danger of becoming a leper gnome. This will never happen no matter how long you take to do the missions. I couldn’t help but feel like the gameplay could have been more interesting if there was some real danger involved. Imagine a timer counting down the number of minutes you have left until you join the shambling ranks of infected gnomes as you rush through the first three missions! But alas, it was not to be.

Cataclysm does a good job of keeping you entertained throughout the new opening. If you hang around long enough after completing one of the missions, you actually get to see a gnome explode. There’s also a scene where you get some backstory via a holotable. You’d think if gnomes could invent holotables, they’d be ruling all of Azeroth by now. Instead, they’re being overrun by club-wielding Troggs.

Eventually, you’ll team up with some Dwarves to take on Razlo Crushcogg in a satisfying final battle before you leave Gnomerang behind. It’s a pretty good opening, but it felt a little short, and Gnomerang was the kind of place you want to spend some time exploring.

The Troll campaign starts off on Darkspear Isle where you are just beginning your training. After you learn some basic skills, you’re put into a proving pit where you’ll do battle with a captured Naga. Apparently the Trolls have been having some problems with the Naga and The Sea Witch lately, and you’re the one who’s going to have to deal with it.

Eventually you get to meet Vol’Jinn, the leader of the trolls. Vol’Jinn will show you a vision of a conversation he had with Garrosh Hellscream, in which he tells Garrosh that the Trolls will not be a part of the Horde if he leads it. For a minute I got all excited and thought Vol’Jinn was going to send me to go kick some Orc ass and start some kind of Horde civil war, but it turns out that he actually feels that he acted rashly. Damn.

To break things up between the monster-bashing missions you also have some quests centered around the raptors that inhabit the island. You’ve got to round up some of the baby dinos and you even get to do some raptor riding. As a big fan of the Dino Riders franchise, I was more excited about these missions then the actual combat.

Like the Gnome missions, the Troll campaign isn’t that long, and you soon find yourself leaving the island. I didn’t mind though, as the Rastafarian accent the Trolls have was beginning to wear on my nerves.

I had a lot of fun with these new missions and I think I might actually keep playing my Troll (I’ve still got my fingers crossed about the Horde Civil War.) There’s nothing revolutionary here but it’s a great excuse to try out a new character. The storytelling is superb, but I’d expect nothing less from Blizzard. I was going to complain about the quests being too easy but these missions are aimed at new players so I can’t really gripe about that. I’m sure the new quests for high level players will offer plenty of challenge and that’s where I’m heading next, so stay tuned.

Part 4: General Changes

We know from the Goblin campaign that Deathwing loves volcanoes. Maybe that’s why he decided to plop one right in the middle of Ashenvale. But why exactly did he decide to flood Thousand Needles? Does he have something against precariously balanced rock formations? Regardless of Deathwing’s motivations, there are many, many changes to the World of Warcraft. These changes go far beyond a few landscaping adjustments. The question is: Has the world changed for the better?

Let’s start with the new zones. Are they worth upgrading for? I don’t know, do you want to fight a massive giant squid in the underwater kingdom of Vash’jir? The answer is yes… yes you do. The Throne of Tides dungeon is an amazing visual journey. I haven’t explored all the new zones but if this is any indication, Blizzard hasn’t lost a bit of their creative edge.

There’s also a new talent tree system. You no longer gain a talent point at every level, but instead gain one every two levels. I personally don’t think this is a change for the better. It allowed Blizzard to simplify the talent trees but spending my talent points every time I leveled up was half the fun of leveling. “Hey, I hit a new level! I wonder what I’m going to spend my talent point… oh wait, I have to level up again before I get another point.”

Well, leveling up isn’t all about talent points. What about all the new quests? The good news is that many of the quests have been either modified or changed so that leveling up has become a new experience. However, many of these “new and improved” quests are still “find me 10 of these” or “kill 5 of those.” I don’t necessarily think this is a terrible thing, but I know many players were expecting there to be some sort of revolution that ended fetch quests. That has not happened. But let’s face it, fetch quests are a means to an end, the game designers want you to get out there and explore the world and sending you off to find something is one way of doing it.

Alright, we’ve come to the end of this four-part review. I know I haven’t touched on everything this massive expansion has to offer, but that’s just a testament to how much you’re getting for your money. This game is huge and Blizzard has clearly put a ton of consideration into how the story is advancing and where they want to take the world. While so many expansions will just open up realms that never existed before, this game dares to mess with areas we’re already fond of. Blizzard has always taken care to make sure that their expansions feel like a natural evolution of the game and not just a bunch of tacked on content. Cataclysm is no different. It is yet another monumental chapter in the story of a far away place that so many of us have come to love.

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