World of Warcraft: Cataclysm initial impressions

Posted: December 8, 2010 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

So regular readers may have noticed I haven’t been quite as prolific with my posts recently.  Those of you already on the bandwagon know that this is obviously because a new WoW expansion was just released.  Since the changes to the level 1-60 content were implemented 2 weeks previous to launch, it’s a month long event this time instead of a lot of waiting for a week or two binge.  I’m not going to post a full review as by the time I finish all the content, hundreds of reviews will already be available.  I just wanted to do a quick blurb to tell people who aren’t already in the know why they should care.

WoW has been out for over 6 years now and is pretty well known worldwide.  Whatever opinion of the game you have, you probably already have one, so I won’t bother explaining what the game is all about.  The basis on which I would suggest re-examining that opinion is that this is now an entirely different game than the one that launched in fall of ’04.  Blizzard has been updating the game constantly over the last 6 years, but most of what I’m talking about is new with Cataclysm.

One thing holding a lot of people back from playing World of Warcraft has always been the game’s weak graphics engine compared to modern games.  While the classic visual design is intact, the game engine has been drastically updated with rippling water, new lighting effects and new models and textures throughout.  The visuals aren’t the only presentation upgrade either as the total amount of music and sound effects in the game has tripled.  Overall the game looks and sounds more like a modern RPG than it does like ancient Everquest.  Long overdue in my opinion.  The amount of animations and environment interaction is also way up, tackling the age old concern that WoW just plain looks boring to anyone who isn’t already an avid player.

The most controversial changes are those to gameplay.  The descriptor that WoW is ‘easy to learn, but difficult to master’ is now truer than ever.  The basic gameplay has been streamlined to the point where truly anyone can pick it up and play.  While many players have complained about this smoothing of the curve, not many are complaining about the increased height of the peak.  The tough to master part has been preserved fully with new rated PVP and guild achievements.  If you want the game to be more complicated, you can now micromanage hundreds of people on dozens of little objectives to be the best guild around.  Archeology has also been added as a secondary profession for people who just can’t grind enough.

The real meat though and the reason you should reconsider WoW if you love other RPGs is the improved storytelling.  The old WoW quest chains were amusing and charming, but filled with nonsense, like most old games.  The redone 1-60 quests and the new content are more the level of drama we expect in a post Mass Effect and Fallout 3 RPG genre.  If you used to scoff at your friends because they were collecting fish for some hermit instead of saving the world, you should know that now that same friend is playing some of the best RPG plotlines around.  The new quests use cutscenes and voiced dialogue to tell a story that you should not be ashamed to recount the highlights of with coworkers the next day.

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