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Recently Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street posted Blizzard’s post mortem on Cataclysm and what they thought went well and what failed.  He looks at a number of different things in the game and points out what they intended, how it worked or failed and why they believe that happened.  Overall it is a very enlightening read that gives us a little insight into how Ghostcrawler mind (and assumedly Blizzard’s collective mind) views the successes and failures of the expansion.

However, all the points in the post mortem are from a developer’s point of view, what about from a players point of view, what where the best things about Cataclysm and why?  Here is what I thought the highlights of Cataclsym were.

Revamp of the Original World of Warcraft Zones

I have to agree that this is one thing that needed to be done for new players, and even for us old timers that like going back and creating new characters.  The original zones were very dated in terms of layout and flow.  Blizzard had learned so much about quest design, story flow, and zone phasing since they first released WoW that the Wrath of the Lich King zones felt like a different game entirely from the old zones on the basic continents.

The newly revamped zones play so much better than they did before that it truly was a night and day difference. 

The big issue now is that while the Outland zones were better than the original Azeroth zones, they are now absolutely horrible in comparison to the rest of the games zones.  While they do not see a lot of traffic, as you are only there for a short while, they really are quite painful and need to be looked at.

Awesome New Zones for Cataclysm Content

Above and beyond the revamp of the old zones and the quests in them, the new zones were even better than anything seen before.  The zones all had excellent storylines that progressed from the start of the zone with a few simple quests, and followed through to a fitting end once done in the zone.  Beter yet all of the zones were heavily phased to tie in with the storylines that progressed through each of the zones.  This phasing made the zones feel far more lifelike and fluid rather than static places.

Speaking of fluid, there was an entire zone that was underwater (Vashj’ir), which while strange in concept, worked out exceedingly well.  Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people did not like the zone as it was so different and it involved a lot of swimming around.   The zone was something entirely new though, and was very well done and played very well.

Each zone in the Cataclysm expansion was very different from each other with very diverse looks and feels.  This made each zone feel special, different, and new, especially the first time you play through it.

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One of the many really good items you can get through the daily quests

Various Interesting Daily Quests     

One feature that played out really well for casual players in Cataclysm was the addition of daily quests when Firelands was launched.  Even though the patch was mainly about the brand new raid, Blizzard included a lot of cool new daily quests that allowed you to work your way through phased sections of the storyline leading up to the raid. 

This gave non-raiders something fun and interesting to do and over time rewarded them with near raid quality rewards.  The rewards were huge steps up in gear from what they could get outside previous to the addition of the quests, and really worked out well.

Cataclysm Instances and Raids

Cataclysm was a really good expansion for players that enjoy instances and raids.  When it launched it had many different instances and raids already built into it.  Blizzard also went back and updated many old favourites to make them flow better with the game and the new level progression path through re-done zones.  While updating some of the old instances they also made a few of them into Heroics for even more options once you hit level cap.

Not willing to rest on their laurels, throughout the expansion’s life cycle Blizzard pushed new instance and raid content out for players to explore.  While some of this content was redone old content (the Troll instances) it was still great content.  Then right at the end of the expansion cycle Blizzard released three brand new instances that tied in with the Dragon Soul raid and worked players through a great story arc to explain the back-story for the raid.

Throughout the many different instances and raids, Blizzard ensured that they tried to establish new mechanics, or use numerous old mechanics in new ways.  Blizzard also ramped up the difficulty on many of the instances when compared to WotLK, and made Heroics especially challenging until you were geared.  This made the instances and raids all play very differently and offer new and unique challenges for players.

All of this content made for a great expansion for all of the players out there that really love instances and raids. I know that it was definitely my favourite expansion so far for instances and raids.

Class Talent Tree Changes

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Another great change that had positive effects.  The WotLK talent tree was ok, but you really got too many talent points and another 5 in Cataclysm would have just made it worse.  The streamlined Cataclysm system was a big improvement. 

While it was still true that there were only a few real choices in each talent tree and that you were locked into specific cookie cutter builds if you wanted to compete at the high end, there was a sense of earning something.  As you levelled you got talent points fairly regularly and while they each may only improve something by 1% it is still an improvement that you can see and that you were excited about earning as you levelled.

I believe that player’s old and new really liked the system that Cataclysm brought for talents.  Sure there were some problems, but overall it felt right.

The bad news: While Cataclysm was a big improvement for the talent system as it simplified it a little from the WotLK system, from what I can tell the upcoming MOP system is a huge step back.  It simplifies the system far to much, and makes it feel way to long between getting to spend points in the tree.  While it does offer more real choices and I liked it at first, as discussed here: Mists of Pandaria Talent System Overhaul, after having played with it in the MoP beta for a while, it feels way too simplified.  I hope Blizzard reconsiders this direction in the next expansion and goes back to a tree system.

Raid Finder

Another of the absolutely great additions to World of Warcraft that were put in place with Cataclysm was the Raid Finder tool.  This tool is much like the Looking For Group (LFG) tool that allows players to jump into the game and find pick up groups for instances and heroic instances, except that it allows you to raid even though you may not be in a raiding guild.

The tool allows pretty much anyone that takes the time to gear up and get ready for raiding the opportunity to raid.  Since raid content it the highest level of content out there and is the part of the game that really progresses the storyline and explains the how and why of the epic battles in World of Warcraft it is great that more players get to experience that content.  You can find even more of the benefits that it offers in the article: Raid Finder Love .

The only issue with the raid finder was that it was made obsolete too early after it’s release (at least in my opinion) by providing buffs to normal content, and due to the fact that it was only available for one raid.  More about this was explained in the article: Raid Finder Obsolete

Luckily in Mists of Pandaria it will be there from the start and therefore available for all raids throughout the expansion, which will make it far more usefull.

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While not perfect, nothing ever is, so I say good job "Ghostcrawler" (and team).

Overall Cataclysm Rating

When Cataclysm was first announced and as we all first started to play through it, many of us were concerned over the fact that it was only 5 new levels.  I know that I was worried about the amount of content and the ability to keep us all interested until the next expansion came out. 

After playing through Cataclysm though and nearing the next expansion, I have to say that it has probably had more content per level than any previous expansion.  Sure, there were times when we ran out of things to do for a while, but then sure enough a new patch would come along and there would suddenly be a whole ton of new things to keep you busy.  In fact if you played all parts of the expansion, you probably would never have run out of content to explore, but not being a PVP player I didn’t see a lot of that content, nor was that interested in it.

Overall I have to say that Cataclysm was the best expansion to date for WoW and I would have to rank it as a 9/10 looking back at it as a whole.  There were some things that obviously could have been improved upon, but that is true of any game no matter how good, and probably best left for another editorial  Here’s hoping that Blizzard can do as well on Mists of Pandaria as they did on Cataclysm, it’s a tall order, so I wish them luck.

If you haven’t read it already you can find Ghostcrawler’s article here: Cataclysm Post Mortem.

Also feel free to post your thoughts on what worked out in Cataclysm, now that it is pretty much done. Did you enjoy certain parts, was something done better or worse than you thought it would be?

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.