Impressions and Overview of WoW's Cataclysm

Blizzcon may be over, but the Cataclysm is still on everyone's minds. We take a look at the highlights of the newest announced World of Warcraft expansion and its possible implications on the game, and the industry as a whole. An industry first in many respects, the reshaping of World of Warcraft promises to be one of the biggest and most important expansions in MMOG history. Find out what's in store for the game, and share some thoughts as to how the game will be changed forever.
The proposed changes to the game that have been announced this weekend is nothing short of a complete reinvention. Many MMO games have needed such an overhaul to try and rebuild an eroded player base or resuscitate a dying world; Blizzard is the first to do it while their game is still on top.

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was opening day of Blizzcon 2009, the largest and most ambitious
Blizzcon to date. Despite the hike in attendance fee and the relative
streamlining of the badge process, it still feels, like WoW, to have
somehow cheapened itself to sell out to the masses.  Last
year’s con, even with its much maligned ticket purchasing
fiasco, felt more cohesive and well run. Don’t get me wrong,
the staff here is pretty amazing and much more patient than I could
ever be, but the sheer volume of people is too large for the venue and
it shows. I anticipate that with the coming revamps to existing
franchises and release of the two newest iterations of existing ones
that Blizzcon may have seen its last year in Anaheim, unless we move
down the road to the baseball stadium.

As with the last few versions, the big announcement was the WoW
expansion. Cataclysm was officially unveiled and it looks
awesome.  It will definitely be Blizzard’s crowning
achievement in the WoW franchise if it is as polished at launch as the
trailer looked.

The official list of new announced features may raise some eyebrows,
but most of this was speculated on harder than the U.S. housing market.

  • Two New
    Playable Races
    : Adventure as one of two new races--the
    cursed worgen with the Alliance or the resourceful goblins with the
  • Level Cap
    Increased to 85:
    Earn new abilities, tap into new talents,
    and progress through the pathsystem, a new way for players to customize
  • Classic Zones
    : Familiar zones across the original continents of
    Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms have been altered forever and updated
    with new content, from the devastated Badlands to the broken Barrens,
    which has been sundered in two.
  • New
    High-Level Zones
    : Explore newly opened parts of the world,
    including Uldum, Grim Batol, and the great Sunken City of Vashj'ir
    beneath the sea.
  • More Raid
    Content than Ever Before
    : Enjoy more high-level raid
    content than previous expansions, with optional more challenging
    versions of all encounters.
  • New Race and
    Class Combinations
    : Explore Azeroth as a gnome priest,
    blood elf warrior, or one of the other never-before-available race and
    class combinations.
  • Guild
    : Progress as a guild to earn guild levels and
    guild achievements.
  • New PvP Zone
    & Rated Battlegrounds:
    Take on PvP objectives and
    daily quests on Tol Barad Island, a new Wintergrasp-like zone, and wage
    war in all-new rated Battlegrounds.
  • Archaeology:
    Master a new secondary profession to unearth valuable artifacts and
    earn unique rewards.
  • Flying Mounts
    in Azeroth
    : Explore Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms like
    never before.

In many respects Blizzard will be remaking their game from nearly the
ground up.  From the repurposing of most all of the original
zones to the addition of seven new zones (five of which are 80-85
leveling zones) Blizzard lead world designer, Cory Stockton, and his
team have a very solid vision of the future of the game. In keeping
with the lessons learned from Wrath of the Lich King,  the
team has learned that having a focused singular main enemy is very
compelling game play. Hopefully they won’t diverge on too
many tangents as they seem to have to have in WotLK. Deathwing will be
the new arch nemesis of the WoW community, his re-emergence from
banishment to the hidden Plane of Earth is the actual
“catalyst” to the whole cataclysm.  The
overall tone of the expansion will be a dark one according to Vice
President of Creative Development, Chris Metzen, but that depth of
despair will allow for a greater feel of heroism when the enemies are
vanquished. To help add real visual feel to this will be a greater use
of the terrain phasing system that was so popular in the Death Knight
intro quests. During the course of the expansion and as players
complete quest lines, massive amounts of tangible change will go on
right before your eyes, from coast lines shrinking to major cities
erupting into flame and then being salvaged.  Stockton also
eluded to the fact that the new race starting areas will make use of
intriguing cut scene cinematics to help drive the story, along the
lines of the Veteran of the Wrathgate scene from WotLK.

Statistics 101

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the title of the expansion and the two new races weren’t much
of a surprise, some of the more intricate details of the announcements,
most were omitted from the above list, were worth the wait. In an
effort to simplify both character advancement and itemization many of
the “secondary” stats of the current game will be
vanquished and those effects will be returned to the base stats. This
accomplishes some long needed clarification of how stats work and also
clears up many gear arguments. I have a feeling many theory crafters
will be initially disappointed as this will allow even simple folks
like myself the ability to easily decipher what is actually an
upgrade.  Examples of this simplification and some of the
stats affected:

  • Attack Power
    – Removed. Now replaced solely by Agility for Hunters,
    Shaman, Rogues and Feral DPS Druids and by Strength for our plate
    wearing friends.
  • Spell Power
    – Removed and replaced by Intelligence, similar to attack
  • MP5
    – GONE! – Replaced by spirit. Spirit will now work
    the same for all casters and will be purely a mana regen
    stat.  A side note to this is that stacking intelligence will
    also affect the mana regeneration rates of many classes.  All
    healing classes will be receiving a meditation-like ability. 
  • Armor
    – Dropped completely and will be one
    of the mechanics that is handled by the Mastery system.
  • Haste
    – Simplified, the new haste will give everyone the same
    benefit, the ability to push more buttons. Haste now increases energy,
    rune and focus regeneration rates.
  • Defense
    – This stat is also going the way of the dodo bird, we were
    told all tanks would be able to pick up an ability to allow them to
    achieve crit immunity that being defense capped allowed.

A Brave New World

Most of the cinematic previews shown to us this weekend focused on the
radical changes and utter devastation wrought on Azeroth. 
This is the main theme of the expansion and with that radical change
comes the promise of essentially a completely new leveling
experience.  Those of you who started gaming with WoW and
leveled up a character in the “old world” can now
join some of your more jaded MMO vets in wistful remembrances of
“back in the good old days….” But, as
outlined, I don’t think any but the stodgiest of players will
be calling a return to the way things used to be as the old content is
beyond expired and this new reappropriation of the land is anything but
gimmicky. The success of the leveling experience of the Dranei and
Blood Elves has inspired the developers to raise the bar even higher.
With the complete overhaul of the old zones, this is the perfect time
for retooling the intro leveling zones for every race and brings them
back into the game alongside their newer and shinier brethren.

Talent Show

With an increase of only five levels, the developers have stated that
the talent trees will not be gaining any additional depth, but that
many talents will be reworked so that the extra five points you gain
will be more meaningfully spent. In order to farm back out some of the
less effective talents and ones that have morphed in time to something
they were never originally intended (i.e. all the +hit and +expertise
talents) Blizzard will be introducing the Mastery system. This system
will give passive bonuses to the role your character fills based on how
deep into a talent tree you go, these bonuses may finally make dipping
into a second tree a little deeper more viable.  There are
also whispers about regarding an additional customization tree of
global abilities that players can use to flesh out their toons.

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Twilight Zone?

The new leveling zones for current level capped players will be similar
in style to WotLK with two choices for a starting zone with the choices
being Mt. Hyjal or The Sunken City of Vashj’ir, the latter of
which will be home to a new sentient cat like race.  Players
will then be filtered into what looks like the main leveling zone of
Deephome, which is located inside the Elemental  Plane of
Earth. Once through Deephome most players will be on to Uldum and then
finally to Twilight Highlands. Once again, the ability to fly has a
level cap restriction which was hinted to be 85, but nothing concrete
on that yet. The upside is that once you do unlock flying you will be
able to fly everywhere in the game and they do mean everywhere,
Undercity is being completely revamped to allow flight (think roof
caving in due to the cataclysm) as are all the capital cities.

Keep it Classy

We were also introduced to two upcoming class changes. Ghostcrawler
stated he chose to focus on these two classes as they are the ones
receiving the lion’s share of drastic changes.


  • The soul shard system is receiving a massive revamp, and
    will now become a core feature of the warlock class. Soul shards will
    no longer act as an inventory item, but rather exist as a resource, and
    appear below the warlock's health and mana
  • A new spell, Soul Burn, will be the only warlock ability to
    cost a soul shard, and will empower most of your other spells to behave
  • For instance, when combined with Fear it causes the spell
    to become instant. Other examples include: guaranteeing your Searing
    Pain spell three critical hits, increased horror effect and additional
    healing from Death Coil, and instant summoning from your summon demon
    spell. Soul shards will regenerate quickly upon leaving combat and you
    may also be able to use drain soul as a "soul shard evocation."



  • Also receiving a massive overall are hunters. The
    hunter’s need to rely upon mana is completely gone, and
    instead they will use focus. This means hunters will no longer care at
    all about Intellect, mana regen or Aspect of the
  • Focus will regenerate continually, similar to how rogues or
    feral druids regenerate energy. For comparison, rogues regenerate
    approximately 10 energy per second, whereas hunters will regenerate 6
    focus per second. However, Steady Shot can also be used to improve
    focus regen, and bring the rate at which hunters regenerate focus to 12
    per second.      
  • The hunter will have a maximum of 100 focus, and shots
    might cost 30 or 60 focus, with fewer cooldowns on abilities. Another
    exciting and long-awaited change regards the ammunition system.
    Ammunition will become an equipable item, and will no longer be

Heading Down the Path

A whole new means to advance your character was hinted at on the first
day of the convention and finally broken down into better detail on the
second day at the game systems panel.  Path of the Titans is a
new glyph style system that will be incorporated into your glyph panel
and will be one part specialization mechanic and one part
achievement/unlock mechanic with a tie-in to the new archeology
profession. The expansion will launch with several different paths that
you can chose to follow via aligning yourself with various cults
throughout Azeroth. These groups have sprung up as a consequence of the
sundering of the earth and revelations of these new artifacts and have
devoted themselves to a particular titan.  Players will then
trade their archeological finds to the cults in exchange for various
glyphs to enhance their characters power.  These glyphs will
not be class specific and will be added sequentially as new ranks are
unlocked. The unlocking process is still In the works but Greg
“Ghostcrawler” Street stated that the mechanic
would allow all players to eventually gain the ranks but that the most
dedicated players may have them unlock faster.

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Advancement and Achievements

One of the most exciting and well received additions from the weekend
was the addition of guild levels and guild based
achievements.  Guilds will become in essence their own entity
that has their own talent tree.  Guild leaders will be able to
spec the guild to take advantage of new perks such as reductions in
guild repairs, mass resurrection, raid summons and one of the most well
received talents – extra gold loot from raid kills that will
go straight to the guild bank.  This gold will be on top of
the current gold drops that are distributed to the players. 
Blizzard has taken a reward vs. punish stance on almost all the
announced changes in the coming expansion and this is no
exception.  A reward is a much more enjoyable motivation
factor than a penalty and this lesson was certainly not lost on Blizz.
Guild levels will be gained through the contributions of the daily
activities of the top 20 players in the guild in areas such as daily
quest completion, reputation gains, level gains, PvP gains and more.
The guild will also gain levels for any accomplishments done together;
this can be from dungeons, raids or PvP as long as the makeup is
roughly 75% players from the same guild.  Throughout the
leveling process the guild will also be gaining a guild currency that
will be used to purchase potions, flasks, tradeskill recipes, and new
legacy items. The really jaw dropping revelation was that any character
wearing a legacy item from the guild will lose said item if they leave
the guild.

The proposed changes to the game that have been announced this weekend
is nothing short of a complete reinvention. Many MMO games have needed
such an overhaul to try and rebuild an eroded player base or
resuscitate a dying world; Blizzard is the first to do it while their
game is still on top.  It’s akin to a fiery phoenix
being reborn from another fiery phoenix.  Many were beginning
to see parallels to older games that seemed to peak right around the
five year mark and then start a rapid descent into obscurity, but
Blizzard once again proves to have their finger squarely on the pulse
of the gaming world and has hooked up a massive defibrillator to shock
a still beating heart.  We look forward to seeing these
changes brought to market and anticipate new heights for a game that
already has reached into the stratosphere.

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