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.
Friday 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 Horde.
  • Level Cap Increased to 85: Earn new abilities, tap into new talents, and progress through the pathsystem, a new way for players to customize characters.
  • Classic Zones Remade: 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 Advancement: 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

While 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 power.
  • 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 Penetration – 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.

The 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 bar.        
  • 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 differently.         
  • 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 Viper.      
  • 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 consumable.

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.

Guild 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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