Updated Thu, Jan 06, 2011 by Messiah
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will be one month old later this week and we at Ten Ton Hammer thought, what better time for a review than now. After all, it is extremely difficult to review a game as complicated or large as Cataclysm without a serious amount of in-game testing time. The holiday season provided the perfect time to sit down and sink into Blizzard’s latest expansion to World of Warcraft.
So what is Cataclysm exactly? Cataclysm is a huge game changing expansion to the wildly successful World of Warcraft MMOG. It is the third expansion to the game and makes a huge number of additions, changes, and enhancements to the core game while still managing to extend the endgame by an additional 5 levels. With so many new and changed features it is almost impossible to list them all. Therefore I won’t even try to cover each and every one, instead, here are just a few of the things that were added or changed:
Being as Cataclysm is an expansion to the current reigning king of the MMOG genre, there were a lot of expectations for it. Did it meet them, did it fall short, or did it raise the bar for the genre once again?
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is an online game and therefore not everything can be rated up front. Blizzard has very little control over what people choose to say in online chat channels so parents should be cautious about that. Also the game's humour is a little more adult based than the past WoW expansions. As for the game itself, it has been given an ESRB rating of Teen for the following reasons:
Most of the major gameplay changes came about in a patch before the actual Cataclysm release and have already been covered on the site. You can find a lot of the details in the World of Warcraft Patch 4.0.3a Overview.
As to how the exact gameplay of Cataclysm differs from past World of Warcraft expansions, really, not a whole lot. The one big change that many players will see is that the gameplay for the zones is a lot more scripted than in the past. There are more guidelines on what to do than there were before. The endgame of Cataclysm is essentially the same as the end game of WoW, TBC, and WotLK was. Players race to the end of the game and then face a plethora of things they need to do in addition to the level grind to actually be better in game terms. Once level capped you still face rep grinds, profession grinds, and then dungeons, heroics and then finally raids. This means that if you liked all of that before, you will like it again. If you where hoping that Blizzard would change it up a bit this time around, you are out of luck.
Much was made about the addition of the Worgen and Goblins as playable races in the game. While these new races certainly look cool, have the best starting zones, and the best looking character models, they really don’t add anything at all to the game itself. They are like that shiny new toy that you just had to have as a kid, but was really the same as the other ten sitting on the shelf unused.
The same really applies to professions as well, Blizzard promised changes to make them more compelling and that really didn’t happen either. Professions are much more expensive to level, take more time grinding materials, and are pretty much made irrelevant by the first tier of raiding gear already. Many pieces you need to make while levelling have a horrible random enchantment system that makes it difficult to even get pieces you can use, since they have random stats and benefits. They may be a way to get the gear to get into heroics or raids, but they do not hold up for the time and effort required.
Even worse is the new secondary profession of Archaeology. Initially it was touted as a way to add extra glyphs or bonuses to characters (way back at Blizzcon 2009), but it morphed into something much less. Sure there are some very good items you can make with it, and it is a neat idea, but really all it amounts to is a time sink. To level it you must fly around in zones that are way below your level, looking for items. In exchange for this time you get useless companion pets, trinkets, and mounts. When you do get a high level item, it too is replaced fairly quickly. There are a few best in slot pieces, however they do not scale and will be replaced in another tier of raids. The only people that would really benefit from them are the players that do not raid, but then they don’t really need the gear anyway.
Some subtle changes that come into play are also there. For instance, once you learn a spell once, there are no more trips back to the trainer to learn additional levels of the spell. This is a nice time saver. Many quests also do not require you to run back to turn them in, instead they auto complete and give you the next one all while in the field exploring.
The difficulty of the game is pretty much the same for levelling as it always has been, dead easy. There is no reason a player can not reach level cap without dieing a single time while questing. This is a bit of a shame as there is almost no threat / reward feeling for any quests. On the other hand, instances have gotten much harder and actually require players to pay attention and crowd control (CC) again. There are even fights that require players to kite adds! Wow, that’s a huge, and much welcome change from WotLK. Now if only questing and leveling involved the same skill, it might actually get players ready for instances. For expanded information on dungeon difficulty you can check out our: Five Ways to Deal with Difficult Dungeons in World of Warcraft.
Gameplay overall though is pretty much exactly what it was in any of the past Warcraft expansions, excellent. The game offers a solid, finely tuned, balanced, and stable experience. Many question however if Blizzard took too easy a path and did not change enough in this expansion as looked at in: The Aftermath – Did Cataclysm Go Far Enough? For those that like the WoW experience though, this expansion plays amazingly well. It feels like it has more depth to it than previous expansions, even though it is simplified to some degree.
One thing to note that does bring the overall game play experience down however is the removal of the portals from both Dalaran and Shatrath. This was done so players can not move around too easily through the new content. However it has a really negative effect on players levelling through the old level 60 to 80 content. With all the other phasing now in the game, Blizzard should have looked at having the portals there, but only active until you reach level 80.
As always when it comes to graphics, this partially depends on your computer. If you have a super high end system with the latest and greatest graphic card, Blizzard has done a very good job in updating the engine to take advantage of it. There are many new and subtle features that have been added or updated in the engine that many players many not notice at first glance. For instance both the water and cloud (smoke) effects have been dramatically changed, as has the ground clutter effects. To see many of these though you can not be running a minimum specced system.
However, due to the very stylized graphics found in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, even on a lower end system the game is still visually appealing. Sure, it won’t win any best in show awards for its graphic quality, but the stylized nature of the graphics allow it to age better than some other games that have cutting edge realistic looking graphics.
One graphical element that really shines through in Cataclysm is just how different each of the zones can appear. Some are dark and gloomy while others are bright and sunny. Each zone has its own unique look and feel and as a whole it works exceedingly well.
Sound in Cataclysm is everywhere. As is usual for a Blizzard game there are sound clips around every turn and new and interesting background music in each zone and instance. While Blizzard has stuck to their tried and true classical music theme for the game there really was no reason to change. Many of the new songs have an eerie, haunting quality especially the music that plays in the new underwater zone of Vashj’ir.
For sound clips and voice acting, there seems to be more of it in Cataclysm than in any other WoW expansion to date. The new starting zones are heavily scripted and chalked full of voice clips and this continues through many of the new higher level zones as well. Where Wrath of the Lich King had one extremely cool quest chain that used voice and cut scenes for dramatic effect, Cataclysm has dozens. Even though at times the voice acting is not all that, the pure quantity is amazing and for that it gets two great big thumbs up for the effort put in.
Examples of the voice acting being not great however abound through the game. There are many points where the actors are talking about something critical, but sound completely detached with no emotion at all. Players can be found in game laughing at the Worgen’s bad English accents, or worse yet, how apparently Goblins all came from New Jersey. While it’s great that there is as much voice as there is, and having it is better than not having it, I wish Blizzard would have hired real voice actors, rather than the janitor, mail man, graphics artist team, on others in the building for the voices. If they didn’t get the voice actors cheap by hiring in-house, they should probably be looking for a refund.