World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Review

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.

Logon Screen

As with any big release you should expect a few issues.

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:

  • Two new races were added. The Alliance gain the Worgen (a werewolf like creature) and the Horde gain Goblins.
  • The level cap is raised from level 80 to level 85.
  • The profession cap was raised from 450 to 525.
  • A new secondary profession called Archaeology was added
  • 5 new zones, 6 new instances, and 3 new raids were added
  • The entire world of Azeroth was reworked to both reflect the cataclysmic event that is occurring, and to allow the use of flying mounts.

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:

  • Blood and Gore
  • Crude Humor
  • Mild Language
  • Suggestive Themes
  • Use of Alcohol
  • Violence

Gameplay - 90 / 100

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.


Two great looking new races

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.


Sure it looks cool, but it's just another mount, after a long grind

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.

Graphics - 87 / 100

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 - 95 / 100

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.

Multiplayer - 65 / 100

Looking at how Cataclysm functions as an MMOG it is a bit of a mixed bag.  There are some things that are extremely good and some that are pretty poor. 

Starting with the poor, even though the scripted storylines in many of the zones are amazing as a single player idea, they have issues in an MMOG.  Due to the heavily scripted nature of the zones, there are multiple choke points that lead to delays as you wait for creatures or spawns.  While Blizzard did OK by upping spawn rates, it still causes some issues. For instance, with high spawn rates in some locations many players got stuck in what amounts to a perpetual combat loop and could not get out without dying.  In other locations spawn rates were not set high enough to get through the highly gated content.  One strange side effect of high spawn rates was leather workers being able to level to near max just by sitting at the starting quest in Vashj’ir skinning crabs and then eels.    

PvP is in a state of chaos right now due to Rated Battlegrounds and players having issues understanding exactly how to go about getting groups and points.  There was already a cross-realm Battleground system that worked decently before, so the forced premade groups for Rated Battlegrounds seems like a step backwards, especially in light of things like Dungeon Finder which is intended to make grouping easier, not a necessary chore just to enjoy the new content. It might just take time for players to get used to the new system, but right now, it’s chaos.

Still on the PvP situation, don’t even get me started on the way Tol Barad works.  The zone itself is way too easy for a defender to hold, and unless your server makes a cross faction agreement to trade it back and forth for the honor bonuses, it’s a joke.  Even worse is that you need to queue for it multiple times before you even get an invite.  Because it balances players and everyone wants in for the huge honor bonuses, it is common to wait for 5 or 6 battles before actually getting into it.

Instance runs and the random dungeon queue system don’t help multiplayer either, even though they should.  The queue times for DPS tend to be around an hour, healers 10 minutes, and tanks are instant.  This has lead to two main issues.  The first is that tanks do not queue anymore, instead they sell their services for gold.  The second is that any class that can queue as tank does, regardless of actually being tank spec or tank geared.  I have run across many “tanks” in DPS gear complaining about the healer not keeping them alive. This has lead to many players not willing to use the random system anymore, further hindering the multiplayer aspects of the game.

Lastly on the negative points, even though many of us applaud Blizzard for finally making challenging five player content, it is a drastic change from WotLK.  Many players completely fail in groups due to having started playing during the Wrath cycle and may not even know what CC is, or how to follow a tank’s target to not draw aggro.  These players are making successful heroic groups extremely hard to find, and frustrating both experienced players and new players, since both just want to get through the new content.

On the positive side there are many things that were added, a few make my highlight real. 

One of the most important is the addition of guild levels and reputation.  This change makes it much more important to find and stick with a good guild and that helps reinforce the MMOG nature of the game.  As an MMOG no one should really be playing solo anyway, the game is supposed to be about social interactions and this feature should help enforce that.

Guild Levels

Belonging to a guild has positive benefits

Another positive change for many players, although many hard core raiders are against it, is the change to the raid structure.  Now both 10 and 25 player raids drop the same loot, making it easier for players to find a core group of friends to raid with.  In the past there were many smaller groups that ended up having to disperse to various guilds to secure raiding slots if they wanted gear.  Now with smaller raids giving the same loot, those groups of friends can stick together and enjoy the raid experience without the need to go to a 25 player raid.

Overall though for a multiplayer game, Cataclysm is still surprisingly solo based.  While things like the new guild system and rated battlegrounds promote grouping, as raids always have, much of the game pushes against grouping.  For example it is all too common to be questing in a zone with a friend and end up a quest or two apart, and not be able to see or help each other.  The phased nature of much of the new content makes grouping very difficult. Many other things keep this multiplayer game from really being multiplayer friendly.

Value - 95 / 100

The overall value for time with Cataclysm is extremely high, even if you had a level 80 and were only looking to get to level 85.  The story telling, art, music and sound are all top notch and provide an excellent gaming experience.  The only thing that lowers the overall value for me is that the expansion is only 5 levels instead of the past expansions’ 10, and still launched with very little raid content, which Blizzard stated would not be the case after the WotLK fiasco.  Somehow in this expansion we still ended up with roughly the same number of raid bosses at launch, and for many that is the whole reason to play an MMOG.
One of the great things with Cataclysm that adds a great deal of value for existing players is all of the original zones being reworked.  Many look and feel completely different than they did at the original launch of the game over 6 years ago.  In addition to the look of the zones, the quests have changed completely as well.  The quests in each zone flow much better and are arranged in better groupings than they were at WoW launch.  Blizzard has learned much about zone design and has applied it well to all of the old world zones.  This makes it a great time for players to go back and create alts to level and experience the game all over again.

Lasting Appeal - 65 / 100

This is a very hard category to rate, since so much of it depends on play style.  As a player who had multiple 80’s and now 85’s all the new level 1-60 content does not hold much appeal for me. If I was a new player though, there is a veritable ton of great content to work through.  So their experience and the lasting appeal it would have for them would be very different.

As a raider though and for anyone that is at the endgame, I am not sure on the lasting appeal.  I have a feeling that since there are only 5 levels to work through, and only a few raid bosses, we will all be jonesing for the next patch very shortly. If the patches and new content are not quick in coming, many players will get bored and look for something else to do and Cataclysm could become the wasteland that WotLK was in the long drought after ICC was launched.

Because of the few levels available and the low number of instance and raids available, I feel that players will get board with the game long before the next expansion comes out in the likely two year time frame.  It will be much like WotLK where players got bored and disappeared a month after each major patch and were gone until the next one.  Blizzard really needs to add more to keep players interested in the interim, and sorry but rep grinds in the same instances, or the same daily quests over and over just don’t cut it.

Pros and Cons

There are many great things about Cataclysm that really make it shine for me.  Just a few of them are:

  • The Collectors Edition of the game is just amazing.  The box is beautiful and it comes with some really nice extras including a nice book, DVD, mouse pad, in game pet, and more.  You don’t need the CE version and it doesn’t really add much to the game, but it sure is nice to look at.
  • The new races, the Worgen and Goblins, have really amazing starting zones. They are fully scripted and have many in-game cut scenes and voiceovers.  Even if you do not want a new character, they are worth playing one of each through levels 1-12 just to see the new zones.
  • The new level 80-85 zones are mind blowing, offering varied and gorgeous terrain to adventure through, they are some of Blizzards best. 
  • Great story telling, and the use of voice and cut scenes is very good
  • Instances are difficult to start with, which is really nice to see as many players want harder content. Follow that up with heroics being extremely hard with starting gear and you have for some very challenging content.
  • The new raid world markers are amazingly useful, but should be usable in groups as well

The graphics engine could be considered a pro or con, while dated technically, the stylized look is still very nice.


To compensate for all the good points, sure enough Cataclysm brought some bad points as well.  Just a few are as follows:

  • The congestion on the servers during first week was just horrendous.  The scripted and phased starting zones did not help this at all.  You would figure for all the funds and intelligence that Blizzard has, they could plan better and have additional servers leased for launch time. 
  • Leveling in Cataclysm is way too fast, and by way too fast, I mean insanely too fast.  I have leveled three characters to level 85 already, and none came anywhere close to finishing all the quests in a zone.  I am now working my way through zones to see all the content.  It would have been better to slow leveling down by at least 50%,  or just stretched it to 10 levels.
  • Team fast leveling up with only 5 levels to gain, and you have players back at the level cap within days. This is not a good thing when there are only 3 raids to run.
  • Archaeology, while a cool idea, is just a grind fest for no real reason.  There is very little that improves your character or has any potential to improve it long term (past a few raid runs for gear).  Blizzard could have done a much better job at making this a compelling thing to do in the game.


While I am not sure that Cataclysm raised the bar any higher for World of Warcraft, it certainly didn’t lower it. While nothing is completely ground breaking it shows that for the most part Blizzard can take and refine a game to a point that very few other companies can.

Overall this is certainly the best expansion yet.  Many of the things that Blizzard did are refinements that, looking back on the game, probably could have been done right from the start.  They are things that we should take for granted.  There should be voice all over the place in a game like this, there should be cut scenes all over, there should be compelling story telling.  And you know what, there was to a degree, it just got bigger and better with Cataclysm.


Excellent story telling makes this a top notch expansion

Looking at the game overall, I think it leaves us a bit short since it was only 5 levels, and has many other issues as discussed throughout this review. However, it is nice that after a month still not everything is done by everyone, there are still things to do, the difficulty of heroics and raids has been notched up, and not every raiding guild has every boss down on day one. It also is night and day better than anything else out there right now.

Overall, this means two big thumbs up from TenTonHammer!  Now if only Blizzard could put something like this out every 6 months, instead of every 2 years.   They would own the market even more than they do, and keep players happily immersed in their fantasy world forever. Oh well, we can always dream.

Overall 90/100 - Great


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About The Author

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.

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