Is Cataclysm Enough to Bring You Back?

Every time I start to write about World of Warcraft, I know that some percentage of our readership will sigh an exasperated breath, let slump their frustrated shoulders and forcefully think to themselves, “are we really still talking about this game?” I understand and even sympathize with the crippling ennui that Blizzard’s epic, if slightly long in the tooth, MMO inspires in some. Truth be told, for a long and restful few months, even as I had tantalizing beta access to the upcoming expansion Cataclysm waiting for my hungry eyes, I too grew despondent to my long-term digital paramour.

But, like the mafia, a sanitarium or daycare, they inevitably pulled me back in.

Truth is, I actually don’t like MMO betas very much. I cling desperately to the assumption that the endless timesink of these games at least results in some durable digital asset, like a level 80 spell-wielding cow or an ill-tempered dwarf wearing fancy armor. In betas not only do you have to deal with a world only half realized, but the fruits of your labor are summarily dismissed at the end of the ordeal. It’s not just watching sausage being made, it’s having to periodically take big bites of the partially processed meat.

So, when I tell you, not surprisingly, that the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm beta is becoming pretty damn fun, at least understand that for a while I had been inclined to say something very different.

Even if you have long pushed back, overstuffed, from the WoW smorgasbord, know that unlike previous expansions Cataclysm is ready to welcome back its lost flock with open and accommodating arms. This is the rare expansion to an MMO that actually is driven to serve players of all levels, not just the hardcore.

Historically, my least favorite thing about MMO expansions, is that it often seems like unless you have high level characters, there’s little content that is aimed at you. Sure, occasionally there will be a new race or class, but aside from a brief stint in an updated starting area, it’s ultimately back into the long grind that had so worn you down in the first place. I struggle to recall any MMO expansion that successfully addressed that deep well of dragging commitment that describes the upside down bell curve of MMO fun.

If you have ever played WoW and thought to yourself, “That’s it, I just can’t possibly spend another second in Stranglethorn Vale with my level 35 character,” then this is the expansion built for you.

This Azeroth is a new world rebuilt from the fiery embers of the old. It rewards both those who have spent half a decade traversing familiar landscapes, as well as those who are open to the concept of ending their long diaspora away. Five years is an eternity in the massively multiplayer business, and the lessons learned both in world construction and character development progression are immediately and consistent evident.

This world is a more interesting place where once small waystations between distant points of interest have been given their own depth, personality and fleshed backstory. There is a persistent sense of movement and progress at all levels, and with the benefit of five years worth of tools and improvements there is always the opportunity to shift your focus on the fly and do something different when you get bored.

I have a friend who has for months been trying to get me to see the light on Cataclysm. It’s basically a full-on relaunch of one of the world’s biggest games. Everything is basically rebuilt from the ground up: mechanics, levelling, questing, the world, skill development, roles, story, everything. Only in the past few weeks, as Blizzard has really begun putting that fifth level of polish on the game -- still more than a month out -- have the dots begun to connect firmly in my mind.

Be prepared, because if you are a former WoW player who simply thought you would be able to finally ignore this expansion, the temptation will be far stronger than you might have imagined. It’s not just an expansion for people who want to play a goblin or werewolf. The reality is that the changes made to the world and the game itself are equally impactful to long-standing classes and races. The promise of a world totally torn down and rebuilt from its own ashes is being realized, and it is even more tantalizing than I had originally imagined it would be.

The laundry list of changes and improvements is grand in scope. I would be loathe to try and point to any one thing (old world flying, simplifying talent trees, improved visuals, increased world diversity, story development, normalized questing paths, dungeon queues, smoother transition between areas, redevelopment of outdated or underused content) that makes the experience take the next leap forward. It's an expansion not built on gimmicks or hooks, but from the experience of a cash-rich company that is investing in the future of a game that should by all accounts already be in decline.

And, if I was placing my bets, I would say with supreme confidence that the investment will pay off for both company and players.



4.0 is really, really good. I have a warrior on another server that's existed since launch day and I rolled another one yesterday (because you lot play alliance). I'm now level 15 and I had to force myself to sleep yesterday.

The improvements of the new cataclysm systems combined with a community that already exists and I like means that this game is going to be a problem.

ugh... So, add Kelenda as a friend. I will hit stuff with a hammer for you.

No. I played it for a couple of years, even got WoTLK, but realised that playing other MMOs had exposed me to levels of graphics and playing models which went well beyond what WoW was.

I'm gone, and I'm staying gone.

The way I see it, the general criticism expressed here of "too addicting, not enough time, don't want to get sucked in etc." is one regarding the genre, not WoW. It is commonly mistaken for that though, since WoW is the most popular among the few that actually get it right. Please don’t mix that up.
Yes, it’s tempting to spend a lot of time in games and especially MMOs. That’s the nature of escapism. MMOs have you involved and immersed more than any other kind of game. If you know you are one to lose touch with reality over things like this, the genre is not for you.

Let’s return to the topic at hand. I, and I am sure tens of thousands of other people, will return to WoW for Cataclysm. Why do we choose this admittedly aged game above more modern, "soon" to be released or non-MMO choices? Here's my take.

We are sick and tired of being beta testers or subjected to premature releases of other developers and publishers. Every major MMO released in the last 4 or so years (*) tanked due to greed, stupidity or plain ignorance. Among them top class franchises like Warhammer and Star Trek. A few of them (DDO, LOTRO) barely survived by going free to play.

The difference between those on the one side and WoW and EVE on the other side is simple: Blizzard and CCP actually deliver. Yes, both of them were early adopters and because of that had the unique chance of shaping the hopes and dreams of their potential customer base according to their vision. But whatever major features they promise, they eventually deliver. Eventually is the key term here, since they're among the few developers that realize the truth in Miyamoto's "a late game is late, a bad game is bad forever". For all we know, SWTOR will be going the APB/STO route, albeit slightly slower to a way bigger marketing campaign and some hard-earned loyalty of players towards BioWare.

So where does that leave us players actually considering MMOs as our regular branch of gaming? I don't need hardcore grinding without quests, I am not one for heavily instanced content and I think shooters - third and first person - and flight sims do not make for good MMOs. Also, when I log in, I want to make my time count. Because of the constant improvement of content and mechanics as well as the player base, WoW allows me just that, no matter what I am interested in (PvP, questing, instancing, raiding). If I was more interested in large-scale PvP, politics, meta-game and economics beyond flee-market level, I’d play EVE Online. Since I don’t care for that and rather talk to some buddies on Vent while spending and hour or two after work playing something that doesn’t make me feel like I am working a badly paid second job in a hostile work environment (hi, Starcraft 2), there isn’t much left except for WoW and F2P MMOs. Since the latter always kept me wondering how much of a second class citizen I was, the choice is easy.

Regarding the actual changes of patch 4.0 and Cataclysm, Blizzard is doing a great job and while nay-sayers are still waiting for “the next generation of MMOs”, they actually incorporate their vision of it with every expansion.

(*) Here's a little list of dead/dying AAA games for you to consider:
- Age of Conan
- Vanguard
- Warhammer Online
- Allods
- Aion
- Star Trek Online
- Warhammer Online

(**) They can sugar-coat it into not being a desperate move all they want, I am not buying it. It’s nice to still see them going, I just think their reasoning for switching to F2P was dishonest.

I suppose it's impossible to see what would have happened under other circumstances (WoW not being a runaway success), but it does follow Blizzard's MO to support their products long term, and fix or improve what needs it. In an industry where the phrase 'milking' gets used by gamers more than at a dairy it's good that they did stick with one game and make it good, to take it to it's full potential, rather than drop it and move on. I can see a few counter points (SC2 custom maps), but there are few companies that I could say that I'm confident it will eventually get sorted out.

They're not fast movers though.

oilypenguin wrote:

4.0 is really, really good. I have a warrior on another server that's existed since launch day and I rolled another one yesterday (because you lot play alliance). I'm now level 15 and I had to force myself to sleep yesterday.

I tend to play intensely for a month and then I stop because it's too involving. Finding a balance where I can just play an hour or two a night and make a long term goal is what I'm working on now. I'm leveling a 60 rogue to 70, and it's taken me a couple of weeks. There shouldn't be any rush, and yet sometimes it's hard to just turn off the damn game.

aphesian wrote:

I reactivated my account yesterday (after discontinuing my subscription in November '09) in preparation for the release of Cataclysm. This was after discovering that my account was apparently hacked in March '10 without my knowledge.

It's an old familiar story by now, but of course my stuff is gone and I have a bunch of naked characters milling about in strange locations. Blizzard claims that they do not retain records back that far so they can not restore my characters and items back to the way they were when I originally stopped subscribing.

Oddly the hackers left my two level 80s with whatever they had equipped on them, but emptied their inventories and banks. According to Blizzard this means my characters are playable and I do not qualify for a "care package" to get my started playing again, whatever that is. It's strange because I basically have the clothes/weapons on my back and 80 gold between all my characters.

Has anyone else experienced this? I thought Blizzard was more willing to work with people than this. I didn't even know hackers hacked non-active accounts.

I had my account hacked around a year ago too. Thank God for the authenticator, it is an absolute must for the game now.

When my account was hacked, I had been absent for only a couple of days, but I immediately reported it when I received an e-mail saying someone had changed my password. My characters were intact, but were either naked with no inventory or equipped with no inventory. Also there were about a dozen toons with names like "qwedpflsdfjds" all Lvl 1 and stripped.

Because I acted quickly, I got my stuff back, but the feeling of losing control due to a virtual kidnapping really sucks.

In a way, it would be kind of interesting to see how you can take those characters from having absolutely nothing back to normal and beyond. Extra challenge if you do it with no help.

I love the hypemachine. I haven't really played WoW since right before Wrath of the Lich King and I'm jumping back in today just to check out the different world changes before Cataclysm happens.

Who knows how long I'll be hanging out but I know that it's going to be epic. Like playing the game back during my first year with WoW in 2005.

I seem to only get into WoW in 3 month intervals. For 3 months I'll play it every chance I get. Then, I'll quit. Cold turkey. Come back 3 months later for another go-around. God I hate that game so much, and yet...I can' long.