World of Warcraft Cataclysm

World of Warcraft Cataclysm review: Faster levelling; tighter questing; more intuitive gameplay

Here's something that doesn't happen every day. A game millions of players have been enjoying over the last six years has been wiped off the face of the map. It cannot be played any more. At least, not in its original form.

What am I talking about? Well, one of the big selling points of World of Warcraft's latest expansion, Cataclysm, is that it has completely changed the game's original world. Its storyline is simple: a very nasty, very big dragon called Deathwing, who has been imprisoned underground for the better part of an eternity, has freed himself from his magical chains and busted his way out. As you can imagine, after being stuck in a stinky hole in the ground for so long, he's not in a particularly good mood. Indeed, he's decidedly miffed, and has set off on a ragin' rampage across Azeroth, Warcraft's original in-game world, setting off tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes. This eponymous Cataclysm has resulted in Azeroth being changed completely... and, apparently, forever.

What this actually means is that up until very recently, if you were new to World of Warcraft, the game you'd experience as you started to level up your character to 60 (the maximum level for the original World of Warcraft) was the same one that all WoW players have been playing for the last six years. While that experience was fun -- so much so that it's garnered some 12,000,000 subscribers -- some six years after it was first introduced, parts of it were looking pretty dated. That fact became increasingly obvious if you stuck with WoW and played its subsequent expansions, Burning Crusade and Lich King, which featured much improved, and far more cohesive levelling systems and structures. Which is not surprising, considering the developers have been able to refine the game's mechanics thanks to their years of experience and iteration.

But the reality is, while WoW got better and better as you levelled up, that initial experience did have some legacy flaws for beginners. Some questlines were tedious or unintuitive, or didn't make much sense in the greater WoW storyline. There were areas in the game that seemed a little empty. Sometimes if you outgrew an area, it wasn't obvious where to go next. While many persevered through that, many didn't.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm changes all that.

Anyone now buying the first World of Warcraft game will not be able to play the original game old WoW players grew up with. They will instead play the new, redesigned World of Warcraft experience: a post-Cataclysm world where questlines have been redesigned and tightened. Where the levelling structure is intuitive and much more logical. Where new players are led through the game in a way that makes it much, much more enjoyable and fun. And where there is a lot less wandering around getting lost, or becoming frustrated, or running halfway across the world to deliver an item that then yields a tiny amount of experience for the effort involved.

The new WoW delivers its story in a much more successful way, and makes the player feel more involved. Questlines are tighter. The presentation is improved. There's virtually no "grinding" -- your character develops and evolves naturally and progressively. And best of all, levelling up is much, much faster. Where it took initial WoW players months to get to 60, now it takes a few weeks – even if playing casually, and if you know what you're doing, much less time than that. Overall, post-Cataclysm WoW is a much, much better experience for beginners, and as a consequence, a much, much better game.

Indeed, it's pretty much a new game, and because of that, as I suddenly realized last night as I started playing Cataclysm, it absolutely deserves a new review. Sure, much of the landscape and the general structure is the same compared to the original, what WoW players call "vanilla" Warcraft, but it is so much more refined and better articulated than the world it replaces. And for anyone new to the game, it offers a much, much better experience.

So this is why I'm re-reviewing the original World of Warcraft, because after six long years, it's been reinvented, reinvigorated, and renewed. At its core, it's the same game millions have loved for years, but it's much better. Indeed, I'd go so far to say it's still the best MMO out there, because the experience it offers is so deep, so broad and gives you so many different ways to play it. And now, with all the old players flooding the new, post-Cataclysm world, WoW feels more vibrant and alive than ever before.

If you haven't played WoW, or might have played it and become frustrated at its old structure, the new-and-improved WoW represents a truly brilliant experience that is more addictive than ever before. Of course, if you want to truly appreciate all that the franchise has to offer, you will also have to buy Burning Crusade (so you can level to 70), Lich King (to get to 80), and then finally Cataclysm so you can join everyone else as they level up to 85. But to me that's part and parcel of what makes the game fun. WoW is a game that you play for months and years, and one that provides an incredible experience which yields high gameplay rewards and dividends to those who are prepared to invest in it.

Just be warned. I'm one of those people who have been playing the game for six years, and over that time has literally put hundreds of man-days (yes hundreds, yes days) into the game, and I can personally attest to the fact that WoW is addictive. Very, very addictive. Especially once you start making friends or, as I do, play with my significant other as a team. If you're not careful, it'll consume your thoughts, and keep you up all night, night after night. Just as any great game should; but this one is bigger than virtually anything else out there, and it keeps on getting bigger because it's constantly changing.

That's what makes World of Warcraft such a great game, and such a huge success. And now it's better than ever before!

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