When Blizzard says World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is big, they aren't kidding. This expansion is going to affect the entire world of Azeroth, and they're adding nearly 3,000 new quests. "We're looking at it as a 1 to 85 thing," says lead designer Tom Chilton. Meaning it's not just a few new areas for people to immediately hop to the top of the expanded level 85 cap. This is, in effect, a comprehensive re-skinning of the entire world, with a lot of extra stuff tossed in to boot.
The basic logline for Cataclysm is that the dragon Deathwing (from way back in Warcraft II) has been biding his time after having his ass handed right back to him, and he returns in a big way. He rips the universe a new one with a dimensional rift, and that's what causes all the problems on Azeroth. Which has to be a bummer for property values. "Destruction Adjacent Fixer-Upper" just doesn't have a nice ring to it.
Stormwind and Orgrimmar: Now Fully Flyable
With the world in upheaval, which is both physical and political, things are changing everywhere, and not just because of Deathwing. Developers and programmers have also been wielding a heavy hand. One of the biggest visual changes is that the capitol cities of both Stormwind and Orgrimmar have been given enormous makeovers. Both cities are now fully flyable, and as a result that had to be rebuilt with an eye toward three dimensions.
Stormwind has been revamped with additional areas added, including a new Dwarven District that has its own bank, inn, auction house, etc. As it used to be, the city tended to bottleneck up around the existing trade district, so why not have two? They've also added new lakes, a graveyard that wraps around the back of the city, and a semi-destroyed area, courtesy of Deathwing. It's right where the druid trainer used to be in the park district. (Don't worry, he'll relocate.) Soar to the tops of the city turrets on your mount and survey the beauty. It's pretty impressive.
Orgrimmar has also gone through the home improvement machine, with a lot more drama behind it. Thrall takes off and leaves Garrosh behind, and Garrosh takes the opportunity to redecorate in a big way. You'll hardly recognize it any more, except maybe for The Drag, the only area of the city that retains the look and feel of old Ogrimmar...although reconstructive surgery has started here as well. Goblins, Trolls, and Taurens all get their own areas, and you'll find a new, direct transition to Azshara as well out through the city's back gates, which is handy for travel time.
Elemental Planes: Totally Gorgeous
The developers took us to some of the elemental planes in via their drool-worthy god mode, where we got to see some of the impressive new areas coming to the game. Deepholm is where Deathwing had been cooling his jets prior to Cataclysm, and it's a magnetic, rainbow gem-filled wonderland in the middle of a spheroid. Of course, Deathwing has provided the place with a new skylight, but it's actually quite an improvement as you can now gaze out to into the vast, starry sky. The entire area is dark, spacy, and amazing. Like a Led Zeppelin album cover come to life.
Skyfall is at the other end of the spectrum. It's an elemental plane that exists far above the Egyptian-inspired city of Uldum. It looks very reminiscent of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back, complete with picturesque vista and billowing clouds. The development team joked that you might encounter characters here with names that reflect Star Wars. Personally, I'm holding out for Lander Kalmissyan.
Uldum itself is fairly amazing as well, with its obvious roots in Egypt. You'll see pyramid-influenced architecture and hieroglyphics everywhere. The entire city has been covered by an illusion for centuries, but Cataclysm shakes things up and all is revealed. It was previously one of the homes of the Titans, and there's something big happening here. Apparently there's a rumor that some sort of massively powerful weapon is hidden here, and the Horde, the Alliance, and Deathwing all want it for themselves. Maybe they should work out some sort of sharing schedule.
Player vs. Player vs. Player
A lot of work has gone into PvP, with the addition of two new battlegrounds with more to come. They showed us Twin Peaks, which is where the Dragonmaw Orcs are doing battle against the Wildhammer Dwarves. It’s similar in size to Warsong Gulch, and is meant for 10 vs. 10 matchups. It also has two graveyards per side, which should change the CTF dynamic.
Raiders of the Last Boss
Raids are getting some tweaks too. Players can now jump into any new raiding group, providing that they’ve already beaten the boss that matches up to the point where the raid they want to join is. Confusing? Assume you’ve killed the second boss in a raid. Now you can join any other raid that has done the same. This should eliminate a lot of player downtime and the worst thing about WoW: waiting.
Raids can now be “downshifted” as well. Suppose your 25-player raid meets up, and not everyone is there. You can break the raid up into 10-person raids and continue soldiering on. Unfortunately, you can’t upshift your raid from 10 to 25, which is to avoid the social problem of splitting up, sticking your b-listers into a raid, tanking past the next boss, and then recombining.
The Guilded Age
Guilds are getting a huge shot in the arm. There’s now a complete guild landing panel, complete with a pseudo RSS feed that tells you when other members level up, beat a certain boss, perform a unique task, or were awarded a guild achievement. It’s a great way to keep up with other members. Rather than finding out weeks later, now you can see that Ironbutt reached level 82 the day before and congratulate him.
Guilds also earn reputation as a group, which is gained by killing bosses, going on quests, hitting the rated battlegrounds, or earning guild achievements. You can earn the ability to purchase unique guild mounts, which are customized with guild flags. You’ll even be able to plant guild standard in the ground and gather your teammates around for a perfect screenshot. Plus, there’s a new roster where you can easily find recipes and talents via their profession pane, in case you need something specific.
You Call This Archeology?!
Blizzard went into more detail about archeology, and said it’s something that will probably appeal to the casual player. It basically serves as a way for them to add more lore to the game, and it digs extra-deep into the history of Azeroth. You’ll encounter some common artifacts and rare items, but those will mostly be toy or cosmetic items. There will be very powerful items, and the Horde and Alliance will have their own unique archeology paths.
Goblins Are Awesome
While they opened up both starting areas to us, I spent all of my time in the Goblin zone. The gothic horror element of the Alliance Worgen really appealed to me, and that’s where I thought I’d spend all of my time finding out why I’d started to grow hair in strange places, but the cute and cuddly evil Goblins won me over. They have lawn flamingos. Seriously.
Plus, there’s an extremely early quest you can accept that gives you a souped-up hot-rod that you can drive all over the goblin roads and run down NPCs who call you a menace. The hot-rod has a “Punch It!” ability that increases the speed by 50%, and there’s a radio that plays Warcrafty tunes, and even a horn you can honk. What’s not to love?
You keep this jalopy for a while, but sadly, it doesn’t stay with you forever. It’s an extremely fun starting zone, very user-friendly, and there’s a ton of humor here. One quest involves dressing up, going to a party, and entertaining guests by getting them hammered. Awesome.
What They Eliminated
The last time Cataclysm information was firehosed onto us, it was at BlizzCon. But, as Blizzard is constantly refining things, a few things were dropped. No longer around are:
- Guild Money: Instead of having guild money, there are now guild achievements. Rather than having one person in charge of the guild’s cash, now you can unlock achievements that allow everyone to buy new items with normal gold as the guild unlocks them.
- Guild Talents: This got tossed out because the developers thought one guild would find a perfect “formula” of talents, and then everyone else would just copy that.
- Glyphs: The Path of the Titans: They’ve dropped this and eliminated paths as well, although they may revisit Path of the Titans down the road. Instead, they’ve made glyphs “as cool as we wanted them to be.” Glyphs will now be permanent, and they come in flavors of major, medium, and minor.
Blizzard didn’t tell us when this is all coming out, or even when we’d be able to join the beta. Personally, I haven’t played WoW in years, but this has me itching to rejoin immediately. Which is probably no coincidence to Blizzard, either.