One of the most eagerly awaited MMO game expansions of all time, World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm launched at 11 pm UK time on December 6th. Hours in advance, players congregated in the main cities of Stormwind (Alliance faction) and Orgrimmar (Horde faction) for this historic event. I had never seen so many mammoth mounts in one place as in the central square of Stormwind at 10.30 pm. People started to drift to towards the flight trainer, knowing that at the strike of the clock they would be able to upgrade their flying skill to be able to take to the air in the old world and access the new zones. Fireworks were being let off. Every class was using all their most pyrotechnic area of effect skills, so that rains of fire and whistling white blizzards and bubbling death and decay surrounded everyone. Shamans had their elementals out and warlocks their doomguards. Other players brought out the insufferable train sets and dancing flames, and whatever other playful gadgets they owned, all to add to the party atmosphere. Must admit it was electric. Then when the moment came, amid cheers and the chiming of the city clock, we were given a message to log out and back into the game so that the new features could take effect.
One hour later and counting...
Well, I guess we had to expect that. Every server in Europe had their entire populations log off and on at the same time and the login servers went rigid with horror. Happily, we kept trying and those of our guild who had determined to stay up nearly all night eventually managed to get back online.
I have experienced all expansions to WoW and this one has been the most crowded and overwhelming. The population has expanded a lot since the last major new content. (Worldwide WoW now has a population of 12 million.) The behaviour of a lot of players wasn’t too salutary on that first night either, so much so I had to escape the new level 80+ starter areas – Mt Hyjal and Vashj’ir – in order to roll one of the new classes, in this case an Alliance Worgen. It seemed an awful lot of badly-behaved kids had been allowed to stay up late that night.
Since launch, I’ve tried out characters for both of the new races, Worgen and Goblins, and have to say I think that Blizzard has poured its creativity and wit into the Goblin race, more so than the Worgen werewolves. Worgen start off GRIM and pretty much stay that way, surrounded by righteous and priggish humans. The Goblins, fun-loving rogues to a man and woman, are far more enjoyable and I found myself more sympathetic to them. They have character, which I felt the Worgen lacked, even though they look amazingly cool. Now I’ve got my Worgen out of her starter area, I’m starting to enjoy her more, but don’t take my experience as gospel. A lot in our guild really enjoyed the Worgen early levels. Personal taste, I guess.
Most of the changes to the game took place in late November, in The Shattering event, when the world of Azeroth underwent a major overhaul and the new landscape was initiated. The new ‘Big Bad’, Deathwing, was released to unleash his fury over the entire world. Familiar zones were shattered and remade. The world players had known for six years changed in an instant. This has been so impressive it’s led many of us to think that what Blizzard has given us is not just an expansion but World of Warcraft 2, without the hassle of starting again from scratch with new characters in a new game. The graphics have improved enormously with shimmering vivid detail. Quest lines in the old world have improved tremendously, not just in logistics but also in creativity. The only complaint is that the original player races could still do with a bit of nip and tuck. They’ve not been updated since launch six years ago, so are getting on a bit now in appearance, but I understand this is something in the developers’ ‘to do list’. The two new races shine in comparison.
Since ‘Wrath of the Lich King’ expansion, Blizzard has attempted to involve players more in the lore of the game, with great success. OK, there were one or two places in Wrath where after the tenth time of hearing a particular speech, or watching a particular interplay between NPCs, the content became somewhat too old and lengthy for comfort, but on the whole players felt much more integrated with the world, not only through political events happening around them as they played, but also by being directly involved with them. This policy has been extended into Cataclysm, and by questing in an area you feel fully immersed in its lore and the lives of its people. Quest chains have been streamlined throughout the world, so you no longer have to make those lengthy journeys from one NPC to another over multiple zones that were the bane of early WoW. Another innovation is that you don’t always have to return to a quest giver to receive the next part of a chain. You’ll receive a message from that NPC telling you where to go next and what they want from you. This saves an enormous amount of time. Quests are inventive and entertaining, making the whole levelling experience much more enjoyable, whether for the quest-jaded veteran wanting to try one of the new races or a complete newbie to the game. For newbies particularly, much work has been done to guide them as unobtrusively as possible. WoW was never a newbie-friendly game before, simply because in so complex a world there was a lot to learn, and unless you had the help of other players, or were prepared to do quite a bit of research online, it was often hard to find your way around and get to grips with the game. Blizzard has done a lot to address this so that new players can immerse themselves quickly and learn much of what they have to know.