World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Destroying a world loved by 12 million people is quite a risky manoeuvre. One that perhaps only Blizzard would dare risk, knowing that its fans are that trusting of the World of Warcraft brand. A reboot is exactly what's needed from the aging but dominant MMO however and Cataclysm has done this in fine style. While the previous expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King, focused on providing extra content for the more hardcore gamer, Cataclysm goes back to basics with new races as well as new class/race combinations to tantalise the gaming tastebuds.
Evolution rather than revolution is the name of the game here with Cataclysm and the patch that accompanied it for those who didn't jump right in, literally destroying everything. The return of the evil dragon Deathwing the Destroyer has caused all this and it's all really rather alarming. It's impressive of course and makes for some sweeping changes but it'd take a hardened heart to not feel a pang of sorrow as the NPCs you're so used to seeing wandering around happily, are thrown into turmoil. For the player though, this is brilliant. More of an emphasis is placed on storylines with much more engaging questlines to follow. There are even more cutscenes placed strategically in order to explain the lore of Warcraft more accurately. Levelling from 1-60 in particular is much faster but it's also entirely rejuvenated. Each race offers a different series of quests to complete and the whole affair is more streamlined and more enjoyable too. The changes mean that regardless of how well you knew the old way of levelling, you're going to see something new here. Whether it's the fact that Darkshore now has a huge hole ripped into it, or the fact that Stranglethorn Vale is now two separate zones, everything feels different and yet the same. Each of these quests have been subtly revamped making for a more interesting tale to tell than simply 'go fetch x number of y' and the boring ones that you used to be forced to suffer, have gone and been replaced with more unique adventures.
They're the sort of changes that make you want to reroll characters for every different race, just to see what's changed. This is further enhanced by the ability to play new combinations such as human hunters and Tauren paladins which makes for a new experience. Crucially the flexibility and new quest paths also make for a more enjoyable experience to the newcomer. While the game's graphical engine is still looking as dated as you would expect from a 5 year old game - I could only see great improvements in the water effects - the actual experience feels fresh and new. You can actually see the underlying story that was desperate to burst out in previous expansion packs and it makes for a much more attractive package of RPG and MMO.
These are changes that come with the latest patch though, not just Cataclysm. Besides the level cap being increased to 85, the key selling point for Cataclysm is the addition of the two new races - Goblins for the Horde and Worgen for the alliance. Both starting areas offer some great and unique quest lines. The goblins starting area is the most original of the two with its blend of steampunk attitudes along with some frankly bizarre quests. In the early levels, you'll find yourself appeasing rebellious troll slaves, playing a bizarre football-esque sports game and cheering up guests at a party. Oh and you get to drive around in a hotrod car. It's a terrific change of pace from the usual form of questing in World of Warcraft and makes for a great time.
The Worgen questing path is a somewhat more typical experience but in turn it offers more of a storyline to events than the innovative nature of the goblins' questline. It's a grim time for a Worgen considering you're essentially a werewolf and this is reflected ably through the storyline that unfolds.
Besides the new races and increased level cap, experienced players have the pleasure of new dungeons, both heroic and normal modes are on offer. Each of these dungeons offer significantly more difficult challenges than the likes of Wrath of the Lich King, testing old hands of the game. It's a pleasant return to the days of tanks needing to learn to control agro accurately and crowd control being essential - just how it should be in a guild based MMO. New battleground areas are also available for those keen for some PvP action although time will tell for how long these remain popular for as it's difficult to gauge at such an early stage in release.
With a spattering of other extras such as a guild achievement system, flying mounts being usable in old zones and the new archaeology profession, there's a lot to love here. Cataclysm is perhaps not quite as awe inspiring as previous expansion packs considering this is all refinement and a reworking of original content but there's no denying the sense of sheer joy you feel rediscovering old yet familiar areas of Azeroth. Value for money depends on how much you want to try the two new races but there's certainly plenty of fun to be had here and Cataclysm will be enthralling lapsed players once more. Rightfully so too. World of Warcraft has been reborn once more.