One Last Look at World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

I killed Deathwing last night for the first time. Yes, I’m aware that I’m many many months too late, but Cataclysm did something that the other expansions failed to do: inspire me to play. Which is a shame, since if you take a look at Cataclysm‘s launch and first set of raids, you’d think that the expansion was going to be a massive success.

Well, it wasn’t.

When you take a look at the expansion as a whole, everything seems a bit unfinished. Don’t get me wrong, it all starts out great and leaves a fantastic first impression, whether it be Mount Hyjal, Deepholm, or the first set of raids. But as time went on, the allure was gone, the content was lacking, and the experience suffered.

Let’s start where everyone begins in any MMO: level 1. The old world content has been completely revamped and, in particular, the undead starting areas and story jump out as completely memorable. You might be looting corpses and killing X enemies though, but there’s a purpose behind it that helps drive the story. That is, rather, until the story all but disappears and you’re left with the same old aged content. Correction: it’s not fully aged content, it’s just aged content in a new-looking area. Questing through the Burning Steppes or Tanaris feels the same, other than the fact that the areas got some cosmetic makeovers, leaving me with the impression that after level 30, the questing experience isn’t so new and grand anymore.

The same can be said about questing through the 80-85 zones. Both Mount Hyjal and Deepholm had fantastic stories that climaxed with some pretty epic set pieces. Uldum, a zone that was met with much anticipation, featured a pretty wacky story inspired by Indiana Jones, but was lacking the signature moment from the previous two zones. Twilight Highlands? I didn’t even bother going back to finish it once I hit 85. Sure, things started out nicely and there was this emphasis on a purpose for being there, but the story just ran flat to me.

Then there was the raiding content. Tier 11 was great: three raids to choose from, varied visuals and locals, interesting new boss mechanics, the ability to revisit some old friends who’d suffered previous setbacks. Then came patch 4.1! Would we finally kill Ragnaros? Visit the Abyssal Maw? No, we’d get to return to Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman in their five-man versions. Sure, they were a bit challenging, but they came off as more tedious than anything else, which didn’t help set up the next patch where we’d get Firelands and only Firelands. This is the biggest problem Blizzard has dealt with in terms of end-game: a lack of variation.

I was able to enjoy my time with Icecrown Citadel because it had various wings with various themes. Sure, the locale was the same, but the inner workings of each night was different. That wasn’t the case in Firelands: I got the same shade of red all night every night. If we had only gotten the Abyssal Maw raid, my complaint would be similar: a shade of blue all night every night. Why not just split the two raids and give us a 7-8 boss tier with variation? Or, as was done with Dragon Soul, change up the locations of each fight in Firelands?

Speaking of Dragon Soul, I want to both applaud the raid, as well as criticize it. First, I applaud it for doing what I just said I wanted from Blizzard: giving us variation. Bosses take place in front of Wyrmrest Temple, on top of it, in pits, in the Eye of Eternity, on a gunship, on Deathwing’s back, and in the Maelstrom. This is all one raid, with different locations, different shades of colors. That being said, everything seems rushed. There’s a distinct lack of pacing story-wise. It could be that we were zerging the raid in its nerfed state, or it could be that the raid’s pacing falls short of what we saw with Icecrown Citadel. I’m going to vote for the latter.

When all is said and done, Cataclysm is an expansion that started out with such promise, but failed to meet expectations. With the fall of Deathwing complete, we now look deep into the Mists of Pandaria for hope. And boy, is there plenty of hope indeed.