This is me and my buddy Goldrinn. You might also know him by his orcish name, Lo'gosh. Either way, he's an Ancient, one of the demigod-like animal spirits integral to the lore of Mount Hyjal in Cataclysm. And frankly, I nerd out like a fiend every time I've run through the zone. This is my fourth trip through; every time I see a major patch, I run through it on another 80. It never gets old for me.
One of the things that is really being done with excellence in this expansion is this attention to lore. I've leveled from 1 to 69, and then from 80 to 85, and all the revamped zones do an excellent job of setting the stage for the changes to the world following Deathwing's shattering of the World Pillar and his eruption into Azeroth. The worgen and goblin starting zones, the revamps to each and every zone you level through, the new zones all go to lengths to involve you in the story, to give you concrete experiences rather than just laying it all in the background. Whether it's trying to tip the balance of power in Ashenvale while fighting off fire elementals, dealing with a mad druid tainted by demons in the Blasted Lands, or helping return departed deities to the world on the slopes of Hyjal, you feel involved and very much an important part of unfolding events. Who would have thought that Winterspring would be engaging and lively?
It's easy to lose sight of it in the continuous debate over talent balance and DPS passes and tanking difficulty and how healing will shake out, but it's impossible to ignore just how much work and craft have gone into the questing, cutscenes, art and zone design for this expansion. Cataclysm is as massive an expansion as The Burning Crusade and Wrath put together. Almost every original zone in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms has been redesigned to some extent. Some have been so heavily redesigned they resemble the old zones only in name, while others are still familiar but have definitely been given a new slant. There's absolutely no way around the changes. If you've been playing for years or if you just started in Wrath, I expect you'll find something new to explore very quickly the next time you roll an alt.
What's really amazing to me is how well it all hangs together and expands. Events you won't even see until level 80 inform and affect everything you do leveling up in Darkshore and Ashenvale. Figures like Malfurion Stormrage and Queen Azshara make their appearances; you stand against the Twilight's Hammer and the machinations of the Old Gods; you're far from a passive figure as other, older heroes do the work. Likewise, you Horde aren't left out. The Barrens (North and South now) and Azshara give you plenty of big names to encounter and epic deeds to fulfill (trust me, you'll love catching up with Azuregos). You get swept up in the conflict between factions, whether you're a Forsaken trying to push into Gilneas or a worgen trying to push them out, and each side does its level best to appeal to the player and get him or her deeply immersed in the story. Frankly, I think it works. My tauren started loathing the very sight of worgen after 10 minutes in Silverpine, not a day after my worgen had run through the starting area and wanting to scream bloody vengeance from atop a pile of undead.
That doesn't even include Uldum's awesome cutscenes or the Twilight Highland's dramatic, three-way battle for survival.
It would be a disservice to let worries about class or spec balance keep you from experiencing this. This is a watershed moment for the game and its design. You will be actively experiencing huge, sweeping lore moments just questing; they're the most accessible they've ever been, and many of the best ones are just out in the world. The lesson of Illidan has been learned, while the lesson of Arthas has been taken to heart, too. You don't have to worry about them being locked up in raids, but no one figure appears so often as to become somewhat overplayed.
My hat is off to the men and women who have designed this. It's a masterwork.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.