First things first. Cataclysm is the third expansion to World of Warcraft. The first two expansions were The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. So far, we've seen a new expansion about every two years. In between each expansion, we get tons of free content like new dungeons, raids and world events. But it's really the named expansions that rewrite the game's genre and endgame for the player base.
We don't know the release date of Cataclysm yet. However, it's safe to assume it's at least a month away as of the time of this writing. There will be several prologue events before the release, however, that will serve as the lore and story transition between Wrath and Cataclysm. There is a Collector's Edition of Cataclysm that includes some neat toys associated with it, so if you want that boxed set, you'd better pre-order now.
The story of Cataclysm involves the awakening of an ancient evil dragon named Deathwing. As this guy gets up and gets moving, he's going to unleash a sort of hell on Azeroth that will radically change the landscape of the planet. This gives the game's developers and designers a chance to go back to the old world and update all the zones.
The most basic thing that will change in Cataclysm is that the level cap is being raised to 85. Additionally, two new races are being added to the game. The Horde will gain the goblin race, while the Alliance gets worgen. If the new level cap and new races don't appeal to you, extant races will also have new class choices made available.
If it's not clear, the idea is that we'll all have new reasons to do all the existing content again. As Deathwing destroys the existing land of Azeroth, every zone will undergo huge transformations. Therefore, Blizzard would like you to create a new character and level up all over again.
The talent trees have been completely overhauled. You will now choose your main talent tree at level 11. From that point forward, until you've spent a large number of points in your main tree, you will only be able to spend points in that main spec. Additionally, as soon as you choose your character's specialization, you will receive a group of iconic, character-defining abilities. While the details are quite exciting, they're a little too in-depth for us to get into in a Rookie post. Check out our class columns (linked from the Class dropdown menu at the far left of the main menu, just below the site logo) to get more details about the future of your classes' talents.
Of course, there will be new dungeons for everyone to explore. There will even be a new world PvP zone called Tol Barad. A new battleground called Battle for Gilneas is being introduced.
Cataclysm will bring a handful of racial changes, as well, but those details are still a little vague. No huge changes have been announced about these basic dynamics. You will, however, have the opportunity again in Cataclysm to gain reputation awards, more or less like you did in Wrath.
Most of the existing non-cash currencies are changing. The new currencies are basically going to be "low tier" and "high tier," tailored to whether you gained the points from PvE or PvP. You'll acquire low-tier PvE points from dungeons and high-tier PvE points from raids, for example. You'll then be able to turn in these points for gear at the appropriate vendors. The precise list looks like this:
- justice points low-tier, easy-to-get PvE points that will buy gear (like Emblems of Triumph are now)
- valor points high-tier, harder-to-get PvE points that will buy gear (like Emblems of Frost are now)
- honor points low-tier, easy-to-get PvP points that will buy PvP gear (like normal honor points are now)
- conquest points high-tier, harder-to-get PvP points that will buy PvP gear (like arena points are now)
Guilds will be able to earn special rewards as groups in Cataclysm. One of the most highly anticipated versions of the rewards are guild mounts. Guild members will earn the rewards, in general, simply by playing the game; you get points for quests, PvP, raids and dungeons. Don't worry too much about these now, since more and more information will become available as Cataclysm gets closer.
Waiting, itself, is really the most important to thing to remember about Cataclysm. The designers are still designing and the developers are still developing. We have hints at the release date, but we don't know for sure yet. Keep an eye on WoW Insider for more information.
Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from how to control your character and camera angles when you're just starting out, to pulling together enough cash for mid-level expenses such as mounts and dual specialization, to what to do when you finally hit level 80.