Pugging these dungeons as a tank in groups full of people conditioned by Wrath heroics was like placing my genitalia in a garbage disposal, except you can generally only do that once. I ran these dungeons repeatedly. It was not pleasant. By the time I was geared enough to tank the new raids, I was so bitter and hated Cataclysm as an expansion so much that my friends and colleagues (many of whom were lucky enough to have dedicated groups running these dungeons, not being forced to pug as I was) thought I'd gone frothing, barking-mad insane. I tanked in tier 11, but I had no desire to do so; I merely did it out of obligation.
What this meant was that I missed out on getting to enjoy those dungeons. The difficulty of getting groups to avoid Corborus' burrowing, the inevitable fallout of blaming and group disintegration cost me several months when I could have been admiring how well laid-out these dungeons were, looking over their art and enjoying the mechanics on a technical level. There were a lot of cool fights I spent my time gritting my teeth through, a lot of dungeons I endured due to their tuning. It's one of the reasons I like going back and tanking them now.
All the places we went
Cataclysm launched with several new dungeons, considering it was a five-level expansion, not 10 like The Burning Crusade and Wrath. These dungeons were Throne of the Tides, Blackrock Caverns, Grim Batol, Halls of Origination, Lost City of the Tol'vir, the Stonecore, and the Vortex Pinnacle. These seven dungeons came in regular and heroic, which in the case of Grim Batol, Halls of Origination and Lost City of the Tol'vir meant that there were dungeons you could only run at level 85 but then immediately had another level 85 difficulty. It also expanded upon two old dungeons, Shadowfang Keep and The Deadmines, not only redesigning them for their leveling content but bringing them into level 85 with new heroics.
Halls of Origination, frankly, feels too huge and beautiful to be a 5-man. Its seven bosses, vast, sprawling layout and multiple levels all make it feel more suited to be a raid. Its legacy as the continuation of the story from Uldaman and Ulduar, the beautiful, Titan-inspired Egyptian theme, the watcher bosses with their complex (for a 5-man) mechanics all felt truncated and clipped crammed into 5-man fights.
Blizzard, you've taken two older raids and turned them into 5-mans. Find a way to revamp this 5-man into a raid. I know it doesn't fit the Pandaria theme at all; I don't care. Do it at level 95 -- or 100, for all I care. But do it. This dungeon is simply too good to leave behind.
The presentation of the elemental planes
Throne of the Tides -- well, what can you say about it that hasn't already been said? It's amazing. It's gorgeous, it's fairly unique, it manages to tell a progressive story that changes as you move through the place and changes the very way the layout is unlocked. It's sad that the story ends here, really. I wanted more. I wanted to find out what happened to Neptulon. Dungeons like Blackrock Caverns and Grim Batol were at least thematically continued in the tier 11 raids, but Throne of the Tides sits there, a wonderful and unique gem of a dungeon that may never find a proper setting for its wonders. Like Vashj'ir, it stands as something unique and new in World of Warcraft.
Finally, there's the Vortex Pinnacle, which simply put had some of the best art assets of any dungeon I've ever seen. Frankly, Vortex Pinnacle and its sister raid Throne of the Four Winds are simply gorgeous, and the first time I saw them I thought to myself that this is what Dalaran wanted to be -- extremely well-realized, astonishingly beautiful, absolutely capturing the idea that you're in a castle made of clouds in a plane of air.
All of Cataclysm's efforts to show us the Elemental Planes wrought by the Titans were very well done, frankly. I may have gotten a little sick of Firelands after several months in it, but like Deepholm and Throne of the Tides and the VP/Throne of the Four Winds, it did the job of making me believe I was in the domain of an elemental lord.
Really, while Cataclysm had the flaw of being set not in a new land to explore, it had the benefit of being set in many new lands to explore. It is my hope that as time passes, we look back on Cataclysm with kinder, wiser eyes. This is an expansion that did a lot more right than you'll realize until you've had time to play with Mists, because Cataclysm is where risks were taken and lessons learned.
Every time I've played on the Mists of Pandaria beta, I've said to myself This is like Uldum or This is like that vehicle quest in Cata. The new expansion is heavily informed by the one we just played. I really think the ideas of Cataclysm were often fantastic, if in places the execution didn't quite match up. Twilight Highlands in particular has always stood out to me as an excellent all-around zone, with unique questing for both factions, and I definitely feel its legacy when questing in Mists.
Cataclysm actually made the world of Azeroth itself bigger. It showed us hidden places of the world we had not seen in years of playing -- Gilneas, Kezan, Uldum, the Highlands, Hyjal -- and it made them all part of the ongoing story. Going forward, those places exist. They're realized, and we can go see them whenever we want to. We could even have whole new raids and dungeons in those zones.
Mists of Pandaria is moving the storyline of Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance forward with new level 90 heroics, and that's a move pioneered in Cataclysm with Shadowfang Keep and The Deadmines. New content can always be revisited once it exists, and Cataclysm provided us with quite a bit of new.
Also, I don't know how much I can say about how much I admired the new worgen and goblin starting areas. I could probably do an entire post about those, and they absolutely inform the design of the excellent pandaren starting area. So let us celebrate what was good here.
There's a lot more than some would have you believe, and I only really scratched the surface. Were there negatives, missteps, attempts that fell flat? Absolutely, there were. And I've belabored them myself on occasion. But today, let's talk about what worked. Because a lot of it did.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.