Cataclysm 101: Zone and instance progression

If you're sitting there at your keyboard right now violently coveting your upcoming Cataclysm experience and daydreaming of all the places you'll go, we here at WoW Insider would like nothing better than to aid and abet you in your wacky escapades. And since Cataclysm is launching on International Matthew Rossi's Birthday, who better to help you figure out where you intend to stream like an unstoppable torrent of locusts? Well, there may be lots of better options, but I'm doing it anyway.

Cataclysm has several new zones to experience and quite a few new dungeons to crawl through. Let's take a look, shall we?

Mount Hyjal

and Vashj'ir are your two entry-level zones, both starting at level 80, and should take you to level 82 by the time you finish them. Hyjal is a very straightforward leveling experience, with quest tracks that lead you to wind your way down the peak confronting minions of the Firelord Ragnaros, while Vashj'ir is divided into three sub-zones named the Kelp'thar Forest, the Shimmering Expanse, and the Abyssal Depths. The main villains of these zones are the naga serving under Queen Azshara.

Around this point, you will also be able to run two new dungeons, the Throne of the Tides (a sanctum of the water elemental lord Neptulon, located near Vashj'ir) and the Blackrock Caverns, inside Blackrock Mountain in the Eastern Kingdoms. The Blackrock Caverns has an extensive write-up by Allison Robert. These are both level 80 to 82 dungeons.

After you've run one or both of these zones and the dungeons mentioned above, you should be geared up and ready for Deepholm, the plane of the earth elementals and their mistress Therazane the Stonemother. Intended for level 82 and up, here you will encounter the machinations of Deathwing's servants in the Twilight's Hammer, as well as consequences from the devastation and destablization they've wreaked.

They're totally wreaking, too. Inside Deepholm, the cavern where Deathwing brooded and plotted against the world of Azeroth, is the Stonecore, and it waits for level 82 and up adventurers to come plumb its depths and loot its treasures. That's kind of what we do.

The Vortex Pinnacle is another dungeon at roughly the same level (82 to 84) as the Stonecore. The Vortex Pinnacle is where the armies of Al'Akir, lord of air elementals and father to Princes Thunderaan and Sarsarun, plot their assault upon nearby Uldum at the behest of Deathwing.

Uldum itself is your next stop. The mysterious Tol'vir are under siege from Deathwing's air elemental servants, and archaeologists dig in its ancient ruins for Titan-created treasures. Two dungeons, the Halls of Origination and Lost City of the Tol'vir, lie in this newly rediscovered zone of ancient mystery and time-lost secrets.You should be at least 83 to start exploring this zone, and I recommend 84 for the dungeons.

At levels 84 and up, the Twilight Highlands await you, where the Twilight's Hammer plots while the Dragonmaw and Wildhammer lead the charge for their respective Horde and Alliance allies. In the former sanctum of the Wildhammers, the fortress city of Grim Batol, the Twilight cult and the Black Dragonflight menace. Grim Batol is dungeon for level 84 and up.

In addition to heroic modes of all of the previous dungeons, there are two other dungeons you will be able to run as heroics, Shadowfang Keep in Silverpine and the Deadmines in Westfall. Both have been heavily revised by the changes wrought by the shattering of Azeroth, and their heroic challenge will test even experienced heroes. You should be level 85 and have geared up in non-heroic dungeons before you attempt these or any other Cataclysm heroic.

And there's your lot. Have a happy my birthday killing internet dragons, everyone!

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it; nothing will be the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion (available Dec. 7, 2010), from brand new races to revamped quests and zones. Visit our Cataclysm news category for the most recent posts having to do with the Cataclysm expansion.