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.
The immersion is only aided by how events seem to spiral ever more tightly into near-total collapse. The dangers of Hyjal, as Ragnaros and his minions set the mountain ablaze, escalate into a full-fledged catastrophe. Every quest seems like staving off destruction, and you make deals along the way with forces inimical to your goals and have to accept those consequences. Vashj'ir combines sweeping underwater vistas and first person reveals of the history of the naga with nail-biting conflicts with little hope. Deepholm presents you with the higehest stakes imaginable, as you're forced to try and ally with Therazane to save both Azeroth and the elemental plane from total collapse while dealing with the legacy of mortals slaying Theradras for mere trinkets, a loss that has embittered the very elemental lord you need.
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