Oh, Cataclysm. You've gotten such a bad rap. Despite popular opinion, what we got from the Cataclysm expansion was nothing short of a miracle -- one that was desperately needed after the prior two expansions' worth of content. But it's undeniably difficult to look at the current expansion with anything other than an overly critical eye, considering the fact that we're playing through all that content right now.
In hindsight, it's likely the current expansion will grow on us, and some time in the distant future we'll be looking back on it with rose-colored glasses just like we do the others before it. Don't get me wrong -- while classic, The Burning Crusade, and Wrath all had absolutely fantastic reasons to love them, things didn't seem so rosy and wonderful when we were all playing through that content, and there was just as much grumbling in each of those expansions as there is about Cataclysm now. But hey -- there's still plenty of reasons to love Cataclysm.
I know, this won't be released until patch 4.3. That doesn't make its impact any less valid or game-changing, however. Ever since the original launch of World of Warcraft, the one complaint that has remained a constant is character customization. While the Warcraft world is a particularly vivid and colorful one, character creation didn't really allow for much in the way of creativity. So players had to rely on armor to keep things interesting.
Except for one thing -- tier sets. As more and more people got into raiding, more and more people picked up tier sets from raids. And while those sets are perfectly fine as far as looks go, they lacked individuality. By Wrath, the streets of Dalaran were littered with dozens of players wearing the exact same gear sets. Enter transmogrification -- suddenly all those old gear sets and all those old armor levels we may have loved over the years have a new use.
But beyond that, it's a chance for real individuality. We aren't going to be restricted to matching tier sets if we don't wish to be. If we want to wear some snazzy-looking pants from one set with a top from another set -- or even a green leather one with a nice-looking model -- we can do that. While it may not seem like much to those that just started playing in Wrath, to those that have been playing since those early days in vanilla, it's a welcome breath of fresh air.
4. Void storage
For many players, collecting different tier sets, weapons or items throughout the years was an exercise in nostalgia, shelving memories of days gone by. Armor won in a particularly fun old raid, odd items given to you by friends, trinkets obtained by archaeology -- whatever wasn't being carried around was in the bank. Unfortunately, players who wanted to collect were limited by bank space and the size of available bags for the banks. There are only so many slots to put bags in, and there are only so many slots per bag. Even with every bank slot purchased and the biggest available bags in the bank, it is pretty much impossible to gather and store every tier set.
With void storage, players can store those old set pieces or even old quest rewards or other items with sentimental value. Sure, it costs gold, but for packrats who have been gleefully squirreling away shiny weapons or romance novels, the sheer prospect of actually having some empty space in the bank is absolute joy. And now, even those who hadn't thought twice about collecting but suddenly gained an interest at the mention of transmogrification can get a good start without sacrificing any space.
3. Interim lore
With the end of Wrath came the end of any big bad villains left over from Warcraft III. We've taken care of them all, and though Deathwing is a pretty scary prospect to kill, once he's dead, we're left with no really huge major villains from those prior games -- and we're left with even less lore to pull from for upcoming storylines.
There are many who have said that the multiple plot threads introduced in Cataclysm are unlikely to be wrapped up by the end of the expansion, and they are absolutely right. It's not because of shoddy writing -- it's because we needed a new host of unresolved threads to work with in future content. If something isn't resolved right away, it's generally because Blizzard is working on a way to resolve it that will be introduced further down the road.
But more importantly, what we have is another notch in the progression that has been steadily going on since the original days of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. We are in the interim -- that same nebulous space between Warcraft III and World of Warcraft -- only this time, we are playing through it. There is an ebb and flow to the Warcraft universe, a pattern of war, then peace. Cataclysm moves with that pattern, not only shaking the world but the factions as well.
The Alliance is now under heavy, heavy pressure, beaten back further than they've ever been before. But on the other hand, you have the Horde led by Garrosh Hellscream -- and it's the shakiest the Horde has ever been. They have the military advantage, but at the same time, there is so much infighting going on that the Horde is literally on the edge of tearing itself apart. Cataclysm has highlighted that tension and the beleaguered state of the Alliance, all while introducing a multitude of plot threads that can be picked up and used in various ways for years to come.
2. Flight in Azeroth
Ever since the launch of The Burning Crusade and the introduction of flight, players have been asking, pleading, and outright begging for the ability to fly in Azeroth. Though the request seemed simple, in reality it was anything but. See, back when World of Warcraft was developed and released, it was never intended for anyone to be able to fly with any method other than the prescripted flight paths that carried players from zone to zone. Nobody had ever given thought to anyone actually being able to fly, not until The Burning Crusade.
Because of this, the way the landscape and scenery was laid out all around the world involved all kinds of creative shortcuts. The cathedral in Stormwind, while lovely from the ground, was merely a series of flat planes designed to look three-dimensional from below. The mountains and valleys between zones were completely undefined, except for those areas that flight paths skated over. Zone boundaries were ragged squares of graphics, instead of smooth transitions. There was no reason to smooth it all out, nobody was meant to fly there anyway.
In order to actually allow flight in Azeroth, the entirety of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms would have to be rebuilt from scratch -- an enormous task that would take countless hours of dedicated work. This was something that was simply deemed too difficult to accomplish, something that would require taking time away from developing new things and making improvements to the game we had.
Unless, of course, you roll that revamp into an expansion and make the rebuilding of the world a part of it. Deathwing utterly shattered the world as we knew it, yes -- but that basic plot premise allowed the developers to do something that the players had been begging for since The Burning Crusade. Rebuild Azeroth from the ground up, seal all the holes, correct all the graphic shortcuts, and allow us to take flight in the world so many of us had played through. We could not have taken to the skies of Azeroth if Cataclysm hadn't happened.
But hey, why stop with building maps?
1. Levels 1 to 60 revamped
Each successive expansion of World of Warcraft furthered the development of quest design and leveling, streamlining the process into an interactive, fun activity. By the time Wrath rolled around and we were playing through Northrend, the 1-to-60 leveling experience and old world Azeroth looked dull, bland, and uninspiring in comparison to everything new -- not to mention long, arduous, and painful to level through, even with the cuts made to the amount of XP required to level.
For those of us who had progressed mains, the only time we ran across this painful process was when we leveled alts -- and we breathed a sigh of relief when we hit Outland and the questing was more natural and intuitive. But for new players just picking up the game, the game they were presented with at level 1 was an outdated game from 2004 with quests and mechanics that were clunky and required hours of travel. That game was great in 2004, but by 2010, it was well past its prime. Quests in the old world just weren't fun when compared to the changes and improvements that had been made over the years.
Beyond that, the old world discussed plot and lore that had been resolved long ago and was no longer really relevant. One of the more blatant examples of this was the Missing Diplomat storyline -- why bother searching for a missing king, when he's right there in Stormwind? You can write it any way that you want, but it still makes very little sense to a fledgling player. So hey ... if you're going to go to all the trouble of fixing up the maps for the old world, why not completely revamp the 1-to-60 experience while you're at it?
By doing so, Blizzard kept the content current for new players and allowed old players who wanted to level alts the means to do so without having to grind their way through an outdated world. Suddenly, everything is fresh and new again -- and there are loads of plot hooks along the way to capture the interest of players. Suddenly, we've got stuff to think about again, whether it's the faction struggle or the creepy and unexplained musical interlude in Tirisfal Glades.
In a way, we weren't just granted five levels with Cataclysm. We were granted 65. For those who are bored with current endgame and tired of the same old Firelands grind -- make an alt. Start them at level 1. Don't give them heirlooms, don't put them in a guild; simply start out as we all did, exploring through the world and experiencing all that content. There are 60 levels of it out there, and while some zones remained untouched, there are plenty of others that have gotten the full revamp treatment and deserve to be explored. Read the quest text, lose yourself in the story, and fall in love with the game all over again.
Though some are quick to point out Cataclysm's faults and others are quick to cry boredom and lack of effort on Blizzard's part, these top two reasons are also the top two things that players wanted to see happen and have been begging for, for years. Blizzard listened to the requests and gave us an expansion that delivered on those counts and more. Whether you realize it or not, Cataclysm isn't just an expansion; it's a labor of love to those of us who have grown with the game. It's a gift, one that new players and old can experience from the first character they roll to the moment they spread their wings in Azeroth and fly at last.
Looking for more to love? Check out the prior articles in this series: