On August 21st, 2009, after a flurry of leaks and hints, Blizzard finally announced to the world the latest entry in its wildly popular Warcraft franchise. The new expansion, called World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, debuted with an impressive five minute trailer video that promised wide sweeping changes were coming to the beloved classic.
Players would be treated to two new playable races (the werewolf-like Worgen for the Alliance and the Gnome-esque Goblins for the Horde), flying mount travel in Azeroth, new race and class combinations, new monsters, dungeons and raids, hundreds of new quests, an intriguing new secondary skill in archeology, heroic versions of classic instances, new Battlegrounds, a Guild Leveling System complete with achievements, a new character progression path and much more.
Look closer though and you'll see that beyond the laundry list of changes, there is something fundamentally very different about Blizzard's approach to designing and developing Cataclysm. You see, where Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King looked to expand World of Warcraft's gameplay, physical game world, and lore, up and outward, Cataclysm looks instead to improve upon what's already there and more, to change it irreversibly.
The announcement trailer proudly proclaims; Azeroth Reforged: Classic Zones Forever Changed By The Cataclysm, a bold statement, but one that should give players a bit of insight into how Blizzard expects you to get the most out of its latest entry.
Consider for a moment, that when Wrath of the Lich King and Burning Crusade were released, players found that there was little to no incentive to return to the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. While new races were added to Burning Crusade, if you were a Nigh Elf, Gnome, Tauren or any of the original races there wasn't much reason to go back and roll an alt. Instead you were encouraged to pick one of the two new races and play from their point of view. Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King in particular were more about refining WoW's core gameplay, and giving long time subscribers new ways of playing and new areas to level in.
What Blizzard have done with Cataclysm is deviously brilliant. Without having to create entirely new continents they've come up with a scenario that will allow them to upset Classic Azeroth, to change areas and places we've been to and by now, know like the back of our hands, and to make it all worth your while to go back to the very beginning and witness a skewed, twisted version of Classic WoW all over again.
This is why the new level cap extends only to 85, the focus on this expansion is on starting over, in a very real sense everything old is new again. You're encouraged to look inward, rather than outward to what might lie beyond Northrend. Blizzard could easily have introduced a new hero class in Cataclysm, but they didn't, because that isn't how they want you to play it, they wanted as much as possible to keep the focus on the classic WoW zones. Don't believe me? Look no further than the official FAQ Blizzard released for Cataclysm:
As we developed new content and expansions, we learned a lot of techniques to provide players with a better game experience-but the majority of the new content we were creating was for high-level characters only. We felt we could apply the lessons of Outland and Northrend to improve the gameplay experience while leveling in the original two continents. Imagine revisiting a familiar zone like Darkshore only to find Auberdine destroyed by the cataclysm-and then discovering entirely new towns and quests in other parts of the zone.
Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms are central to World of Warcraft lore, and we want those areas to remain an important part of the game, not just a place to train or auction. Our goal is to make questing, leveling, and the overall story more fun for new, returning, and existing players. By redesigning areas of the original continents and introducing new content that matches or exceeds the quality of Wrath of the Lich King, we can revitalize the nostalgia and coolness of Azeroth.
Pretty clear wouldn't you think? With that in mind, here's how to go about really making the most of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm:
Roll a new Alt: I know, I can hear the groans already, you probably don't want to have to slog through boring old Darnassus again for the millionth time, Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms are old news. But you're wrong, this time it really will be different.
Even when rolling an alt, there's a tendency to go with what you know, to play it safe. This time, go for something radical, something entirely different. Are you a tank? Try rolling a priest. Do you prefer the hunter classes normally? Step outside your comfort zone and try going with a warrior this time. Are you a goody-two-shoes who just can't bear the thought of being evil? Take the plunge and choose that Tauren, they're really not so bad, or go all out and embrace the Undead.
Don't forget about the two new races either. If you really want a fresh approach, try the diminutive Goblin or the cursed Worgen. Just have it in the back of your mind that as with all new expansions, new races and especially new race/class combos are a work in progress for Blizzard and you'll probably see post-launch patches that switch and change your powers and abilities as they try to make sure things are balanced.
Speaking of powers and abilities, it's probably worth embarking on the new Path of Titans character progression path with your new alt once you've hit level 85. We're told it'll tie directly into the newly introduced secondary skill of Archeology, but we're not entirely sure exactly how just yet.
Now that you've got your fancy new alt, you'll want to Stop, Look and Listen. Things have changed, by the sound of things they've changed a whole lot. The Barrens have been torn in two, the Badlands have been devastated, Darkshore will be flooded, Auberdine destroyed, and there will be new quests and towns springing up. Have some fun with this and take the time to explore the new sights and sounds. Sure you've been here before, but never like this, this isn't the Azeroth you remember, it's familiar, but different.
Start a World of Warcraft Photoblog: No, really, now is as good a time as any to start a WoW photoblog. The idea is similar to stop, look and listen, but this time you're going to want to take a more pro-active approach and go about your business before Deathwing wrings the changes and upsets the world forever.
Form a party or group or just take a friend along with you and do some good old fashioned, virtual sight seeing. Take a few pictures by monuments, statues and other famous places in Azeroth, because after Cataclysm they'll never be the same again. It's not overstating the fact to say that this might be your last chance to get some images for posterity and remember Azeroth as it once was. Perhaps you might want to make it a guild project to preserve the images (or even video!) of Classic WoW, everyone loves a before and after photo album!
On the subject of guilds. . . it would be a great time to start a new guild and get it right this time. Sure your current guild has a gazillion members and is pretty successful, but isn't there a part of you that really wants to start anew, and this time with the benefit of all your previous experience?
Have your main send your alt some wow gold, start the guild and build it from the ground up, build it with the express aim of collecting all the new achievements added to guild play. Have guild members embark on that Classic WoW cataloging assignment talked about earlier, be more selective about the folks you invite, choose a better name, better leaders. Basically, just build the guild you always wanted to but weren't able to the first time around because of a lack of experience. Together you can work your way through the twenty new levels on offer in the new guild leveling system, earn those experience points, and purchase that guild talent!
Onyxia must die. . . again! Sure we're being promised hundreds of new quests, new dungeons and raids like Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep to distract our attention, but none of these can really offer the warm nostalgic feeling of a re-jigged version of Onyxia's lair. We aren't sure exactly how, or to what extent the the redesign of classic instances and dungeons will change things, but it's bound to make leveling up to 85 in the comfort of familiar surroundings a fun experience.
Still, probably the easiest and most sure-fire way to get the most out of Cataclysm, is to take your time and actually enjoy it.
It can't be stressed enough, but far too many folks tend to rush through leveling, barely taking the time to enjoy the game, in the hopes that they will be the first to reach the new level cap, or just the first to some mundane achievement so they can make some headlines.
In the end, you're only robbing yourself of the pleasure, instead just sit back and enjoy the ride, it's unlikely that World of Warcraft will ever again see another expansion that makes such wide ranging changes, savor the moment, make the most of Cataclysm.
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