Today marks the last day before Panderia goes live. The weeks leading up to it have been interesting, as people come to grips with the new talent system and glyphs, get a feel for scenarios, and maybe say goodbye to some old content. Starting tomorrow, a lot of people will be power-leveling1 to level 90 and rushing to start raiding2. There will be a peppering of realm-first achievement spam, occasional ganking, stability issues, and hotfixes galore.
How did Cataclysm fare, in retrospect?
From a personal perspective, I made many new friends, lost a few of them to other games, got a few of those back, though not as thoroughly as I’d like. I advanced further in endgame play than I ever have before3. I mended fences a bit with my old guild and learned the skill of just ignoring people intent on being asshats.
Lore-wise, the game had many highs and lows. Unfortunately, I feel I must agree with many of my colleagues when I say that the game lore felt remote and disconnected from me as a player. Arthas still is, to many, the epitome of Big Bads, with Ragnaros a close second, but Deathwing himself was never personally engaging4. Putting that blowhard in charge of the Horde and making Thrall – excuse me, Go’el – into Jesus Orc5 pretty much rankled. The advances on and atrocities seen in Night Elf territory, Gilneas, and the kingdom of Lorderon, well, as Alliance we’re not surprised but we are very, very disappointed that we’re expected to just kinda shrug our shoulders once again and weakly mutter "We shall avenge you!" to our honored dead.
The Shattering and the jump in time between the end of Wrath and now were used to cover the revamping of the zones. Some were excellent – Badlands comes to mind – while others were meh. Some should have been done differently6 Others felt contrived7. So much real estate was made available to us as characters when we got the means to fly in Old Azeroth; so much of that was a vast disappointment8. Some were pretty much ignored9. Overall it was nice seeing the march of time, but disappointing in how it was expressed. And the disconnect with Outland and Northrend makes it difficult to keep one’s head in the moment.
Questing in leveling areas was reworked, with tightly controlled progression through zones that would tell the story of the zone. Great idea, when it worked, such as the Wrathion story in Badlands, but usually there were two negatives: 1) the quests turned gray in the bigger zones before you were done with the story, and b) Subsequent runs on alts tend to be tedious and tiring. Nice try, but no banana. Additionally, reliance on cut scenes often distracted from rather than contributed to the mood.
If I never see another underwater zone, I will not be at all displeased. Vashj’ir was lovely, the story told quite compelling (right up to the sudden dead ending). The mechanics of underwater movement were frustrating and difficult to deal with. The fact that they took a mechanic that we HATED on Malygos and applied it to an entire zone is just unbelievable. Of the rest of the zones, Twilight Highlands is my personal favorite (For obvious reasons) followed by Deepholme. Uldum would have been 2nd except for two things.
- Harrison Jones ruined the mood, constantly and consistently. I don’t need Nazis in my fantasy world, and I don’t need Indiana Jones.
- I don’t care if she IS in front of a firing squad, Floramel would never – ever – cower in fear like that. She would stand straight and spit her last breath into Schnotz’s eye. On several occasions, Uldum attributed characteristics to our heroic players that were not consistent with who and what they are. Bomb about to go off? Grimm wouldn’t be cowering behind a cart – he’d be trying to get a peek at the EXPLOSION. It’s in his idiom, as with all Wildhammers and Bronzebeards. So, bad characterizations of our toons here, and, as Saxy says, CLANG. If you can’t respect the characters in your story telling, nobody else will respect the story. And, as a reader of this story, it came across as a bad joke.
A lot was made of the heightened difficulty of dungeons in Cata. They were more brutal and less forgiving of poor behavior. As a purist, I approve. As a gamer, I approve. I liked the BC instances a lot more because they required thought and coordination between players, whereas the WotLK instances were big loot vaults once you got a few Professor Plums on you. I felt that Cata was a return to this, and was kind of disappointed when they relented.
My favorite instance? Grim Batol, of course. Even tainted and broken, that place is magnificent. It’s hard to gawk when your tank is all go go go, but I do try to take it in as much as I can.
My least favorite? Deadmines. Vanessa van Cleef is terribly underused, and the poison sequence at the end is a very annoying and difficult experience, especially those lightning bars. Not everyone in this game grew up on Super Mario Bros or whatever they stole that from.
And I would really love to see Vanessa explored as an antagonist for future expansions.
Nothing in Wrath captured the imagination quite as well as Karazhan, though Icecrown came close. Cata gave it a go, but fell short, I’m afraid. Part of this stems from the in adequate storytelling in-game, it just set us up with a series of loot holes to dig out of without any context of why. Other than, yaknow, they were all very bad people. From the view as a raider, they all were entertaining enough, with some definite favorites and not so muches.
My favorite raid in general had to be BWD, but Dragon Soul came in close behind. The fights in BoT were a bit over the top gimmicky, and Four Winds was as well. Firelands had its moments, but the long protracted trash clear requirement before Shannox even shows made it difficult to get into. DS was okay, but not as satisfying as it should have been. Of all these, Four Winds was my least favorite, and my guildies as well. We ran it as few times as we could manage and still get the achievements and loot.
Favorite raid boss without a doubt was Ultraxion, because as a Hunter I had a very useful role to play with Deterrence allowing me to be the "soaker" occasionally. But most were close seconds. From a DPS perspective, all were fairly enjoyable, once the dance was learned.
Least favorite has to be Al’Akir. Hate hate haet. I hate gimmick fights, Al was all about gimmick, and Blizz can’t implement a 3D fight that doesn’t make your eyes bleed, it’s that simple. Second on that list is Ryolith, with his clunky steering mechanic and inaccurate visuals. If either of those had been modified, the fight would have been okay – again, I felt useful as a steerer! – but together, those two flaws rendered this fight a soul-crushing series of wipes due to missteps and miscues. No fun at all.
I never finished Ragnaros before DS came out. I always felt like I was behind the curve on that fight. It was very discouraging, earning Rag third place, but it wouldn’t take much to move him up to 2nd.
Now versus Then
Looking back to the announcement, I was very enthusiastic for the changes brought by the Shattering in principo, neutral on the choice of big bad, confused about glyphs and Path of Titans, confused on Archaeology, and, as usual, oblivious on the new zones.
Near the end of Wrath, I was in a funk. Finding a new home to raid in wasn’t even a glimmer at that point. I had almost decided to quit, but since I had preordered the expansion anyway, I decided to at least run the new content. I had no hope of raiding again, so the way things turned out was a BIG surprise.
The overarching technical reason given for The Shattering was that it would give the architects the ability to fundamentally rebuild the underpinnings of the game. The only visible effect is the means to fly on Azeroth’s old zones. We can only hope that it bears future fruit.
As a player, I have yet to lose interest of the game despite what many point out as Cata’s shortcomings. I am apparently easy to please. Well, also, I have yet to achieve all I wish to. To that end, there’s always something to do. And, with Panderia, more to come.
Overall, Cataclysm was, for me, a disappointment. Nothing stands out as much as the rough treatment of lore and internal character consistency from a storytelling perspective. The impression I get is that the person in charge of storytelling changed in Cata, and he or she either sees things differently than the last one, has new directives, or just isn’t perceiving the characters as we have.
There was also what I saw as an increased stream of people leaving the game, at least for a while, some before 4.3 came out. I can’t prove anything here, but my perception is that the number of people doing so was higher than the same point in Wrath – even with the cheesy Tournament tier level. The challenge for Blizzard is to somehow figure out why and to counter it, and not just with headcount.
Still, any expansion you walk away from is a winner, amirite? I’m looking forward to Panda Land, and hope you are as well.
Let’s go hunt some Orc.
- I’m not one of them. [↩]
- I won’t be. [↩]
- I even have all BiS for non-Heroic T13! [↩]
- Neither was Rag, but he had something about him that made us want to punch him in the face. [↩]
- Stolen from Rades, by the way. [↩]
- Looking at YOU, Ashenvale and Darkshore. [↩]
- Looking at YOU, any zone that suddenly had a shoreline that was totally ignored as a place to do things. [↩]
- Looking at YOU, big empty lake in EPL. [↩]
- Hello, Silithus. [↩]