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Six years after its release on the Mac OS X and Windows platforms, World of Warcraft, the most popular massively multiplayer online role playing game of all time, needed a shot in the arm to make a familiar thing seem new again.
With the release of the Cataclysm expansion pack, this has been delivered. The expansion, which centers around the return of the dragon Deathwing, opens with a beautiful, cinematic scene of Deathwing tearing loose from an underground prison to soar across the world of Azeroth, creating a sweeping cataclysm that both destroys and reshapes familiar territories across the game world. As a result of this, longstanding politics, allegiances and storylines have undergone radical changes within the game as well.
Taking down a stone monster is everyone’s job, so hop right in.
It’s the changes that make all the difference. Beyond graphical and sound improvements (textures and shaders have been improved and the game’s water surfaces now look stunning), the developers have raised the level cap from 80 to 85, as well as thrown in an incredible array of new quests, skills, professions, dungeons, storylines and content for veteran players to work with. Blizzard has also thrown in new races to play with, including werewolf-like creatures known as the Worgen on the Alliance side, and Goblins for the Horde.
With the exception of the higher level zones (Outland and Northrend), the rest of the world of Azeroth has been entirely overhauled. Players can expect to see the Orc capital city of Orgrimmar now residing in a crater and the Alliance capital city of Stormwind partially leveled. The game’s storylines have also been altered in interesting new ways and many of the main quests have been reworked with new goals.
It takes a dapper werewolf to don a top hat...
Blizzard has also lifted access to previously locked-off professions. For the first time, you can now combine your favorite race with the classes you’ve been hankering for. For example, you can now play as Tauren Paladins, Gnome Priests and Undead Hunters. This opens up a world of possibilities and keeps the die-hard fans happy while offering something genuinely interesting to players who like to mix and match their characters, seeing what they can do with different combinations and what this can open up for them.
In the past, creating a new character might have felt familiar, but became more of a chore than a journey. Cataclysm has taken a different approach to this, offering a better tutorial system with cut scenes interspersed throughout and introductory movies providing essential information for playing with new races such as the Goblins and the Worgen. This functions act as a combination of both an improved tutorial system and storytelling.
The Cataclysm expainsion also excels in perpetuating that highly social element of MMORPGs. Tools like the Dungeon Finder make it easy to state which dungeon you’d like to run through to other players and designate which role you’d like to play in the party (tank, healer, etc.), and there's a search engine that offers an estimate as to how much time it’ll take to find that one item you’re looking for. With this criteria, the game can then assemble the party, warp them to the beginning of the dungeon and let you work through the raid. In years past, a player might have had to contact friends and nearby players if they wanted to take on a dungeon, cajole them into forming a group and then try to keep the group organized. But the Dungeon Finder handles most of the workload over the course of a few minutes. The end result is a more organized group that genuinely wants to play, with players knowing their roles.
Finally, Blizzard did some housecleaning and it shows. A few fairly radical changes have emerged in the skill and talent trees and how points are distributed among these areas. Players now gain talent points at every other level rather than at every level and can build and focus on dual specializations for later use in the game. For example, a healing priest can switch over to dark magic and vice versa. Other changes, like the inclusion of infinite ammo--you no longer have to carry an ammo sack or purchase bullets or arrows for later use-- also come in handy, even if it is a tad bit jarring to discover these changes for the first time.
The bottom line. Blizzard has undergone an extremely ambitious effort with the Cataclysm expansion, razing the familiar to the ground and building something that proves both new and inviting. And while certain balance issues are being ironed out via patches, there’s something good to be had here for new players, veterans, hardcore and casual gamers alike.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Intel-based processor, Mac OS 10.5.8 or later, 2GB of RAM, 64MB OpenGL-compatible video card, 25GB free disk space
Amazing revamp of a familiar title, great new zones, content, missions, storylines and character types to explore. New start zones make initial missions easier/more inviting to new players while improved social tools make group gathering and management much easier for longer missions
Some balance issues still being ironed out; almost nothing can prevent solo gameplay/grinding from feeling like a chore