World of Warcraft: Cataclysm retrospectacle – The world heaves with my torment…

World of Warcraft wallpaper

Hey everyone, my name is Sabor117, and I’m a WoW addict. You know, I was recently introduced to the very well written TV show The West Wing in which a character talks about alcoholism as being where a normal person would have one drink, an alcoholic has ten. They essentially just can’t stop themselves, or at leas that’s what I took away. I got off World of Warcraft four years ago, it was just after I finished school and I found that I just couldn’t quite afford it any longer (both time and money wise). So, I quit, cold turkey. I got my main character to 85 in Cataclysm and then left and never looked back.

That is until the end of March when Tim said to me “Hey we should both get that 10 day free trial thing, bash out a few hours of fun for old times sake” and I was already downloading the game. The problem is, I’m an addict, so I didn’t just stop at ten days. So when Tim said “well we could both get a one month subscription, use the 3x experience bonus to get to 85, and then perhaps do some high end Cata stuff” I didn’t take much convincing (it was made worse that we found a fairly cheap deal for it). Now Tim has bought Mists of Pandaria and very quickly reached level 90, and I’m seriously considering doing the same. It’s a testament to the game that it has it’s hooks so deep in us that even after 4 and 6 years (he quit long before I did) we both relapse so easily.

I perhaps shouldn’t compare it to alcoholism (because, you know, that’s an ACTUAL problem) but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, WoW will always hold a special place in my heart. If it weren’t for the rather expensive monthly subscription fee I probably would never have stopped playing it… That would probably also mean I might not have actually gone to Uni (or indeed outside) in the last few years, but lets gloss over that…

I figured that after a few weeks of playing it again, and once more delving into the world of Azeroth I might write down my thoughts on the life-sucking vampire of a game that is WoW. Now, because of this deep love I have for the game and it’s Universe, I can’t really be trusted to give a fair and impartial review of my experiences, but I will do my utmost to at least make a few good points. It should be noted that I have not, yet, succumbed and bought Pandaria, so this review is just focusing on Cataclysm.

According to a quick Google search, WoW is currently sitting steadily at 7.8 million subscribers, meaning that it is still one of the powerhouses in video games and is still at the top of the MMO genre. Compare that with Google searches for Guild Wars 2 (~400K regular players) and SWTOR (~1 million regular players) it means that World of Warcraft is still unquestionably the top dog and remains an unstoppable force in the world of video games (even if it is not quite as unstoppable as it once was).

MMO subscribers chart

This is a graph taken from independent website http://mmodata.blogspot.co.uk/ It shows the large variety of MMOs out there still active which have up to 1 million subscribers.

MMO subscribers chart millions

Now compare the above graph to this one, which shows MMOs with higher than 1 million subscribers… The difference is utterly staggering…

What does this mean? Well, a wise man once said “sometimes things are popular for a reason, because they are good!” And in this case it probably applies. World of Warcraft is a lot of things: money-grubbing, life-stealing and probably evil. But it does so much right that I, along with many others, am willing to forgive its flaws.

With a massive world and massive back-story, with the sort of lore that only Universes like SWTOR can really rival, and millions of quests, items, dungeons, and other bits and pieces its not really that big of a mystery why the game is so popular. There’s so much to see and so much to do that one could feasibly pour hundreds of hours into the game and still be discovering things. I’m both proud and a little embarrassed to admit that on my main character (Tharquel, a blood elf paladin who was an absolute hero), back in the day, I clocked around 73 DAYS of solid play-time. Easily more than I’ve spent on any other game I’ve ever owned ever.

A screenshot of Tharq in the WoW EU Armoury.

A screenshot of Tharq in the WoW EU Armoury.

One of the things WoW does best now, and this is especially true since the addition of Cataclysm, is quest progression. Many people have been giving the recently released Elder Scrolls Online an awful lot of flak because it does not feel like an Elder Scrolls game, because in an Elder Scrolls game you are supposed to be the centre of the Universe. And in ESO you are always uncomfortably aware of how, while you are told you ARE the centre of the Universe, a dozen other people are being told the exact same thing right next to you.

In WoW, you are one of an undefined group of “heroes” on whom the world depends. It’s not about any one of you specifically, but there is enough there for you to still feel special and like you have some share of the spotlight. You travel through the worlds, doing quests in one area until you are told to move on, and there is a constant feeling of flow. It doesn’t feel forced and its definitely not as “grind-y” as it used to be. Despite that, there is a sense of purpose, a sense of purpose that I personally felt was entirely lacking from the questing system of Guild Wars 2 in which you essentially wandered about as you pleased and then got a task if you successfully wandered into the right area. There was no rhyme or reason to the quests, it was just busy work.

The dungeons remain fabulous, the amount of diversity and level of design which went into each one is always brilliant and they are always fun to play. Depending on who you listen to people like to say that dungeons and raids peaked in vanilla WoW, in Burning Crusade, in Wrath of the Lich King, but honestly I don’t think they have went downhill at all, and the added diversity and colour just makes each one more exciting and fun.

The graphics and art-style of the game is a little dated now, its true. Although the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion should provide some cure for that. But honestly, I still think it looks great. I did have a bit of a hard time pinpointing exactly what it was that I liked but I think I know now. It is, once again, the sheer variety. Plus, it is a fantasy world! And it’s not a “realistic grimy, gritty” fantasy world where everything is varying shades of brown and grey (looking at you Dragon Age). There’s life and colour and magic in everything, from the dusty desserts of the Barrens to the technicolour spread of the Vashjr coral beds. Everything has it’s own character and I love that about it.Vale of Eternal Blossoms Vashjir

The gameplay is solid. It is old-fashioned, true. In fact it wrote the book on how to make an MMO play, quite literally. Auto-attacks with buttons for different spells. A variety of classes each with several talent trees. And the obvious “holy-trinity” of MMO’s: the tank, healer, DPS. It’s old-fashioned now, yes. But its tried and tested and works perfectly. And honestly each class, that I’ve tried (for even after years of play I’ve never truly played classes like the Rogue, Mage or Warlock), can have their moments of fun and frustration.

For all that Blizzard is essentially and inherently evil, WoW is still a good game. However, as I played recently I have to admit to picking up on a few bits and pieces here and there. Bits and pieces which I actually thought did not hold up to the high standard I remembered.

Questing might have more flow and purpose to it now, but it also seems surprisingly simpler. The introduction of location markers on the maps is not something I am too keen on. I know that it was a popular addon for the game back in the day (hell, I think even I had a version of it) but somehow it does seem to be encouraging people to just completely ignore the quest text. That might seem like a bit of a nit-pick, so lets move on to some tougher issues.

Dungeons feel easier. And I mean, a lot easier. I remember way back when, I heard tales of someone running 5 shamans simultaneously and being able to do heroic dungeons. This was, however, supposed to be an impressive feat. Dungeons now feel very effortless, all the way from the early levels right the way up to the end of Cataclysm (admittedly I did not do any heroics). Now the dungeon finder is, possibly, one of Blizzards greatest innovations. Upon its introduction the boring and slow search for any group at all was speed up a hundred fold. However, it seems they have applied a similar view to the dungeons themselves “We want people to do them faster!” Wipes only happen if you are in a dungeon you are under-leveled or under-geared for (neither of which happen any more) or at the very high level dungeons if you are careless. Other than that, you should very rarely ever wipe in a dungeon. In fact, even single deaths are a rare thing these days.

As an extension, it sort of feels the same outside of the dungeons. I USED to never die ever all the way up to the 30 levels, playing as my new character I don’t think I ever died once when questing (except if I fell off something). The whole experience just feels so much easier than it used to be, like you can feel Blizzard’s comforting arms around you saying “Oh no! We couldn’t let you die! Death is ever so bad!”

I don’t know if the situation changes in raids and heroics, but god I hope so…

There is one other truly major thing. Now, for the most part, gear is as I remember. Stats are getting inflated to hell these days, but for the most part everything makes sense and there is a great level of customisation available for your character. Where this is no longer the case, however, is in the talents.

World of Warcraft new talents

A screenshot of one of the new talent trees (a Paladin).

World of Warcraft old talents

Some example trees for older talents (featuring one of the three Paladin, Priest and Warlock trees).

I would like here to pause and direct you to this post I made way back in 2011. With the addition of Mists of Pandaria, Blizz changed the talent system around. Previously, the system used to be very much like the League of Legends talent system: 3 trees of talents (for each class), getting one talent point every level, and your choices defined what spec your character was: tank, healer, dps. The new talent system is rather different. First, one chooses a specialisation which provides a bunch of a buffs, spells which are gained over the levels automatically (instead of due to new talents). Then one goes to the “talent” window, here you are given the choice of one of three “talents” (a spell or a passive). You get to make six choices, once every 15 levels (at level 15, 30, 45 etc).

Now, honestly, Blizzard had very good reasons for the change. Primarily they wanted to stop the usage of “cookie cutter” builds, where far too many players were not choosing talents depending on play-style but were instead just looking up a guide online and choosing what people agreed were the “best” talents. It is an argument that made sense at the time and is still entirely relevant today: I don’t think a single ONE of my LoL mastery builds came from me.

The issue with it comes from something they insisted at the time, wouldn’t happen. The talent system, honestly, feels dumbed down. It feels like there are fewer choices. The choices don’t really feel any more important, and indeed many of the talents seem so situational they seem close to pointless. Equally, they have essentially failed to prevent cookie-cutter builds. I had no idea which of the talents provided the best bonuses and so I went online and looked up what others thought (although I’ll admit that everything I read did seem to say that each talent had uses in certain situations).

At the end of the day it comes down to this: they did not really succeed with their goals for the talent system and they also managed to completely fail at preventing what the critics thought would happen. Honestly, it feels a little like they gave in too easily. With so many trees balancing would have been absolutely horrific in a way that balancing Masteries in LoL isn’t. I just wish they had kept trying though, kept putting in new talents which might have some use, removing the talents which nobody ever used.

One of the big things they were trying to stop was the whole “man I have no idea what talents to use” thoughts from new players. But frankly, I actually LIKED that. I liked the way that the talents each seemed to be reasonably balanced and not completely situational. I liked that there at least seemed to be some variation one could choose (even if nobody did). So that is my biggest gripe right there. The talent system is, quite simply, far too simple, far too accessible and far too boring.

It’s worth saying again. World of Warcraft IS a good game. It’s something which I think a lot of people simply ignore for it’s nerdy connotations, forgetting about the high level of polish and design that went into the game. What I wish is that Blizz had made more decisions based on “our current players will like this” rather than “NEW players might like this”.  Maybe if they had adopted this attitude then WoW wouldn’t have lost over 3 million subscribers and people would not look back on Wrath of the Lich King, Burning Crusade or even Vanilla WoW as the glory days, back when WoW was at it’s best.

Essentially Blizz is a bank. They don’t care about their current subscribers, they only care about getting more.

Rating: B

About Seb May-Wilson

A sometime protege of Leeroy Jenkins. A lover of all things RPG. A geek and a sci-fi man. Nothing is true... Everything is permitted...

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