Thursday, July 01, 2010

Cataclysm - First Impressions [Gentle Spoilers].

So, as with a few (okay, not a few, actually a lot) of others in the WoW Blog/Twittersphere I was lucky enough to dip my toe into the Cataclysm Alpha these past few fortnights. Seeing all these changes first-hand was a blast, and it was hard not to spell out how much fun it was when everyone was ragging on Blizzard last month. That's not to say it's perfect, it was after all the Alpha and Alpha's are there to be tested, fixed and feedback given. Even so I'm really enthused by the thought that has gone into improving a number of aspects of play and the obvious intended direction.


When I say that questing has been streamlined it's probably hard to grasp what I mean. Cast your mind back to the original levelling process from 1-60, when every quest seemingly had you running out to all parts, then back again, then back out to the very same place. Levelling became an art of knowing which point in multiple quests chains minimised travel time and allowed efficient questing. Certain key zones were crucial to quicker levelling, such as the Mirage Raceway and Jintha'Alor, whereas others were to be avoided unless you liked the walk.

Well, to a certain extent this has been changed in Cataclysm. Most zones still run with questing hubs (e.g. Goldshire) but quest chains have be significantly adjusted so that in many cases returning back to the quest hub is unnecessary. Instead you can hand in the completed quest and start the next one in the chain remotely, allowing you to have to rarely break the flow of questing. The mechanic makes levelling a much more immersive process.

You should be able to quest fully to 60 in one of the two Continents, so pushing two alts to 60 and not burning out on repeating content shouldn't be any sort of problem. The only point to consider is that questing is pretty linear thus far meaning that side-quests are relatively few and far between (one imagines due to the constraints of Phasing), however this is early Beta and can always be added later.

Post-80 there's plenty of content to get stuck into, including some quests which are effectively homages to games past. There's a continued evolution in quest design started in Wrath, just don't expect it to be challenging from the get-go. It's designed for new lvl78-80's, not your epic-laden backside.

Geography and Travel

Blizzard weren't kidding when they said that Azeroth was in for a lot of upheaval. Previously bland terrain such as that seen in the Barrens suddenly seems so much more lively, and that makes questing feel so much more fun. But the world hasn't been shrunk - it's still just as big as it was before and takes just as long to travel from north-east to south-west as the crow flies. However you can take advantage of many more flight paths added in all areas, especially low-level zones before you get your mounts, meaning that time you spend playing is time well spent. For example Elwynn Forest has a FP in Goldshire and Eastvale Logging Camp, as well as there being a FP in northern Westfall and Lakeshire. Returning to base for new Skills or Professions is significantly less time consuming than currently.

Adrenaline junkies may be disappointed to know that in the process of re-ordering the monster levels in Zones some of the danger in reaching new zones has been eliminated. Running to Booty Bay from Goldshire isn't quite as dangerous as it was, and Southshore is easy to get to at lvl25. Not that you'd want to go to Southshore.

Not a nice place any more.

Graphically, we see that the improvements added to Wrath are followed through. Forsaken zones have been adapted to Forsaken architecture and all the Orcish structures have a much more imposing feel to them. However this again isn't a huge departure from what has gone before, you're still playing fundamentally the same game you may have picked up in late 2004. The new water detail is nice, but it's unobtrusive and doesn't kill your FPS as much as it could. Players with meatier machines will see the benefit but those still playing on machine bought a few years ago should still be able to cope. More graphical tweaks, including self-reflection in water, are due to come at some point.

For a compiled list of Cataclysm Flight Paths check out this forum thread by Callystah.


Quest NPCs and Zones themselves feel much more fleshed out. More often they are given a back story or have a backstory in the Pre-Cataclysm world. A good example of this is Private Keeshan, a minor Vanilla NPC who makes a strong return in Cataclysm.

The Cataclysm world works even if you haven't been through what Vanilla has to offer, but if you do have a firm grasp of the Pre-Cataclysm world and it's lore you're rewarded with a very coherent quested storyline for each zone with its' foundations in the player's Pre-Cataclysm actions. Of the content seen so far Westfall is a tour-de-force in this regard.

Slightly on the down-side some of the new post-80 Mt Hyjal quests are confusing unless you know the plot to Stormrage. This to me is disappointing, just as I was disappointed with Varian's introduction in Wrath of the Lich King ("Hey, the Kings Back!"), hopefully we'll see a little more in-game explanation this time around.

Finishing Up - Overall Impressions

Okay, how to bring it all together. For one I'd say that at lesat the 1-30, probably the 1-60 levelling experience is new enough that playing through an alt really doesn't feel like the same old grind. It feels fresh and new just like an expansion should. If you're still interesting in the game beyond Raiding and PvP Cataclysm looks set to slake your thirst for content, for a while at least.

As for me, I'm hoping some current issues with my Cata account are ironed out and I get to see a whole lot more in the Beta. We've yet to see most of the Class and Profession changes and I find eeking out the new skill and talent mechanics quite an enjoyable part of the process, and I hope to be able to report back some of the things I've discovered.

Though perhaps not too much ;)


Firespirit 01/07/2010, 23:14  

Tim! Its good to see you back! Is this a permanent thing?

Anonymous 03/07/2010, 03:20  

Tell me, if you don't think it nooby - how did you get into the Alpha again?

Anonymous 04/07/2010, 04:57  

Excuse me, I mean Beta.

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