Phew, what an absolutely crazy few weeks; it's been one big ball of pre-Cata excitement, desperate attempts to make a new machinima (a preview is up on my channel - www.youtube.com/runswithfireMoc), Guild and Guildie Birthday meets (more on that later) and of course spending holiday time with my beloved missus and the kids. Although next time kids, if you could do your old dad a favour and not smear your poo on the carpet, sofa and walls it would be much appreciated. I think it's definitely time for my eldest to start his potty training lol.
In amongst all this excitement the sundering has hit and Cataclysm has been released. I have put the machinima on the back burner and spent less time looking at blogs or even writing my own so that I can once again engage in the grind to 85 and get ready for raiding. A couple of things have changed since I first started writing the mage guides for Cata so those will need updated; in the meantime I would suggest looking at WoW Insider's Arcane Brilliance, Gazimoff's excellent Mana Obscura, Murloc Parliament's Mage Round-up, Elitist Jerks and any other mage blog you can find. I have been lax and I've not been reading but these are some of the best resources I know so check em out.
So in all of this exciting new goings on, how has Cataclysm panned out? Let's have a look shall we?
(Clicky clicky below for a portal to Read More)
Things I Love About Cataclysm
The New Zones: I absolutely love the new zones - both the brand new stuff like Uldum and Mt Hyjal as well as the vibrant reimaginings of old favourites like the Barrens and Eastern Plaguelands. It brings some of those tired areas that many of us have walked a thousand times before right up to date with modern game development, phasing and the many lessons learnt throughout WotLK.
The New Quests: These quests are brilliant, it is clear that Blizzard has learnt so much over the past six years and has evolved and developed its design ethos accordingly. I have in the past worried about how WoW will keep up with 'the younger kids on the block' in the MMO world, but if Blizzard can keep up with this development and continue to enhance and capitalise on new technologies then there will be no problem with WoW being able to run for another two, maybe three expansions. One thing I was really particularly pleased to see in Mt Hyjal was a genuine option on how to finish a quest; A Bird in Hand. OK so the choice is pretty superficial and doesn't affect you in any tangible way in the game (might have nice RP implications if you're into that) but just being given the choice was a real high point for me, especially so early on into the slog to 85. More of this please Blizzard. The improvement of the quests and structure of quest chains 'in the old world' has been so significant that even my missus and her best friend have been tempted to return to way (after their ill-fated boredom of collect twenty X quests that was so stereotypical of vanilla - this is a ringing endorsement).
The Graphics Upgrades: OK I am kinda mixed on this, one of the great things about WoW was always its low technical requirements which allowed almost anyone with a computer to play. But the graphics upgrades were needed to really stay competitive with some of the 'shinier' MMOs out there and let's face it, in this day and age the tech upgrade was not massive and most gamers will have computers that far exceed requirements. Even for non-gamers who might play casually on old machines, with the cost of a good graphics card fall significantly over recent years an upgrade to at least minimum-medium requirements won't be cost prohibitive. Unless you insist on a top of the range Nvidia, GPUs aren't as pricey as they once were. The water and sun shaft effects are just lovely and well worth the upgrade XD
The New Dungeons: I haven't experienced them all yet, I've only done the Throne of Tides and Blackrock Caverns but so far I have been mightily impressed - this is the kind of dungeoneering I remember from back in the day. I'm particularly impressed that Blizzard appear to have made these first two dungeons a kind of cross-over from WotLK 'AoE LAWLZ' instances to the much more serious (and far better) vanilla/cata style where you have to CC, watch aggro, not stand in the bad and be wary of AoE'ing trash packs. These first two instances are much more forgiving; you can get away with AoE'ing but you'll quickly learn it is not the most effective way - I have heard the later instances are no where near as tolerant to facerolling arsehats. What was particularly nice for me was going in BRC with a group in which none of us had ever done it before. I'd read up on the bosses but you never really know until you play it so it was a learning experience for all of us and that was actually really really nice. I also like that you have to find the entrances before you can use the Dungeon finder tool.
More Cutscenes: Building on the better quests theme, I really like the inclusion of a number of 'mini-cutscenes' at appropriate points in quest chains. Again most of my experience of this has been in Mt Hyjal but it helps to add to the epic feel of the events going on there without becoming tedious or overplaying things. Let's face it, if you had a Wrathgate or LK cutscene ever time you completed a quest chain, cutscenes would quickly lose what makes them special, mini-cutscenes at appropriate points however are a welcome distraction.
Things I'M Not Keen On
I was going to say hate but that's pretty strong and to be honest their is nothing I hate, just things that are a little annoying, that I'm not keen on or I'm a little disappointed about. This isn't a big QQ, I love Cataclysm and overall it is such a massive improvement to the whole WoW experience I was tempted just to write 'Cataclysm? I FUCKING LOVE IT MATE!' but there are some things worth mentioning.
Disappointment over the Sundering: MMO Melting Pot has described this much more succintly and deftly than I think I could so read that, it raises a lot of the issues that I was disappointed about. The point is I was disappointed about 'something' with the surrending and couldn't place me finger on what it was until I read this. I think the reason I couldn't work it out myself was that Blizzard played it out exactly as I expected it would but it left me feeling a bit flat. Whilst the change was awesome, it would have been nice to experience it rather than just see the build up and then the aftermath; it just felt like getting ready for a big night out, having pre-drinks with friends, jumping in the taxi only for the taxi to drive round the block and drop you off back home. Now if you're an RP'er (or more like me, not an RP'er but can at least use your imagination a little) then have a read of BBB's note - again it highlights the disappointment I'm sure many of us felt but what struck me was that the narrative which justifies it all was that you were away in Northrend. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense and again let's be fair technical limitations means that game experience is not always going to match the narrative - for example if you were in Northrend how you you fight the elementals in your capitals? A dose of candour is required but as technical ability improves it would be nice for players to experience these big upheavals (like joing to fleet to sail to Northrend or watching the lava split the Barrens) rather than just reading about it in the patch notes.
The Speed in Which People Hit 85: And not just 85 but also the new profession caps too. Our guild had level 85s and profession capped players in less thhan 24 hours of release. OK these are our Guild's hardcore players and hat's off for displaying far more dedication than me (I languish at a lowly 82) but to me I really think that reaching the level cap in a new expansion should take much longer; past expansions at least saw weeks and it took most people a month or more. I know why it's been done; making WoW more accessible, reducing the grind yadadadadah. However, considering how much effort they have put into improving the quests, leveling is not the arduous grind it once once - levelling in a new expansion is the best chance to experience everything that has been implemented, more so than when you hit level cap and start raiding in my experience. I've been in Mt Hyjal and I've hit 82, I have confidence I'll be 83 before I leave there in which case I'll be straight over to Uldum. But what about Vash'jir? I remember back in the day (and I'm not going onto a Vanilla was so much better rant because honestly, it wasn't) with the exceptions of the early levelling you might be lucky to do one or two levels in a zone, as a result you experienced more. I'm not saying the levelling shouldn't be sped up once people start with their alts etc but personally I always liked the challenge of slogging out the first month or so in an expansion to really feel like you achieved that level cap.
The Player Rush: And the excessive spawn rates for that matter. I know why they increased spawn rates, it's cos of the player rush, and it's a bloody good idea too. However, I think the spawn rates are a little 'too' zealous at the moment, particularly during 'off peak times' which is when I tend to be on. OK it's a personal gripe and when I explain the 'player rush' bit it is six of one or half dozen of the other, but I can stand still killing the same mob nearly five or six times in some cases, unable to escape. This is because as soon as I kill one another immediately spawns and aggros me before I can do anything (OK I could invis and run off but that's not my style, any mob that aggros me is in for a pounding - give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile you mark my words). This is particularly frustrating when you have to interact with an object in and around mob spawn points - if it's during off peak and there aren't many people about to pull mobs of you for their kill quests then you can have a bugger of a time. However, put the other way, during peak hours there is a mad marathon of players killing mobs, the spawn rates are just right - player etiquette however is frequently left lacking. The number of times other players tag mobs with instant casts when you're trying to engage them is extremely frustrating, all the more so when actually there are plenty of mobs about people are just too lazy to look about. I have literally seen someone tag a mob off me from a distance when the same mob is stood not 5 yards from them. The irony is, with the spawn rates as they are, everyone would get through quicker if this 'mob stealing' was not occurring. I feel desperately sorry for some of the melee classes that have to run to each and every mob, only to find someone else has tagged it with an instant spell before they got there.
Those are my only gripes so far, and even then those are largely personal experiences within what is an truly epic expansio and really far beyond Blizzard's control. The epicness far outweighs my minor QQs. Outstanding job Blizzard, well done.