Without a doubt, Cataclysm was another home run hit for the power gaming company Blizzard. Selling a stunning 3.3 million copies (including pre-sales) on the first day and 4.7 million by the end of the first month (including pre-sales) was not as shocking as some seemed to say it was. The most popular and played MMORPG of all time is going to have extremely high sales figures especially since Blizzard added in pre-sale digital downloads for the first time ever. The apparent controversy surrounding these numbers is unwarranted. Pre-sales are part of any game release and Blizzard is fully entitled to count them towards first day sales in my opinion. And let’s be honest, does it matter? No, over 5 million people have already purchased Cataclysm and that number is sure to grow. A better question would be, Will Cataclysm peak over 12 million subscriptions like its predecessors? or has the game peaked overall? and how long until it fades into gaming oblivion? Sorry, that won’t be covered in this article but expect me to tackle the topic in the future.
As you know, Blizzard has been catering to the casual gamer more and more. Why? Simple, money. Blizzard does not want to lose clients because they feel the game is too hard or too time consuming. Just go to through the account cancellation process and you will see many different prompts that seem to ask why you are quitting and many are tailored towards the casual gamer. Now, I know we are in “The Good” category but let me say that this “casual” policy has both positive and negative effects on the game and it’s players as I will discuss throughout the whole article.
Blizzard wanted to make raiding simpler and thus they have designed everything so that you don’t need a full 25 man raid to compete. You can gather 9 friends and compete on an equal plain with everyone else in the world. I personally love this move because it allows you to play with more of your close friends if you so choose. This reduces the amount of pugs you have to get and usually reduces the severity of the headache you will suffer during a failing raid. Of course, Blizzard is not naive and to appease the more hardcore gamers, they designed it so you get more loot proportionate to your raid size in 25mans compared to 10mans. Even though that feels like a “lame” fix, it was probably the best Blizzard could do considering they put 10 and 25 mans on the same pedestal. Either way, the casual gamers rejoiced in this change and overall, it has had a positive impact. As for the “pride” factor between major guilds competing at the top level for world firsts, 25mans still seem to be the cream of the crop but even the best of the best have been switching to 10mans for certain encounters! All the major content has been completed and here is how it played out among the world’s elite.
Leveling is finally enjoyable! You heard me right. I for one am not a fan of leveling and never have been especially in World of Warcraft but the leveling redesign has even changed my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going out and leveling alts for the hell of it but I am also not dreading the boring, monotonous grind that was leveling. The overhaul to the zones and quests has streamlined the process. Moreover, the changes to spells have given you diversity at the lower levels. I did not enjoy spamming just one or two buttons to level as it felt like I could fall asleep while doing it. Now, it feels like I can actually take some pleasure in leveling. While this was something that wasn’t necessary to change, it was a very positive overhaul. Of course, you could say that the change was specifically designed to help the casual gamer level easier, faster and with more joy! Blizzard is sneakier than you might imagine.
Finally, let us talk about the servers. They were great. Illidan, one of the most popular WoW servers, where I leveled to 85 was completely stable. No major lag spikes, no crashes and no downtime. Moreover, the servers came up on time. Blizzard wanted to ensure that Cataclysm was launched without a hitch and they nailed it home. As for server queues, they were terrible early on but everyone expected that so I don’t need to harp on it very much.
With great power comes great responsibility. Oh wait, this isn’t Spiderman, its WoW: Cataclysm. How about…With great homogenization, comes great laziness. I am definitely not one to favor the complete homogenization of classes that seems to be happening with more and more frequency. While I like the idea that buffs are being spread around to more classes on paper, I hate it in reality. I know Blizzard would like 5man and 10man dungeons and raids to have a majority of the game buffs but I think that is a bad idea. One of the inevitable drawbacks of having less people in a group or raid is the reduction of potential buffs. Thus, players need to design their groups accordingly. At the rate Blizzard is going, in two expansions, my 10man is just going to be 10 paladins with every buff in the game dominating every encounter. Yes, I am laying it on a little thick but it is for good reason. Let us look at some of the homogenization we have seen with Cataclysm.
First, buffs are being spread around to more classes. Second, bloodlust/heroism is now usable by three classes. Honestly, having bloodlust/heroism on just one class was probably not the greatest idea but I don’t think that bloodlust/heroism is a well-designed mechanic anyway. I know that it is a great part of Warcraft lore but I think it could have been implemented differently because it has been insanely powerful since it went live. On a good note, Blizzard did finally decide to remove it from arenas. Third, it seems that every melee has a spammable interrupt. Why do I dislike this? Mainly because the classes that didn’t have them before didn’t have them for a reason and now that they do, they seem overly useful in both PvE and PvP. Either way, I think that Blizzard could use some of that infinite pool of money they have to diversify the game more instead of homogenize it. Once again, it all comes back to the positive and negative effects of the “casual” gamer syndrome.
For me, five man dungeons and heroics on my main were extremely simple. I almost always ran with a pre-made 5man so we just queued up and destroyed whatever we got. However, this was not the case for many people, especially those trying to gear alts. First, if you are not a tank or a healer, have fun waiting in a 30minute queue to do one heroic. Second, if you are a tank or a healer, make sure you abuse the system by selling queue pops all day in trade chat. While this is now fixed, it was way too late. Third, how is it that if you solo queue you always seem to get the absolute worst players in the world in your group? Not only do they have gear that is terrible but they have no idea how to do any of the fights. I can’t really blame Blizzard on that one but I sure can vent some minor frustration. Overall, I like the simplicity in the fact that you can just queue from anywhere in the world at anytime, but if you are running solo, there is a strong change that you will just be wasting an hour of your time.
I will keep my dislike of the PvP situation short as I plan on doing a full write-up of it in the near future but it has to be mentioned briefly. I don’t know if I would say that arenas have hit a low point because I thought they were pretty bad when you could kill someone inside of one GCD in WotLK but they are not prospering by any means. Of course, you will always have people complaining that their class is too underpowered but when top players are re-rolling because they just know their class it too weak to compete at the top level, then something is probably wrong. For the first time ever, mages seem to be underpowered unless you like jumping around spamming ice lance all day! Maybe underpowered isn’t the write word, but they do seem to have a nice big target on their back. Melee teams seem to run a train on them all day and since all the healers have dispel and frost armor is not nearly as useful as it was, they appear to be in a dire situation.
While I think they might deserve it considering how strong they have been in the past, their situation just highlights the fact that with Blizzard’s homogenized design is leading to negative impacts in PvP. Now, I don’t think Blizzard cares much about the PvP scene anyway but that doesn’t mean that it should be the way it is now. I personally think that HP is actually too high in many cases but it may be a result of the new completely underpowered healing debuffs. I always thought 50% healing reduction was too much but with classes having this much HP, I think 10% is too low. Blizzard really needs to overhaul the whole PvP system if they ever want to truly fix it. HPS and self-healing (DK, Ret Pally, etc) are also way to high for my taste. Anyway, more on this in a future article. For now, just know that PvP, specifically arenas appear to be in a not so good state.
I am still not a fan of the games graphics even after this overhaul. While I know that the original game platform is getting older, it doesn’t change my opinion. I don’t think the graphics are bad enough to hurt anything in the game but I don’t find them particularly breath taking either. Will Blizzard create a completely new engine for their cash cow? Unlikely but they could if they really wanted to. However, it is more likely that instead of creating a new engine for WoW, they would just put a new project together to start design WoW 2 (if they haven’t already).Looks like the same game to me.
It also feels like the identity of some of the old servers has been lost. With all the new players coming in over the years and all the transfers, something about the old nostalgia seems to have faded. While this is not a result of Cataclysm, I feel that is something that can be mentioned in this section. If you played vanilla and are still playing today, you probably know what I mean. It was nice early on when you thought you knew a lot of people and possibly had some clout on the server but now, the game seems to be moving at a pace that removes this. The best way to put it is to say that the identity of the servers seem to have faded into a blur of inconsequence.
Finally, I will end on another topic that Blizzard has no control over. The Elitist Jerks (EJ) forums also have a negative impact on the game, specifically, on new players. When you are in a pug or just see “go to EJ” spammed in trade chat when someone asks a question, you have to get annoyed. Instead of actually learning something in the game or asking someone who might know, you are directed to a website that tells you how to play and spec your class. So much for the subtleties that you notice after playing your main for a long time. So much for actually learning a class and enjoying that process. Long gone are the days where there was some mystery or secrecy to playing WoW. To clarify, EJ can work wonders for those who have been playing the game for a long time and understand it’s nuances. However, if you are new to the game or a class, you skip the basic learning process and just learn the “perfect rotation” instead. Who cares that you died in fire or didn’t shield or didn’t misdirect or didn’t do 1 of 100 different things that are more useful than just spamming damage. The sad fact is, WoW has turned into a numbers games on many levels and I understand why it has, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
Cataclysm is fun at first but the sheen of a new game is quickly replaced by the same old car smell from before. What made WoW good in the past is the same that makes WoW good now. The social atmosphere and friends you make along the way still entrap players. For many people, the time you log in game is controlled by the social structures: when you do your dailies, when you are raiding, etc. The bonds of friendship people form which result in teams and guilds being formed push the never ending cycle that is a beast of game known as World of Warcraft. If you enjoyed the repetitive cycle that WoW presented in past whether it be through raiding, PvP or any one of the other things Blizzard created, then you will surely find joy in Cataclysm and play it as you had played all the other WoW expansions in the past. However, if you were looking for something brand new that would make your eyes pop and your pearly white teeth show, then unfortunately, you will have to keep looking as Cataclysm is simply a new name, not a new face.