Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review Day: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

There are no spoilers in this review, although you may not understand many of the words that are coming out of my mouth.

I've been an off-and-on player of World of Warcraft since it launched, way back in 2004. I stopped for a couple years in 2006 when the first expansion pack killed the PvP brackets, started again, and then stopped right before my wedding (unrelated, of course) for what I thought would be the last time. With my 2009 cancellation, I didn't think there would ever be a compelling reason for me to start playing again, and even deleted all of the game files.

So, coming into the third expansion pack, Cataclysm, the only reason I reactivated my account was a sense of nostalgia -- in tandem with its release, a huge overhaul of the "old" worlds was done as well, and it's always fun to go back to familiar places to see what has changed. I was skeptical as to whether the changes would be compelling enough to keep me playing for more than a few weeks, but was surprised to find that I was really enjoying myself again. With this expansion pack, a sense of "fun" has returned to playing, and the experience is polished and tightly focused enough to please ANYONE who might have enjoyed the game at one time but lost interest.

High Points

  • The revamping of the old world is perfect -- fun quests flow naturally together, there are fewer instances of aimless traveling, and storylines worth reading actually tie everything together. There are fewer "kill 100 snakes and get back to me" quests. I've always liked Warcraft, but this is the game it SHOULD have been at launch.
  • The UI is greatly improved (although I still use Bartender to manage my buttons), and the built-in Quest helpers make questing a breeze.
  • The new "Random Dungeon Finder" takes all of the pain out of gathering a group of people together to run a dungeon. I can usually find groups for all sorts of dungeons at my level in under a minute.
  • The music has improved with each release, leaning heavily towards intelligent orchestrations and use of motives and reducing the amount of ambient music. (Ambient music is an English term which means "annoying uncreative repetition"). I used to play with music turned off, and now I only turn it off when the annoying (ambient) Felwood theme comes on. The new Goblin and Gnome themes are perfect. Kazoos are fun and very gnome-like.
  • Low Points

  • I haven't played the new Goblin race, but the Worgens have really annoying sound effects, especially noticeable when you're sitting in the auction house and the Worgens around you sound like a herd of pigs searching for truffles. I call them "allergy wolves" now.
  • You almost level up TOO fast. I'm all for a streamlined game, but when your druid gets Cat Form at level 8, the game is too easy.
  • All of the great old world content that was revitalized really brings the omitted bits into sharp relief -- Silithus is still horrible, the Outlands look the same, and you still can't ride a flying mount in some areas.
  • The twink brackets are completely broken. My level 59 priest, Plinky, has experience turned off, and the queues for Warsong Gulch never pop.
  • Some of the new new stuff is great, but it all starts to run together after a while -- when you're dealing with millions of experience points and thousands of hit points, it can't help but to get a little tedious. Thankfully, there's plenty of other stuff to try out when questing is dull.
  • The new quests rely too much on phasing (where you are the only person who can see what's going on in your quest) and cutscenes. Since people on different phases of quests are not visible on your screen, it makes the world more non-interactive, and lifeless. If I wanted to play Zelda, I would get out my SuperNES.
  • The bottom line is that World of Warcraft now has over 6 years of experience in what works and what doesn't, and the game as it stands today is easily the best game I've played in quite some time. It even stopped my Minecraft addiction. Give it a shot if you've cancelled your account in the past, and take the time to enjoy the leveling up process -- the game is only lame when you're rushing to the end and then find that there's nothing there.

    Final Grade: A-

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