I’m as bored with World of Warcraft as everyone else is, by this point. Diablo 3 delivered a knockout punch to the game’s player base, so now most of who’s left are newbies and die-hards. The Dragon Soul raid’s got a couple of decent fights in it, but after a few months, there’s not much left there to surprise anyone.
As a side project, I’ve been leveling a death knight on a different server from the one I’m usually on, since I hadn’t played one since the Wrath beta. I also hadn’t gone back through the lower-level content for a while, and even when I had on a worgen, I hadn’t seen anything other than a few places in Kalimdor. This time I’m taking my time and going back through the Eastern Kingdoms, leveling up trade skills – and that remains my single biggest problem with death knights; starting your professions at zero at level 58 is a tremendous pain in the neck however you choose to do it – and seeing the sights.
Cataclysm, now that it’s basically over, reminds me of nothing quite so much as a TV show after its original creator’s left to do other things. The basic elements that brought you to the party are all still there, but the new stuff doesn’t have the same passion or drive and it shows.
Mostly, that applies to the endgame. Going up through the old content, there’s a lot to recommend it. Lakeshire has gone from a shockingly difficult slog for its level to an extended Rambo homage; Loch Modan is now a miniature version of Nagrand and its wildlife genocide quests; and Azshara has gone from the armpit of the world to a reasonably compelling low-level Horde zone. Leveling is where most of the game is now, and they’ve done a lot to streamline it even since Cataclysm came out.
Some part of me resents the newer stuff for how relatively easy it is. Now all the quests for a dungeon are sitting right inside its front door, with hefty experience rewards and an occasional useful piece of equipment in exchange for a reward, and half the time, the quest givers come up behind you after you finish the last boss. Even without heirlooms or guild bonuses, each zone tends to fly on by, throwing money at you at what seems like a ridiculous pace. I started playing WoW right after Burning Crusade dropped, when the price of your first mount was 90 gold and you’d spend half your time trying to raise that kind of money; now it costs maybe 3g for the training and the mount and you’ll have earned that by the time you’re level 20 unless you’ve done something stupid.
Of course, that’s insane troll logic. The fact that I suffered does not mean that other people should suffer too, and by that metric, the redesign of the leveling process is the most sensible thing in Cataclysm.
What’s interesting about the expansion, though, is that Blizzard has a unique ability to make its own mistakes. A lot of other games will fall apart because they ran out of money, or out of time, but that’s not something Blizzard has to worry about. They have the space in which to do things very differently from any other company.
The rumor, which I’ve not been able to confirm, is that most of the go-to talent on WoW got reassigned within the company to work on their long-running new intellectual property, “Project Titan.” Cataclysm is thus, by this rumor, the product of WoW‘s B-team, which would explain some of the strange design decisions that have plagued this expansion from the start. This includes forcing all characters on an account to do the Therazane reputation grind; the entirety of the Tol Barad zone; several of the bizarre itemization holes in both Firelands and Dragon Soul, such as the complete lack of spirit cloth in tier 12; the ultimately harmful focus on Thrall at the expense of the player character’s agency or involvement, which takes one of the series’s major lore characters and makes him kind of look like the star of some bizarre fanfiction; frost mages and subtlety rogues enjoying a period of substantial PVP dominance while other classes were repeatedly nerfed; and, after the infamous Year of Icecrown Citadel at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, letting the Dragon Soul raid sit as the pinnacle of content for six months without any events in sight.
Some of the mechanic changes made sense, such as mastery, and transmogrification has turned out to be a lot more fun than I was expecting. Some of the raid fights are also pretty good, such as the first couple of times I went through Dragon Soul or every fight in Blackwing Descent except Chimaeron. It’s not all bad by any means, but those falling subscription numbers happened for a reason.
A few years ago, the going term was “WoW Killer”; every new A-list MMO to come down the pike was taking very deliberate aim at WoW. The only one that’s really succeeded to any extent, though, is Rift, and that had more to do with when it came out than anything else. Cataclysm has been interesting for all the wrong reasons.