Caelcraft’s Cataclysmic Creview 2!

Friends, gnomans, countrymen, lend me your screens…

Welcome back to Caelcraft’s Cataclysmic Creview! I’m a bit later than I planned with the second half of this epic review, and for that I can only apologise. In my defense, a certain superhero MMO launched recently, and as a massive, lifelong comicbook nerd I had no choice but to play it… a lot. More on that some other time, perhaps.

So, after levelling to 85 and finishing the awesome storylines in the new zones of Cataclysm a whole new world lies before you just begging to be discovered, explored and pillaged for its many treasures. Whether it’s epic loot, gathering materials, gold or pure lore you’re after, the new Azeroth has plenty of it in every corner. So where the hell do you start?

Ironically, archaeology is here to help us discover everything that is new in Azeroth. You think it’s about exploring the past and uncovering history? Hardly! WoW’s new secondary profession has done wonders for showing players things which are only a few months old. I’ve flown all over the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor in search of dig sites, and in doing so I’ve seen so much more of this shattered world than I would have done otherwise. I still find myself flying over something I haven’t seen before or landing in a dig site and thinking “Hey, I’m sure this place looked different pre-Cata”. In fact, I think the only way I would have ever seen as much of the new world is if I’d spent hours flying around on one of my alts using exploration achievements as a checklist, which is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Archaeology is a great way of bringing new-Azeroth to the eyes of many players who wouldn’t have made the time to explore it otherwise. If you ask me, that’s probably the best execution a new secondary profession could have received. It has a real purpose, is different enough from the old professions and it doesn’t feel like it’s just been added for the sake of adding something new.

At slightly higher skill levels though artefacts take longer to complete even though they’re still just grey-quality vendor trash 95% of the time. Patch 4.0.6 increased the value of these vendor items dramatically though, so hopefully that has made the profession more rewarding as you level up through countless pieces of junk before reaching some surprisingly viable account-bound pre-raid epics. All in all, Archaeology gets a thumbs up for adding incentives to exploration and also being somewhat useful at end-game, especially for altoholics like me for whom “Account Bound” translates to “Super Awesome”.

There are plenty of other things to spend your time on once you’ve hit the big eight-five of course. Those factions you fought alongside on your journey from level 80? Most of them still need your help in the form of daily quests or championing their cause in level 85 dungeons using their tabard. All of them offer some decent blue gear at easy-to-attain reputation levels, followed by some formidable purples at Exalted which will set you up nicely for early raiding if that’s your thing. It works well as a starting point for a level 85 character, since you’ll already have a large chunk of rep from questing through the zones and it’s not hard to get to Exalted with whichever factions offer epics for your character while starting out in normal dungeons.

Dungeons have always been a staple of the WoW experience and that principle is going nowhere in Cataclysm. Whether you’re still questing or have already cleared all the new zones, you will probably find yourself in one of the new dungeons quite regularly. Even with 4.0.6’s recent buff to the Luck of the Draw bonus for doing these with Dungeon Finder groups, going through them with friends will always be preferable, but pick-up groups are much more successful now than they were in the first weeks of the expansion and queue times have dropped severely even for DPS players so running a normal dungeon is very little hassle. Sure, everyone will come across some class-A idiots when using the Dungeon Finder tool no matter how much Blizzard improve the system, but they are less prominent lately than they were at the expansion’s release. Hallelujah!

Not only are the new dungeons easy to find groups for, but they’re also full of new encounters and challenges. It’s caused much heated debate which I won’t touch with a bargepole, but suffice it to say that the new instances heavily reward a decent level of team-play, coordination and crowd-control. If you know how to work together and have patience while learning how the new fights work you’ll get through even the heroics at a decent pace, gear upgrades permitting of course.

As an added bonus while you’re out there levelling, doing the many daily quests or running dungeons with your guild-mates you’re already contributing to another new element of Cataclysm: Guild levelling. A nice little addition to the guilds which have been a core part of this multi-player genre since its inception, many of the things you do in Azeroth will now contribute experience points or achievements to your guild. As it levels up from 1 to 25 and gains more achievements your guild will gain access to a number of abilities and items that range from simple vanity pets to minor utilities like guild-bank access anywhere to incredibly useful perks such as the spell to resurrect your entire raid at once. Some of the higher-level rewards are pretty hard to obtain, but given time even a small guild can eventually reach level 25 which is pretty good considering not every guild has a lot of active members. Oh, and did I mention the dark phoenix mount for the raiding guilds among us? Oh yeah!

I’ll admit it’s been quite a PvE-centric review and unfortunately I can’t offer much in the way of PvP coverage. I do enjoy a bit of casual PvP; I did Arenas every week towards the end of TBC and killed a lot of time (and Hordies) in Wintergrasp. It’s a lower priority for me though and so far I’ve only got round to joining a single Tol Barad fight in Cataclsym, and that was late at night with about 4 people on each side, so I highly doubt it was a proper representation of the broad spectrum of PvP options in Cataclysm. Sorry, PvPers.

So there it is. 2 months since it launched and although Cataclysm has pretty much settled in and made itself comfortable in our minds it’s still all pretty new. It’s definitely a much fresher world than the five-year-old one we were running around in just a few months ago. As always each new patch brings new questions about class balance and all of this will be trivialised within a couple of years by whatever 5.0 brings, but as a stepping stone on the long, winding path that is World of Warcraft, Cataclysm is a welcome refresh to the old world, a decent injection of new content and hopefully a stable base to keep building new expansions on for a few more years to come.

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~ by caelcraft on February 12, 2011.

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