So the Cataclysm is upon us. Well, those of us who play World of Warcraft at any rate, and based on the anticipation, it's going to be a massive seller. There is going to be an issue though, one I can see coming from a long distance away and there's no way it's going to be avoided. That issue is the disappointment when it comes out.
I suppose I should clarify things here. What's coming with the cataclysm account is great and is certainly worthy of an expansion, but people are going to be raging with their "that's IT?" comments when they realize that the longest developed expansion for the game is not going to bring any more real "new" content than previous expansions at launch. For those of you wondering, The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, the two previous expansions both had just a little over a year's worth of development time each, while Cataclysm was started from when Wrath was launched. Given Blizzard's focus on quality and the considerably larger time invested into it, the content coming out on December 7th is going to seem severely underwhelming.
The catch is, the reason way people will be underwhelmed by this isn't because it's underdone, but they expected more out of it. But what really makes the expansion shine isn't what's coming out on Tuesday, but what's already been implemented in the game. If you look around, you will find almost everything has changed in the old continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, and not just in the way of visuals. Quest flow makes a lot more sense now, so instead of criss-crossing a zone (or several) to do a fetch quest, most quests are localized and you don't go to a new area of the zone until you finish the current one. As well, a lot of the old quests which caused a large number of people to bang their heads in frustration are now feasible without needing to spend more time as a ghost than actually working on the quest (the quests in Ban'ethil Barrow Den in Teledrassil, infamous for the deaths they caused have had considerable modifications as an example).
Other fields are also modified to make leveling and playing the character more versatile. The abilities and talents have been tweaked considerably so levels one through ten give an idea of what each specialization's play style is like and then you decide which path to dedicate yourself to continue on. The best part is that abilities now scale, as opposed to having to purchase ranks. When the top ranks were costing several hundred gold to get all of them and you barely have two coppers to rub together, it makes a considerable difference. Talents are a lot different from what they were, with straight passive always on abilities either made inherent or learned as a base ability, and the first two tiers of each tree can be a benefit, regardless of the specialization. A lot of people have been bemoaning the lock down on specialization as calling it limiting. I see it more as allowing you to focus more on the gameplay without having to worry which talent of the three trees gives the best benefit for that point in time. In addition, when you level, you get a nice display on your screen telling you what level you just got, and what's available to you in the way of abilities and talent points that you can use. Makes it a lot easier and cuts out the surprises and disappointments that plagued the old style.
Then there's the remodels. To accommodate the ability to fly in areas previously unable to, every zone has become a lot more solid, with most notable areas being Stormwind and Orgrimmar. The redone areas are stunning and feel a lot more real than they used to, mainly because before a lot of the areas were just textures as opposed to solid models. That's not to say that the only changes were to accommodate flying though. Orgrimmar has taken the approach of becoming more warlike and more in line with the new warchief's ideals, Stormwind's changes is more subtle, with more definition between the districts than just the building colours, with each district feeling more like what it should be than ever before. The Forsaken towns are more sinister looking and can easily identifiable as opposed to simply looking like a run down human town. Granted, not every area has had a massive change to the eyeballs, but every zone in the old continents have certainly had modifications in some way or another, if for no other reason than to improve game flow.
That's the real key here, game flow. Leveling used to be ardous and laborious, seen only as a means to the end game content of heroic dungeons, raiding, and PvP. Now the journey is as much fun, if not more so than the end game content, and certainly a lot more enjoyable than what it was in the past. It's now become less of a "I do this because I have to" and more " I do this to see what comes next", which, for someone who has played the game since early release (on a paladin no less, a truly daunting task in those days), being able to feel that way again is very refreshing.
I could go on for a lot longer describing all the modifications that have come out, but I would be here until cataclysm launches describing it all (I already have a longer wait, as my copy of the expansion is going to be delayed a bit). Rather, I brought this up so people gripe less about what little additional content for the development time is coming out in a few days time, and more understanding what has already been released, which is the real meat and potatoes of this development cycle. So make a new character and get your hands dirty. You won't be disappointed, I promise.