After nearly six years playing the game, I officially quit WoW in September (too much time commitment for not enough payoff). Overall, I'm proud to say I've been faring OK; however, the last few days have been trying. The allure of stepping back into that world and reinvigorating my sometimes mildly destructive obsession can't be understated.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, the third expansion to the most successful MMO ever, launched at midnight this morning. I haven't yet played the release version (or at least I hope I haven't; when I wrote this post before midnight, I was still holding strong!), but I did spend a plenty of time in the beta from summer through most of November.
Rather than bore you with a huge list of changes WoW vets are already aware of and WoW noobs wouldn't understand anyway, I'll focus on my favorite and least favorite things in the new Azeroth. If you're looking for more minute detail, Wowhead has put up a great feature on all the new hotness. Also, I'll try to avoid overly nerdy proclamations like "ZOMG! They nerfed pallies!!"
My top five favorite things about Cataclysm
5. Worgen and Goblin starting zones
These are hands-down the best starting zones in the game. If you're new to WoW, you'll want to roll one of these races and if you've been WoWing for six years, you'll want to roll one of these races. Each has a distinct feel that's different than most other stuff in the game and they highlight Blizzard's willingness to turn typical quest gameplay mechanics on its ear. Standout moment: Tossing explosive barrels onto the heads of enemies, thereby signaling your NPC alley to snipe the barrel from afar. Blowing them up good!
4. 1-60 "old world" content
Azeroth is dead. Long live Azeroth! In general, this is not the same content I played through six years ago, although some zones are more changed than others. I'm speaking less about the visuals and more about the redesigned flow of leveling through those first 60 levels. First off, the leveling goes really quickly. I was able to get my Worgen Mage to level 40 in less than a week without resorting to anything close to poop-socking.
Also, Blizzard learned a lot about designing quests since the release of the first expansion. Like the new starting zones, they've implemented a lot of new mechanics (water-hose backpack anyone?) that afford engaging quests, making the whole experience much less of a grind, much more fun, and less time consuming.
3. Redesigned talent trees
The talent system has received a major overhaul. One of Blizzard's goals with Cataclysm was to give players real choice when deciding which talent to choose and not have them feel like they were missing out on something really cool if they chose the "wrong" talents. Thankfully, Blizzard's gotten rid of the "spend five talent points to increase my critical strike chance by 5 percent" type talents and instead every talent feels much more useful and exciting, even at lower levels. They've mostly gotten rid of the "fat" and everything feels much more streamlined and purposeful as a result.
2. New raid loot and lockout system
I won't get into the details of this or we'd be here all day. Suffice it to say that Blizzard has made the 10- and 25-man raid system much more streamlined (that word again), less time consuming (you won't need to defeat both versions of the raid week to week), and equally rewarding (the same quality gear drops regardless of raid size).
1. An end to AOE, wash, rinse, repeat 5-man dungeons
Yes. Remember way back in the day when 5-mans were challenging? Remember how much crowd control you needed in the Mechanar? Not since the Burning Crusade have dungeons taken this much thought and planning--not just for the bosses, but for the trash as well. Being mentally and emotionally engaged during play is one of the reasons I fell in love with this game in the first place. That pull's been lost for a while, so it's nice to see it come back. Let's hope it stays.
My top three (yep, only three) least favorite things about Cataclysm
3. No horde/alliance capital city
I'll miss this. Both Shattrath and Dalaran got me accustomed to hanging out with the opposite faction, inspecting their gear as much as my own faction's; however, it did diminish that very palpable feeling of outright hate I had for the Horde in vanilla WoW. Maybe it's time to experience that feeling again. OK, this one isn't that disappointing I guess.
2. Fracking Vashj'ir! or I hate water zones!
One of the first zones I traveled to as a questing level 80 is completely underwater. Entirely! I've never been a fan of underwater sections--not only in WoW, but in most games, with the exception of the Dural fight (about eight minutes in) in Virtua Fighter 2. The control and lack of depth perception in WoW's underwater zones can be quite apoplectic. After crawling into the fetal position and crying for a bit, I promptly went back to leveling my Worgen Mage, never to return to that god-forsaken aquatic nightmare.
1. It's still WoW
At the end of the day, nothing fundamental has changed. Because of the way the story is presented, I never even bother to read quest text, hardly ever looking up to determine why I'm doing something and simply concentrating instead on the quest objective. Questing is still a means to an end to get to max level as fast as possible, followed by the gear-collecting race. That's what the game has become--for me at least.
That was fine as long as I was playing with people I liked and cared about. Most of them have moved on from WoW and the game became a lot less fun when I couldn't share experiences with them. I was still addicted to collecting new gear, but what was the point when I couldn't show it off to people who gave a rat's tail?
WoW veterans who are still enjoying the game will find more of the same game here. It's changed in some ways, but fundamentally it's still WoW. Newcomers will find the best and most refined MMO currently on the market. Blizzard has iterated on this for six years and it shows. Unfortunately, I'm looking for a different game.
At least, that's how I feel this week.