World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Preview

Written by Bryn Williams

August 18, 2010 | 10:11

Tags: #beta #cataclysm #world-of-warcraft #wow

Companies: #blizzard

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Beta Preview

But what about players who don't want to immediately roll up another new character? Life begins at level 80 or so they say, and with its shiny new level cap of 85, the beta suggests that Cataclysm isn't going to be short of things to do, see and maim for seasoned vets.

Beta's being what they are means that a lot of the high-end content is locked out for now. The latest build of the beta caps out at level 83, which means that only three new 5-man instances are available to play, and only two of those are immediately accessible. Throne of the Tides and Blackrock Caverns are where you'll be cutting your post-Lich King fangs and in their current state, players might be in for a shock or three.

Both runs are level 80-83 in range, but from the countless wipes, arguments and levels of panic and confusion experienced in the beta test, one thing's become quite apparent -- Wrath of the Lich King has made players lazy! Remember crowd control? Remember learning fights? Remember team-play and communication? You'll need all of these things, and more, if you're going to avoid having pick-up groups devolve into abusive slanging matches. Both of the instances featured challenging boss fights, relentless trash encounters and a need for patience and skill. There's been a subtle return to balance, risk and reward it would seem, and we're hoping that this trend permeates through the rest of the new 5-mans, raids and heroics that we're going to get.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Preview World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Beta Preview
Worgen; their bite is worse than their bark

The level 80 "newbie" zone of choice right now is Kalimdor's Mount Hyjal and kicks off a huge series of quests to get the level 85 grind underway. It's a rich experience packed with vibrant colours, contrasting architecture and flying players. Oh, yeah, everyone who's got a flying mount can use it in the old world -- at last! After nearly seven long years, you finally get to take to the skies of Westfall, The Barrens, Un'Goro Crater and so on but you'll have to be prepared for what lies in store. The original zones have been rejiggered -- some less so, some more so -- but changes are now complete that will never be reversed.

Sentinel Hill's tower in Westfall? Alliance forces are constructing an outer defence perimeter wall around it to create a stronghold. The entrance to Gnomeregan in Dun Morogh? Those smelly Leper gnomes have been eradicated and rookie gnomish soldiers touting laser rifles now forge a friendly path down into Gnomer's instance entrance. And yes, you can at last legitimately access the airstrip sitting above Ironforge. It's pretty stunning to see how the zones have been cleverly reworked, and essentially, it'll be a totally new experience starting a new toon from scratch.

As with previous expansions, there are so many smaller tweaks and changes coming with Cataclysm that it's impossible to list them all off. Some of the ones that grabbed our attention from simply playing through the new starter zones included some healthy UI and core changes such as the new character sheet and spellbook windows. You can now see what spells you have alongside which spells you can still earn. The new Level Up notification system gives more meaningful feedback, letting players know what new skills they are able to train and so on.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Preview World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Beta Preview
Meanwhile, on Tattoine...

Other changes range from class-specific mechanics such as the new hunter focus meter-- a rogue-like energy meter that replaces the traditional use of mana -- and the fact that hunter's no longer need to buy ammo. Tying into class changes is a big revamp of the talent tree system which now means smaller, more concise trees for each class along with less talent points to spend, and a definite focus on specialization which will last from level 10 until 80.

The question of whether or not Cataclysm will offer players enough new stuff to see and do is at some level irrelevant. The hardcore crowd will blaze through the new quests, zones and instances in a matter of days where as the casual gamers will take weeks and months to catch up. What isn't irrelevant is the fact that Cataclysm promises to gracefully encompass a huge amount of new features, improvements and exciting content while catering to the old school sensibilities of original vanilla WoW players.

Anyone who's still playing WoW -- and there are a hell of a lot of us -- will blindly part with money come the time of Cataclysm's release. It's almost as if you've not really got a choice in the matter. But it just so happens that what we've seen of the beta squishes any concerns that our favourite pastime is going to start disappointing us later this year. In fact, it's more than likely going to do the exact opposite of that, by keeping us re-rolling characters, levelling, grinding, questing and raiding for another two years… or however long it takes Blizzard to summon fourth its inevitable follow-on expansion to Cataclysm. Shall we never be set free? Or do we actually want to be?

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is being developed by Activision Blizzard and will be released towards the end of the year.
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