The all-new high level zones really stand out too. And although there's no way in Azeroth you can see and do all of the quests without dinging 85, what's on offer represents some of Blizzard's best WoW game design to-date. Extensive use of cinematics and phasing enable the zones to morph and grow with you as the story progresses. Each new zone has a self-contained sub-plot and maybe, just maybe, you'll actually want to start reading the quest text instead of mindlessly following some soul-destroying quest helper add-on.
By the time you've, um, dung 85, you and your guild (you are in a guild, right?) will be well on the way to tackling the high-end five-man instances. Gear up enough and you'll be able to start rocking the Heroic level five-mans, progressing onto the higher-end raid content, ad infinitum. Speaking of guilds, there's also an all-new guild experience progression system, which sees special perks and unlocks occur as you and your chums hack monsters into chunks. Benefits include faster travelling speeds, faster experience gains and more money in the guild's coffers.
My other mount is a Ferroari
But life doesn't end at 85. Aside from whatever additional content Blizzard decides to release over the next 12-18 months, those of you that enjoy the game's PvP angle will be able to get stuck into the two new PvP battlegrounds, and the world PvP zone, Tol Barad. To mix this up even further, Blizzard has also added rated Battlegrounds to accompany the rated Arena PvP system. This new take on Battlegrounds allows 10v10 or 15v15 battles in both of the new Cataclysm battlegrounds; Twin Peaks and Battle for Gilneas.
PvPing remains the best way to earn the best gear in the game, but those of you who are less inclined to get repeatedly severed at the kneecaps can just stick to the odd world PvP ganking session and PvE content.
We'd be remiss if we forgot to mention some of the UI changes, game design tweaks and shiny bits that Cataclysm also brings to the table. Providing you've got the right level and the right amount of cash, you'll be finally able to fly on your winged mount in the 'old world.' That means that, apart from not having to jump-glitch your way to that airfield in the mountains above Ironforge, you'll be able to move swiftly around all those old zones that either required a teleport, a hearthstone or flight path to navigate at any speed before.
And there's new water now too. Proper water. Better looking water. It wobbles! We understand that the World of Warcraft game engine is aging at a Joan Rivers-style pace, but somehow, there's still more than a bit of life in the old dog yet. The wobbliness of the water proves it!
Fact: Werewolves love top hats
Other additions include the new Archaeology secondary profession and the Reforging mechanism. The former enables would-be Indiana Jones types to hunt down various dig sites around Azeroth in search of artefacts which can give up cool items such as rare mounts and weapons. It's a bit hit or miss in the fun stakes, but a welcomed addition nonetheless. The latter also enables players to pay a fee to alter specific stats on items that they own. It allows you to get into the minutia of theorycrafting by fiddling with stats to get the most out of them for your current class/talent build.
It's tough, then, to really think of any areas where Cataclysm falls short of expectations. It does so much right and shoves a veritable Soda Stream of refreshment into the veins of the old game. So much so, in fact, that any moaning about grinding, ganking or idiotic teen players quickly gets tuned out. If anything, the journey from 80 to 85 is over all too fast and, without knowing when the first big content patch is coming, some high rollers might find themselves getting a bit bored. At least there are achievements to soak up your free time for a short while after you cap out.
It will be quite some time before the ebon lizard is toppled by the inevitable fourth World of Warcraft expansion, and that's just fine with us - we're going nowhere fast and we're enjoying every minute of it.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm - Recommended AwardScore Guide