Cataclysm: Launch and Initial Impressions

Cataclysm launched yesterday, an event I stayed home for. Both of the previous expansions drew me out of my hermetic cocoon to local video game emporiums in the dead of night. This latest installment offered a digital presale, allowing one to download the expansion ahead of time and be ready to play the moment it was all enabled at 12:01 PST on the 7th.

Well, in theory anyway. In actuality digital download combined with Blizzard's plan to delay the activation of Cataclysm content on all servers until 12:01 PST meant that rather than hourly waves of players shuffling in as their ability to race home from stores in their respective time zones allowed, the entire playerbase attempted to log on simultaneously.

The end result invites a host of titular puns relating to Blizzard's beleaguered login servers.

My first impression of Cataclysm is that the leveling experience is less immersive than was the case in Wrath of the Lich King. This impression is deeply colored as my first 24 hours of Cataclysm play all came in the first 24 hours of Cataclysm, whereas it took nearly a month for me to put a similar amount of time into its predecessor. Still, I can't shake the feeling that the Wrath of the Lich King leveling experience was more polished.

Oddly, I think geography is a major culprit. In previous expansions the high level zones were segregated from the old zones on a new continent. This empty slate made it easy to learn the new geography and feel a sense of progress as one essentially explored the uncharted land from end to end. It's an effortless process that happens naturally for everyone except those truly gifted at getting lost.

Cataclysm's content is completely different, scattered around the old world seemingly at random. At the same time, the expansion revamped old areas and essentially redrew the geographic map. The effect is essentially akin to dramatically altering the system of roads around your house and at the same time moving all the notable landmarks around, all overnight. It's a cartographic nightmare that creates the constant, inescapable feeling of being lost despite knowing exactly where you are.

That and trying to compete with a thousand other players for quest objectives makes it significantly harder to immerse oneself into a game.

As a final note, and pun, I'm less impressed with Cataclysm's music thus far compared to the previous expansions. The music in both Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King set tones and themes for each zone very effectively, with signature sounds for each. You could often tell simply by the music what zone you were in. Cataclysm has sadly been far more hit and miss, with the majority of music being at best nondescript.

Just so you don't get the wrong impression, it's been definitively enjoyable thus far. These are just the matters which stood out most in my mind initially.

1 comment:

360 Trooper said...

While I haven't played it yet (see you in January), I would like to make one brief comment on the story. Both the Burning Legion and the Undead Scourge were constant enemies during WoW's vanilla edition and had been introduced as recently as WarCraft 3. So there was a sense of familiarity with what we were facing when they got expansions devoted to taking the fight to them. If you're familiar with the lore, then DeathWing is an awesome opponent. Note I said "if". I haven't been following this stuff as long as some people (first got into it with Tides of Darkness), but many players are even greener. DeathWing's presence in vanilla WoW was scattershot at best, and he was totally absent from WarCraft 3. His presence (or at least his proxy's) was not as consistent as the Legion or the Scourge. So to have him pop up as the big bad this time around feels a bit like they were really dredging the bottom of the lore barrel for a menacing opponent. Now that I think about it, the Old Gods might have made for a more reasonable threat in terms of narrative flow. DeathWing's return is so sudden that, despite having been a villain since WarCraft 2, it feels like they might as well have crafted a villain out of whole cloth. Which they'll have to do if there's another expansion because they're running out of bad guys.