Cataclysm post-mortem part 1, or “shit’s on fire, yo”

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Well, with another week of no beta invites, I guess that gives me some more time to write about stuff that’s already happened!  And what better way to do that than with a retrospective on my first full expansion with WoW.

Of course, the expansion’s not quite over yet, but story- and content-wise, it pretty much is.  Sure, we’ll have a MoP pre-expansion event, but I feel that those fit better when attached to the expansion they’re the prelude to.

So without further adieu, a look back at a quite ambitious expansion.

Patch 3.3.5, the Ruby Sanctum, or “crap filler raid patch”

Ah, Ruby Sanctum.  Nobody liked you, I think.  Annoying trash, one boss fight that everyone failed at at some point, and minimal loot.  Still, it was technically the beginning of the pre-expansion events, with the Twilight’s Hammer and twilight dragonflight beginning to make their move on the other dragonflights.

Of course, the only reason RS was released was because at that point we were in our sixth month of ICC, and we really needed something to keep the game interesting.  Halion was an alright boss fight I suppose, but until you got the Twilight Cutter’s movement down, it was annoying.  We had a joke in our guild that whoever died to the cutter in an attempt was on Team Edward, while Team Jacob survived (geddit, twilight, harharhar).  There’s really not much else to say about this part of the patch, because the rest of 3.3.5 happened a couple months later.

Patch 3.3.5, part 2, Zalazane’s Fall, or “why do the Darkspear need help killing a level 10 troll”

Honestly, I enjoyed this event.  It was short, sweet, and helped set the stage for the troll starting zone revamp, while also introducing the concept of troll druids.  I’m alright with the lore there; it makes sense to me that a race of animal-spirit-worshiping trolls would learn how to control those energies.

The event itself was fairly basic.  A few quests involving battle preparations, then a scripted event where everyone charged onto the islands and took down Zalazane.  It was definitely more fun when released, as there were dozens of people there for that first kill.  I only did it once (I only had one level 80 at the time), but it was worth it.

For weeks and months after that, one of our shapeshifting-addicted raiders proceeded to add the Darkspear Pride to his rotation.  Admittedly, turning into a fully battle-ready troll warrior is a pretty cool thing.

Patch 4.0.1, Elemental Unrest, or “does a sandwich board boost my armor?”

The Elemental Unrest event did seem a bit drawn out, but that was okay.  Gave people plenty of time to get in on each part of the event.  The first part was fairly basic:  “so there’s these cultists, and cults are never good, go figure out what they’re doing.”  And the elemental rifts started spawning; I made sure to get my Feat of Strength as soon as I could.  Part two was also short, involving calming down the elements which have started to pop up in the major capitals.  In part three, the respective factions began to tighten security, barring people from entry without the proper permits in an attempt to stop the cultists from infiltrating further.  And Thrall made his way to Outland to learn about what the agitated elements might mean for Azeroth.  Nothing good, of course.

And all of that set the stage for the final part, the Elemental Invasions.  All four elemental types would invade four major cities every hour, and it made for some hectic times.  Successfully evacuating citizens and destroying the rifts would open up four bosses through the Dungeon Finder; they were fairly simple fights offering ilvl 251 loot (ICC10 quality), because Wrath epics would be worthless in Cata anyway.  The invasions were fun, and I did each one multiple times.  It may not have been as epic as the Zombie Invasion before Wrath, but it was still enjoyable for me.

What wasn’t enjoyable, however, was…

Patch 4.0.3a, The Shattering, or “whelp, guess i’m not playing for two weeks”

I didn’t find out about this until later, but I made a huge mistake choosing enhancement during Wrath.  Truly, the spec had never seen darker times.  Lackluster damage, bad itemization and stat choices, and having to pull off a highly complicated rotation just to stay on par with two- or three-button classes made for a difficult, unrewarding spec to play.

Why did I stick with it?  Well for starters, I had no reference point of what was good or bad.  Enhance was just fun for me, and I enjoyed dancing around my keyboard.  It felt elegant even though it was clumsy.

Remember when I said enhance had never seen darker times?  Well, we did with the Shattering.  Patch 4.0.3a signaled the reshaping of Azeroth, with all-new 1-60 content, new zones, quests, and items, and so much more.  It also broke enhancement so hard, I had to sit out of our last few heroic Lich King attempts before Cata (I feel better now because they still never got him down before they hit 85).

What happened?  Well, for starters, using AOE to supplement our single-target damage?  Gone.  Gemming and enchanting for haste?  Waste of time.  Magma Totem?  Nope, Searing always.  Fire Elemental Totem?  Can’t, DPS loss.  Having a million buttons to press?  Down to only a few, with noticeable gaps in our rotation, which wouldn’t be filled until we hit 81.  And we couldn’t level that far until two weeks later.

In short, we were broken.  Very, very broken.  We’d recover, of course, but those two weeks were nightmarish.  I just spent my time that would’ve been spent raiding on exploring the new world, playing through the Azshara questlines (so much fun), and twiddling my thumbs until…

Patch 4.0.3a, part 2, Cataclysm, or “so many dead gnomes”

Ah, that new expansion smell.  The first thing I (and hundreds of others) did was head to the flying trainer and pick up my Azeroth Flying License.  Then it was off to the docks to go to Vashj’ir, as we figured everyone and their mother would be attempting Hyjal.

Turns out everyone else and their mother were heading to Vashj’ir as well.  Those first few quests were filled with gank after gank, competing over very few quest mobs, and trying to get away from the shipwrecks.  The zone did get better the farther we progressed, as everyone started to break apart and flow through the system more naturally.  We stayed up for hours leveling that night, and I missed out on a final (for a class I hadn’t attended in weeks; I know, I had a problem) to keep playing.  I took a nap, then proceeded to continue on my binge to 85.

Looking back at the zones, here’s my thoughts:

  • I didn’t do Hyjal until I was 85, but the story was pretty well done.  After thwarting the initial attack on Nordrassil, you move down the mountain, rooting out Twilight Cultists wherever they hid.  Eventually, Aessina’s Miracle cured some of the devastation, and you took the fight right to the cultists’ base.  The story ends as you cause the cultists to scatter, securing Hyjal for now.  Plenty of druidic lore, and of course the wee animals to save.  I definitely chuckled at the quest text there.  A good zone overall, but suffered from its linearity.
  • Vashj’ir was an interesting experiment, and one that I think was a success.  Water levels are generally considered baaaaad in games, but Vashj’ir was pulled off well.  You start out stranded by a giant squid; shipwrecked with no easy way home (ssh, don’t mention the Hearthstones), you get your sea legs (and lungs) and set out to fight off the naga that seem intent on slicing you to bits.  The one major problem I have with Vashj’ir, like many others, is the stunning lack of conclusion to Neptulon’s story.  You help him fight off the naga, then Ozumat latches on his face and drags him to the depths.  You get a little bit of a finale in Throne of the Tides, but Ozumat isn’t dead when you beat him; he grabs Neptulon again and swims off.  This isn’t even addressed in the rest of Cata.  What the hell.
  • Deepholm…a mixed bag.  For starters, the fact that everyone could hear everyone else’s Aggra on the flight down was…Aggravating?  (ba dum tss)  The zone didn’t look linear, but turned out to be very much so, though I had some difficulty in finding everything I needed.  Some of the quests were a bit unclear.  Adding to this, the story wasn’t too interesting.  No revelations about Deathwing, just another bout of defeating Twilight Cultists and whatnot.  Also disappointed at the lack of Earthen Ring development.  They finally get implemented as a reputation faction, MY reputation faction, and then they get barely any screentime at all.  What gives?  The Therazane grind was less fun than the Sons of Hodir questline from Wrath; the dailies got old fast, and the fact you’d have to complete the grind on EVERY alt you wanted to get shoulder enchants for was terrible.  Why they didn’t make those exalted enchants account-bound was beyond me.  Overall, my least favorite zone in Cata.
  • Uldum was another mixed bag.  The mechanics were fun, and the quests were quite varied.  I didn’t get too picky over the whole Harrison Jones storyline; it was just a nice homage.  Maybe it took a bit too much precedence in the zone, but I didn’t mind it overall.  The Ramkahen storyline was what I was more interested in; I love their design, and their culture is interesting as well.  From deciding whether to go to battle with the Tol’vir, to the actual war itself, the questline was fantastic.  Beautiful zone too, truly.  Oh, and Gnomepocalypse was by far the best quest ever designed.  I make sure to do it on all my alts.
  • Finally, Twilight Highlands.  A great intro on the Horde side (I heard Alliance got a less interesting one; sorry guys), showing Garrosh’s brash behavior.  After crashing at sea (again), it’s off to see if you can persuade the Dragonmaw to join the Horde.  Turns out some of the fel Dragonmaw from Outland have set up shop; after deposing their chief, Zaela takes command and pledges allegiance to the Horde.  I like her as a character, hoping to see more of her soon.  The questlines here are full of war, first between Horde and Alliance, and then against the Twilight Cult once more.  Things heat up (harharhar) when the dragonflights step in to help defeat the black and twilight dragonflights; I had a shiver when Alexstrasza gave the word to eliminate the black flight for good.  And the fight between her and Deathwing was a nice little popcorn moment.  And of course, can’t forget Crucible of Carnage (because we need more arena questlines, dammit!).  All in all, not my favorite, but definitely not my least.

So, what’s my takeaway from the leveling content?  All in all, it was alright.  The quests were highly varied, something I appreciate more than twenty bear asses every five minutes.  Also had quite a few standout questlines; helping rescue the animals in Hyjal, the ancients in Vashj’ir, the whole Harrison Jones questline, Gnomepocalypse, the Crucible of Carnage, and the Dragonmaw story all stand out to me.  However, every zone suffered from extreme linearity, severely limiting exploration.  Also, the ability to fly from 85 made questing too easy.  Players just took off from the questgiver, landed at their destination, did what they needed, took off, handed it in, and repeated.  No riding through the zones, no sense of wonder, no accidentally pulling half the zone just trying to get that one objective done.  Adding to this, it was impossible to finish any of the zones before you outleveled them, and most players skipped the end of the zone just to level more efficiently.  Seemed like bad design to me.

All in all, the questing was alright.  Dungeons were another story altogether, something I’ll save for part two.  As of this writing, Blizzard went and invited everyone else to the MoP beta!  So it’s time to go exploring Pandaria.  Off I go!

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