And so it is that our heroine prepares to unsubscribe again! For those not interested in gamer nerdage, might I recommend you go somewhere else, like perhaps here or here. The rest of you – still with me? Good? Good! So I wanna talk about Cataclysm, the good and bad, and what I’m taking away from the last year of my life. This expansion . . . man. Before I jump into it, I want to rewind and talk about how I felt about other expansions so I can do a “fair” compare and contrast.
I got the bug, man. The need for speed. I started out on Stormrage, a PVE server, and played a night elf priest named Grizelle.
I did unnerfed old-school Scholomance for four hour stretches and loved it. I got all of my tier zero so I was mighty purple. I did raids on both sides of Stratholme and thought I was a boss. Killing Drakkisath in UBRS was DIFFICULT on ten, and there was always that argument of whether or not we should have the hunter kite Drak back to the beasts’s room or just say fuck it and tank it out and CC Drak’s adds. I remember the first time I tried Molten Core with a bunch of friends; it was a disaster. Hated it because we kept trying to split the giant pull in the beginning and couldn’t figure out how to do it. It was so frustrating, I swore I’d never raid again. This was followed up by my first venture into Warsong Gulch and THAT didn’t go great, either. We didn’t know how the game worked, so the other team (who clearly were a pre-form that had played a fuck ton of Warsong on the test servers) laughed at us as we flailed and tried to figure out what to do. This started Hillary’s theory of “PvP makes people mean and dumb and arrogant.”
I swore off WoW for a little bit, but then Lauren talked about this whole RP Server thing, and how people were nicer and more mature in general. I rolled horde, joined a guild called Noxilite. I played a little dead frost mage named Yva.
I pretty much abandoned Stormrage and fell into the horde community on Feathermoon. I was hooked by good people, good roleplay, and – gasp – I tried my hand at a NEW PvP thing called Alterac Valley and loved it. I played it for hours. I got exalted rep. I remember collecting parts to summon frost giants. I earned a reputation as one of those players you avoided or it was frosty, icy death (I still relish being able to stack double trinkets and frost bolt someone’s face off for all their life.) Between Alterac Valley matches, I would sit outside of the often-sieged Tarren Mill and pick off encroaching alliance players. This is how I ended up talking to a bunch of A-side folks — namely Tarquin and Ceil — and forming cross-faction friendships.
I tried Molten Core again, this time on the mage and with the hordies, and it was a totally new experience – nothing at all like what I’d encountered on SR . I ended up being an officer in their 40 man. I met more great people, I basked in the awesome that was vanilla WoW up to (and through) BWL. Then drama happened, as it will do in WoW. Me and my “co-pilot” hordeside parted ways. We used to do everything together, so this was pretty traumatizing for me in and out of game. I lost a lot of my lust for roleplay especially – my character had been rp’ly married to his character. Fortunately, my friends rallied to help “save the game” for me. The horde folks were as supportive as they could be, and the A-side people were more than happy to help me overcome the trauma by working a story arc with me. Yva actually became a villain for them, kidnapping a character named Shaila’s baby. For the first time in my rp career, I was dealing with a certain character named Bricu Bittertongue.
The experience with the A-Side folks went SO well (and my lingering feelings of displacement over the horde stuff so strong) I capped a mage over there named Azka.
Azka the pyromaniac became part of the Wildfire Riders guild and eventually I shifted my focus over to the alliance full-time. Blizzard did this wondrous thing then where they made server transfers available, and Grizelle the night elf priest came to Feathermoon under the name of Indarra. I’ve always been a better healer than anything else in this silly game, so I immediately swapped to Indi as my main. I wanted to try my hand at “top-tier” raiding, and so I started subbing for these guilds called Chaos and Catalyst. I got to experience Naxx 40 in all its pre-nerfed glory, and was probably only one of 50 people on the server to see vanilla KT dead.
So come BC I decided I’d move from a more casual raiding atmosphere to a full-time hardcore guild. I joined Chaos and settled in as one of their eight billion priests. Let me say right off the bat, I – loathed – BC at first. Not only was the opening starting area the ugliest thing in the world, the rep-grinding was horrible and end game bordered on impossible. Blizzard overtuned a lot of that content right off the start, so even a progressed guild with twenty-five skilled players on a four night a week raiding schedule couldn’t beat it. We were bashing our faces off of it for very limited reward. It actually made the guild “disband” for a while to go pursue LotRO. We knew Blizzard was getting told their shit was stupidly hard, we knew the nerfs were coming, we’d preoccupy ourselves with something more fun in the meanwhile.
Bliz inevitably implemented said nerfs. The first nerf basically made the content playable for hardcore guilds, so we tossed LotRO and had at SSC and Kaelthas. Kael was still pretty fuckin’ difficult at that point in time, and when we dropped him, only one other alliance guild beat us to the kill. This was about when my perception of BC as an expansion shifted from “Man, this sucks” to “MAN, THIS IS AWESOME.” For all that I hated the Kaelthas fight because of TOO MUCH GODDAMNED SCRIPTING AT THE PULL, I loved SSC, and I – really – loved Black Temple and Hyjal. Black Temple felt like your reward for dying to Kaelthas for a zillion years. It was a great dungeon with great fights. A hardcore guild couldn’t tear through it, but they could progress at the pace of a new boss every couple weeks so you always felt like you were moving forward. (I recall the Reliquary of Souls and Gorefiend being the only two fights I didn’t like in there.) Hyjal was fun, too, and even though the waves of trash to get to bosses could be tedious as hell, I still enjoyed it for the most part.
I was playing a TON of World of Warcraft at this point in my life. A ton. Like, all the time. I was staying up so late I ended up losing a job because I made myself so tired and sick I couldn’t focus at work (that’s an embarrassing admission to have to make). I was totally addicted, and not just to my four-night a week raid. I was still hanging out and rp’ing with the Riders, and had capped a series of alt characters that I played whenever I wasn’t healing 25 man.
Then the most glorious thing happened. Karazhan. Oh, Karazhan, how I loved thee. I loved every encounter (yes, even Aran) and the only complaint I could remotely muster was that there was a bit too much trash to start. Karazhan became the dumping grounds for all of my alts so I could have shiny purples on everybody. I think I was raiding six or seven nights a week at this point in time – four nights on 25 man content with Chaos, the rest in Karazhan with whatever character filled the slot and whoever wanted to go with me to Kill Manz. It was there I developed a taste for druid healing, deciding it was infinitely more fun to spam hots than it was to press flash or greater heal over and over again.
In retrospect, this was the UNHEALTHIEST time for me in WoW, but it was also when I was having the most fun. Until the raid-breaker dungeon, that is, by which I mean Sunwell Plateau. It was back to the overtuned bullshit of early BC wherein you smashed your face off of bosses for little to no reward. Sunwell sucked for me and the rest of my raiding guild. Besides being unfun and nigh unplayable, it also came at the end of the expansion. Unlike vanilla where I still had enthusiasm for the game, I was starting to feel the burn then. I’d been playing WoW nonstop for a couple years by that point, so I was long overdue for a break, and it came right as Sunwell crashed and burned around our ears. I took a hiatus, only to return for . . .
Wrath of the Lich King
I started off Wrath as the healing officer for Chaos. All of us were still a little crispy-fried from BC, and we decided we’d cut down our raid nights from four to two with this expansion. We got most of our core team back together and charged ahead, trying to cap our characters to 80 with as much speed as possible. One noteworthy change for me was I was going to a full-time druid healer instead of my faithful priest. I wanted to heal still, I just needed a change, and the druid hots were addicting as hell. Wrath . . . amazed me. Again I felt all of my disdain for the end of BC falling away as I immersed myself in Howling Fjord and Grizzly Hills. I didn’t care much for Borean Tundra (at first) but eventually that became my leveling zone of choice when I realized how well-clustered the quests were versus running all over the Fjord to collect turkey heads. The thing that got me MOST excited for Wrath, though? Starting off with the reworked Naxxramas. I loved that instance so much, and now it was back with retuned gear and boss encounters tailored for the 25 man game experience. Gone were the days of needing nine priests to shackle on Gothik!
Unlike BC that felt overly difficult and in need of a nerf, Wrath started easy and built up in difficulty over time, which felt much more organic for the player experience. I dug the snot out of Ulduar. What’s interesting, then, is it was Ulduar that did me in for high-end raiding. I liked the instance, had friends in Chaos, and was generally having an okay time, but I decided I didn’t want to be so hardcore anymore. There were multiple factors that went into this. One: I was at odds with another “play partner” from WoW and wanted to put distance between us. Two: I was subbing in for the more casual Totally Raids and they were just flat out nicer to one another. The thing about high end raiding is it’s also high stress. There’s always a push to be better and improve. Those who aren’t performing up to par need to be “dealt with” and nerds on an epic loot mission? Are mean fucking people. You prevent them from getting their Shining Axe of Awesome, you might as well be consumed by herds of rabid squirrels. So I’d go from THAT environment where people were slapping one another around and calling it “fun”, and then I’d go to my Friday night casual raid where people laughed and said “It’s okay” if someone fucked up. Guess which one was more appealing after a short time?
This swap facilitated yet another main character shift. I went from the healing druid with the high end raiding guild to Yva the warlock in a roleplay centric, casual friendly raid. It was a good shift, a fun shift. I will not speak of the Round Room of Doom instance which sucked but was fortunately over quickly, but I will say I adored Icecrown Citadel. I really, really loved my ICC ten man, and the 25 was pretty fun, too, though it seemed to go a lot slower. We killed the Lich King on both modes, though, which was satisfying despite the absolute SHIT game design that was Sindragosa. The problem with ICC – and Wrath, really – was that ICC was the only game in town for far, far too long. The lich king was dead, the expansion was winding down, there was nothing to do. Instead of giving us BC’s impossible dungeon of impossible, we had . . . nothing. They added that random purple dragon to kill in Wyrmrest, but that was it. You could hear a pin drop with how little was going on. The RPers were wrapping up their stories with the death of Arthas.
The only thing to raid was ICC over and over again. It felt like Cataclysm would never come and everyone I knew was getting twitchy. Once again I found myself unsubbing as I waited around for something to inspire me. I had other games to play, other places to be. Or so I thought.
Cataclysm started strong. I loved the look of Vashj’ir even if I hated that quest markers only told HALF the story (depth would have been a nice indicator with so many levels of terrain, Bliz.) I loved that the five mans were difficult and not so easy a head-trauma’d beagle could plow their way through them. I loved the hunter and rogue and paladin that I capped – new classes are exciting and fun. I loved that they reopened Zul’Gurub and ZA! I loved . . .
And that’s the problem. That’s all I loved. Loving the LOOK of zones was not nearly enough to keep me hooked. Loving that the five mans were hard was not enough to make me content to do them six zillion times forever and ever. Loving alts who had to play in what I found to be subpar environment was sort of a drag. I found a lot wrong with Cataclysm, and it’s put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm for any ensuing expansions Blizzard’s got coming out. Why? Well . . .
- Cataclysm’s story was SO underwhelming. The return of Staghelm was not nearly as OOOH AAAH as I wanted it to be. Where’s the Emerald Dream, y’all? Thrall has been used as a plot device too many times for him to interest me much anymore. We need new hero blood beyond “Thrall’s orc girlfriend.” Besides the random drive-by fire spews, I found Deathwing to be a less-than-engaging villain. I found a lot of events/questlines/storylines TOO scripted.
- I resented HAVING to follow Blizzard’s story in each of the 80 – 85 zones so closely, that we were unable to skip quests we disliked because it meant essentially killing our progression in a given area. The beauty of WoW’s leveling structure in the past was how vast and expansive their world was. Players could pick and choose their experience. Cataclysm crammed its stories down our throats with no amount of wiggle room or control over how we progressed. They tweaked the old world to work on a similar model, and I find that model flawed.
- You were always the hero. You weren’t one person working towards a greater common good. The world BALANCED ON YOUR ACTIONS. As an RPer? This was a huge killjoy for me. We can’t all be heroes. We can’t all HAVE THE FATE OF THE WORLD ON OUR SHOULDERS. This storytelling tactic (which had never been employed up until this expansion) meant that roleplayers were ignoring a lot of the presented quest text so they could craft their own stories about HOW they contributed to things. They had to fake their way around this OH MY GOSH YOU’RE THE BEST-itis.
- The boss encounters through most of the end-game dungeons did not feel fresh or interesting to me. They bordered on gimmicky at best, and at worst recycled mechanics of fights we’ve seen before. This shifted with Firelands some (at least I thought) though what they probably construed as clever with the Rhyolith mechanic was just fucking aggravating. I think Dragon Soul has, to a point, been better for mechanics, but then they go and fuck things up by adding in a wave of the most annoying trash I have ever had the displeasure of fighting. Whoever came up with the dragon trash before Ultraxion should be beaten with a boat oar. Also? Make your scripted speeches skippable already. I didn’t want to have to wait six years for Kaelthas to get through his monologue, I don’t wanna wait with the Dragon Soul council either.
- There was so much focus put into reworking the old world quests, that for a long time there, people at 85 had nothing to do. You capped, you did five mans, there were a couple raids, but that’s only going to satisfy for “so long” – and in this case, “so long” was WAY too long. Toiling in the herp derp of “okay, so what do I do with myself when I log on” meant I grew detached from the content, which meant I found shininess in other games far quicker than I have with other WoW expansions.
- For the most part, the old world content was “okay” but not brilliant or so revolutionary I wanted to cap ANOTHER priest or ANOTHER mage. A lot of players I knew had their mains and a handful of alts already. Why would they want to repeat hours and hours of effort just to see what changed in Ashenvale? This expansion felt like it was much more “NEW PLAYER FRIENDLY” than established player. With millions of subs from previous years reupping to see the game, this seemed like a bad marketing strategy on Bliz’s part. I saw a lot more people falling off of WoW far earlier with Cata than any of Bliz’s previous expansions. Part of this CAN be attributed to a game being six or seven years old, but I think people /want/ to have a reason to stay in game. I think they don’t want to give up on what’s been years of effort. So I’m not going to jump on the “it’s because they were tired of WoW” bandwagon with this. I think the game didn’t give players enough fun things to do.
- Graphics. Kinda killed me to see how well-made the gobbos and worgen were in comparison to my poor, unloved humans and elves. Everyone should have gotten some prettiness love.
So what does this mean for me going forward? Well, I dunno. I’m not excited about introducing yet another talking animal class in the game. I’m kinda over the Zoobilee Zoo stage of my life, and we’re up to talking cows, dogs, and pandas. I admit I’m curious about Mists of Panda Bear Island because the content presented is what was SUPPOSED to be released in BC (until China nixed the panda bear thing and Bliz had to last-minute throw together the shitty draenei lore) so I might check it out, but it’ll be a labor of love if I do. A lot of my close friends have flat out stated they won’t be back next expansion, and as any MMO is only as strong as its community, I dunno what that means for me. I guess time will tell!