Previewing Blizzard's Coming Cataclysm

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Reshaping World of Warcraft

Cataclysm completely overhauls WoW's fundamental game mechanics. A number of once-vital statistics such as Defense, MP5, Spellpower, and Attack Power, are gone. Other stats, like Armor Penetration, have been wrapped into the game's new concept of "Mastery." These changes make it much easier for a player to understand which stats he should focus on acquiring. The game's UI has been restructured and simplified, as have many of the helpful tool tips.

The new sunshafts are gorgeous, even if the game's polygon count and ground textures remain unfortunately low-res in areas.

These changes haven't gone over well with everyone. Certain current players have claimed that the new mechanics are meant to "dumb down" WoW and reduce the amount of skill/coordination needed to clear high-end content. This was initially a concern of ours as well, but it vanished within a few hours of actual gameplay. Cataclysm doesn't dumb down World of Warcraft, it removes layers of obfuscating game design that prevented more casual (or simply less mathematical) players from enjoying the game. Gamers who enjoy complex theory-crafting may not like how the game is evolving, but those who stick around and try it will find there's still plenty of depth to explore.

WoW's spellbook now lists which abilities are acquired at each level.
The spellbook itself has been condensed from 3-4 pages down to 1-2.

Another new feature that deserves special mention is the introduction of guild achievements. To date, all of the achievements in WoW have been either individual (i.e., personally loot 10,000 gold) or raid oriented (kill X boss on hard difficulty). In Cata, guilds will be able to earn their own titles, perks, and other various goodies. These achievements give players good reason to group and work together while simultaneously providing a form of alternative advancement. If they work as planned, they'll give small guilds objectives to focus on as a team if neither raiding nor PvP appeal to them.


In my review of Wrath of the Lich King two years ago, I wrote:
If Blizzard wants to keep WoW from becoming stale, it needs to push the envelope...Wrath is a solid buy, but if Blizzard doesn't do something different, it risks being trapped in the mold it once defined.
Cataclysm is something different; it's the first expansion to make such fundamental changes to World of Warcraft. This type of change is always a gamble; Sony's decision to revamp Star Wars Galaxies with its infamous New Game Enhancement is a perfect example of what not to do. The potential reward, however, is equally enticing. If Cata's changes work, it could entice new players that were previously put off by the game's complexity.

Treebeard's ugly cousin over there is planted smack in the middle of the Tainted Scar. Once a burned and blasted ruin, it's now a twisted, unholy morass of unnatural life. Why can't Druids ever take on the challenge of beautifying, say, the French Riviera?

Even if the new mechanics prove unpopular, we're glad Blizzard took the risk. Azeroth and Kalimdor feel new again and that's an achievement in and of itself. 

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