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In the last six years, World of Warcraft has exploded and most certainly dominated the MMO genre, with subscriber numbers hitting the 12 million mark whereas most others are lucky to break 100,000. Two expansions have already been released, each expanding the content and lore of the Warcraft universe. As we enter into the 2010 Christmas season, Activision-Blizzard has been preparing the online world for the newest expansion, Cataclysm, showering players with ominous rumbling, elemental invasions and new boss encounters, setting the stage for events that will remake Azeroth into a scarred hellscape filled with both lava and new opportunities. As with the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm brings with it a multitude of content that expands on virtually every facet of gameplay, including new races, new professions, new guild features, whole new areas and remakes of old lands, and the integration of old lore favorites from Warcraft 2 into whole new storylines and instances.
The story of Cataclysm revolves around the return of Deathwing the Destroyer, a dragon aspect (basically a god) that was entrusted by the Titans with conservatorship of the earth as well as wielding vast power over creation. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen events, he suffered a fall into corruption and retreated to the elemental plane of Deepholm to recover from his defeat in Warcraft 2. His dimension-tearing reentry into Azeroth has broken the world, causing radical changes in the landscape in many lands as well as exploding fire and lava flows scarring once-pristine domains. What’s more, Thrall has been summoned to return to his shamanic roots to deal with the elemental turmoil, and in his place as Warchief of the Horde, Garrosh Hellscream has been installed. This may not have been the best choice as he remodels Orgimmar for war and he pushes for renewed conflict with the Alliance, losing the temporary semi-truce that they held in order to defeat the Lich King.
One of the most interesting features is the inclusion of two new playable races; the Horde receives Goblins from the doomed island of Kezan, and the Alliance gets the werewolf worgen from the previously sealed nation of Gilneas. Kezan is also home to Undermine, the capital city of the Goblins; unfortunately when the Cataclysm occurs it causes the simmering volcano within Mt. Kajaro to erupt in a series of phased events, rendering the island uninhabitable and forcing the player and other NPC’s to leave the island to start their new lives in the Horde. Gilneas is also given the phased encounter treatment, as the player takes control of a fighter in a civil war being waged between the human survivors and an invading worgen army. Unfortunately, the player becomes a worgen, granting him a variety of powers, but is also allowed out into the outside world. However, the player can alter their form at will and both forms are displayed at the character select screen.
Other features, some already implemented, are being introduced through Cataclysm to take advantage of new technology as well as the changing face of Azeroth. Archaeology is a new profession being included that anyone can take alongside other secondary professions like cooking or fishing. It grants a searching ability that allows the player to discover and puzzles that can be deciphered to then bestow game lore or minor artifacts. Mastery is a new statistic that directly improves a bonus that is granted when players choose a primary talent tree; for example, a warlock choosing the Destruction tree is automatically granted a bonus of 25% to fire damage, and mastery adds an extra percentage of fire damage depending on the amount. The Mastery system is part of the already included Reforging system in which players can elect to reallocate 40% of a statistic on a piece of equipment to grant customized bonuses. Guilds have been given a great deal more depth in this expansion: first of all, they can gather experience to themselves when its members participate in group activities, granting bonuses that are to be much appreciated. Players can also earn reputation with their own guild, granting bonuses as well as indicating a team player. Some PvP battlegrounds have become rated, much like arenas, allowing for greater PvP advancement and opportunities. Due to the upgraded and remade landscapes, flying mounts have been made available to be used in the original Azeroth itself, rather than just the lands provided in the expansions.
Cataclysm brings with it a variety of new instances and raids, with most associated with the rise of the elemental lords that Deathwing has brought from the planes from which they reside, including Deepholm(earth), the Abyssal Maw(water), the Skywall(air) and the Firelands. Other instances open up previously undeveloped areas like Grim Batol, a Horde stronghold from Warcraft 2, and other instances in the fearsome Blackrock Mountain. Heroic 5 man modes are being added to the classic instances Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep. Three new battlegrounds are being released, including battles over the new lands of Gilneas as well as the contested Twilight Highlands.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is appearing to be as big a hit as its predecessors, and has included a tremendous amount of content, both PvE and PvP, for users to satiate their hunger for all things Warcraft. Interesting new changes like the new guild system picked up from other games shows that Blizzard is watching other MMOs for innovation and is trying to follow suit, which is promising. While a necessary culmination to an outstanding plotline, the more conventional locale of Northrend, after the fantastical world of Outland, was a bit boring and didn’t really appeal to the feeling of exploration and wonder that really brings the game alive. Hopefully, with the inclusion of the elemental planes and the endless creative possibilities contained therein, Cataclysm will rekindle that mood that new lore is being developed as you experience it. Cataclysm is set for a December 7th release on OS X and Windows.