With a lot to look forward to in Mists of Pandaria, I'm going to take a moment to hit the highlights of World of Warcraft's fourth expansion. These observations all come from a fairly casual perspective. I've participated in Raid Finder, but the majority of my time was spent leading 10 person raids with my guild. We formed at the end of Wrath, so Cataclysm is our first expansion together as a guild, and my first expansion as a guild leader. I think we've done well, and again, I'm really looking forward to hitting the shores of Pandaria in the near future. In the mean time, here is how I felt the Cataclysm shook out.
The expansion started out tough. Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight were not the nice, happy, introductory raids to Cataclysm like Naxxramas 2.0 was for Wrath of the Lich King. There were some nerfs eventually, but overall, it was hard for a new raiding guild to get started. Firelands proved just as tough, if not more so. That is until they nerfed it. Even with the lower health and damage, Ragnaros was a ridiculously hard fight due to the amount of things happening, and you know, the fire everywhere. Dragon Soul was the first raid of the expansion that felt properly tuned to me. What I mean by properly tuned is that the average raid group makes steady progress throughout the raid, without hitting any enormous roadblocks that couldn't be over come with gear or practice. While that could be said about any encounter, I never felt hopeless against a boss in Dragon Soul, only that we just needed some more time and effort. It's a little more complicated by the introduction of Raid Finder, which allowed us to see and try versions of the fights before we attempted them in 10 person raids.
Speaking of Raid Finder, I think it's a great idea. At one point, playing WoW was not something I could do with my wife, and I only had scant moments where I got to play for any length of time. Raid Finder is perfect for the people without enough time to commit to a guild and weekly raid schedules. It's a good learning tool for those that do run with guild groups, but I learned early on not to get to worked up about gear from Raid Finder. There were too many people wheeling and dealing with the drops to make it worth it. This is something being addressed in Mists of Pandaria and the way that loot will work in Raid and Dungeon Finder, so that people can't game the system.
80 to 85
I've posted before what I thought about the 5 levels we were given in Cataclysm. It seemed like it wasn't quite enough, but part of that might have been from the leveling zones we were given. Most people zipped around on flying mounts and went from quest hub to quest hub in a linear fashion which made leveling a breeze. Not that it's all that hard to begin with. Because so much of the expansion focused on the revamped 1 to 60 experience, I think the end game levelers rightfully felt that they were given the short end of the stick. With Mists of Pandaria, we again have only 5 levels to work on, but these will now be focused on one continent that we'll have to travel by foot for those 5 levels. While this may slow people down a bit, I believe it will also make the leveling experience more rewarding.
I used to be a pretty big lore junky. I still am, to an extent, but I haven't kept up with it like I used to. Wrath of the Lich King had one of the best story lines to date as it dealt with some of the major players from the Warcraft RTS games and pitted us against one of the main characters from those games. A lot of us have been playing WoW for the sole purpose of taking down Arthas, the Lich King, and in Wrath, we were given that chance. Cataclysm also brought back a character from the history books. But unlike Arthas, I don't think Deathwing instilled as much intrigue in players because he was not heavily featured in previous games. Still, it was a lot of fun to see the world affected and changed due to his reawakening, even if it did create a sort of skewed timeline with Outland and Northrend.
Each of the new zones and raids fit well with the story. Unlike places like Ulduar (which was still awesome) and Trial of the Crusader, the Cataclysm raids didn't seem to be shoehorned in to fill time until we fought the real bad guy. And even though I'm not a horde player, I enjoyed the Thrall story line. Thrall is a favorite character of mine from the RTS games and the WoW Novels. His journey and the fate of the dragon aspects concludes a long standing storyline for the WoW universe. I'm looking forward to what's in store for Thrall, even as the focus switches to Garrosh, The Horde, and Varian Wrynn.
Cataclysm was a blast. We concluded some more long standing story lines withing the universe. Blizzard perfected the tuning of raids, and introduced a whole new way to raid in the process. Leveling wasn't as dynamic as it could have been, but things are looking hopeful for the future. More than anything, I'm ready to put the destruction of the world behind us, and move on to newly discovered lands.