Exactly one week with World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, that’s how long it took for me to get to level 85. There was a lot to do so there’s a lot to say, but I’ll start from the beginning.
Like Wrath of the Lich King, this expansion has two starting zones to choose from to alleviate the initial influx of players. I decided to choose Hyjal to tackle first over Vashj’ir, since it was my speculation that the latter zone will be more popular due to the novelty of being underwater. It didn’t really matter in the end, though; the crush was just as bad. Surprisingly, the crowd did not affect my questing so much, in part thanks to the ridiculous spawn rates in some areas. You can literally spend ten minutes stuck in combat staying in one spot while mobs spawn continuously on top of you.
And overnight, it seemed as if the WoW community suddenly found its manners. Players happily grouped together for mini-boss kills, and — *rubs eyes in disbelief* — both Horde and Alliance alike lined up like civilized human beings:
80 to 81 flashed by very quickly, since the experience gain was relatively low and the quests rewarded so much experience. The item rewards were also surprisingly powerful. I replaced all my old epics with the new greens without a second thought, and was happy I didn’t waste my time grinding heroics in the last few months since my return to WoW.
With Hyjal, I was also introduced to the new “style” of questing. I’ve likened the new zones in Cataclysm to chapters in a storybook more than once, and this was no exception. Hyjal had its own “introduction” as you entered, and you’re hit with the phasing stick almost immediately. There’s good and bad things about this. The good is the quality of the storytelling, which has been raised to a level I never would have expected from a game like WoW. I don’t even mind so much the fact that is is now more on rails than ever, since this is a theme park game to begin with. And while the game has indeed become a heavily directed experience, I’ve come to appreciate the organization.
What I don’t like, however, is the feeling like I’ve been cut off from the rest of the world. I quested with my husband through my entire journey up to 85, so it’s still possible to play with others, but once you get “out of sync” it can be really irritating. You can be right beside your friend on the mini-map but not see them in game, which makes you feel really helpless when you want to lend them a hand but can’t. I also felt a sense of loss every time I saw something really cool in the environment “phase” away. Knowing that the scenery isn’t something I can go back to enjoy later on really grates me. Good thing I take plenty of screenshots.
I was also surprised by the generous use of cutscenes. I could almost always count on seeing one for a zone’s “intro” as well as “conclusion”, but there were also many scattered in between to push the story along.
And speaking of introductions, I really enjoyed the one leading into Vashj’ir. I wanted to experience everything in the expansion, so I opted to go there next instead of moving on to Deepholm. I’m glad I did. Vashj’ir is a long zone, perhaps a little too long for my tastes, but it’s beautiful with lots of very fun and unique quests given its watery nature. This also provided me tons of hilarious screenshot opportunities involving sharks:
One thing about fighting underwater is, when you’re directionally challenged like me, combat with the additional axis can be pretty disorienting. Now you have to keep an eye out for high speed mob spawns above and below you too!
Deepholm was another beautiful zone, which was a pleasant surprise given that it is underground. Miners will love this place.
For all that though, Deepholm is probably my least favorite zone thus far. After the excitement that was Vashj’ir, the story and quests here felt slightly bland. The shallow part of me also compels to state that I’m not a fan of caves, canopy, or any dark, foreboding places. I don’t get claustrophobic, but I do prefer questing beneath an open sky, if that makes any sense at all.
But then we get to Uldum, which is another story.
I’m not even done yet, but I think the Egyptian-inspired Uldum is my favorite zone so far, with its quirky-looking inhabitants and a very intriguing storyline. What I didn’t expect was how humorous the quests were in this area. We have the legendary Harrison Jones to thank for that, methinks. I now I have my first crush ever on a WoW NPC.
Is it strange that I’m proud to be Alliance just so I can learn Archaeology from the greatness that is Harrison Jones? I think it helps that I simply adore the original Indiana Jones trilogy (The Last Crusade is one of my favorites of all time, you just can’t go wrong with both Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in the same movie) and I loved all the Indy references, many of which were obvious while others were more subtle. At around level 83, the amount of experience required to level increases significantly, so by the time I was in the 84-85 stretch I was thankful for all the amusing quests to keep me going.
I hit level 85 somewhere in the middle of Uldum, so now I’ll have to finish that as well as the Twilight Highlands, which I have yet to even set foot in. A bulk of Cataclysm’s new content is in old Azeroth, but there’s still a shockingly huge amount of stuff to do at 80+, and even though I’m at 85 now, a part of me feels like I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface.
I usually throw my full attention into new games and expansions, so it’s no surprise that lately I’ve been playing a lot of WoW, but I’ve since discovered that the leveling process is what I enjoy most, especially since I do it ALL of it with my better half, and that includes alts. So it remains to be seen whether or not the game can hold me for the long run, especially since I seem to have lost the taste for endgame raiding and grinding heroics. Still, I have to admit Catacylsm is probably my favorite expansion so far, and I’m quite impressed with everything I’ve seen.