Leaving the fun and games behind for a minute, it’s time for some ‘serious business’ talk about WoW’s next expansion, and what it really will bring. I’m not talking about the finer details or even the bullet-point list of additions, but what it brings to WoW as a whole; how it will change the game.
Whether you hated or loved WotLK, most people can agree it did not offer ENOUGH new stuff for a game that gets updated once every six months and gets expansions every two years or so. Similar statements were made about TBC, although for that expansion at least Blizzard had a rather length end-game to keep people busy, whose who got beyond Kara anyway. But when your business model is based around keeping people around as long as possible, providing 1-3 months of casual content is not a great solution, and Cataclysm is certainly going to fix that.
For starters, regardless of the exact percentage of old Azeroth being revamped by Blizzard and to what extent, to see it all a player will not only need to start back at level one, but go all the way up to 85. This means seeing all of the new/old 1-60 game, all of the old BC content, all of the old WotLK content, and finally whatever the five new levels bring. In other words, casuals will be seeing ‘newish’ stuff for a long time, which means Blizzard will be collecting their $15 a month for FAR longer than they did with WotLK. From a business standpoints, that’s brilliant, and from a dev standpoint you keep your players entertained at a much lower cost, since they will be spending X% of their time on your older content while not noticing/caring that it’s old.
The other major factor that should make this all work is that unlike previous expansion, which were end-game heavy and still pushed players to hit the cap to join in, this expansion will actually encourage players to do stuff at the lower levels. People who joined WoW after TBC or for WotLK will have the chance to see the Deadmines with other low level players, instead of having the choice of being powered through by an 80 or not seeing it at all. Even if level 15-18 Deadmines is the same exact instance in Cataclysm as it is now, just the fact that more players will be around to run it as intended will make it FEEL like new content. Apply that to all of old Azeroth and it’s easy to see why Cataclysm should be very well received by everyone.
And while my last post was mostly just to poke fun at Blizzard, I do come away thinking they could/should do a lot more with this expansion. For starters, MMOs with far smaller budgets have done significant graphic upgrades in the past (EVE setting a high standard as usually, but even games like DDO have added DX10 effects and cleaned things up), yet WoW will still basically be the same looking game it was back in 2004, and in 2004 WoW did not exactly look high-end. By the time Cataclysm is actually released (2011?), even the average toaster and calculator watch will have DX10-capable hardware, and even if you are still trying to capture the netbook gaming crowd (who actually does serious gaming on those anyway?), at least give the engine the OPTION to not look so dated. Updating some textures is since and all, but is that the best the biggest MMO in the world can do? Never mind that WoW does not push the genre forward in any noticeable way outside of subscription numbers (in some ways that’s not it’s ‘job’ in the space anyway, WoW for years now has been the melting pot of the genre, preferring to ‘borrow’ rather than create), but when it’s blatantly trailing behind it’s peers, fans have good reason to demand more, and should.
The other point that raised a question in my mind was exactly how much of old Azeroth is actually going to receive significant updates. Blizzard stated that not all zones are total remakes, and that some might only get minor changes. Adding a new quest hub or moving some pieces around is not what I would consider expansion-worthy, and if that’s the update being given to even 25% of the zones, it’s disappointing. Even ‘remakes’ like Silithus or Duskwallow were somewhat shallow, and I’m hoping most zones get a lot more than that. And while lore-related complaints no longer really apply to WoW, how exactly is only SOME of the world going to experience a cataclysm anyway? Are some of the quest NPCs going to pretend nothing has happened, while the guy next to him is in desperate need of 10 samples of horse dung to solve the apocalypse? That might come off as a little strange…
With all that said, will Cataclysm bring be back in 2011? That’s tough to say. On the one hand, it’s still going to be super ezmode, even in the already ‘easy’ MMO genre. I know most MMOs won’t offer Civilization-level challenge or the make-or-break of DarkFall PvP, but being easy and insulting-easy are two different things, and each patch/expansion moves WoW further and further into insult territory for me. It’s just hard feeling any sense of accomplishment when every challenge basically rolls over for you. The other factor is who knows what the genre will look like in 2011. Maybe Aion will be WAR with a working endgame (doubtful, but who knows), maybe Darkfall will follow EVE and continually grow/improve (the first big patch was excellent). Maybe Mythic will finally fully fix WAR’s endgame (last patch was a good step), and maybe SW:TOR won’t play like a WoW-clone in space with head-to-keyboard hotbar combat (or that 4th pillar they keep talking about might matter). But if all that fails, or between now and 2011 Blizzard ups the ante with more details about Cataclysm (remember they still have much, much more to reveal), it might be worth coming back, plus I’ll have WotLK content to see first-hand as well. I think I’m going to call my Undead Paladin “LulzLore OneHealzSpam”, and pimp him out in all the best RMT items the cash shop has to offer!