View from the Road: The WoW Cataclysm Cometh


The big news for WoW fans last week was the unleashing of tons and tons of screenshots of the new, post-Cataclysm Azeroth. As someone who is very much looking forward to the changes that Cataclysm will bring, I can’t say that I wasn’t excited to see how the World of Warcraft was being reborn. I spent the better part of an hour just looking at all the images, oohing and ahhing with WoW-playing coworkers – I was all pumped up for this expansion.

And at the same time, I realized, I was … actually kind of sad.

We’d known since the beginning that the very premise of Cataclysm meant that the world would be shattered, and everything would be changing, but, somehow, it didn’t really hit home until I saw the screenshots of the new Azeroth. The world that we’ve spent five years inhabiting is vanishing for good, and there’s no going back.

This is a good thing, mind you. From a philosophical perspective, I’d much rather developers of MMOGs take the time to update their worlds rather than building a completely static universe. From a gameplay perspective, there’s no question that the quality of the Classic-era leveling content and quests is far below what Blizzard has delivered in Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. Going back to the old world to complete all the quests for the Loremaster title is almost painful after getting used to the new content. Blizzard’s goal of redoing all the low-level content in the game in order to get it up to their new par is an admirable one.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be sad to see it go. This is a world that players like me spent years getting attached to, after all. Many of us have fond memories of these virtual locales, especially in the game’s early days. Can you blame us for being a bit wistful at the thought of never again seeing the Goblin and Gnome racing teams square off at the Shimmering Flats (now submerged under water)? Can you blame us for lamenting the destruction of the Barrens? Sure, Horde players spent fifteen long, painful levels there, but that just makes it all the more familiar – and the more nostalgic – to us.

One of the most common questions people ask about storytelling and games is, “can a game make you cry?” (Heck, we’ve explored the topic ourselves more than once) I won’t say that I shed a tear over the Cataclysm changes, but it was interesting to find that the emotion that many developers seek to elicit with moving set pieces and tragic death scenes – genuine sadness – Blizzard evoked in me simply by changing models in a database.

Humans form attachments to things by nature. Sure, this old mattress might be lumpy and have no support, and the new one is much better and more comfortable … but you slept on the old one for ten years, didn’t you? You’ll still feel bad throwing it out.

That’s what Cataclysm is like for me. I recognize that what Blizzard is doing is an inarguable improvement in pretty much every way. I’m glad that they’ll be changing the old world for everybody, instead of requiring people to buy the expansion to get all the improved new content. I’m glad to see Azeroth evolving instead of remaining static.

But even if I’m embracing the new Azeroth with open arms, that doesn’t mean I won’t be sad throwing out the old mattress.

Maybe I’ll take one final tour around the old world – just for old times’ sake, you know? Or I could just pour out a mug of Thunderbrew Ale for all of my gnomies.

John Funk can’t decide if he wants to roll a Goblin Rogue or Dwarf Shaman when the expansion comes out.

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