WoW Factor: Cataclysm was bad, but revamping the world isn’t

For about four years, Cataclysm handily defended its title of Worst World of Warcraft Expansion, coming in behind all of the actual expansions as well as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Warhammer Online, and Superman 64. It was bad, that’s my point here. And the stuff that we have to go through along the leveling path for it is still bad, which unfortunately means levels 1-60 followed by 80-85 (with the granted exception of the Worgen starting area).

So it’s understandable to look at one of its major features with a certain amount of terror. “What, you want to revise the world? We already had an expansion do that, and it was awful!” And you would be right in saying that, yes, but there are lots of reasons the game needs some revisions to existing content… and more importantly, why the noxious crap of Cataclysm need not afflict any future updates to older content.

The weight of the touch

This is largely here just to show off a great transmog.Let’s start by stating what may be controversial for some but I think is fairly ironclad: Cataclysm‘s big issue with renovating the old world was that it tried to do too much.

I don’t exactly blame the designers for it; I think it’s even natural when you have the power to go in and change anything to change, well, everything. But not everything in the game needed to be changed. Big chunks of the game worked fine. Azeroth had problems after two expansions of general neglect, but they were problems that did not require a complete rewriting of the game from 1-60 so much as fleshing out certain areas, changing quest flow, providing slightly better distribution, and so forth.

Everything pre-The Burning Crusade got rewritten with Cataclysm, and while that meant addressing a lot of really bad design decisions from early in the game’s life cycle, it also meant throwing out a lot of stuff that players genuinely loved. It meant removing odd quests in weird areas that were not necessarily super relevant in the leveling path but still meant a lot to people just for their oddity value. It meant fleshing out everything while also slicing out lots of content that people already enjoyed.

It wound up not being just a matter of cleaning up issues but of making the entire game different. And that ties into another important issue, the fact that Cataclysm‘s revamp wasn’t just trying to make the questing better — it was making it entirely different.

Flow and pattern

In the earliest days of World of Warcraft, quests were just sort of there, scattered hither and yon. The Burning Crusade started playing with the idea of hubs, while Wrath of the Lich King really improved and invested in the mechanics of proper quest hubs. Cataclysm, however, went one step further, and its ultimate expression is in Mount Hyjal, which is literally a corridor of quest hubs. Do quests here, move to next hub, repeat.

Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor have both done much better by allowing small hubs to spiderweb off of one another without distinct patterns. But Cataclysm‘s philosophy is still the one that dominates Azeroth at this point, and it’s a quest philosophy of treating regions on the map as if they cease to exist as soon as you no longer need them.

I think the heavy-handed approach was also somewhat inspired by this goal, since it takes a lot of wrangling to make old maps actual work with this very hub-by-hub approach, at which point it’s tempting to remove even more of the parts that made a zone distinctive before, which means more map-wrangling and quest changes, and so forth.

The net result is that Cataclysm tried to wipe away nearly everything and make an entirely new game out of the existing game rather than trying to edit and nudge. And I can completely agree that this did not work out terribly well; while the new zones are perfectly functional, they’re not memorable, and they’re not exactly what I would call fun to play through. But the bright side is that as a result, we have a pretty clear picture of why that revamp went so badly, and most of these elements are not things that need to be repeated with another revamp of older content.

Heck, not repeating those revamps actually makes for less work.

The pass of polish

Just because this expansion was dumb doesn't mean I was.What Cataclysm did was provide a full-on reworking of the entirety of Azeroth, and make no mistake — it needed some serious work. But there’s a midpoint between “utterly reconstruct everything in this leveling band from scratch” and “polish up the existing content that might not be up to snuff.” The former isn’t usually worth it; the latter can be.

Older portions of the game still largely work, but they’ve accumulated a number of bugs, and there are a lot of quest rewards that could stand to have some updating. Some bits of design and some flow could be improved along the way with one or two quests moved or clarified. Endgame elements from a few expansions back could be diminished and made accessible during the leveling process. That’s all beneficial.

Blizzard treats expansions as part of an entirely different game. The Burning Crusade elements do not interact with Cataclysm in any meaningful way whatsoever. That’s one of the ways that the game feels so segmented; you wind up going into a closed system that doesn’t extend in either direction. No quests for later expansions send you out into the old world or into lower regions, just forward into an endgame set of dungeons and drops that hasn’t ever been examined, an island of quests that exists apart from all else.

There’s a definite fear that by addressing the older content of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, the designers would be taking on the same sort of workload as was taken on with the Cataclysm revamp, and with similarly disastrous results. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are alternatives, and I would argue that most of those alternatives are at once more likely, and in fact, better ones. We can have more connection back through the world, back through the history of the game, making use of these environments and landscapes that players have been exploring for some time.

Add to that the many mistakes Cataclysm made that have nothing to do with the old-world revamp, and it’s pretty obvious that claiming it’s all or nothing is kind of ridiculous. There are middle roads to be taken, and they’re ultimately better routes.

Feedback, like every week, can be left in the comments below or mailed along to eliot@massivelyop.com. In our next installment, I’d like to talk about things that World of Warcraft has been hanging on to for too darn long to no real avail and what can be done in Legion to correct them.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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153 Comments on "WoW Factor: Cataclysm was bad, but revamping the world isn’t"

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Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

DarkWombat “…yet he LIKED the Cata revamping of zones?”
I’m not sure how you got that conclusion when I explicitly said the exact opposite, but you do you.

wjowski
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wjowski

Oleg Chebeneev wjowski 
comment image

wjowski
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wjowski

rottenrotny wjowski Oleg Chebeneev 
They used to make double that.  And they’re making less and less every month.   But yeah keep jamming your fingers into your ears and pretending that everything’s fine.  I mean, just because your kitchen’s of fire doesn’t the rest of your house’ll burn too, right?

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

strmhm DrowNoble Well when I meant “new” I meant “not in the game previously”.  I should of clarified that.

Goblins were already there in the Steamwheddle Cartel.  Then they just added a “new” goblin that wasn’t part of the Cartel.  Same thing with worgen, they were villains that night elves and humans quested against, now suddenly they are “new” worgen that are empathetic with night elves.

strmhm
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strmhm

DrowNoble If my memory serves me right, the Worgen and Goblins were introduced with Cataclysm. So what about this “no new races”? Do you even play?

Caec
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Caec

Xulander Until WoD has a content gap like MoP (and, to be clear, it very well may get there), I’m content with letting MoP hold the crown.

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

Sometimes I wonder of Eliot actually plays the game or is just a blind fanboy.

Revamping the old world would of been fine, if Blizzard had not half-a**ed it.  Some zones didn’t even have noticeable changes, where was the devastation that was implied?  Also, Northrend is part of Azeroth, yet nothing changed.  Did Deathwing not buy the Wrath expansion?  I could understand Outland not changing, it’s a different world, but to ignore Northrend was just Blizzard being lazy.
Add to the fact Blizzard was hyping Cataclysm as their biggest expansion yet, but when it released the actual expansion part was rather small.  No new races, no new classes and only 5 zones.  Letting gnomes be priests or taurens paladins is not “new” content it’s Blizzard recycling existing content and trying to pass it off as a “feature” of the expansion.  With a cap increase of only 5, you’d max out quickly and not even see every zone.  Then Blizzard went back to the ol’ staple of “end game rep grind is fun!”. No, no it’s not….

DarkWombat
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DarkWombat

Once again I disagree 100% with everything Eliot says.
Odd too, because he has complained about linear questing before in WoW, yet he LIKED the Cata revamping of zones? The Cata revamp was one of the worst questing-on-rails ever, in any MMO.

mourasaint
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mourasaint

wjowski mourasaint Directionless? With gating?

scratches16
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scratches16

To start, I’ll admit that I was riding the hype train pretty hard about Cataclysm’s overworld “update.” Upon release though, boy was I singing a different tune. Granted, I was happy as sin about zone storylines that have existed for almost a decade finally resolving or even just moving forward (Hi Westfall, Plaguelands, Redridge (but really I just mean Lakeshire’s glorious bridge), and Silverpine), but the forced “don’t you dare deviate” quest pathing made it……bland. From a gameplay perspective. The storytelling was still pretty top notch.

That was pretty much the theme for all of Cataclysm’s overworld zones, imo. Even the 80-85s. Where Cataclysm really held me though, surprisingly, was in pretty much everything else. I loved the dungeons (yes, even pugging as a healer, a week after launch), I loved the pvp, I loved Talents v.2.0, I loved the 3 patched-in dungeons we got (even if they were about Bitchy-Sue Thrall), and I enjoyed the raiding too.

And Mists and Warlords just seemed to systematically rape all of those systems, I feel…

If I could plot all the expansions on a line graph, Wrath > Cata > BC would all be on a pretty even line (but still in that order), and then Mists and Warlords would be an immeasurable drop below those 3, fighting it out for the next spot…
Sure, Mists did great things with the storytelling and the music was phenomenal, but most other things just felt flat to me, and I absolutely abhorred a few things even, like the astronomical #s on hp, dmg, and stats, and whatever they managed to fuck up with pvp. Here’s hoping Legion manages to keep an eye on what used to make WoW fun, whatever that may have been…

Sorry for the tangent, but that’s my 2 cents

Zarkov
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Zarkov

Nostalgia keeps UO, AO, EQ, DAoC and so on alive. But it’s cool to hate WoW? Oh wait….

Zarkov
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Zarkov

I don’t get this hate for MOP. It had the best narrative of ANY expansion. BC was a storytelling mess.

rottenrotny
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rottenrotny

wjowski Oleg Chebeneev OMG they only make ~$75000000 a month off of WoW alone now. THE END IS NIGH.

rottenrotny
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rottenrotny

Yeah they need to figure this shit out. The game is so fragmented across expansions now. Every time they come out with a new one they abandon the previous as if it didn’t exist. Logically each one should update along with the new stuff.

What I really want to see done is minor things like fixing Stormwind. If this was based in any kind of reality the city would have been rebuilt within a couple months and yet there it sits, broken.

One of the worst things they did with Cataclysm was changing Hillsbrad. Why oh why did you have to mess with it Blizzard? If you had just left it along I guarantee you’d still see players going there for world PVP skirmishes.

But really they just need to go back and redo all the previous zones to update what the NPCs say and the quests given as to be relevant to Legion. Obviously you can’t really redo the dungeons easily, but in the Northrend towns they’re still going on and on about Arthas. Dude that was years ago.

Get your shit together Blizzard.

Oleg Chebeneev
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Oleg Chebeneev

wjowski Oleg Chebeneev With how many MMOs there are, WoW would loose subs no matter how good expansions would be. MoP also did loose many, doesnt mean MoP sucked. Cata was the best selling expansion too and had peak players at 12 mil

Darkfield
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Darkfield

Oleg Chebeneev Darkfield RyanSzczepanski mourasaint ensvne there are some, not tons. And I do play WoW. And I’m in fact an altoholic so I have at least leveled in most of these zones while I’m not raiding. They mostly used it in Cata leveling zones and in some of zones they revamped. After cata there are handful of locations in MoP and even less in WoD.

Actintous
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Actintous

mourasaint RyanSzczepanski ensvne Sadly I have to agree. Having played pretty much all the major MMOs that have come out in the last 10 years most have been very lacking (or copied so much of WoW that i don’t see the point of playing a  copy of WoW – may as well play the original). gave up rift when I had to go collect 10 spider eyes. Didn’t get far in archage – had to read a story to some cats or something and the labor point thing was dumb. TESO is OK and I am still levelling through it (but listened to a TESO podcast the other day where they were very unhappy about max level stuff). Wildstar gave me a headache. I didn’t get Eve. 

The only MMO that I have really liked is GW2 because of the nice fluid combat, the way they handle group looting and stuff, world events, the way they handle the cash shop, and their attempt to have regular updated content. The community around WvW became pretty toxic.

I am not sure what went on at Blizz – WoD was initially fine. But they had no plan for content updates? Apart from weekly raids with my guild there is no WoD-content to do? I have bought tokens to cover my sub for a few months but am more likely to spend time in other games.

wjowski
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wjowski

Xulander 
At least it didn’t reach back and retroactively shit on all the good parts of the game that came before it?

wjowski
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wjowski

Oleg Chebeneev 
The opinon of him and the millions that left the game in what was the beginning of a sub-loss that’s bleeding WoW dry to this day.

wjowski
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wjowski

mourasaint 
BC was dull and directionless.  You barely knew Illidan and company existed unless you were one of the elite .001% of the game that raided back then.

Sysgoddess
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Sysgoddess

Serrenity RickMills1 Did you even play during TBC or Vanilla? I ask because many players from TBC are nostalgic about it being the best xpac and I have to agree with them. Sure, it could be a bit ‘grindy’ at times but players had to learn how to play and gear their characters to progress into heroics and raid tiers.

Best of all was that the game still encouraged and even required cooperation among players to complete some tasks. At level you needed the cooperation of another player or 2 to kill Hogger in Elwynn Forest! This is the very essence of a multiplayer game.

Even early in LK there were a couple of quests in Borean Tundra & Dragonblight that either required or were made easier by having a second person. These were all nerfed to the point that they were easily soloed in Cata.

Oleg Chebeneev
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Oleg Chebeneev

Darkfield Oleg Chebeneev RyanSzczepanski mourasaint ensvne Did you even play WoW? Phasing was invented by Blizzard and it has been in WoW for almost a decade. There are tons of quests that fully use it and change the world for player, more so then in TESO. Also the questing flow is in fact better in WoW, and there are much more creative quests in WoW, then there are in TESO.

Id say the only MMORPG that is superior to WoW in quests content is TSW.

starcitizen843
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starcitizen843

mourasaint  Nope, but you’re kinda close.

WOTLK>BC>CATA>MOP>WOD

Darkfield
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Darkfield

SwobyJ Yes, you explained it to perfection.

Darkfield
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Darkfield

Oleg Chebeneev RyanSzczepanski mourasaint ensvne ESO has better questing as a whole compared to WoW, solely because of the flow and pace of the quests, and their phasing features is something I’m rather fond of, you do thing and it affects the world around you. You save a town from pirates, people start rebuild it, returning to restart their lives. I find that an incredibly rewarding feeling, seeing that you help save a town, a village, some people. While in wow you do things and you can’t see any changes. A game can be mediocre compared to its competition, but there are areas that it can shine brighter than its competition.

Darkfield
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Darkfield

Couldn’t agree more. 

Blizzard has a rather peculiar design philosophy, as someone who’s been playing WoW since late TBC till now I can name a lot of things that Blizz done wrong. But messing up the 1-60 zones was by far the worst one. It’s cool to have a sense of direction as to where to go next but it ruins the immersion, you barely have time to immerse yourself in the world around you because the whole thing feels like you are racing against time and if you stop your world is gone. I never liked it.

Oleg Chebeneev
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Oleg Chebeneev

RyanSzczepanski mourasaint ensvne All games you listed are mediocre at best compared to WoW.

mourasaint
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mourasaint

RyanSzczepanski mourasaint ensvne You just listed a handful of games that (in your opinion) are better than WoW in a specific area—leveling, PvP, end-game, and so on—but you can you really say any one of those is flat out better as an overall game? 

I doubt it.

RyanSzczepanski
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RyanSzczepanski

mourasaint RyanSzczepanski ensvne GW2 is a solid contender. Different target, but it does what it sets out to do well and has much better content releases than WoW. The one patch per expansion example of WoW should be more than enough to prove that.

ESO has a WAY better questing and leveling system. Its engaging, its fun, and it tells a lot interesting stories. WoW’s questing on the other hand is a pushover, and considered as nothing more than a blocker to end game.

Rift and Wildstar have been doing the WoW endgame better than WoW for a few years now.  Rift was good, and I was certainly impressed. I’ve raided almost every raid in WoW (minus Sunwell, BT, and the new one released) and the quality is definitely there for both games. Wildstar was focused on it to a fault in fact, and it tanked its subscribers. And lets not even talk about FFXIV, which is at this point nearly level with WoW’s playerbase. That game has absolutely superb PvE. Its not my cup of tea simply for the aesthetic, but if you’re into PvE there is absolutely zero reason to choose WoW over FFXIV.

For PvP, GW2, ESO, SWTOR, Rift, and Wildstar all beat it handily. There is a reason every top streamer has been abandoning WoW’s PvP. WoW PvP is imbalanced, lacking features, lacking development of ANY kind, and is simply not fun to play. I’d say ability pruning hurt this the worst, as it took away a lot of the ability to outplay someone by knowing the depth of your class.

Is WoW good? Even now with the worst expansion its released I’d say its not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. If there is one thing I’d say WoW has above any other MMO its the culture surrounding it. But is it “the very best the genre has to offer”? Absolutely not. If you want to prove me wrong go ahead.

Oleg Chebeneev
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Oleg Chebeneev

mourasaint Right with slight tweak: Cata > WoTLK > MoP > BC > WoD

mourasaint
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mourasaint

RyanSzczepanski mourasaint ensvne What other MMO would you submit as being better? 

TOR? TSW? GW2?

RyanSzczepanski
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RyanSzczepanski

mourasaint ensvne You do realize that hasn’t held true for most people for several years. Is WoW still popular? Yes. But most of the people playing it play no games other than WoW, and will play it till the servers are shut off because thats all they’ve ever known.

mourasaint
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mourasaint

BC > WOTLK > MOP > CATA > WOD

Right?

ensvne
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ensvne

mourasaint yes ofc i know, since WoW was the first MMORPG.

groo the wanderer
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groo the wanderer

I think Cataclysm was just the beginning of WoW’s decline in quality . It has gone further and further downhill from there .

Oleg Chebeneev
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Oleg Chebeneev

Again this silly narrative “Cataclysm was bad because I didnt like it”. Eliot can you at least add “in my opinion” since there are many players that consider this expansion to be the best, me included. It also featured the most content out of any expansion in MMORPG history.

ensvne
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ensvne

quixadhal Let’s begin with the fact that your fruit fly generation has no money to even play this garbage game. They probably made it easier (i don’t know, never played it more than 5 minutes) because of your senile generation.

mourasaint
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mourasaint

ensvne If you think it’s bad, then what are you doing in a website dedicated to discussing MMOs? You do realize WoW is the very best the genre has to offer, right?

mourasaint
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mourasaint

SwobyJ Yeah. The problem isn’t that Cataclysm re-worked the questing design, it’s that it made the narrative presentation in leveling impenetrable, especially for new players.

ensvne
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ensvne

The whole game is absurdly bad. Let it die already… but Nostalgia will keep at alive 20 more years.

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

Cataclysm killed most of my interest in the game because it messed too much with canon order. At least in RIFT I can do almost all story content still. In WoW it now goes: Vanilla (REMOVED) –> BC –> WOTLK –> Cata Early+Cata Late –> MOP –> WOD. How am I supposed to story level through that? BC and WOTLK effectively feel ‘broken’ to me, and the early zones half broken. I would have liked this SO much more if the early leveling content was just streamlined (maybe made more exciting, but still keep its main story) and Cata questing could be a layer of phasing over it.

McSleaz
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McSleaz

Cataclysm made me quit WoW for a very,very long time.

Dobablo
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Dobablo

I thought Cataclysm was great although it was a little too railroaded. It got a bad rap because the levels 80-85 felt short and disconnected which they were because half the work went into the old works zones.

Xulander
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Xulander

Hindsight is always 20/20. I do agree with practically everything you stated especially since they left out zones still not updated today as they first gave the impression they would come back to complete. Blizzard biggest issue is planning. The need to realize their resources and goals. Plan out how best to utilize those resources to obtain their goals. As you stated, if they used their resources efficiently, they could of completed the all zones more successfully. They did too much in Cata to an extent that left out zones unfinished and I felt they didn’t do enough in WOD. I think WOD will go down as worse expansion. Well, I hope it doesn’t get worse and WOD expansion I’ll give as their mulligan on my end of things.

Xulander
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Xulander

WOD, by far, was the worst expansion. It wasn’t even a full expansion and more story lines left incomplete compared to any other continent in the game today.

TheDonDude
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TheDonDude

Still a fan of good ol’ Lambent Armour.

JeremiahWagner
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JeremiahWagner

Yuck. Look WoW sucks now simply because it is WAY to easy now. Mostly talking Questing and Dungeons. Dieing and failing was a huge part of the fun as you then had to rethink what you were doing and it felt good to finally complete a hard quest. Same thing with dungeons, if you worked hard enough at it with a group from you guild you would finally be able to push through Heroics and it felt good and was very rewarding. All of that is gone. Now you just run as fast as you can from one place to the next, no reason to stop and look around, you “feel” NOTHING while rushing through one area after another. Dungeons are the same you just bum rush as fast as you can no thinking required. Everyone trying to blame 1000000 other things for why WoW has gotten old and stale are wrong PERIOD. Yes there are a lot of other things that are not exactly right but the main downfall by a HUGE margin is how damn boring the game is now that it has become much much easier.

mourasaint
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mourasaint

paragonlostinspace one problem: it alienates new players.

mourasaint
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mourasaint

Robert80 ESO is already reworking early level quests?

mourasaint
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mourasaint

annoyedbadger “accepted it’s linear”? WoW is whatever they make of it. 
And linearity doesn’t necessarily preclude old content from maintaining relevance.

wpDiscuz