Having learned in Wrath of the Lich King that providing two initial levelling zones makes for a much less crowded world, Blizzard have stuck with that philosophy for Cataclysm. Level 80 players will have the option to start the path to 85 by either exploring the watery depths of Vashj'ir or by mounting a defence of the world tree in Mount Hyjal.
Put Out That Fire
Mount Hyjal throws us into the defence of the world tree Nordrassil which is under the attack of none other than our old friend Ragnaros. From the moment we fly into the zone and see Ragnaros brought back into the world by Deathwing we are on the back foot.
The twilight cultists are busy trying to burn down the world tree, which of course the Night Elf druids don't take too kindly to. We are immediately dispatched to try and stem the tide and fight back the evil forces of Deathwing, Ragnaros and all their minions.
We haven't seen Ragnaros since we dispatched him at the end of Molten Core. Seeing a boss return from the original classic WoW is cool and Ragnaros holds a special place in WoW players hearts. Those who have been playing since the original WoW will remember building a fire resistance set of gear to dispatch Ragnaros or running to lower Blackrock Spire to grab the fire resistance buff from mind controlled mobs back in the hay days of 40 man Molten Core raids.
Mount Hyjal is a mix of fire ravaged lava landscapes and the lush green of the undamaged zones. It also provides us with the ability to interact with a number of the major lore characters in the game, as well as bringing back not only old Ragnaros but also some of his cronies (Barron Geddon makes an appearance in the first few quests).
How deep is this ocean anyway?
Far from the fire and forests of Mount Hyjal the other initial levelling zone provides us with a very different zone, the underwater area of Vashj'ir.
For the first time in WoW we are provided with an entire zone based underwater. This gives us a unique experience and after having played through most of this zone in the beta we expect that some will love it and some will hate it.
The zone starts with a boat trip that ends rather abruptly when your ship is attacked by a giant squid. Saved from certain death by members of the earthen ring you begin to quest through the zone getting used to the unfamiliar feeling of 360 degree combat.
Unlike Mount Hyjal, Vashj'ir doesn't rely on major lore characters from WoW's past, preferring to tell a new story. Having said that a few notable names do make an appearance from time to time, and those of us who remember Serpentshrine Cavern we get a little glimpse into the past of Lady Vashj.
One of the most interesting quest chains in Vashj'ir allows us to see into visions of the past and take control of a Naga Battle Maiden. It is this quest chain that provides the most insight into the lore of the zone and includes the Naga and the Vrykul in an epic battle. It's a really fun quest line and should soon become one of the main reasons to visit the zone.
The early quests provide us with the tools to quest underwater, a buff to give us eternal breath and a swim speed enhancement. We are also provided with a cool new underwater mount in the form of a seahorse.
Both zones make excellent use of terrain phasing which was introduced in previous expansions and put it to full use here in Cataclysm. As we move through the zone it really does change around us and we feel like we have an impact on the world. As a side effect this does make the questing a tad linear; if we don't complete the right quest we aren't able to move onto the next quest hub.
It should be very interesting to see how Blizzard utilise this technology in the other zones as we make our way to 85.
Vashj'ir also offers us access to one of the two starter dungeons of Cataclysm, the Throne of Tides. With the provision of the dungeon finder in Wrath of the Lich King allowing us to teleport directly to dungeons, wherever we may be, Blizzard have confirmed that before we can use the finder with any of the new Cataclysm dungeons we will have to discover them first.
Talents, but not as we know them
One of the more interesting decisions Blizzard have made in Cataclysm is to revamp the talent system. Talents have been a core part of the WoW experience since the game first launched, gaining that first talent point at level 10 in the original game was a big deal and we truly felt as though we were growing with our character.
So, previously each character class had three talent trees that they could pick from and depending on your class this could mean a slightly different play style, or a completely different role in your group or raid. At level 60 we had talent trees that maxed out at 31 points with us having 51 points in total to spread amongst those trees. Then at level 80 we had talent tress maxing out at 51 points with 71 points to use.
Now Blizzard has decided that enough is enough and it's time to trim the talents back to a more manageable limit. When Cataclysm launches all characters will have trees that max out at 31 points and only have 41 points to spend in total at level 85.
In addition Blizzard has confirmed that we will be unable to select from a second talent tree until we have spent 31 points in a single tree. The philosophy behind this change is to remove the complexity from the talent trees and make our life a little simpler.
Some will argue that it continues the trend of Blizzard "dumbing down" WoW however in our opinion Blizzard was right to make this change. The amount of theorycraft that could be done on the 51 talent point trees and the amount of arguments about which talent spec was the best was beginning to get tiring. Hopefully this simplified talent trees system will provide us with a much cleaner talent spec without the need to have a degree in mathematics to work it out.
This change will certainly make the game more accessible for new players trying WoW for the first time. The simpler talent trees are much less daunting that the current 51 point ones.
Also, players returning to the game for Cataclysm should have an easier time of picking up the changes and selecting the correct talent spec for their desired play choice.
The two new starting zones for players levelling from 80 provide a varied and rich questing experience. The return of some classic lore characters in Mount Hyjal and the new story being told in Vashj'ir hold our attention to the end of the zone. Additionally the unique underwater questing experience offered by Vashj'ir will feel new and exciting to even the most hardened WoW players.
The new talent trees will make it much easier for new players to become familiar with how the system works and for players returning to the game for Cataclysm it will be much less confusing to pick the correct talents.
We'll take a look at some of the UI enhancements Blizzard have made and, depending on how quickly we level, perhaps take a glimpse at some of the other zones being made available in Cataclysm.
Read Cataclysm Blog Part Four
Part One - WoW Cataclysm Blog
Part Two - WoW Cataclysm Blog