I admit, the lasts few posts have been the same old me again: complaints and critiques of the game as it appears to me. This post is supposed to be something completely different. Not at all like the previous ones.
First of all, my first contact with the Shattering was in fact a new alt, an Undead Hunter with whom I blasted to level 18 I think. What a joyous ride that was! The quests flow from the beginning in such a way that you are really 'living up' a story of an up and coming hero rather than one of the guys at the cemetery, like it earlier seemed to be. The phasing provides a pull which is otherwise impossible to achieve and you really see the world change from a scene to scene.
After playing the worgen and goblin starter areas and seeing the gnome starter, I can say that the beginning player's starting experience has been streamlined and polished to the extreme. The only pitfall in this is the possibility that the starter areas are lacking the challenge one would expect to see in a world torn by constant war and strife.
But the biggest fun came later on with the Undead: there is this particular quest at the border of Silverpine Forrest and Hillsbrad area, where you get to be the questgiver. And you get to had three quests to three different kinds of characters. No more spoilers, but this quest was the first time in the game where I laughed with tears in my eyes to a scripted event. And the follow ups with the questees later on were a cracker, too, but not the way the original quest would have suggested...
At the high end levelling areas one cannot be but amazed of the quality, continuity and flow of the story itself, and contrary to what Blizzard said about quest hubs (something like "players want to see their minimap blinking with yellow exclamation marks"), they condensed the hubs instead: only few quests usually doable in the same area and at the same time, continuing the story or two simultaneously only to be finalized in a sort of climatic encounter before leaving for the next area. Well, the same worked in the new revamped 1-60 quests, too, but in the end levels it's even more profound.
What really warmed up my cold heart was the fact that the crafted gear is again worth a thought: even the first BoE gear which is craftable by a blacksmith are worth the while. I replaced WotLK purples with the first three pieces I could do and without a single doubt! I haven't checked the other crafts yet, but I bet that the tailors have the same situation at their hands as soon as they get enough cloth in their hands. I can only hope that this continues to the cap, because it would seem a waste to be subjected to the instance and point gear only.
In saying that Blizzard provided more of the same you would be making an underestimation: they provided even more of the same, but with some very innovative approaches. However, in railroading the play experience the game has taken quite a few steps towards the massive multiplayer solo game, and by doing that the group content will suffer the most in the end: people just do not know how to cope with the group content, blasting away with the ways they have learned while soloing. Then again, one of the nifty little things Blizzard provided the players with are the progressing quest chains: you get both experience and the next quest of the chain on the fly, and these combined with the instance create a very, very interesting concept. The same system has been used in the wilds where you may find a quest while doing another (triggered by random kill or an area like a cavern) which liven up the questing itself, giving you the illusion of free form or sandbox quests.
If we think of Cataclysm from the newcomers point of view, then the overall experience has improved to cater the complete noob in a fantasy game: it provides interaction, specified and achievable quest targets and guides and ushers you onwards with the story and out into the world. The ongoing storylines really push you beyond the earlier level 10 barrier Blizzard reported, as they continue way beyond that limit.
So from the newcomers point of view, Cataclysm made WoW even better.
For the veteran quester who has seen the content up to WotLK the new levelling experience is a refreshing change to the old one, providing new insight into some quest types and using phasing as a real tool in advancing the story. Also the fact that you have to find the instances in real before you can queue to them via the Dungeon Finder is a refreshing thing, and urges people either to go through the quest lines in the area to reach the conclusion in the instance or to explore the area to find the entrance. As I haven't reached the cap yet (only lv83) I cannot say what changes in there, but I expect it will be even more of the same as it was in WotLK, causing me to turn my face on working with my alts.
All in all, Cataclysm turned WoW into a roller coaster which urges you to go by the numbers. It's not a bad thing considering the changing customer base, but it's not exactly what the genre requires to improve as whole. I for one am having the feeling that by streamlining the system Blizzard has gotten rid of the danger and challenge in questing, and for me it is not enough to have that sense of challenge in the heroic instances alone.
So for the next time I would love to see some sense of challenge, possibility to fail even if you do your best and more emphasis on group content. By this I'm not saying that the instance content is bad, quite the opposite: the instances I've been so far are top notch and entertaining, the bosses are different and have various mechanics and all. But the change from WotLK facerolling with AoE damage to the crowd control required style seems to be too abrupt for the majority of the players and the questing and levelling content doesn't help the players to understand this change.
Was that pep enough for a change?