Cataclysm Does Not Redeem
So I’ve had a fair chunk of time to play with Cataclysm. Maybe you’ve heard of it. And if I’m going to start using my own blog again (and I am), ranting about it seems like a good place to kick off.
‘Cause there’s a lot to rant about, but it all comes back to the same point: this expansion has really not fixed anything.
Yes, the talent trees have been streamlined. No more having to look elsewhere for talent builds! Largely because the trees have been pared down so far that it’s not possible to screw up. Your choices come down to maybe a half-dozen points to put in situationally useful spots. Or you can choose which of two functionally identical playstyles you prefer, which really comes down to one sharp pointy thing or two. Yay.
You could argue, of course, that you’ve always been in that position, with only three meaningful options overall. This is not an indefensible claim – but rather than breaking out of that mold, Cataclysm just reinforces it and turns it to law. Hence why I say that nothing is fixed; it’s the best implementation of talent trees yet, but the system still doesn’t allow room for really customized characters.
The story is probably the worst part of this expansion, which is ironic. Tobold has claimed that it’s essentially beating BioWare at the story game, which is true insofar as both products have a story. All signs point to Star Wars: The Old Republic having several notable differences, however, such as letting players participate in said story and backing it up with good writing. The storyline in Cataclsym isn’t just static, it’s restrictive and at times reductive of the player. You are not important, the NPCs are important. If you’re lucky, they will let you watch as they do cool stuff.
By way of illustration: as you level through Silverpine Forest, a whole lot is going on, but none of it can actually be affected by player actions. You’re always going to march into the same sequence of traps, and always are going to respond by screaming and running like a little girl. The last quest of the chain essentially revolves around you doing nothing while Sylvanas and Crowley talk to one another. And for that, you get a blue item and a sense of… well, I’m not really sure what sense you’re supposed to get, aside from the fact that there’s really no rationale for Sylvanas doing anything.
Oh, right, but she’s evil. She does evil things because she’s evil, so that totally makes everything okay. It’s perfectly reasonable that the Horde keeps her around.
Keep in mind that this was a point when Blizzard could have literally done anything with the Forsaken and make them interesting. Undercity could very well have basically shut down in light of the race’s stated goal being accomplished. They could have asked some questions about what an immortal society of undead does when it no longer has a purpose for remaining. Maybe they just want to live their unlives in relative peace, maybe they want to finally die, maybe anything at all other than just wage war for the purpose of war. Enjoy those thoughts, they’re more interesting than what you get in the actual game.
The worst part is that nuggets of good ideas get occasionally sprinkled in, then dropped. There’s a subtle thread running through Ashenvale that maybe the night elves never bothered to think about another race trying to encroach on their land, but that’s dropped pretty quickly so that you can get back to the business of fighting with the Horde. Wasted opportunities? It’s hard to call them anything else. There’s always a huge threat just around the corner, with this expansion’s go-to being the Old Gods, who have effectively been neutered by their omnipresence and stated malevolence. Instead of insane creatures without the ability to comprehend our short and fragile lives, they’ve turned into yet another collection of scaly things for us to kick around, only they’ve got tentacles. Get nine other people together and go kill them.
And while the changes to the world might be nice, they’re not fixing the basic static nature of the game. Oh, sure, the bridge in Redridge is finished, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that when the next expansion comes out, there will still be glowing imprints of claws in Stormwind, because we’re not changing the city again dynamic worlds are hard guys. It feels more static than ever. Each zone isn’t a place; it’s a collection of set pieces that you move into and briefly interact with until you go on to the next one.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just old and cynical. But between the endless pop-culture pastiches, the complete lack of any acknowledgment of roleplaying as a concept, the horrid story, the reductive concepts… I can’t help but feel that the game just doesn’t want me any more. It’s turned into a single-player game without anything I look for in single-player games, and that doesn’t bode well for my continued interest.