5 Challenges for Cataclysm

Chris at Game by Night is dubious about whether Cataclysm can really keep Warcraft players occupied for another two years (the average time between WoW expansions up till now). Yes, there are new races and new levelling content, but once people have worked up their new alts … what then?

In many ways, the most surprising thing about Cataclysm is how little we have heard about it. It’s going to be released this year, but when? Is it in beta yet? Where are the screenshots or artists impressions of the new zones? Maybe a picture of a well known zone seen from a flying mount? How about some more information about the dance studio (i.e. ability to choreograph your own dances) which was mentioned at Blizzcon?

Just for comparison, the first beta leaks from Wrath were in April ‘08, and the expansion was released in November of that year. If Cataclysm is aiming for a release before Q4, we should start hearing more about it very soon. The longer they delay, the more likely that the expansion won’t go live until the end of the year.

Aside from that, there is a question of what exactly it really would take to keep WoW players occupied for another two years.

For raiders, I’m sure Blizzard can dole out the raid content at the same rate they have been through Wrath. For alt-fans, an old worlde revamp, new races, and 5 new zones will certainly keep people busy for awhile. Blizzard have also mentioned reworking some of the old dungeons as high level heroics – if they did that to all of them in addition to any new instances then that’s a lot of instanced content also. Plus the rated battlegrounds, which I suspect will be one of the really big features in practice.

So, same old same old. More zones, more dungeons, more races, more battlegrounds. But is that enough? And if not, what exactly would be enough?

Here’s the five main challenges I think the expansion will face.

  1. Rated Battlegrounds. How well will these take off? If this plan works, then it will throw a nice chunk of both content and challenge at raid guilds who are bored of running the same raid four times a week. Plus should be fun for the more casual guilds too. They will need to find a way for people to opt out of the ratings if they want to go run a random battleground or else the whole casual friendly, solo friendly nature of bg PvP will be lost.
  2. People who can’t raid or don’t want to raid. Wrath opened up WoW raiding to more people than ever before. Some will be hooked and raring to go on Cataclysm raids. But what about the people who decided that actually it isn’t for them? It may be that some form of cross-server LFR tool will make raids a fun, casual friendly option. But as I’ve said before, I don’t think a regular tuned 10/25 man raid would work for a cross server PUG.
  3. Hardcore disengagement. Hardcore raiders have worked within the new hard mode /normal mode framework for raid instances. But how much do they actually enjoy it? Do they want to sign up for another expansion of more of the same? More working their guts out to beat hardmodes, when the majority of the player base just doesn’t care any more and isn’t especially impressed because they are happy with their normal modes and get to see the same fights anyway. How many will decide that it’s just not worth it?
  4. Levelling through Outland and Northrend. Now, Outland and Northrend both offer very cool and fun levelling experiences. But how are players going to feel when they leave the revamped old world and have to chug through 20 levels of unchanged content before they get to the new Azeroth zones? How many of those new alts will actually make it to endgame?
  5. Class Balance and Hybrid Vigor. Wrath has seen hybrids winding up with a good deal of in game privilege. They get the extra flexibility of multiple roles, at very little cost (apart from the extra time and effort to gear up). We know that Paladins and Druids (and Death Knights, natch) have all been gaining in popularity – last armoury survey showed that over 15% of all level 80s were paladins. I’d expect this effect to become even more marked as more people create new alts in Cataclysm. Druids will get vastly more popular because … worgen druids. Plus of course, a class talent revamp for all classes could unsettle everything.

The big problem of course is boredom. People who are bored of the game are not going to be enthralled by more of the same, and Blizzard has shown no signs yet that Cataclysm will include anything other than more of the same.

And really, they have to go with ‘more of the same’ for the players who aren’t yet bored – plus they will want to increasingly save their new ideas for the unannounced MMO that is yet to come. This isn’t to say that WoW is being short-changed, but that the original design might just not be welcoming to some of the new things designers want to do.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I think they will at some point figure out how to make fun cross server PUG raids. I think the rated battlegrounds will be wildly successful, more than most people are expecting.

I think that the new expansion will struggle to hold a lot of existing endgame player’s attention for more than a few months. This happens anyway with any new expansion, but the drift will be faster than ever, and it won’t depend on new games coming out. But remember, a lot of new or returning players will be coming back to start again with Cataclysm. They won’t all be bored yet. They will enjoy the more accessible instancing and raid content. Blizzard is banking on the new wave replacing the old. Time will tell if they are right.

10 thoughts on “5 Challenges for Cataclysm

  1. Two years for an xpac is really too much.
    I canceled my subscription and be back in Cataclysm because:
    1. I got bored from 4 months of ICC raiding and not another raid till 3.3.5 (we don’t have 3.3.3 yet)
    2. got many time consuming achievements (Loremaster, Exalted…) so I pratically depleted the soloable content
    3. not really fond of PvP
    4. not willing to level another alt through 80 levels
    (I’ve already 3 alts in the 70-80 range)

    So what could I do from now to the yet announced Cataclysm release date?
    With no beta out yet, now way it’s released before autumn…

  2. I know that for me – as a endgame raider, Cataclysm still looks a bit… meh.
    The big bad end-boss that wrath had, is not there. The Strange new lands (and almost as epic boss) of TBC is not there, and the grandness of the original WoW raid, does not seem to be there either.
    For me – so far – the game looks to be a lot about alts and dungeons (and maybe pvp, rated bgs sounds swell), and not so much about grinding for mats and consumables and raiding.

    I know that Deathwing, lore wise, is a grand enemy, but he has not been in game. Not like any of the previous ones. My guess is that I’ll buy the game, play it for a couple of months then look for d3, swtor or just stop gaming on my pc altogether. cata, definitely does not seem to have any long lasting hold.

  3. Very interesting, excellent questions.

    I think Blizzard has to fight the “endgame obsession”. The boss fight was the icing on the cake, not the whole experience. Also think of single player RPGs. While a different genre, it shows that the fun is the journey, not the slaughter of new bosses every other month.

    I think the new levelling experience that Cataclysm will offer might provide the necessary sense of wonder to entice players again.

    The problem is, many WoW players already have one or even several alts. While alt-players usually enjoy levelling, after a while they will start to loathe to play through the same content again to level up a new class if they already did it over and over again.

    This is where a the new levelling experience, the revamped content and new zones can help new players to have an even better newbie experience and veteran players to smell the roses again.

    But you are right, many of the veterans WILL start to loathe Outland especially, they already experienced it for years, then again with their DK.

    But I agree, it takes a bit more to cure the World of Warcraft from the endgame raiding obsession. I wonder what they plan to breath even more life into the changed world. Because every excited newbies becomes a max level veteran sooner or later.

    If this newbie was an alt, he is back to the same old badge-running in next to no time. Even faster with unnecessary misdevelopments like heirloom items that make levelling faster than it already is.

    Food for thought: If there would be no levels (or every maxes quickly early on before the bulk of the game is “over”) but rather ability unlocks like in Guild Wars, they could re-use the whole world so much easier.

    Imagine a world PvP event: Tauren Kitten stomping. Horde Tauren Druids stomp little kittens to honor nature, an Alliance PETA task force tries to rather stomp the evil Taurens…^^

  4. I don’t know that they’re necessarily expecting to hold endgame players for two years. The priority is to make Azeroth a nice place to (re-)visit. Yes, they’re going to be delivering less resources for endgame players as they divert time to the old world, but there’s no evidence that those players wouldn’t have used up the content and/or left due to burnout anyway. Besides, having the entire community too dead set on spending 100% of their time in WoW could actually be a problem in selling Blizzard’s other games.

    As to the leaks, my strong suspicion is that they’re not going to hold an external alpha. The NDA was an utter joke the last time around, and having an NDA’ed test would basically ensure that people googling alpha leaks will get keylogged. If they’re doing the alpha internally and jumping directly to beta, they’re not necessarily behind yet – it took four months for each of the past two betas.

    Also, Blizzard tends to infodump just before things come up for public testing, and, sure enough, we’ve had a bunch of really long walls of blue text on the gear revamps recently…..

  5. You didn’t mention the new secondary profession, Archaeology. That is the part I am looking forward to the most, and I hope it will not turn out as a spruced up version of mining or something I NEED to have maxed. WoW often feels to me like a game where the gameplay centres around maxing everything, your level, your professions, your talents, your glyphs, even your gear, which is the most time consuming part to max out.

    I certainly agree to the levelling through Outland and Northrend part, I feel that already with my alts, they always hit a wall at 60 and 70, and this will be only more pronounced in Cataclysm. Outland always felt kind of tacked onto vanilla content, and Northrend feels tacked onto Outland again. Not onto vanilla content, but onto content that already feels tacked on. This will only get worse for me as the new 80-85 content will feel tacked onto Northrend again.

    At least I know I will have a blast levelling my main to 85.

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  7. Outland/Northrend fatigue is certainly going to be an issue allright. I’m really not looking forward to that.

    Alts-ville. Between DK’s, BoA gear and the age old demand for tanks suddenly getting rewarded by ‘insta-dungeon’ a lot of folk have leveled alts lately. Will even a make over of Azeroth and the new races make that hold our attention for _that_ long?

    I guess we’ll find out but I also have my doubts.

  8. Some comments to the challenges you identified:

    There are quite some people who totally dislike PvP in any incarnation. No matter how big battlegrounds become, those won’t be impressed or enthralled.

    There are quite some hardcore raiders (or former hardcore raiders) who simply think that raiding isn’t worth it anymore. In vanilla raiders were close to halfgods.. everyone looked up to them and their gear made sure that they were the best in every single activity this game had to offer. Today being a raider means that you are pretty much normal, everyone (including yourself) knows that you are nothing special and the gear you aquire is only useful for raiding iteself. It can’t even be used to overgear 5-mans because you can do that easily without raiding. In short: Raiding is an activity that takes up much time, forces you to cope with people you may not like so much and offers less rewards than ever.

    “For alt-fans, an old worlde revamp, new races, and 5 new zones will certainly keep people busy for awhile”

    That might be a overly optimistic view. I think most people who really are altoholics already have 4-7 characters and most people have several classes they don’t like. New races are cool but they don’t help me if I have no classes left that interest me. Hell I already started classes I already have on 80 on new servers just to stay busy..

    @Fremskritt: I expect Archaelogy to be mandatory for every serious character. A skill that gives you passive boni will always be either mandatory or useless.

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  10. The whole dynamic needs to change, and that’s where Blizzard come in. All the starting zones are having a total reform, and every quest in 1-60 Azeroth (according to Blizz that’s EVERY quest) is going – and being replaced by new ones.
    We need a new way to play, not just new classes or races.
    As for the amount of centent – it looks pretty huge. Deadmines 85+ Heroic?
    @Frems and Kiseran. Any profession (or talent or whatever) that everyone needs to take is just eventually a “time sink”. Spend hour after hour levelling it up just to be the same as everyone else.
    They should look at EvE and the in depth economic model, guild V guild combat with proper guild halls.
    There are a lot of things they could do. Cataclysm though seems more like a re-envisioning of the existing rather than anything truly new.
    The difficult “third expansion”

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