For me, there’s something about World of Warcraft expansions and birthdays. Mists of Pandaria was released on my birthday, Wrath of the Lich King, my grandma’s birthday, and Cataclysm – my mother’s. I have fond memories of eating cake and giving gifts in honor of someone in my family at 8 pm, only to stay up into the frighteningly long hours of the night, supported by an unhealthy sugar rush.
December 6, 2010, one day before the launch of Cataclysm, was no different. Waiting all day for December 7 to inevitably arrive was torture, but the following day – one spent with my bloodshot eyes glued to my prehistoric laptop – was one of pure bliss.
And now, 8 years later, it’s definitive to me that Cataclysm, while certainly one of the most controversial and problematic expansions, is still one that has held up throughout the years and has definitely held up as the quests, zones, instances, and content as a whole have all left a serious mark on World of Warcraft even today. Cataclysm’s legacy is one that may not have left an immediate impact, but now, eight years to the date after it hit the live servers, we’re still living with its effects.
Obviously, the greatest long-standing effect that Cataclysm had on the overall landscape of the game was the literal breaking of the world that Azeroth had undergone. The actual cataclysmic event that Deathwing brought to our world swept across the entirety of the map, and has still left its lasting impression on the playerbase in 2018. Menethil Harbor is still flooded, Auberdine still hasn’t been rebuilt, and parts of Tanaris are still completely underwater. As a matter of fact, we’ve been living with the post-Cataclysm map longer than we played on the game’s vanilla world.
There’s a certain horror and beauty to Cataclysm, as even though it was obvious that Deathwing had quite literally ripped our world in two, we, the playerbase, were able to find new life in a game we had called home for years. For me, that’s what makes Cataclysm so special. The idea of finding beauty in destruction was one of the most major themes of the expansion, and it has most definitely carried over into today’s iteration of the game. Over the course of its lifespan, we experienced the death and destruction that the expansion had to offer, only to take it and find life. Before we even had the chance to harp on the chaos, we were already rebuilding.
And perhaps, that might have been the best course of action we could have taken. Cataclysm is unfortunately looked at as one of the weaker blemishes on the history of WoW. Although the expansion certainly provided us with lasting impressions, much of it’s legacy is riddled with disappointments and holes. Whether it was scrapped ideas, a massive wait for new content, some sort of gigantic letdown, or a combination of all three, Cataclysm was filled to the brim with problems.
During nearly every major cycle, Cataclysm found another way to rewrite the book on disappointment. Between the massive “water raid” that was supposed to launch alongside The Firelands in Patch 4.2, or the seemingly emptiness of Dragon Soul, the expansion’s final raid that featured dragon rides and portals in between boss fights (with nearly no trash at all), it became clear that Cataclysm was taking up the same characteristics of the world which it had created. Words like broken, distant, and patchworked could not only describe the state of Azeroth, but the state of the game which the world called home.
Even beyond the story and physical implications of the expansion, the gameplay-focused pieces of content like instances, battlegrounds, and raids within were, contrary to popular belief, some of the strongest that WoW had offered up to that point. Even today, plenty of the PvE content found in Cataclysm holds up to the standards of the modern game. Dungeons like the Throne of the Tides and the Lost City of the Tol’Vir are still some of the best 5-man experiences in the game. I occasionally revisit them, and when I do, I often think back to the difficult challenges they presented during the early stages of Cataclysm.
Additionally, I can’t help but harp on the memories that were made running those dungeons, as the sound of snow falling on my windowpane was accompanied by the blaring horns of Deadly Boss Mods ringing in my ears – a starch reminder that even though Winter was well into its lofty tenure, World of Warcraft still remained a top priority.
Also, the design of the dungeons in Cataclysm was unrivaled for its time, and the encounters started to include seriously difficult mechanics that engaged the playerbase more so than ever before. Raids like the Bastion of Twilight and Blackwing Descent engaged the raiding community to an incredibly degree. Even though Icecrown Citadel and the high standard of raiding that Wrath had established was certainly a tough act to follow, Cataclysm’s most intense pieces of content gave raiders plenty of reasons to return to the game every single night.
However, by the time the dust had settled in the Summer of 2012, the playerbase was ready for Mists of Pandaria. And despite the overwhelming presence of “Pandaland” and “Kung Fu Panda” jokes, fans of WoW were anticipating the concept of change more than anything else. The Cataclysm had not only burned out Azeroth, but its heroes, and the community was ready for something different. We were ready to return to the roots of WoW, and most of all we were ready to follow Blizzard once more into the breach.
I like to think of the 2010-2016 as a sort of experiment for World of Warcraft. Between expansions surrounding a literal transformation of the world, a discovery of a new continent shrouded in mystery, and a trip back into the past (which we won’t cover in this piece, thank god), it’s obvious that Blizzard was willing to take risks. And although we may not look at Cataclysm in high regard 8 years after its initial launch, it’s obvious that the steps made during that time were necessary and pivotal when it came to progressing the game into the state it’s in, today.
Photo Credit: Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft