We were nearly out, damn it. We were so close. We had friends. We had a decent job. We hadn't (recently) left any children to die during one of our 22-hour marathon binges. We were finally free. And then Cataclysm happened. Now the mere act of writing this review is causing us to break out into a cold, nervous sweat. We're hooked worse than ever, and we blame it entirely on the fact that World of Warcraft is now the best it's ever been.
With Cataclysm, Blizzard's mostly outdone itself. Minus the implied parental negligence (Spoiler: We don't have kids. Court order), our above anecdote was more or less true. We were finished with WoW. Done. Tired of the grind. Sick of raiding. Cataclysm, though, is a huge change. It's not simply quiet whispers of “just another expansion pack” being distorted by the PR megaphone. Sure, it's still fundamentally an MMO - for better or worse - but this is an expansion that literally breaks new ground, making it well worth a look for newcomers and burnt-out veterans alike.
Above: SE-PHI-ROTH! DUN DUN DUN DUN
So, first things first: for the purposes of this review, we'll be focusing on the bits that you're actually paying for. The version of Azeroth that looks like it's been forced through a giant dragon-shaped wood chipper is actually free, assuming you've already purchased vanilla WoW. Just fire up the game, download the latest patch, and - holy cow - Stranglethorn Vale doesn't suck anymore. It's a miracle! So we're evaluating the two new races (Goblins and Worgen), a fantastic smattering of high-level content, and a few other odds-and-ends.
Now, if you're a long-time player, you might be thinking “two new races and no new classes - what's the point?” And yeah, speaking purely in terms of nitty-gritty nuts and bolts, differences between WoW's races - new ones included - are mostly cosmetic. Even so, it's a fresh face/backside to stare at for 300 hours and, more importantly, both races' starting areas do a fantastic job of providing actual character for avatars that previously served as lifeless vehicles for your adventures. Whether you go green with a Goblin or Team-Jacob-but-not-awful with a Worgen, your first 13 or so levels encompass a fast-paced overarching storyline that imbues your race with an actual identity.
Above: “That's right, everyone! Shoot the evil monster horse! I have a hat, so I'm just like you!”
Worgen, interestingly, don't spring from Blizzard's collective womb as mangy messes of fur and fangs. Instead, you're just an average Joe human whose homeland gets invaded by foaming-at-the-mouth feral werewolves. Naturally, you get bitten and find yourself seeking a way to tame your inner beast while helping your comrades fight a losing battle against other wolves, the Forsaken, and - oh yeah - Deathwing. It's one of Warcraft's darker plotlines, and it's extremely well-executed. You'll participate in hundred-man battles, clash blades with a number of familiar faces from Warcraft lore, and watch entire landmasses get torn in two. Put simply, you'll actually want to read the quest text this time around.
For all the Worgen's gothic intrigue, however, the explosion-loving Goblins will give you far more bang for your buck. Frequently hilarious and chock-full of pop culture references, the Goblins' early goings are pretty much the Worgen's polar opposite. The adventure's no less epic, however. Don't believe us? Try saying that after you've killed Cthulhu at level nine. Granted, it gets a bit bogged down in basic kill/collect quests toward the middle, but moments like flying a fighter plane and rounding up your posse (Blizzard's words, not ours) for a ritzy party make up for it in a big way.