The new high-level zones are similarly story focused, resulting in quests that are less tedious level-treadmills and more self-contained story arcs with the occasional earth-shattering cameo from good ol' Deathwing. Among the five new zones, Vash’jir and Uldum are the biggest standouts - though it'd be a stretch to call any of them (save maybe Mount Hyjal) mediocre. See, Vash’jir's almost entirely underwater, making for an utterly gorgeous change of pace, and Uldum's a generally hilarious take on Egyptian legends. In all cases, though, questing is a much more focused experience. Instead of spending the better part of your time in transit from point A to point B, you'll generally have two-to-three interlocking quests in a given area. For instance, you might need to kill a certain type of enemy - who might drop a required item for a different quest - while also freeing prisoners or destroying enemy weapons caches. Other times, you might hop on top of a starving shark and rodeo-ride it until your annoying, stab-happy enemies are just particularly happy memories in some shark's “best day ever” collage. That's fun too.
Above: Unfortunately, you don't get to keep this adorable little killing machine
Quest variety's not the only major improvement here, though. Cataclysm also makes extensive use of “phasing” technology, which allows quests to radically alter and permanently change in-game areas. At one point, we completed a long quest chain only to cheerily skip away from our quest-giver and find that comfortable, familiar landmass (we'd even made plans to have brunch with it early the next week) completely torn from the face of the earth. Similarly, giant, semi-instanced battles frequently erupt mid-quest. Without a doubt, Cataclysm puts the war back in Warcraft, and the end result is that you don't feel like just another ant skittering around on Blizzard's boot. Your actions actually have tangible consequences, and even if it is all smoke and mirrors, the effect is pretty darn cool. You feel like a big damn hero. In a game where there are millions of other people - some of them 12-years old and somehow 12 times more proficient than you'll ever be - that's a huge accomplishment.
Even then, however, many quests still boil down to killing dudes and collecting stuff. Thing is, Cataclysm puts the emphasis on “how” instead of “what.” And that, of course, makes it all the more glaring when you occasionally encounter an area totally devoid of bells and whistles. The bottom line? Cataclysm isn't necessarily a solution to the “problem” of traditional MMO structure. It's just a new (and generally excellent) spin on the same old thing. Point is, it's not a revolution, so odds are, Mr. Consummate WoW-Hater, Cataclysm won't have you donning a “For the Horde” T-shirt and singing Blizzard's praises to the heavens.
Above: Have we mentioned how impossibly beautiful this game continues to be?
Cataclysm's new high-level dungeons share questing's mantra of speed and focus, but also toss in a new tenant: difficulty. Compared to previous WoW dungeons, they're practically bite-sized, but they make up for it by requiring smartly organized teamwork and real knowledge of how your class operates. If you've got some friends or a few guild buddies in your corner, it's utterly satisfying. However, you might hit a few roadblocks with a band of random strangers. That, however, is much less of an issue once you step up to the big leagues and start running heroic dungeons. See, heroics now require a certain cumulative gear level, and the best way to reach it is by running the regular versions of said dungeons. As a result, the wheat's separated from the chaff, so inexperienced players aren't able to pull a Leeroy Jenkins on your heroic runs.