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Cataclysm hits World of Warcraft

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Cataclysm: new races

Normal practice, when releasing an expansion for an online role-playing game, is to target it at veteran players, giving them new lands to explore, harder enemies to defeat, and new challenges to face -- and to steer
clear of messing too much with established world traditions.

But World of Warcraft isn't exactly a normal online role-playing game. And
its third expansion pack, Cataclysm, isn't a run-of-the-mill set of new
content, like prior expansions Wrath of the Lich King and Burning
Crusade
. Instead, it unleashes an ancient evil upon the game's familiar
world -- largely unchanged for the six years since its launch --
shattering it beyond recognition.

Talk about a bold move. Boasting over 12 million players, World of Warcraft
is far and away the most successful online role-playing game ever made,
and has been since shortly after its 2004 launch. Developer Blizzard can
rely on each of those players pouring regular subscription fees
(currently about $15 per month for US customers) into its coffers -- an
estimated billion dollars in revenue, every year.

So why risk alienating such a solid, established audience? It's all about
attracting new players -- and convincing retired WoW warriors to come
back for another hit. Although the game's older lands hold plenty of
nostalgia value, they were starting to show their age next to newer
content. Overhauling them gives Blizzard's designers the chance to hone
the game's experience for new players, introducing extra cinematics,
tighter, more directed gameplay, and better visuals. And for the old
hands, there's nothing like a makeover -- supplied courtesy of
Deathwing, a vast, flaming dragon from Warcraft's ancient lore -- to put
a new face on old regions.

Of course, there's more than just a new look to excite the Warcraft
faithful. The game's level cap, which puts a ceiling on a player's
possible advancement, goes from 80 to 85, and while it's possible to
make that jump in just a few hours, it's still a major boon for those
with existing, high level characters. Two new playable races, the
green-skinned Goblins and werewolf-like Worgen, also debut. And new
dungeons, bosses, and extra-hard "heroic" versions of familiar
encounters will give the hardcore plenty to keep them busy.

The approach seems to be a hit with both critics and players. Venturebeat's Matthew Lynley calls the new content's writing "sharp" and the revamped world "an incredible testament to the ability of Blizzard's developers." Gameculture's
John Keefer called its dungeons "challenging" and its story "involved
and interesting." Players, armed with the new expansion, are crowding
servers -- in some cases, bringing them to "a screeching halt" under their weight.

In other words, it's selling. In fact, it's nigh guaranteed to be the
top-selling PC game of the year, and should easily surpass the
impressive totals of July's Starcraft II -- also a Blizzard release.
Warcraft's last expansion, 2008's Wrath of the Lich King, sold 2.8
million copies in its first 24 hours of availability, and Cataclysm is
expected to do as well...or better.

Has Cataclysm enticed you back into Azeroth? What do you think of the changes? Let us know in the comments.

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