World of WarCraft: Cataclysm Hands-On Preview

Recently, I took a trip to Blizzard's offices to get a look at the latest build of World of WarCraft: Cataclysm, currently in a closed alpha test for "friends and family". While much of the endgame raid content remains a mystery to me (now I know what non-StarCraft playing journalists feel like when Dustin Browder is explaining Ghost spell kits), I did get to play levels 1-4 of both new races: the Worgen (Alliance) and Goblins (Horde).


The Worgen, previously enemies in the game, are now playable on the Alliance side. Their new starting zone of Gilneas is under attack from Werewolves. The player begins at level 1 as an ordinary human, rushing around the besieged city rescuing civilians and assisting the king. Blizzard uses its phasing technique heavily here to make it seem like the quest-giving NPC's are following you from objective to objective.

There is a bit of awkward "vehicle"-based gameplay on the back of a horse and most of the quests are standard fair - kill 10 of these, collect 5 of these, rescue 6 people, etc. - but it nicely sets up the player's deeds in service of Gilneas. This will have some meaning as the player is quickly afflicted with the Worgen disease, turning them into a man-wolf. It is at this point that you find out you were playing a flashback. You jump back to present day in the stocks, called upon to defend what remains from another Forsaken attack.

The Goblin origin, however, is something completely different. Every player will begin as the Goblin proprietor of a lucrative soda-pop business in the unique-looking city of Kezan. The starting quests have the player cruising around town in his or her car picking up friends, "motivating" the troll workers mining the ore needed to make the product, and intimidating (via physical violence) would be opponents.


One quest has the player playing in a sports game, controlling a robot throwing bombs at oncoming enemies. One bomb is thrown a bit too far and causes a chain reaction within the nearby volcano. The entire region is going to be destroyed so it's a mad dash to the bank to remove your assets, a quick side-trip to rob your chief rival, and help as many Goblins escape as possible. What Goblins do survive, yourself included, will end up shipwrecked on the Lost Isles (seen at BlizzCon 2009).

It's certainly a change of pace from the usual doom and gloom immediately found in WoW. The Goblin starting zone is littered with humor, pop-culture references ("gasoline fight!"), and clever quest progression. Sadly, by comparison, the Worgen start seems stale. I was not able to sample any of the post-level 80 content in my short playtime, however.

All World of WarCraft players, however, will be able to experience the new look and lore of Azeroth as the game's story explores life after Arthas, the Lich King introduced in WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne and finally defeated in World of WarCraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Cataclysm's main adversary is Deathwing, the leader of the black dragonflight.

Deathwing, long thought to be dead, had been hiding and healing in Deepholm until finally emerging in a giant cataclysmic (get it?) event that scarred Azeroth, changing it forever. To this end, much of the old content has been redone, redesigned, and streamlined. If you want to play the Goblins or Worgens, however, be prepared to pony up some change for this pack.

World of WarCraft: Cataclysm is shaping up to be the biggest expansion in the MMORPG's five year history. Purchasers will gain access to the Goblins and the Worgen, as well as five more levels to gain bringing to total up to 85. No release date has been set, but the closed beta test should be underway "sooner, rather than later".