Cataclysm, even more so than any previous expansion, really redesigned how classes level up and their basic functionality. Some classes, like paladins, saw an entirely new resource mechanic. Others found themselves turned away from previous core concepts (like a death knight's ability to tank or DPS in any tree) or given a more clearly defined role from the start.
In the process, while many players had to relearn their classes, someone like me can come along and try again on a class that feels much more fluid and dynamic to level. I have started 16 druids over the years, only to delete them by level 20, so the sleek, compact redesign of the class was a revelation to me.
This, of cours,e does beg the question of the inverse. If a redesign makes the class easier to pick up but turns off the long-term players, did we gain or lose something?
I remember talking to a lot of long-term paladin players when the Holy Power change debuted. Some of them thought it was great; others said it made the class unrecognizable. It reminded me of the changes to protection in Wrath of the Lich King that turned the least viable soloing spec into the most viable leveling one. While I doubt I could say those changes were bad for the class overall, as a long-time warrior, I had to deal with a bunch of newcomers who were raving about prot leveling and had never tried to do it in vanilla or BC, when it was bloody hard.
Yes, this means long-time feral druids get to make fun of me now. I recognize this.
The right time for change
Expansions tend to be the opportune time for major changes to game design, including how classes are balanced and laid out. Cataclysm took the design paradigm of the original game and two expansions and stripped out a lot of talents, while making talent specialization more meaningful from the start. On top of that, the expansion changed long-term mechanics for rage users and added new mechanics to other classes to alter how their resource systems functioned.
This means that people (like me) who didn't like a class before might find it much more palatable and even enjoyable now. It also means people who were used to the way the class worked over course of one or two expansions may find themselves bewildered or just put off by the new modus operandi. If you liked all three warrior specs having Shield Slam, losing it to a protection-only talent specialization ability seems like slamming the door on arms and fury tanking while leveling, which was at one time my favorite part of playing a warrior. (I tanked all of vanilla content up to Naxxramas 40-man as a fury tank.) While Cataclysm did not provide a whole new class to cause rerolling and shake up the population like Wrath did, in a way it provided almost 30 new classes in terms of how profound the changes could be to a spec.
This is the tightrope that must be walked with each expansion to the game, and I doubt Cataclysm could have gone forward simply adding five new talent points and calling it a day. A redesign simplifying the talent trees was most likely required. In the end, at least for me, it's made at least one class and spec I could never, ever play into one I can't stop playing.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.