Last week, we covered Deathwing's shortcomings and the non-reappearance of Kul Tiras. This week, we'll talk about my biggest beef with the run up to Mists of Pandaria, and then segue into a general complaint I had about Cataclysm as a whole. Some of this actually predates 2012, but it's easier to see in the hindsight we all get once enough time passed, so it serves us as well to discuss it now as it would at any other time.
So let's get started by saying this: I really disliked the lack of a pre-expansion event. The ones for Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King and even Cataclysm weren't always spectacular, but they did a really good job of giving you the feeling that everything was about to change. The lead-up to Wrath with the zombie plague was controversial at times, but it was memorable, it served as a really clear line of demarcation and set up a lot of elements that would be taken up later. Garrosh Hellscream went from 'whiny dude crying in Nagrand' to 'warrior willing to challenge his warchief to Mak'Gora' in a pre-expansion event. The Cataclysm pre-launch event had some excellent little moments in it, the return of Rexxar, and gave us the first new AQ content in years.
I understand that Pandaria didn't pose the same kind of situation - instead of Pandaria hosting a threat that comes forth to affect the wider world, the Horde and Alliance bring their war to Pandaria and threaten it - but I still lamented this lack. Something as simple as a Horde/Alliance airship battle that ended with us crashing on the new continent could have worked.
Why Theramore failed
For me, the biggest misstep is the Theramore scenario.
First off, it doesn't do much at all to give you any real sense of the story importance of the event. Considering how useful other scenarios have been (especially the new ones in patch 5.1) in giving us story that we can actually play through in game (I especially love Dagger in the Dark for this) it may not be fair to judge Theramore for its failure here as it was the first scenario designed, but it seems unavoidable. Honestly, I think the Horde version of the scenario does a better job of at least giving you a bit of the story behind the event at the very end with Thalen Songweaver's revelation of Garrosh's true intentions for the siege.
Interestingly, Thalen Songweaver also stands out as an initial sign that the Kirin Tor and Sunreavers weren't going to stay allied - Aethas Sunreaver himself recommended Thalen for the job at hand, and he immediately betrayed the Kirin Tor and caused the death of Rhonin in so doing, foreshadowing the events of patch 5.1.
The Alliance scenario, on the other hand, has no such positives. You arrive after the destruction of Theramore, not even as some kind of crack commando unit like the Horde players, but rather as just random people who were taking the boat to Theramore and who stumbled upon the carnage. How this passenger vessel gets past the battling Horde and Alliance ships, arrives at a city that was just annihilated by a mana bomb and doesn't immediately leave for somewhere else I won't pretend to understand. But okay, so we're a boatload of people who just happened to be going to Theramore, and luckily three of us are adventurers who can take on the Horde war machine, carve a path to Jaina's side, assist her in defeating the rest of the Horde forces and help her reclaim the Focusing Iris.
Now, leaving aside the fact that none of that happens in the book (Jaina reclaims it alone) it doesn't really accomplish anything. Theramore's destruction took place before you even arrive, and defeating the Horde forces there is kind of pointless - no amount of smashing giant Horde tanks is going to un-blow up the place. While it does give you a sense of the city's devastation, it basically just feels like showing up to lock the barn door after the barn was burned down.
Now that we've talked about pre-expansion and Theramore, there's one thing I really felt Cataclysm missed out on, and that's Arathi Highlands. Frankly, with zones like the Eastern and Western Plaguelands, Hillsbrad/Alterac and Silverpine all heavily redesigned, Arathi sticks out like a sore thumb. Yes, I'm arguing that even more time should have been spent on a pre-sixty zone in an expansion that split its focus too much between zone revamps and new content, but hear me out before getting the torches and pitchforks ready.
I'm not arguing that they should have done more with Arathi in addition to all the zones they revamped. I specifically think certain zones like Desolace and Feralas could have done with less (especially Desolace, which just seems odd nowadays) and Arathi could have seen some of that development time. There are hints of this in the zone, with the Forsaken establishing a camp to the west with Galen Trollbane raised as a Forsaken. Frankly, there was a lot of potential for Horde/Alliance conflict here that really didn't get realized. We have Danath Trollbane, who really should long since have gotten to come home and set his family's house in order, and Galen the risen servant of Sylvanas seeking to bring the oldest human kingdom on Azeroth into the undead fold. Symbolically, whoever controls Stromgarde holds the history of humanity on Azeroth in their hands.
I also believe that it's long past time that we get a five man dungeon out of the ancient Trollbane vaults and the treasures that would have collected there after the Troll Wars. Forsaken would want to claim those for Sylvanas, Horde troll players would want to keep them out of anyone's hands because most of them were either seized from trolls or designed to be used against them, and the Alliance would want them both for the prestige and as weapons to use against the Horde. In the end, the lack of development in Arathi was, in my eyes, the biggest loss in terms of what might have been in the entire Cataclysm.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.