In terms of lore, there was initially a lot more to come in Cataclysm after the initial launch. The first major content patch planned was going to throw a raid covering what happens to Neptulon, Elemental Lord of Water, who got kidnapped by a giant squid at the end of Throne of the Tides. You might remember seeing previews of the Abyssal Maw raid at BlizzCon 2010.
Well, the Abyssal Maw never happened. Blizzard saw how people reacted to Vashj’ir and were having trouble getting up any excitement themselves for more underwater shenanigans inside of giant seashells or jellyfish, so Abyssal Maw got scrapped and all their efforts got focused on the Firelands raid, which would complete the Ragnaros narrative that had been left dangling in Mount Hyjal. But THAT process took so many resources to do that it needed to get pushed back to 4.2. And in an effort to keep players entertained while they finished Rag’s pedicure (just go with it), they threw out 4.1: Rise of the Zandalari.
BURNINATING THE COUNTRYSI- no wait trolls first
Blizzard’s original mix on the Zandalari coming into Cataclysm was that their homeland was sinking, and they were empowering some of their baddest dudes to try and secure a place for the Zandalari to go. My remix on Friday covered that relatively close to the original, but the core stuff went like this:
- Zul’Aman got re-cut as a 5-man, with the timed Bear run still in place (because all the animal bosses were still there) but with a new final boss (Daakara) who worked slightly differently from Zul’jin. (No one really has an explanation for the switch, but aside from some bonus trash it’s the most significant change to ZA.)
- Zul’Gurub got completely remixed: while the layout was the same, some areas (the Spider-boss location) were blocked off, the Edge of Madness was altered completely, and while some of the bosses share names with their original versions, the boss mechanics are wildly different. Aside from Jin’do and Mandokir, only the Snake-boss (Venoxis) and the Panther-boss (originally Arlokk but now her sister Kilnara) remain, Tiger and Bat are replaced with optional mini-bosses, and all over the place there are environmental hazards like rolling boulders, flamethrower turrets, and exploding poison flowers that change up the landscape completely.
The cool thing about the remixes is that it made ZA accessible and the infamous Bear run something you could attempt with LFD, and it made ZG both much more modern and simultaneously more of a throwback raid because of the sheer amount of optional stuff there was do in there. The big problem with the remixes was that they were the only content in 4.1. The dungeon drops were half a tier higher than the launch heroic drops, and they rewarded twice as many valor points as the launch heroics, meaning they were super-optimal for players. Meaning in order to hit valor caps and maximize upgrades without going into the launch raids, people were chain-running TWO HEROICS over and over, every week. There was a LOT of burnout. Which makes for a great segue into…
BURNINATING THA COUNTRYSIDE (for real this time)
Patch 4.2 brought us to the Firelands to face off against Ragnaros on his home turf. When we killed him in Molten Core, all we did was banish him from the mortal plane. Killing him in the Firelands will end him permanently. But getting to him is going to require cutting our way through the many, many denizens of the Firelands, including but not limited to a buuuuuunch of angry Flamewakers, a giant flaming spider, a walking volcano, a green dragon warped into becoming a flaming firebird (featuring the greatest aerial combat sequence in the game), and Majordomo Fandral Staghelm. Oh, and core hounds. LOTSA core hounds.
It also altered Mount Hyjal slightly, in terms of adding in some new daily quests that opened up the gateway to the Firelands, as well as creating a daily area WITHIN the Firelands that focused on disabling Ragnaros’ defenses and growing an exceptionally fire-retardant tree in the Firelands to further counter the Firelord’s power.
Something else in 4.2, for all the non-raiders, was the Elemental Bonds questchain, which capitalized on carrying forward Thrall’s journey as the World Shaman.
“Wait, what? World Shaman?” I hear you say.
*deep breath* So back before the Shattering, Thrall sensed the Elements were going bonkers, so he and the Earthen Ring rolled to Outland to talk to the elements of a world that had been destroyed. While there he meets a Mag’hari Earthen Ring shaman named Aggra, who basically spends a lot of time smacking him around for thinking he can be a shaman and a warchief at the same time. (Most of this gets covered in Christie Golden’s The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm.)
This is why Thrall offloads his warchief duties to Garrosh Hellscream, and why he drops the armor and rocks a hoodie and a big bead necklace. He dedicates himself to becoming the World Shaman so he can heal the world. (Oh, and Aggra starts warming up to him.)
The Elemental Bonds questchain starts off with Thrall attempting to link up with the Cenarion Circle and the Dragon Aspects to try and heal Nordrassil fully, thinking that might help the world mend itself. Before the ritual can start, Fandral Staghelm, empowered by Ragnaros, drops in and curses Thrall, splitting his essence and scattering him to the four elemental planes. Aggra takes any heroes who’ll go along with her and chases after Thrall’s essence in each plane, revealing the struggles he faces within; his desire for peace, love, and progeny, his doubts over putting Garrosh in charge, and his rage over the thoughtless war and death that Garrosh and Varian Wrynn have wreaked upon the world. At the end of it all, Aggra is able to reassemble Thrall, and they continue on together with new resolve. (Oh, and Thrall proposes traditional orcish lifemate bonding wedding thing, and all the Dragon Aspects and Jaina are there and it’s really pretty awkward but roll with it.)
The Firelands raid overall was pretty straightforward, even though a lot of people complained about there being too much trash (which was because of all the haters that didn’t like the dearth of trash in launch raids) and was in many ways a remix of Molten Core. When you look at it, Molten Core wasn’t a very diverse raid: it was a LOT of trash, where the bosses where either super-sized versions of the trash mobs OR were a bunch of flamewakers who’s only mechanics boiled down to “dispel spam” or “interrupts”. Firelands made the Plane of Fire feel like it had more an ecosystem to it, and the bosses were very distinct from the trash in addition to having some complicated mechanics to them.
The Elemental Bonds questchain served to deliver story on Thrall that wasn’t contained in a novel, but had some quirky mechanisms at each stage, in addition to being something that multiple characters not linked together were attempting to do simultaneously. And the big thing it did (aside from showing Aggra being really hung up about Thrall) was convince everyone that Blizzard needed a better method to deliver story within the confines of the game that didn’t require extensive art development. Thankfully, a solution for that was in the pipe for Mists of Pandaria.
With Ragnaros’ defeat, all of the major conflicts presented in Cataclysm had been resolved, aside from the faction war and Deathwing himself. Guess what’s coming next. ^_^