World of Warcraft: The beginning of the Cataclysm

Blizzard is overhauling the way World of Warcraft functions and plays, and October 12, 2010 marked the release of the first of two patches for WoW. Read about the major changes in WoW patch 4.0.1.

October 12, 2010 marked the release of the first of two patches for Blizzard's immensely popular online game World of Warcraft. Patch 4.0.1 includes many of the game system changes that players have been expecting; these changes range from class changes to hardware support. On December 7, 2010, Blizzard will complete the changes to its online world with the release of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.

In this article, I highlight the major changes in patch 4.0.1. You can read the patch notes on the WoW site, as well as the marked-up notes at WoWWiki (including the Undocumented Changes page).

Character changes

Talent trees - In previous expansion packs, Blizzard has increased the talent trees from 31 points at level 60 to 41 points at level 70 and finally to 51 points at level 80. This has, in Blizzard's opinion, created a large number of "required" and "filler" talents that don't seem to add much to the play of the character. Because of this, the new talent trees will be reduced to 31 point trees again, however also reducing the wasted points as mentioned above.

Also, talent points used to be granted at each level from 10 and up, allowing the character to attain 71 points at level 80. Now talent points are only awarded every other level or so, granting 41 points by the time the character reaches level 85.

In addition, once a character chooses a tree at level 10, they must put 31 points in that tree before they are allowed to put points in either of the other two trees.

Spells and abilities - Most classes have experienced changes, additions, or deletions to their book of spells and abilities. Here some examples of the changes:
  • Death Knights - The Blood tree is now the dedicated tanking tree. Blood Presence and Frost Presence have been changed accordingly.
  • Druids - Bear form has been moved from level 10 to level 15, while Cat form has been moved from level 20 to level 8. This makes sense, as the Bear form is used for tanking, which isn't really done until level 15, whereas the Cat form is used for damage-dealing, which is used right away.
  • Hunters - Five pets may be stored with the hunter, allowing for easy swaps between a variety of play styles. Also, Hunters now start with a race-specific pet at level 1 instead of waiting until level 10 and learning how to tame. Hunters will now use Focus (like their pets) as a resource instead of Mana.
  • Mages - New fly-out UI feature for Portals and Teleports to reduce the number of spells listed in the Spellbook.
  • Paladins - New resource: Holy Power. Holy Power is accumulated while using certain spells and spent while using others. It seems to function similar to Rage (Warriors), Runic Power (Death Knights), or Combo Points (Rogues).
  • Warlocks - Another fly-out UI feature, this time for Minions. Warlocks will get an imp minion at level 1 instead of level 4.
  • Warriors - Rage has been normalized.

In addition to the spell changes, players will now be warned by a UI alert (the spell icon flashing in the command bar) when a spell is available; players will also be notified when a new spell is available upon leveling up via a notification in the chat window.

Spells no longer have different levels available for training; instead they scale with character level automatically.

Item changes

Blizzard has released many changes to in-game items that will affect how players play their characters.

Item stat changes - Many secondary stats are being removed from items; instead, these stats will be granted based on other stats. One example is the removal of Mana Per 5 Seconds (MP5); instead, Spirit will give more mana during cast time and non-cast time. Durability - Cloth, Leather, and Mail armor items have been equalized with Plate in terms of durability, which will make repair bills similar for all classes. Previously, Plate wearers, such as Warriors, Paladins, and Death Knights, had much larger armor repair bills than Cloth wearers. Reforging - In addition to enhancing their armor with Enchantments, players will be able to alter 40% of a secondary statistic on an armor piece or weapon to another stat that is not already present on the item. This will allow for more flexibility in gear choices and will surely increase the theorycrafting on sites such as Elitist Ammunition - Until now, all Guns and Bows required ammunition (bullets and arrows) to use; this especially affected Hunters because Guns and Bows are their primary weapons. Now, Guns and Bows will come with built-in ammo, eliminating the need to keep a healthy stock. Special currency - Almost all special currencies, such as Emblems and Marks of Honor, have been converted into Justice Points (PVE currencies) or Honor Points (PVP currencies). There is a complex calculation used for each previous currency type to calculate the new currency type. In addition, several older currencies have been converted into money. Glyphs - A third glyph type has been added, and several of the glyphs have been moved around between glyph types or deleted, depending on other spell changes. Also, several new glyphs have been added.

Interface changes

I've already mentioned the new fly-out UIs for Mages and Warlocks, as well as the Holy Power resource for Paladins, but there are many other UI changes that are character independent.

Character pane - All character stats are visible via a fly-out pane that expands from the right of the character pane. This has opened up more space for the character animation. Profession panes - Profession panes have been enhanced to allow for more filtering and searching, which add-ons have been doing for years. Also, there are buttons to link professions into the chat frame. Spellbook - Professions have been broken out from the main part of the Spellbook in order to provide more information on each profession. Also, spells such as Campfire have been placed within the Cooking Profession section for ease of access and because it is related. Guild UI - The new Guild UI allows for additional customization by the Guild Leader; it also prepares for the Guild Achievements coming in the next patch. It appears the ability to view guild members who are able to craft a specific recipe is present. Raid frames - New raid frames are available; these frames have been implemented as an alternative to third-party add-ons. The frames can be used instead of the standard party frames. Raid Lock system - The new Raid Lock system allows for greater customization and blending of Raid parties. Basically, each boss encounter in a Raid (starting with Icecrown Citadel and The Ruby Sanctum and continuing with Cataclysm raids) is on its own lockout regardless of whether it is 10-man regular or 25-man regular difficulty. This means a guild that raids normally as a 25-man can split into two 10-man parties if five of their players need to leave or cannot log in for a subsequent raid night. It also means, however, that guilds cannot run both the 10-man version and the 25-man version in the same week, so Blizzard has equalized the gear, and it sounds like they've increased the amount that drops.

Hardware and system changes

Launcher - The new launcher will allow players to begin playing without necessarily downloading an entire future patch. When logged into the game, players without a fully updated patch may experience delays and "force-fields" to keep them out of areas where game content has not yet been downloaded. Effects rendering - Water and Lava have been completely redesigned with a brand new rendering engine. Also Sunshafts are able to be turned on via the graphics options. Improved hardware support - Multiple monitors are now supported. Also OpenGL Hardware Cursors are supported in Windows clients via the graphics option pane. There is experimental support for DirectX 11 either by command line switch or adding a line to the Config.WTF file; this feature may not be present until the next patch (I am unable to test for it on my hardware).

More Cataclysm coverage coming soon

Watch for our coverage of the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm patch 4.0.3, which will probably come out in late November. We'll also publish a review of the new features, zones, and races in the Cataclysm expansion pack soon after its release on December 7, 2010.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm gallery on TechRepublic

Take a look at this TechRepublic gallery in which I present screenshots from the World of Warcraft client before and after the Cataclysm Systems 4.0.1 patch.