The world team over at Blizzard have a unique opportunity with Cataclysm. The vastness of Azeroth was arguably one of the selling points of World of Warcraft when it launched in 2004, but the starting story experience of its individual races and cultures was the true reason so many gamers were hooked. The quests that you undertook in the first 20 levels shaped not only your character but also your impressions of your people and your place in Azeroth society. But now with Cataclsym, the designers have a chance to revisit those old stories and, in some cases, give players a sense that time has passed for not only the players but also the rest of the world. Examining a few of the quests that you might experience in the reshaped zone of the Northern Barrens gives us a glimpse of the kinds of ongoing stories that Blizzard tells in Cataclysm.
The fact that the world has changed is apparent as soon as you travel to the Barrens in the western continent of Kalimdor and see the huge chasm of molten lava that flows through the once-pristine steppe. Besides a goblin trike zooming along the ridge with its diminutive green-skinned owner at the wheel, things are clearly different here, but it's the characters that make the difference.
Back in original WoW, the early Barrens chat was filled with the cries of newbs desperate to find Mankrik's wife. Mankrik was lonely orc in a tent by the side of the Gold Road south of the Crossroads. The married couple was beset by deadly Bristleback quillboars, and got separated in the fighting. Mankrik asks you to find his wife for him, but her lifeless body is all that remains. Enraged by his wife's demise, Mankrik tells you kill as many of the quillboars as you can. "I've killed every pig man I've come across since, but my thirst for their blood is far from quenched," he says.
In Cataclysm, Mankrik has taken residence near the caravans that have begun pushing forward into the Barrens, but he is still obsessed with revenge. Once you complete his quest, however, he thanks you for helping him recover from the loss of his wife. "I cannot say that my hatred will ever cease for the quillboar, but it is satiated for now. Now I must rebuild my life." By allowing players to help a familiar character deal with his anger and lust for revenge in Cataclysm, the designers make you feel like you are an active part of the world. It's a subtle shift from the static quests of WoW because it dramatizes another part of an ongoing story.
The alchemical experiments of the undead Forsaken were a large part of their flavor in vanilla WoW. There was a Forsaken questgiver in the Crossroads of the Barrens that tasked you with collecting samples of the mushrooms that have grown in the oases in the region. But in Cataclsym, when you take the samples to a Forsaken agent in Ratchet, an Orc operative stops you and confiscates the precious cargo. "What are you two conspiring?" the Orc asks accusingly.