World of Warcraft Classic is getting the divisive Cataclysm expansion, the reason most WoW players wanted Classic in the first place

World of Warcraft fans got some big news at BlizzCon today with the announcement that the world-changing Cataclysm expansion is coming to WoW Classic.

Originally released in 2010, Cataclysm was the third expansion for World of Warcraft, and was both critically acclaimed and a huge commercial hit at the time: We called it "a triumph" that made World of Warcraft "the best MMO in the world" in our 93% review.

Predictably, the Classic take on Cataclysm will make a few changes to the formula to keep the action flowing, including faster content cadence and leveling, a new "dungeon difficulty system" (that will be added after launch), a "Dungeon Group Finder" that promises to simplify the process of teaming up with other players, and the addition of account-wide mounts, pets, and transmogs.

Cataclysm Classic will also offer new dungeons and new raids, the addition of worgen and goblins, an increase in the level cap to 85, and various other tweaks and changes.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Maybe the most interesting thing about the addition of Cataclysm to World of Warcraft Classic is the fact that it's happening at all. Cataclysm is often cited as the reason that many players wanted a reset to the vanilla version of WoW in the first place, because it literally changed the game world. The return of Deathwing the Destroyer wrought massive changes in many of WoW's maps, and also brought about changes to game system that made the overall experience smoother and more accessible.

Not everyone was happy about that.

"In a lot of ways, Cataclysm is the reason players petitioned for a service like World of Warcraft: Classic in the first place," we wrote in a 2018 report on WoW: Cataclysm private servers. "Azerothians have constantly pined for this MMO as they knew it during its savage early years back in 2004.

"For the most part, when people opine about Cataclysm's shortcomings, they fixate on how the old world—the World of Warcraft they grew up playing—was permanently pruned from the map. Now, your only hopes to hunt down those memories lived on clandestine vanilla private servers, or the forthcoming universe-resetting World of Warcraft: Classic."

In that light, bringing Cataclysm to Classic—which exists in large part to undo what Cataclysm did—seems a little counterintuitive. But my assumption is that Cataclysm, like Wrath of the Lich King Classic, will exist as a separate entity—essentially a standalone game—rather than a conventional expansion that all Classic players are forced to move to. If that happens, it means players who really do prefer the pre-Cataclysm World of Warcraft will be able to continue enjoying it as is.

We'll be waiting a while yet to find out: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Classic doesn't have a release date at this point but it's expected to be out in the first half of 2024.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.