In preparing this post mortem, I did a lot of reading. I read through my entire archives, and wandered through others blogs as well, trying to remember exactly what I thought and felt going into Cat. Honestly, I think where I was coming into Cat and Wraith, and where I am now going into Mists has a great deal to do with how I felt about them. Also, since this is my 325th blog post (yay me!), I figured I could wander down memory lane for a bit. So, yeah, long post ahead.
I started playing late in BC (August/Sept '08? '08, seriously, I've been playing this game that long?!?). When Wraith hit my main (Garetia, my nelf hunter) was in her 50s. I had just started blogging in December. I remember the undead invasions in SW (my baby pally actually got to help kill undead which I greatly enjoyed) and I remember watching the harbor thing and thinking it was the coolest thing ever and I couldn't wait to get to actually participate in stuff like that. Everything was still very shiny and new. I was Alliance because that's where my friends were, and a hunter because she died less than the mage (once I got to level 10). This is the first ever blog post.
I hit 80 on the hunter on April 17th of 2009, and promptly started running dungeons to gear up to raid Naxx. I continued attempting to level alts (and failing mostly), and wrote my first ever guide (MM without replenishment in raids). I raided Naxx and chunks of Ulduar as a MM hunter, and managed to get 3 alt toons to 60 via dual-boxing and RAF (and if you're interested, I think my dualboxing guide is still fairly accurate and that picture-in-picture thing rocks). Sometime that summer/fall, my guild's raiding fell apart and I started thinking about switching toons (and having greater flexibility). This is where Lyllea comes into the picture. She was originally the alt I chose to level because she was on the second account and I could use Garetia to drag her through stuff and also because I loved Tam from Righteous Orbs (sadly no longer around) and kinda wanted to be like him. I leveled as disc with the occasional foray into BGs, and smote all the things. I learned that shadow was WAY harder than marks, hit 80, ran a ton of dungeons, got geared, and then thrown into the deep end of raiding...
"Lyllea, with a gearscore of 1898 (which puts her in the healing Naxx 25 and Eye 10 category) healed Ulduar 25! Okay, so it was just XT, I basically shielded the crap out of everyone, and I ran out of mana 3/4 of the way through, but I RAID HEALED! And I topped the charts on absorbs. I was shaking the entire time, and getting thrown into the deep end is probably not the best way to start my healing career in raiding, but I DID IT!" This was a week after she hit 80.
I found a raiding alliance and started raiding with them near the beginning of ICC, and continued with them for a bit. But sadly their raid times were not really working for me and so I hit wowladies on LJ (my go-to for questions besides twitter). I app'd and was accepted to my first raiding guild and we were working on heroic Sindy 10 when Cat hit. I also had managed to get two more toons (druid and pally) to 80.
I remember vividly being so so excited for Cat. I started leveling a new toon (a rogue who's still leveling) to see the new questlines. I played in the beta, planned things out with my guild, and was just really happy that this time I got to be part of all the shiny new things! (Here's a link to the first few Cat posts if you're interested) Sadly, by the end of the month I was not in a happy place healing-wise, and I've still not completely shaken what the beginning of Cat did to my healing confidence (I still don't want to heal 5 mans unless they're full of guildies).
Over the course of Cataclysm I've gotten 7 toons to 85, healed every boss in every raid (though I've yet to actually down Rag or most of tier 11 heroic), and well, the bloom's off the rose (so to speak). I've healed a raid on 3 different toons in 4 different specs (holy, disc, resto druid, and resto shaman), I've tried my hand at tanking (feral druid, blood DK, and low level warrior), gotten the loremaster achieve for all the new Cat zones (except possibly Uldum because I hated the Harrison Jones thing), and have dps'd as melee, ranged, caster, and heals (go go smite spec!).
Would I be as disenchanted with Wraith if I'd managed to get all that done during it? I don't know. I think the fact that I've leveled 7 toons through Wraith Alliance content (with an 8th slowly wandering up and a Horde lock only 8 levels from starting) and am still excited to do the Horde side says something. I have a toon who could be questing her heart out Horde-side in Cat content, and I have no desire whatsoever to do so (go go profession and dungeon leveling!).
I think the best way to explain what I feel the difference is between Wraith and Cat is by analogy. Cataclysm is like the Lord of the Rings movies. Epic, sweeping storylines, great set pieces, but gets old if you see it over and over and over and over again. Wraith, Wraith's a bit more like Baldur's Gate or Mass Effect. You have a basic plotline, but you can go wander over here or there for a bit, do things in different orders, and try new things. It's not quite as epic as LotR, but there's a lot more replay-ability there.
I also feel like Cataclysm was missing a cohesiveness that both Wraith and BC had. Sure, Arthas showed up a lot in Wraith, but it did certainly help emphasize the overarching plot of the expansion. BC and Wraith also had the distinct advantage of geographic cohesiveness. Cataclysm's zones were stunning, but also very scattered. Also, the lack of a new center didn't help. SW and Org have never really felt to me like Dalaran did, a home and center of the expansion. Heck, most of my toons still have their hearths in Dal, simply because it's more convenient. It's a pain in the neck to get to Northrend via boat or zeppelin compared to getting to Org or SW from Dal.
And then, we have the lack of end-game content compared to Wraith. 5 levels vs 10, 5 zones vs 8 (not counting WG or Crystalsong), 6 raids vs 10 raids, 27 raid bosses vs 51 (ignoring WG/TB raids). Yes, WoW probably shouldn't be as top-heavy as it is, and yes, the vanilla world badly needed the revamp. But to a vocal (and dedicated) section of the playerbase, Cat was a bit over half the content of Wraith for the same price and close to the same timespan.
I don't think Cataclysm was a failure. I loved a lot of the new content (the first time). I enjoyed the raids (even if I still don't quite understand the overarching plot from questing to tier 11 to Firelands to Dragon Soul). The scenery of some of the new zones (Vash'jir anyone) is incredible. I think what happened is that we were all expecting the next Wraith and instead we got a new and improved vanilla WoW. That's not a bad thing (okay, you could argue that the forced linearity was and certainly the worgen questline not having a proper ending was), but it wasn't what I wanted, and I suspect it wasn't what most of the old-timers wanted or were planning for.
I do think there's hope. I have not played this beta, so I'm going in mostly blind, but from what I've read, Blizz has learned from Cataclysm, and is trying to do better in Mists. I'm not expecting Mists to be as awesome as I thought Wraith was, because part of that was "New and shiny and I don't know everything so I can learn stuff". I'll be happy if I get to my 3rd or 4th alt and still feel like there's new stuff to see, that leveling isn't a chore to get to 90 so then the toon can sit there. And even if I don't feel that "squee, I hit 68, I can go see all the new stuff now!" I did during Wraith, I'll be happy if I get that same sense of "Awesome!" that I did zoning into Vash or Deepholm for the first time.
But Blizz, if you pull that crap with relearning how to heal while making mana count again while being unable to heal through bad again with all wipes being the healer's fault, you and I are through. Seriously. That was beyond stupid.