Well, my little vacation is over. We didn't go anywhere, but I'm not going to lie, we played quite a bit of World of Warcraft. So far from what I've seen, Cataclysm has provided the game with a much needed shot in the arm in a variety of ways.
Not only does the old world, L1-60 adventure feel new and revamped, but the questing from L80-85 were some of the most enjoyable I've ever played in WoW. Cutscenes, which Blizzard dabbled in with Wrath of the Lich King, make a strong return in Cataclysm, dotted all around various quests. It's not as extensive immersion as ToR hopes to have, but it really does go a long way to break up the typical grindy feeling of quests.
Perhaps my most favorite change though is the difficulty level. Gone are the days of Wrath's "lolololAOEpull" snoozefest dungeons. Cataclysm dungeons have gone back to a Burning Crusade era challenge where strategic CC was needed, and a pull gone wrong could easily wipe the raid. This is especially true of the new heroic dungeons, which are now more like 5-man raids than heroics in Wrath.
I don't know how long the difficulty will last, once people are more geared, but it's a very enjoyable change of pace right now. There have been boss fights in heroic dungeons where we've finished by the skin of our teeth and the entire encounter was an edge-of-your seat experience. Blizzard has spent so much time in recent years catering more and more to the casual gamer, it's nice to see them offer an option for a challenge for those who are looking for it (assuming they don't bow to the QQ and nerf this stuff into the ground).
Not only are the fights more challenging, but the mechanics of these fights are infinitely more enjoyable. There are very few "tank and spank" bosses, instead all having been replaced by unique and sometimes complex fight mechanics which are tougher to learn, but reall fun to execute.
I'd say that nearly all of the game has been a vast improvement over previous expansions (minus a scattering of glitches and bugs which I'm sure will get ironed out over time), with one huge, glaring exception. Tol Barad.
I enjoy PvP as another facet of my MMOs. Even when my side is getting stomped, as long as the game is fair, I'm still enjoying myself. This is why Tol Barad is impossible to enjoy, because it's not even close to being fair from a design standpoint.
Allow me to explain for those who may not play WoW. In the last expansion, Blizzard introduced a zone called Wintergrasp. Wintergrasp was a PvP zone with a giant keep in the center. Every couple of hours, a battle took place for the keep. Whoever had won it last was defending, and the other size was attacking, trying to capture the keep. The point of capturing the keep was that whichever side held it had access to a unique raid instance with some decent gear for the next two hours.
On my server, the Alliance fought for the keep for the first couple of days of each week, after the lockout reset, held it enough times for most of the serious players to run the raid, and then we sort of slacked off for the rest of the week. We didn't hold Wintergrasp often, but the mechanics were designed in a way that going into the battle, if the teams were even, we had just as much of a chance to win as the Horde did. Sometimes they just played better.
There is no such chance in Tol Barad. Blizzard's idea for Tol Barad is to have three towers. In order to capture a tower, you need to stand by its flag to move a marker from the enemy's side of a bar to your side. The more people you have around the flag, the faster it moves towards your side.
In order to win Tol Barad, the attacking team must hold all three towers at the same time. Which in turn means that all the defending team needs to do is prevent the attacking team from holding three towers.
In other words, all the defending team needs to do is stack up their entire team on one tower. So the attackers can hold two towers, but face an enormous force at the third. The only way to overcome that enormous force is to meet it with an equally enormous force (ie, the entire team). But doing so leaves the other two towers undefended (or at least very weakly defended). Then all the defending team has to do is zerg one of the undefended towers while the attackers are capturing their third and viola: the attackers still only have two towers. It's basically a giant circularl dance that is clearly skewed towards the defending team.
The problem is, with a gametype like this, you want the mechanics skewed slightly in favor of the attacker, so that the zone changes hands more often and more players have a chance to hold the keep (and reap the subsequent rewards). Removing a legitimate chance at winning also removes any motivation anybody has to participate, which is what I'm sure is going to start happening on servers where, be it alliance or horde, one side gets the keep and then just holds it day after day due to the broken mechanics.
Frankly I'm a little surprised that this design made it into launch, especially after hearing that nearly all of the beta testers reportedly told Blizzard how broken it was.