WoW Cataclysm set to break all records

Blizzard Entertainment has launched the third expansion to one of the biggest video games of all time.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm was greeted with the now traditional fanboy lunacy as grown men queued for hours (sometimes even days) on end in sub-zero temperatures in London and further afield, for a game update which can easily be downloaded.

From what we're hearing so far, the launch has gone smoothly, with Blizzard's online servers experiencing little of the disastrous bottlenecking commonly associated with game launches of this magnitude.

If you've been living under a troll for the last nine months, Cataclysm raises the level cap on characters from 80 to 85, adds two new character classes - Worgen for the Alliance and Goblins for the Horde - adds a bunch of new areas, raids and instances, and allows flying mounts to be used in the game's original areas Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms for the first time.

Speaking of the Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, anyone who has been away from the game might be surprised to find that things have changed a wee bit in the last week or so.

In anticipation of the Cataclysm update, much of the original content has been tweaked to reflect the fact that there is a large and incredibly powerful dragon called Deathwing stomping about in all sorts of a bad mood.

Don't expect to see the scaly giant doing a bit of peasant munching in Goldshire any time soon, however, as Blizzard cannily keeps major chunks of these upgrades locked away for months in order to keep players interested and the subscription tills ringing.

The game, which is not inaccurately described as WarCrack in some circles, came under fire in last night's Panorama programme on the BBC which cynically used the launch of the new game content as a crutch to prop up what we can only describe as a shoddy bit of tabloid television.

Rock Paper Shotgun has an interesting dissection of the programme which bemoaned the games industry's tactics of encouraging addiction in the same breath as pointing out that there was no scientific evidence that games could be addictive.

Telling the tales of people whose lives had been practically destroyed by gaming, and then encouraging them to relive their trauma by playing those very same games, was like watching a journalist pouring vodka down the throat of a recovering alcoholic for the amusement of a television audience.

I have absolutely no doubt that playing games like WoW can have a detrimental effect on a player's social and physical well-being. I'm not entirely ashamed to admit that I was once so engrossed in WoW that my girlfriend stopped even trying to talk to me in the evenings.

But with all the signs pointing to Cataclysm being the most successful launch in the history of gaming - and let's face it, with a 'captive' audience of 13 million existing players it would be a surprise if it were anything less - the denizens of Azeroth will have to take care to spend just a little time in the real world every once in a while.