Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
So, that World of Warcraft. It’s still a thing.
In fact it’s still a rather large thing despite the recent onslaught of contenders over the last 12 months, and although 10 million subscribers is nothing to scoff at, there is no denying that the biggest success story in the MMO genre is starting to decline. In the face of this, and the fact that the previous expansion Cataclysm was not as well received as they had hoped, Blizzard had to go all out with the latest expansion set.
In an attempt to appeal to the relatively new audience in places like China, Blizzard decided to introduce what was originally a joke, although a rather well rounded joke with a unique backstory, into the game; the Pandarens. After years of cameos and novelty items in both virtual and physical form, the bear-like creatures are now a part of Azeroth with their own homeland and lore, and while many might be put off by the very idea of “kung-fu pandas” their implementation is by no means a joke. If anything, it’s the best introduction of a new race that WoW has seen since launch.
The heavy influence of eastern culture and cinema in particular flows from every pixel and audio cue, with the soundtrack being one of the best classical compilations to emerge this year (with Jeremy Soule joining the composition team this time around, it should be no surprise. Click here to hear for yourself.) The visual style of WoW has always been something of a dividing point for gamers, but the designs for the various locals of this new land and the Pandaren culture are a joy to behold. Looking over the expanses of the Jade Forest, or the farms of the Valley Of The Four Winds, of the snowy peaks of Kun-Lai Summit, demonstrates the great length Blizzard have gone to create a land that has a different feel to the rest of Azeroth.
Hell, even the starting area for new Pandaren characters takes place on the back of a giant sea turtle, which is pretty sweet.
The detail in the Panderan models is impressive, but ultimately this is both a blessing and a curse. I say this because in comparison to the models of the original playable races (the “hair-lipped” human males in particular) it highlights just how far the game has come since launch. I sincerely hope that Blizzard look to update the original races with the next expansion, especially after the revamp of the old world content in Cataclysm. A new class is also available to player in the Monk. Not just restricted to Pandarens, the Monk provides an alternative for the roles of Tank, Healer, and DPS. Focusing on hand-to-hand combat whilst using a weapon for finishing moves, it’s a class that much like the Death knight did in Wrath will needs a little refining before it finds its rightful place, but they are fun to watch in action. The Blackout kick in particular looks great in action.
The quests, and specifically the stories, are well thought out if bordering on clichéd at times, providing a rather cinematic experience as the action unfolds, and while this is entertaining the first time experiencing the content, the fact players are often forced to listen to a speech or wait for an NPC to do something will annoy those that want to get on with the game. I have always said that Warcraft has an entertaining and underrated story that is often ignored in the pursuit of ‘epics’, with Mists once again providing a narrative worth investing in, but forcing players to sit through it is not the way to go.
That said, MoP does allow the rounding-out of long-time character Chen Stormstout, who is rather awesome.
An MMO has always been game where playing with others is the paramount reason for its existence, so I find it highly confusing as to why Blizzard have (perhaps unintentionally) created a system where players grouped up together are punished for doing so. Firstly, XP is reduced depending on the number of players in a group. Now I understand this is to stop boosting from being an issue and is to compensate for groups being able to kill mobs quicker, it actively made me and my friends feel like we should disband the group and level on our own. This feeling was further amplified by my second grievance in this area; inconsistency with quests. Some quests would share objective items dropped from mobs, where as other quests would require each person to pick up their items individually, which is a problem when the drop rate for said item is low. It got to the point where my group would ask “Is this objective sharing?” during every quest, again making us feel like we should just be playing solo. While I appreciate that instances and raids will always require teamwork, surely playing together in the game world shouldn’t feel this restrictive?
Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the freedom that Guild Wars 2 provides, but I feel this outburst by Gob Bluth sums up my feelings on the matter.
Pandaria and its natives are not the only new addition to WoW with this expansion, as the much touted Pet Battle system is now included. Essentially a ‘lite’ version of a certain game that involves “catching them all”, the previously vanity-only companions that could be collected can now fight and level up in turn-based battles. Simplistic in its execution and rather addictive, the entire thing is completely optional but it provides WoW players with the nearest thing to a Pokemon MMO we will almost certainly never get. With pet masters to battle all over the game world, as well as other players, we will no doubt be seeing Pet Battle competitions alongside the PvP and StarCraft tournaments at this year’s BlizzCon.
As well as this, top level players will be able to do a farming mini-game that feels like a simpler version of Harvest Moon. With a progression system that will see players players expanding their farm, players will using the cooking profession to put this new mini-game to good use and earn the friendship of the nearby village to earn rewards. It’s all incredibly familiar stuff that like the Pet Battles are an optional component (unless you plan of maximising your cooking skill, in which case you better get planting, pronto) but the mechanics work in such a manner that they do not detract from the enjoyment of the core WoW experience.
The same cannot be said for the daily grind though. Removing the previous limit of 25 daily quests a day, players are encouraged to complete 4 separate hubs of quests, each of which grows with improved reputation. While this does provide players with things to do beyond constantly running instances, I can’t help but feel that Blizzard is confusing content with grind by providing players with so many expanding daily quest hubs to begin with. If players approach it with the mentality of completing one over a few weeks and then moving onto the next it would be fine, but with a game that encourages you to constantly go for the best gear I feel even casual players will consider it repetitive at times.
So, will MoP encourage old and new players into the fold? Veterans may well find a new sense of enjoyment with the new content, although the change to how the skill trees now function and the simplicity of the instance bosses to begin with may well feel a little too easy. Returning casual players should find the game easy enough to get through and experience all of the content without too much trouble, further helped by a new feature regarding quest rewards when in Pandaria. Players will only be presented with loot that is helpful for their chosen class spec, removing the need to worry about which piece might be better or the chance to pick the healer gear when you’re actually after the tank piece. Some might consider these changes to be Blizzard going too far with simplifying the gameplay, whilst others will find they are finally able to experience content without too much restriction. The debate won’t end with MoP, but I would suggest that despite the streamlining, challenges still exist for those that want them (although you’ll need a good 25-man raid to experience them.)
Ultimately though, what MoP manages to do is provide new adventures for WoW players, and enjoyable ones at that. The mechanics may well seem restrictive in comparison to other modern MMOs, but the tried-and-tested nature of the game means that there’s still life in the old girl yet. If you didn’t have much love for WoW before, chances are this won’t change your mind, but as a day-one veteran who has slayed deceptive dragons, stopped demonised elves, conquered possessed princes, and destroyed the destroyer of worlds, I’m finding myself having fun again, even if the grind is starting to wear me down after a month of play. In short, I’m quite looking forward to the journey of (reportedly) taking down a rather controversial figure in the Warcraft universe.
- The Pandaren race are a charming, welcome, and probably best addition to WoW yet.
- Varied and interesting quests to go with a varied and interesting land.
- Streamlined mechanics will allow casual players access to later content…
- … but could make veterans feel like the game is too simplified.
- The grind for Daily Quests could burn out players too quickly.
- Compared to solo players, groups will feel punished whilst levelling.
The Short Version:
With the core experience is still the same as it always has been, whether or not you consider Mists Of Pandaria worth your time will rest upon your previous experience with WoW, but those willing to give the new content a try will find enjoyment in its rich and lovingly crafted new land. There may be some questionable choices in regards to some areas of the game, but on the whole the introduction of the Pandaren could well give WoW the boost it needs to stay at the forefront of the MMO genre.