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Mists of Pandaria Retrospective Part II: Raids, Dungeons, and Battlegrounds

/ Jan 1st, 2014 No Comments

With the new World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor, on the horizon, the time is ripe to look back at the successes and failures, innovations and missteps of Mists of Pandaria. In part one of Gaming Illustrated’s Mists of Pandaria retrospective, we looked at quests, story, and gameplay experiments of Mists of Pandaria. In this part two, we will take a look at the instanced group content of Mists. In general, smaller group content stagnated while large group instances comparatively prospered.

Dungeons, Scenarios, and Arena

Good ol’ five-man dungeons lost out the most in Mists of Pandaria. Cataclysm hit the right pace of dungeon content while leveling; by the time players were tired of Throne of the Tides and Blackrock Caverns, Stonecore and Vortex Pinnacle opened up, then the normal difficulties opened up, etc…. In Mists, players would hit 87 and get access to Shado-Pan Monastery and Mogu’shan Palace and then nothing until heroics at 90. At level 90, the selection was varied enough to hold interest for awhile, but that crop of dungeons was hardly enough to hold interest for an entire expansion, especially with the drop in difficulty.
 

Mists of Pandaria Patch 5.4

Mists of Pandaria Retrospective Part II: Raids, Dungeons, and Battlegrounds

Blizzard likely expected that one of their new pet projects, scenarios, would eat up a lot of the time of people seeking small-group content. However, despite the common misconception by players, Blizzard insists that the people working on the scenario team are not taking resources away from the dungeon team and can turn-out content faster. Judging by the massive list of scenarios available now, they might be right. Perhaps because normal scenarios are designed for any given group composition, the encounter design can feel incredibly generic. Furthermore, there’s little incentive for tanking or healing spec players to queue for scenarios; at best, they will feel like a third wheel slowing down the works, and at worst, they might get attacked for taking up a spot that could have gone to a DPS. In retrospect, there might have actually been a method to this madness: siphoning off DPS from the overfilled dungeon queues. The generic and totally random rewards do not do much to help the case of scenarios, but that would be an easy fix. Adding generic cloth, leather, mail, and plate sets to collect like the old Burning Crusade dungeon tiers might attract more players.

Not much of interest happened in arena, other than the reduction in match time and the removal of standard teams like before. Getting into arena for a few games with random people suddenly became easier than ever, while also making it harder to game the rating system by reseting your team. Arena did not really get worse at all, but it did not become significantly better, either.

Raids and Battlegrounds

Mists of Pandaria does provide some consistently strong raiding experiences, even if many of the tricks-of-the-trade of Blizzard’s encounter design are no longer surprising. Judging by the statistics on the armory, LFR has succeeded in getting many more players to actually see and partake in the raids. Mists of Pandaria shipped with a strong starting raid line-up with a lot of content, and Blizzard followed it up with two strong raid tiers, Throne of Thunder and Siege of Orgrimmar. The fights are varied, thematically appropriate, and complicated enough to maintain interest. Encounters like Siegecrafter Blackfuse or Galakras having multiple roles for players such as being on the conveyor belt or in the tower team, respectively, helps keep the game fun on the fifth run.

Mists of Pandaria is the most successful of the expansions in providing new and interesting battlegrounds. Payload and murderball are hardly new game concepts (as evidenced by us having names for them), but Blizzard took them out of their usual FPS format and made them work well in an MMORPG. Only one other expansion—Cataclysm—has given three new battlegrounds, and two of those were basically rehashes of existing game types placed on different maps (Battle for Gilneas and Twin Peaks) and the other is one of the most commonly blacklisted battlegrounds in the queue (Isle of Conquest), which manages to combine the worst parts of Strand of the Ancients and the current Alterac Valley. Mists of Pandaria has hopefully set a new precedent for battleground releases, both in quality and quantity. The next step would be to introduce brand new gametypes that could only be done in an MMORPG format.

Conclusion

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Blizzard has the same team splitting their resources between dungeons and raid content. With the advent of LFR and the increased popularity of raid content, Blizzard likely decided to shift the focus of the dungeon/raid team towards raids, hoping that scenarios would pick up the slack. Judging by Blizzard’s decision to bring back more dungeons in Warlords of Draenor, that strategy may not have paid off as well as they hoped. In the PvP realm, PvPers sorely needed the successful implementation of more battlegrounds after Cataclysm’s bland offerings, but arena brought little new to the table. Blizzard may have swung the pendulum a little too far towards the large group content with Mists of Pandaria, but the balance was not completely skewed, and they likely had some strategy behind the decision. None of the instances hurt (or helped, for that matter) the game to the obvious degree that the daily quest grind did.
 

Ethan Smith

Ethan Smith

A perpetual over-thinker, Ethan Smith spends all of his free time playing video games like an English professor reads books, writing a secret novel, and trying to actually finish a game of Medieval II: Total War.
Ethan Smith

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