Two of our resident WoW fanatics, Ethan Smith and Sean Gibson, dive into Mists of Pandaria for this review.
From Ethan Smith: I’m Ethan Smith, and I have been playing World of Warcraft since around the time Blackwing Lair was first released. I originally raided primarily before moving on to PvP, earning the General title in the old PvP system. I stuck to PvP in Burning Crusade, eventually running a 2k+ 5v5 team for a while before taking a break near the end of the expansion. I raided in Wrath of Lich King up to heroic 10 man Icecrown Citadel. I spent most of Cataclysm leveling new characters and PvPing, though I did get to see all of the raids and completed all of them save for Firelands. I ended Cataclysm with a shaman, paladin, warrior, death knight, hunter, and a priest at 85. I played in the Mists of Pandaria beta, getting a monk to level 90 and playing endgame with him.
From Sean Gibson: I’m Sean Gibson and I’ve been playing WoW since … before it was released (brag). While I do not consider myself a hardcore World of WarCraft player, I’m definitely enthusiastic and love playing as my main, a Level 85 Dranei Elemental Shaman. I also have an Undead Tank Warrior I enjoy as well. For me, Cataclysm was a mixed bag with lots of frustration at first and total redemption at the end. I love to quest, I love to see and hear the lore and I definitely enjoy running dungeons.
New Zone Graphics / ArtworkThe new zones showcase the best qualities of World of Warcraft’s art style. Vibrant colors are everywhere, especially in the Jade Forest where players start. Even as the player goes further into Pandaria and the tone gets darker literally and figuratively, each zone has a distinct color palette. The shapes and designs of the zones and the elements within evoke the illustrations on Asian scrolls. Somehow Pandaria manages to capture the feeling of a totally new world to explore while still feeling like part of Azeroth as a whole.
When it comes to graphics, this might be some of the most inspired work Blizzard has done in the last five years. The zones are vibrant, the buildings are gorgeous and the enemies are nicely varied. The Jade Forest definitely shines but as you move further other zones are almost as nice. Mists of Pandaria absolutely shines when it comes to the graphics.
New StorylineWhile the change in setting naturally necessitates a bunch of new characters and storyline, the main war between the Horde and Alliance remains in focus, though we will not see it fully developed until later patches. As we progress through the zones, the story shifts to the secondary effects of the war. Players will spend a good portion of their time leveling dealing with peoples displaced by conflict or possessed by the Sha that awoke due to the war. New NPCs such as Chen Stormstout and his niece, Li-Li are entertaining and well-written, but those who have read many of the books and committed a good portion of the lore to memory might wish to see more of the established secondary NPCs as we progress through the game. Nevertheless, the storyline for MoP is a welcome one where the fate of the world isn’t necessarily in the balance. Between Burning Legion, Lich King and Cataclysm, pretty much all WoW players have had enough with death, destruction and end-of-the-world scenarios. This storyline comes as a refreshing change of pace which does have big game-changing elements for both factions which will set up some amazing conflict down the road.
New DungeonsThe new dungeons all feel just long enough to tell their story and get the players some loot without becoming tiresome and draggy. Fights are generally just complex enough to provide a challenge but not enough that they require a ten minute explanation beforehand, though some fights such as Heroic Taran Zhu in Shado-Pan Monastery will make quite a few people tear their hair out.
Somehow Blizzard keeps finding new mechanics to throw at us in dungeons and ways to make old mechanics feel fresh. The completely redone Scarlet Monastery instances and Scholomance really help drive this home, especially when players see the nasty surprise that Inquisitor Whitemane has in store for players that fail at interrupting.
Digital Deluxe EditionThe Digital Deluxe version comes with the Imperial Quilen Mount which instantly should become your go-to mount of choice. It matches Pandaria extremely well, looks unique as not a lot of players seem to use (or have) it and frankly just looks awesome. Also included is perhaps the most adorable pet possible, the Quilen Pet which is a lion cub that looks so cute you want to squeeze him. For the Diablo 3 and SC2 players out there, you get a custom Sigil and Accent (D3) with SC2 players getting two new custom portraits. For $20 it’s a decent value if you are into buying mounts or pets as the combined value of separately buying a mount, pet and “other stuff” exceeds the difference of the cost of the Digital Deluxe edition. The highlight here is clearly the mount (awesome) and the pet (adorable).
New Game Features Impressions
Scenarios give more story and provide something relatively easy to do when heroics would involve more time commitment or difficulty than some hardcore players feel like doing at the moment of MoP’s release. The scenario system also provides a nice alternative way to acquire the valor points one needs for endgame gear. There’s sentiment between hardcore and casual players that spent three expansions grinding heroics that nobody really looks forward to doing so again. Between the Raid Finder, heroics, scenarios and daily quests, players of all types can always do something different to acquire valor points.
Pet battles are diverting, but ultimately lack the capacity to hold hardcore player interest for very long. People joked about how the battle system is like Pokemon, but it truly does feel like playing Pokemon, minus the breeding, IV’s and EV’s, and so forth of course. Luckily, the pet battles are totally optional and don’t particularly punish you for leaving them alone like endgame progression does, so all players should still partake of the occasional battle if they feel like it. At the end of the day, pet battles are a success as Mists of Pandaria’s first major mini-game.
Overall ImpressionSenior Producer Ray Cobo said that Mists of Pandaria is going to be remembered as when Blizzard “took a breath” from the death and destruction of Cataclysm. Taking a step back, we think it more feels like a breath of fresh air in general. While Mists of Pandaria does hold some humor, light-hearted fun and beauty, the death and destruction is still there as is a sense of urgency surrounding the mounting conflict between the Alliance and Horde. The game just feels full of brand new creative energy. The new gameplay features enrich the overall experience by providing alternative routes of progression and reducing the feeling that one has to work to be able to play. Even the most hardcore players get sick of grinding after years of it, and it’s good to see that Blizzard recognizes that. For all it is, Mists of Pandaria might just be the best expansion World of WarCraft has seen to date and for its merits, we’re giving it an Editor’s Choice Award.
Sean Gibson also contributed to this article.