World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria hit the stores September 25th 2012 and players have been madly exploring and leveling since then. While the expansion is huge if you delve into every nook and cranny, it also flies by quickly if you want to just blast through levels to the end game.
So what is Mists of Pandaria exactly? Well, to start of everyone calls it MoP, and it is the fourth expansion to the insanely successful World of Warcraft MMOG. WoW launched in November of 2004, and that means this expansion comes to us almost 8 years after the original release, which is a feat in itself since many of todays games either fade into obscurity or meet their demise long before they reach that milestone.
Mists of Pandaria expands the game with a large number of additions, enhancements, and changes while still keeping the same overall feel that World of Warcraft has always had. There are so many new or updated features that it would be impossible to list them all, so Im just going to list a few of the key changes or additions. They are:
- A new race called the Pandaren. Its the first race that can play as either faction--Alliance or Horde.
- A new class called Monks. The Monk class is a hybrid that can DPS, Heal, or Tank.
- A whole new continent called Pandaria with many expansive zones to quest in and explore. In total there are 7 new zones, 6 new dungeons, and 3 new raids.
- The level cap is raised from level 85 to 90.
- A new type of instanced content called Scenarios were added to the game. Think of story driven PVE battlegrounds and you will not be far off.
- A completely new talent system.
- Pet Battles, a Pokemon style system that you can use your vanity pets in while trying to earn levels and rewards.
- Much, much more.
Because Mists of Pandaria is an expansion to the still reigning king of the MMOG genre, there were a lot of expectations for it. Did it meet them, did it fall short, or did it raise the bar for the genre once again?
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is an online game and therefore not everything can be rated up front. Blizzard has very little control over what people choose to say in online chat channels so parents should be cautious about that. Also, MoPs humor is a little more adult-based than that found in previous WoW expansions. As for the game itself, it has been given an ESRB rating of Teen for the following reasons:
- Blood and Gore
- Crude Humor
- Mild Language
- Suggestive Themes
- Use of Alcohol
Gameplay - 82 / 100
As with all previous World of Warcraft expansions the major gameplay changes came about in a patch before the actual expansion release. For Mists of Pandaria that patch was 5.0.4 and has already been discussed in depth. You can find all the details here: Patch 5.0.4 Overview.
While most of the gameplay in Mists of Pandaria is much the same as World of Warcraft has been from the beginning, there are some differences. Theyre not earth shattering differences, but they exist, and veteran players will notice them. Keep in mind that not much change gameplay-wise is a good thing--after all we are talking about the most successful MMOG ever. Blizzard obviously has a winning formula and any large drastic change could drive players away.
The first of the differences players are likely to notice is the continued refinement of quest paths and the storytelling aspect of the quest lines. This improvement, which has happened slowly over the past expansions, is taken to another level in MoP through more storytelling, more history, and a brand new quest type. The new quest type is story-based and has you play out what is being described to you by NPCs. Even though you dont get to be your own character for those quests, they work extremely well and throw something new into the mix for Blizzard to pass on story information and ensure players actually get it (since many players simply skip the quest text provided).
The addition of the Pandaren as a new playable race provides for a great looking new starting area that is heavily story driven and extremely fun to play. Pandarens are also allowed to be either faction, which could prove interesting in battlegrounds and PVP realms, where visual faction recognition for Pandaren is not possible.
Along with the Pandaren race comes a brand new class called Monks. This new class is another hybrid that can fill melee DPS, healing, or tanking roles. It fills all three in slightly different ways than other classes do, and will provide some more variety in the class makeup of the game.
Other new components include Scenarios and Pet Battles, which add additional gameplay elements to the game. Scenarios are like a form of PVE battleground that is story driven. They offer fast paced, instanced, small non-role group, quick-to-complete PVE content for those who may not have time for a dungeon or raid. Pet Battles are a new way to use your vanity pets that allow you to use them for something rather than just tagging along beside you. While it is essentially Pokemon in WoW, Pokemon is hugely successful and popular, so putting a variation on it in WoW may appeal to a huge number of players.
The last major change to gameplay is its continued simplification. Talent systems have been redone, rotations simplified, specializations refined, and much more. Some examples include:
- The confusion caused by wondering when you should go from regular dungeons to heroic dungeons at level cap has been eliminated. The new answer is right away, since there are no more level cap regular dungeons, only heroic.
- Raid buffs have been simplified and reduced in number, and a buff monitor has been put in place to keep track of which buffs you have out of the possible ones you could have.
- Mana pools have become a fixed size based on level, forcing players to choose and balance between spirit for regen or intellect for spell power.
Despite all the changes listed here, and the many omitted, actual gameplay in Mists of Pandaria has not changed significantly from Cataclysm, and thats a good thing. The parts that changed (for the most part) are simply refine what was already there, cleaning it up a bit.
That leads me to the one major drawback of Mists of Pandaria gameplay that comes as a result of the continued simplification. While early on in WoWs history there were dramatic differences between a good and bad player, that line continues to narrow significantly. Gameplay should reward those who play well, and while you are still rewarded slightly, gone are the days of a skilled player in the same gear being able to easily put out 5x the damage as an unskilled player in the same gear.
Overall I give Mists of Pandaria an 85% for gameplay. The questing and leveling aspects are amazing, as are the dungeons and raids. The only downside for me is the lack of some risk / reward since much of the game has been simplified or made easier for players to get through. I believe that the best games are easy to learn but hard to master. Those are the games that keep you coming back, and WoW is shifting more and more to easy to play and easy to master.
Graphics - 90 / 100
This is a strange category for Mists of Pandaria, since it is hard to talk about graphics on a technical level for a game that is running on an engine that is over 8 years old. Sure that engine has been upgraded and refined over time, but it is still based on an old system. On a technical graphics level Mists of Pandaria is significantly behind the times.
However, none of that seems to matter. The new zones are absolutely stunning. Every time I go to a new zone I am blown away by just how good they all look. It all comes down to overall appearance and impression rather than technical details like texture levels or polygon counts. Blizzard absolutely nailed the visual look and feel in Mists of Pandaria. As with each and every expansion so far I am left wondering what they could do to make things better for next time.
Sure, with a new and more powerful graphics engine they could come up with something even better on a technical level, but I am not sure that the game would gain anything from it. Keep in mind that due to the stylized nature of WoW graphics this game will still run and look good on a system that would not even start up most modern games. There is something to be said for making a game that runs on pretty much anything, and still manages to look this good.
Sound - 95 / 100
This is an area that Blizzard really shines in for all of their games. They seem to have understood from the start that sound and voice helps bring players into the world just as much as graphics.
The soundtrack that plays out in Mists of Pandaria focuses on the heavy Asian influence while still having a World of Warcraft feel to it. It ranges from slow haunting pieces to hard driving pieces depending on the action taking place. This is one game that makes me pity the players out there who dont have quality sound systems hooked up to their computers.
The voice quality is equally good this time around. In Cataclysm there were a lot of really poor quality voices in the game, but all that is rectified this time around. While some of the Asian voices sound a little too American, they are still of excellent quality. Many of the voices have great accents and really allow you to picture them as part of the game. The Pandaren characters especially have great voices backing them up. Many of the key NPCs have voices that I picture fitting into any old school kung-fu movie as an old master. The only issue I have with the voices are how annoying the Hozen are, but hey, they are talking monkeys, after all.
Multiplayer - 60 / 100
This is one area where World of Warcraft keeps separating itself from the genre that it apparently belongs to, and not in a good way. This separation started to occur way back in Burning Crusade and continued to escalate as each expansion released. The game keeps becoming more solo-based rather than MMOG-based. That would be fine if the game was marketed as an RPG and meant for solo gameplay, but it isnt. As a massively multi-player game, it shouldnt be experienced solo 80% of the time.
The obvious nature of the game as a solo game is apparent as soon as you start questing through the new content. While the quests and story line are really well done, and I give Blizzard major credit for their storytelling and quest lines, it is all focused on you as an individual. Through all of the major storylines and cut scenes you are treated as if you are the lone hero helping your cause, there is no mention of the millions of others out there. There are no group quests, no requirements to interact with other players, and you can essentially ignore everyone else from level 1 through level 90 if you choose to.
Blizzard even went so far as to ensure any creature that is considered a boss or elite that is involved in quests grants the kill or item drop required to everyone that participated in the kill, regardless of them being in a group or who tagged the creature. While this certainly helps players get through quests, by not having to camp specific creatures in the game, it takes away one more opportunity to group with other players.
Next up, there is a brand new group-based type of content called scenarios. You would think that being group-based would mean actual group play was required, right? Wrong. While I had high hopes for scenarios, they are essentially 3 random players thrown together to complete a few sequential quests to get some rewards. There is almost no cooperation or teamwork required to be able to complete scenarios and everyone can pretty much do what they want. While I can see what Blizzard was aiming for, I really believe that by not forcing role requirements the system falls flat of its potential, especially its potential as a way to group players together.
Another negative multiplayer issue is how the queue system has taken over everything. While I personally love the queue for being able to find quick groups whenever I have a few minutes, it is a horrible system for making any connection with players. Let me put on my grumpy old man mask for a minute and reminisce: In the old days, players actually had to know each other to group. They had to be polite, they had to be on the same server, they had to know how to get to an instance. These days, even if you wanted to find a group to go to an instance, most players wouldnt know how to get there since they have never walked in the front door, they are too used to being ported there. Unless youre in a guild, the odds of finding a group of players to get together with, talk with, and run a few dungeons with is pretty much zero. That is a real shame, as many friendships and guilds started through running instances together in the old days.
While the multiplayer content (and there is a lot of it) is great, the game seems to push you to play solo right up until the point you need to do heroics, raid, or PVP at the level cap. That strikes me as wrong for a game that is promoted as an MMOG. It is also a shame since the multiplayer content that Blizzard produces is some of the best out there.
Value - 50 / 100
This is another area that no one can really fault Blizzard on. They provide a lot of value for your gaming dollar, at least for the initial purchase price. More on this later. The overall look of the expansion is amazing, as is the music, sound, and storytelling. The expansion is polished and refined, and provides as much as possible as neatly as possible. There is a whole lot of content packed into this expansion, with way more quests than you need, a lot of instanced content available, and a lot of great cut scenes and storytelling to help drive the storyline forward.
The thing that prevents this expansion from getting a higher score is the fact that you only have 5 levels to work through before getting to the new level cap. Worse yet, getting those 5 levels can fly by in less than 24 hours of play time (on my server there were many players hitting level 90 within 12 hours), and without visiting all of the zones in the expansion. I would have much preferred the expansion either have 10 levels or that the experience rate was slowed down so that you were required to pretty much complete every quest in the new zones to reach the level cap.
The ability to skip quests or move around to different zones does, however have an upside, which has to do with alts. By being able to get to the level cap without completing everything, Blizzard has made re-playability much higher for your alts. Since you will not have completed all of the quests on your first character, it gives you some options on your second character so that you are not repeating all of the content.
Ok, remember that comment about initial purchase price earlier? The score I would give Mists of Pandaria for value based on the $39 price tag and the content we get for that, which is very good, would probably be a 90 or 95. However, it is important to note that the $39 isnt the only cost of the game and here is where it gets a little tricky. The issue is that we pay $39 once and then another $15 every month for the next 2 years given Blizzards track record for expansions.
That $15 should get us additional content on a continual basis, yet for some reason doesnt. While we did get some really good raid content in the last expansion through patches and several really cool dungeons, we didnt get anywhere near our moneys worth in my opinion. After all 2 years at $15 a month is $360 + the $40 for the expansion bringing the total cost to $400 for 2 years.
I dont mind paying a premium price for good content. For example, I gladly pay the $70 for each Gears of War, Halo, or Drakes Fortune that comes out and promptly play through it in a day or two and then pack it away. I view the $70 for 10-20 hours of solid entertainment through new content as well worth the $3.50-$7 an hour. The issue with WoW lately is that theyre charging the equivalent of almost 6 premium titles over the course of 2 years, but not providing the same amount of different content. I know we all spend more time in an MMOG trying to get that next piece of gear while running the same raid for the 40th time, but that isnt new, its just replaying the same game.
I feel that for the money we pay on a continual basis we should be either getting the expansions for free, or an expansion every 10-12 months with the same patch content in between. Either way would greatly increase the value of the game.
Considering ongoing costs, and the lack of solid content updates frequently enough to keep players in fresh content, I have to give Mists of Pandaria an overall value score of 50. Remember, based on just the initial cost, it would be at least a 90, and if you are just getting it to play for a month and then putting a hold on your subscription it is an awesome deal for great content. If you plan on keeping your subscription active all the time, realize that World of Warcraft is a very expensive game.
Lasting Appeal - 70 / 100
The lasting appeal of World of Warcraft in general has already long since been proven. Any game that can stick around and still be relevant almost 8 years after its initial release has some serious staying power. But what about Mists of Pandaria as an expansion?
If this were the first World of Warcraft game and you had all of the level 1-90 content to do, there is no doubt that it would have a 100 rating for staying power. It isnt though, and most players have already completed 1-85 several times over. That means that MoPs lasting appeal must be based on its 5 levels of new content and the end game PVP and PVE content that it provides.
Given that Mists of Pandaria does provide a huge amount of new questing and zone content, a lot of new daily quests to do, and many new dungeons, scenarios, and raids, it does have a lot of lasting appeal, at least to me. Dont forget as well that Blizzard already has several additional raids already in the works for upcoming patches, meaning that there will be even more end game content coming.
However, once you get to the end game, there is still limited content to work with, and after years of the same cycle, many players do not spend the same amount of time in the game as they once did.
So in the end, while it certainly has a lot of lasting appeal (and more than most games), due to the age of the franchise that lasting appeal is fading from what it once was.
Pros and Cons
While some of the sections above may sound either fanboy-ish or cynical-old-man-ish, thats simply because there are so many either really good or really bad things that come with Mists of Pandaria.
- Once again the collectors edition is gorgeous. Blizzard does CE versions very well, and this is no exception. Sure it is a few extra bucks, but for that you get a great looking box, a nice art book, a mouse pad, a DVD, a soundtrack CD, and an in game mount and pet.
- The new Pandaren race and Monk class are both really nice additions to the game. I love the whole panda thing, and have since they were introduced way back in Warcraft as an April fools joke.
- The Monk class is cool as well since it offers another hybrid class that can tank (my favorite spec). Better yet the tank spec is completely different than any other tank spec, making it a whole lot of fun to play.
- The overall look and feel of the game, as well as the music, voice, and storytelling aspects. There are so many more cut scenes included that the game feels like I am participating in a movie rather than just playing a game. It also helps that once again Blizzard has nailed the story lines in each zone, and that really pulls me into the game.
- The new dungeons and raids look stunning and are a whole lot of fun to play. While the dungeons are not as hard as the Cataclysm ones were initially, they do have a lot more going on in them. Blizzard has really started to add more abilities to dungeon bosses since Cataclysm, and that makes them much more interesting to fight against.
- For once the launch went amazingly well! The game just flowed right into the launch and while there was some congestion at key points in quest chains, there was never a serious holdup. This was probably the best launch yet for a WoW expansion.
- The leveling in the game is once again way to fast. It is just insane to me that after all this waiting for a game players can power through it in less than a day. Sure there is a lot of end game content, and that is what most players want to get to, but it was still too fast by far.
- The whole idea of adding Pokemon to the game is more than a little strange to me. While I know the idea is popular with the younger crowd, it seems downright disrespectful to the more serious gamers.
- While scenarios looked to be an awesome idea, they fall seriously short. They are way to easy and require way to little cooperation to offer any serious lasting enjoyment.
- The simplified talent system is just way to simplified. While I do agree that it offers more meaningful choice when compared to the old talent system, it does so at the expense of a feel of accomplishment or customization. Getting 1 talent every 15 levels doesnt feel like you are accomplishing anything or able to customize your character at all. Worst of all, all specializations for each class all have access to the same talents. I can think of only one word to describe that: lame.
I know that this is said of every World of Warcraft expansion, but once again it is probably the best expansion to date. While nothing is there that pushes the game beyond what it already was, that is not necessarily a bad thing since World of Warcraft is already the most successful MMOG to date. What Blizzard did was refine their winning formula even more.
Sure, I dont agree with a few of the choices (pet battles and the new talent system as examples), but those choices really are up to Blizzard. What I like in the game, I really like; what I dont like, I hate. Maybe that is just a sign of a good game, that we can hate parts of it but still find enough to love so that we want to play it for a long time.
Overall I give Mists of Pandaria two thumbs up and a high score alongside that. Dont get me wrong, it isnt perfect, it has glaring issues with value for money on an ongoing basis, issues with an old graphics engine, and for me at least the ongoing simplification driving harder core players out of the game. However, it is still the best and biggest MMOG out there, and despite any issues is still a whole lot of fun to play for hours on end.
It does leave me with two questions though. The first is the overall look of the game leads me to wonder what could Blizzard do with a newer more modern game engine? If Mists of Pandaria looks and feels this good now, what would it be like with a good engine? Secondly, back to the value for money, while I understand that time is required to produce quality, surely Blizzard could bring out content faster than they do, after all it has been almost 2 years since the last expansion. A yearly cycle would surely keep players in the game more consistently.
Overall 80/100 - Good
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