World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review

Game:World of Warcraft
Ten Ton Hammer
Ten Ton Hammer Rating
80

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 today’s games either fade into obscurity or meet their demise long before they reach that milestone.

Here there be pandas.

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 I’m just going to list a few of the key changes or additions. They are:

  • A new race called the Pandaren. It’s 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?

Cautions

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, MoP’s 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
  • Violence

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. They’re 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 kung fu pandas have arrived.

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 don’t 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.

Gotta catch 'em all?

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 that’s 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 WoW’s 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.

MoP Screenshot

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 don’t 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 NPC’s 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.

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