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.
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.
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.
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.
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.