Updated Thu, May 10, 2012 by Mem
If you have read any of my previous articles regarding World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, you will know by now that to put it simply; I adore it. You name it about this expansion and I love it. From the oh so cute Pandaren, to the brand new Monk class and the vividly detailed world of Pandaria, I have been unable to find nary a bad thing to say about this newest expansion.
This is especially true in regards to the Wandering Isle, the Pandaren’s starting zone, and one of my favorite experiences during beta testing. However, looking back on my journey through the Wandering Isle, I feel like there were three major things missing along the way to making the player’s time here go from great to truly amazing.
The Wandering Isle is, for all intents and purposes, well done when it comes to a starting zone. Players move quickly through quests that are both simple and educational while still guiding the player flawlessly through the storyline. If the quests aren’t enough to convince you of the solidity of the Wandering Isle, the breathtakingly beautiful landscape surely will. However, the problem arises when we take the time to stop and compare the Pandaren starting zone to other starting zones. It is then that we realize that while the Wandering Isle is undoubtedly well done, it still manages to fall a bit short of the mark.
One of the things I most loved about the Goblin starting zone was the phasing. From the moment you set foot in Kezan and start to meander your way through quests, the area changes and evolves around you. By the time you reach the epic finale that ultimately lands you and the rest of your Goblin kin ship wrecked, you feel totally immersed in the story line. You can literally see first hand the impending doom as well as the panic that goes along with it.
Sadly, as of now, the Pandaren starting zone is severely lacking in the phasing department. Sure there are a few instances of phasing seen near the end of the zone, but up until that point things pretty much remain the same. No matter how many quests you complete, it never feels like you have accomplished much of anything.
The lack of phasing also affects how in touch with the storyline players actually feel. Even though the Pandaren’s beloved Wandering Isle is in danger, there is never any real sense of this. Things around the island remain pretty docile even as the story grows more and more desperate and things really start to heat up. This is a far cry from the scenes found in the Goblin starting zone, where players actually feel, (thanks in large part to the phasing process) that by the time they leave the island they are actually running for their very lives.
Considering that the Wandering Isle is the newest, and only, starting zone coming to Mists of Pandaria, it could be assumed that this is the time for Blizzard‘s phasing to really shine. Why Blizzard has chosen not to infuse this zone with the magic of phasing is a true mystery that we may discover the answer to.
Part of the appeal of the Pandaren race is that both Horde and Alliance players can choose to play it. Pandaren of both factions begin their journey together on the Wandering Isle. When level 10 is reached the Pandaren are forced to make a choice; to ally with either the Alliance or the Horde. However, by the time they get there most players will be wondering how they can even make a choice at all.
Both Horde and Alliance are present on the Wandering Isle and the Pandaren will eventually meet up with both factions. However, we never get to really know them, nor do we really get to see the infamous tensions between them. Sure at one point some conflict is hinted at, however, both Horde and Alliance easily drop their grudges on a dime to help save the Pandaren island. While it is nice to imagine that this would really happen, the expansion of Mists of Pandaria is all about the rising strife between the factions. Horde and Alliance are literally on the verge of war, and their willingness to stop fighting and join forces, even temporarily, strikes a sour note when considering this.
Even if you can ignore the passivity of the factions, you cannot ignore the fact that at the end of the day you have no idea what the Horde and Alliance really stand for. Yes, at level 10 a handy dandy little box comes up explaining the beliefs of each faction, but other than this, you never get to *know* the factions while questing in the Pandaren starting zone. This seems like a major let down and a case of taking the easy way out.
This build up to ultimately choosing a faction seems like the perfect time to outline the flaws and strengths of each faction. Not to mention to make things more realistic, the player could potentially have had to choose to do quests for one faction or the other as the quest line progressed. Instead the conflict and differences between the factions gets glossed over and players will find themselves wondering why they even need to choose a faction at all.
While I feel both conflict between the Horde and Alliance and phasing are major aspects missing from the Wandering Isle, my former statement still holds true. I am still in love with the Mists of Pandaria expansion, as well as the Pandaren starting zone. Considering all that could have went wrong with this expansion and this starting zone, these two flaws are minor in comparison. Sure, the addition of these elements could have made the zone even more amazing, but sometimes we don’t always get everything we want. I will still be purchasing Mists of Pandaria and am looking forward to purchasing the game and checking out the Wandering Isle on a live server hopefully in the near future.
Have you had the opportunity to try out the brand new Pandaren starting zone? Do you feel that the addition of the elements mentioned above would have made game play on the Wandering Isle better? Was anything else missing in your opinion? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!