Posted on October 18, 2012, Phil Hornshaw World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Impressions
Last time I was at Blizzard’s campus in Irvine, Calif., Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development Chris Metzen said that Mists of Pandaria was supposed to be a step back from the World of Warcraft we’d seen in other expansions.
Pandaria, he said, is about exploration. The call to adventure. Visiting a new land, discovering its mysteries, helping to save and protect it. The expansion is not about some ever-looming threat, but about the war between the Horde and the Alliance. It’s also a brighter and somewhat cheerier take on WoW, a step back from all that doom and gloom of Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm.
Metzen said at the time that he and the rest of the WoW team thought players could use a breather, in a sense. A step away from the much darker events of earlier expansions, to prepare to go dark again in the future. So Mists of Pandaria uses lusher colors, and its panda-based, Eastern-influenced race is lighter-hearted than many or most of the other races available in the game. For the most part, I think, it all works really well. Pandaria is a place worth exploring for WoW veterans, and although it probably won’t be drawing many in the way of new players, it does give some great reasons to return to Azeroth.
In many senses, WoW could use some lightening up. Cataclysm was exciting with the attack of the massive dragon Deathwing and the damage it did to the world, but it’s nice to step away from all that fiery death for a bit. And that’s not to say that Mists of Pandaria isn’t dark, but its tone is certainly a step in a different direction from where WoW has been treading of late. It’s a welcome change, in many respects.
And the expansion offers a lot. The new pandaren race has a starting zone that is very different from many of the locations seen in the past. As you begin with your (faction-unaffiliated) pandaren character, you find yourself on a floating island that’s actually on the back of a turtle. The architecture is huge, lush and colorful; the jungles surrounding the villages and temples are deep and mysterious. The sense of exploration and discovery is palpable everywhere, making starting with a new Pandaren monk an interesting experience for the first 12 or so levels.
Full disclosure: I’m not much of a WoW player — more familiar with the game than incredibly experienced with it, which is why this is an impressions piece rather than a straight review. That said, I’ve spent a lot of time with WoW and its various expansions, I’ve spoken a lot with the developers, and I’ve played a fair amount of the game. However, my experience sways toward lower-level characters more than high-level content, and so for me, the more compelling bit of the game was starting out and seeing the world from a Pandaren perspective. In this sense, Blizzard is right on point.
And starting with the new Monk class is a pretty good time, as well. Monks feel very active (although Blizzard has added the auto-attack functionality that it originally planned to leave off the Monk class, and wasn’t included in preview builds I had tried), and early on comes with a dodge move that can be useful in the right circumstances. The ability trees are simplified in Pandaria, and Monks can be specialized into being either tanks (Brewmasters), DPS (Windwalker) or healer (Mistweaver). Instead of spending a lot of points, you choose from one of three abilities at every 15 levels. That makes figuring out what the hell you’re doing, especially with the new class or for newer players, a lot easier in the past, but it feels like a lot of customization has been the casualty of the change.
Though the Pandaren start zone and the new class are pretty fun, the real benefit of Mists of Pandaria is in its higher-level content. Blizzard is addressing problems players have had with Cataclysm by making sure there’s plenty to do in general. Pandaria itself feels suitably huge, and the story the expansion tells gets right into the thick of the Horde vs. Alliance war. Arriving on Pandaria, I was immediately engrossed in first the conflict, and then in attempts at setting up diplomatic relations with local Pandaren. The quests quickly start to immerse you in the world, and you’re stumbling across various races and their internal and external conflicts, to which you’re bringing your war. From a story point of view, it’s pretty dramatic.