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It’s been two years since Blizzard announced their previous expansion for World of Warcraft, Cataclysm. The expansion that was eagerly anticipated and highly regarded at the start gradually became one of the most slow-paced and, to many, disappointing expansions ever released. To say that WoW players are approaching Mists of Pandaria with apprehension is an understatement. However, after exploring the land of Pandaria and all of the content currently at my disposal, I can safely say that Mists of Pandaria is off to a far better start.
Mists of Pandaria is the 4th expansion for the World of Warcraft series and invites max level players to tackle a brand new continent of challenges known as “Pandaria”. The expansion also introduces the land’s local species and new playable race, the Pandaren, a species of Asian-inspired humanoid Pandas who serve not only as the majority of NPCs throughout the world but are also playable for both Alliance and Horde, the first time such an option has ever been allowed or introduced.
In addition, players can now choose a new class, the first since Death Knights in Wrath of the Lich King and the first new class to begin at level 1 since the game’s launch in 2004, the Monk. Monks are a hybrid class with the versatility to specialize in melee damage, tanking or healing. All this and features such as Pet Battles, farming, Challenge Mode dungeons, Scenarios, new dungeons and raids and much, much more. These features give players from 1 to 90 a plethora of content to explore and compete in, making Mists of Pandaria one of the most versatile launches in World of Warcraft history.
When I first dove into the new expansion, it was midnight Pacific, the instant the servers went live for the North American realms. At that moment, me and several thousand of my closest friends all tried to turn in the first quest and begin our journey to Pandaria. Things were off to a rough start as the initial quest, which puts you in an on-rails style shooter behind the wheel of a gyrocopter, was clearly shown to have weaknesses as a launch night bottleneck. The quest, which requires you to use the rockets on your copter to kill Horde, destroy machinery and sink two warships was plagued by slow respawns of key destroyable targets and hundreds of players attempting to do those quests at the same time. Even a built-in queue system couldn’t help and it took some players upwards of several hours to complete just this first – and only – quest.
However, once we were past the first quest, I could safely say that I was – and have been – impressed by the flow, quest design, rewards and more of Pandaria. Climbing my way to 90 has been fun and the new continent and race has provided an incredible amount of flavor and color to a world that has needed something beyond “scary dragons and fire” for a few years. Quests are typical fare for WoW – go here, kill X amount of this, find this, discover this, and so on. But the rewards system has been overhauled to a method very similar to modern MMOs, where instead of offering the same variety of gear to every player, the rewards are tied in specifically to your active specialization. While this does make off-spec gearing a bit challenging at lower levels, it’s nice to always get a decent reward – or at least a functional reward – from a quest.
One of my favorite elements of the reward system has been the collection of fun, flavor items. I’ve already earned a handful of items that do playful little things such as paint other players orange or spawn turnip punching bags, rewards that may take up a bit of bank space but still provide something more interesting than a helm or cloak or bracer that I can’t even use. Beyond that, the functional rewards have been great and versatile enough to help build my stats in a specific way.
Blizzard tried something a little different by directing every player into one quest hub at level 85 and only splitting them apart in the next zone, where players can choose from one of two hubs (or do both, if they desire). It seemed to me that, even with the massive amount of players, the only real hiccup was with the starting quest. Most of the other quests were easily manageable due to dynamic respawn timers on quest mobs and item spawns.
Aside from Pandaria, I also experienced the new class and race as I rolled out a new Pandaren Monk. The starting hub for Pandaren is quick with rapid-fire questing, easy levels and a good introduction to your type of Pandaren. The evolution of the starting quest chain leading to your decision to join the Horde or Alliance is well-designed and at least I didn’t get any rotten fruit thrown at me when I travelled to Stormwind to see the King. The new class should be incredibly interesting and fun, and while I still have a lot more to explore with it, I think folks may have a lot of fun with it going forward.
But beyond all that, with all of the Patch 5.0 changes, there’s a whole new game out there to explore. But let’s take a much closer look at the game.