The expansion to World of Warcraft's Mists of Pandaria is huge. An ending, it starts at level one, with a new starting area for the new pandaren race. At the other end, the cap is increased from 85 to 90 and a massive number of high-end and endgame zones are added.
So the Pandaria Mists are best viewed from two different perspectives. First, how is it for the new player? Since the game introduces a new character race and starting area, it means that it will give players new to the game a good chance to jump in. Second, how is it for the experienced player? If someone has been on hold at level 85 for years, what does Mists of Pandaria offer that player, and how does his many changes improve or decrease the World of Warcraft experience?
To get both perspectives, we did something we had never done before and tagged the review. I created a brand new World of Warcraft account and rolled my first level 1 pandaren to experience the world. Mike Fahey logged back into his long dormant level 85 character and set off to explore the higher levels of Pandaria. We both recorded our experiences with the game. This is what we think.
The newcomer: From level one
Imagine a party. As you approach, music and laughter streams from every door and window, down the lawn and into the street. Obviously the people inside are having a good time.
WHY: It is a sequel to the World of Warcraft experience, but at this point, that experience just isn't enough.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
Release date: 25th of September
Type of game: Expansion of the Asian theme into a huge, expansive and well-established fantasy MMORPG
What we played: (Kate) Creates a new level 1 pandaren and mostly plays solo quests well into the high 20's
(Mike) Got a few new levels for my level 85 Alliance mage, collected pets, and raised turnips. Logged into my nephew's level 90 character to explore the rest of the new zones. Transferred gold from my nephew to my account without his knowing. That'll show him.
Our two favorite things
- The vast size, reach, and size of the world (complete with appropriately epic music
- The lands of Pandaria are beautifully designed keeping in mind the limitations of the aging game engine.
Our two least favorite things
- Constant competition with other players for resources (mainly kills) and the associated rush (for respawns) roadblock in the search
- There isn't enough to distract from the tired gameplay of the previous 85 levels.
Back-of-box offers made to order
- "I'm a blue-haired panda who kills the homeless for the good side. Wow, WoW." -Kate Cox, Kotaku.com
- "It's been a wonderful seven years, but I think it's time we saw other people." -Mike Fahey, Kotaku.com
The house is huge. There must be twenty rooms and a spacious back yard. Everywhere you turn there are enormous crowds. You haven't found the bathroom yet, but you managed to get to the kitchen and bar well enough.
Drink in hand, shouldering your way through the crowd from room to room. You were sure there would be some people you know here but then you realize you missed them by a couple of hours – now they are elsewhere and are not coming back.
If you listen to the conversations around you you will find that everyone else here works for the same big company. They all talk about things about work that you just can't get. You all showed up fresh to the office in $ 1,000 suits and designer shoes, and you're wearing one-year-old Old Navy jeans.
It's not a bad party. The drinks are good, the hosts are welcoming, and there is an insane amount of food. Everyone else is having fun. But when you arrived this late, you just don't fit into the established conversations. You are drifting on the sidelines and hearing some inside jokes that you don't understand.
It seemed like it was supposed to be fun, but this just isn't your night. This party started without you and you don't add anything – or take something out. After another tour of the house, when your drink is gone, put the cup down and the night owls calmly leave it to them.
I can't think of a better analogy for myself and a month of World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft is by no means a bad game. It does a lot of things very well. Most of these things, however, are geared towards getting players quickly and efficiently to the maximum level where those players can then enter the raid progression.
After eight years, it is not unexpected that WoW is focusing on its loyal players, the roughly ten million subscribers who occupy these upper tiers. As a result, however, it doesn't feel particularly welcome to new players – and that starts from the moment you buy it. Mists of Pandaria does not contain the base game or any other expansion content. A new player must first buy the combat box and then a Pandaria key.
The early level pandaren content doesn't necessarily add significantly to the new gaming experience either. Although the Wandering Isle itself is very beautiful, it introduces WoW's many petty nuisances early on. Each task has to be repeated a little too often – why 10 or 12 dead people when 6 would teach me a skill as well? Why does the (x) I need to collect from Monster Type (y) only drop an average of one in three kills? And why do I need a dozen of them?
Even so, the story arc that wanders the Wandering Isle does a good job of setting the point and purpose of Pandaria in the larger scheme of things and introducing both the Horde and Alliance as worthy partners that a young pandaren could join. But as soon as the Horde and Alliance show up, that's the end. Immediately at level 12, the player leaves the Wandering Isle, never to return, and goes straight to the content of the "old world".
Cataclsym is fine, but it's not Pandaria. Understanding why a disaster is so important, and how it will affect the before and after of Azeroth, requires a context that a new player just doesn't have. And instead of walking around and exploring the distraction of an Asian-themed world full of soaring temples and irritating monkeys, it goes back to the same old man, dwarven and elf.
For a really new player who has been exploring other MMORPG offerings in the past few years, WoW really shows its age. The art has a clear style, but feels very undefined around the edges and lacks the crispness of a 2012 offer. Getting around feels awkward and slow, and the pandaren experience involves a lot of backtracking for a player looking to improve on a profession like skinning or mining.
The game's familiar penchant for pop humor can also be extremely distracting at times. Sure, I understand Mikael Bay is going to boom something (which is typical of a gnome) but … where do the thugs of the medieval human village I'm in get their sunglasses from?
In the end, I just go through the motions and don't know why. I'm doing a search because it's here. I collect loot from corpses because I really need coins to practice basic skills. I move through the world because it tells me and not because I want to see something. Sure, the world has some high points, but that's just not enough motivation to play through the 73 levels that interrupt the story that Mists of Pandaria began to tell on the Wandering Isle.
The Veteran: Level 85 and above
Seven years. I've been playing in Blizzard's colorful cartoon fantasy world for almost seven years. It started out as an obsession, every waking moment of those first few months of not sleeping, eating, or making a paycheck was spent exploring every aspect of this strange new place.
As the months turned into years, as is often the case, my relationship with World of Warcraft developed into a pleasant pattern. I would dig into high-end content and at some point set out to give other massive multiplayer games a chance to win me over. You never did.
Blizzard kept pulling me back with the release of the groundbreaking expansion. The burning crusade seduced me with the promise to explore new foreign landscapes. Wrath of the Lich King introduced an intriguing new character class and battle against one of the location's most tragic villains. The daring catastrophe forcibly reformatted the entire world of Azeroth and gave me a compelling reason to re-explore the planet. I waited with dizzying anticipation for each new expansion to come out.
It was no different with Mists of Pandaria. I signed off in the Alliance capital, Stormwind, so I am ready to plunge headlong into the newly discovered panda lands as soon as the pack goes live. I spent the first few hours in the game cooing about new features and enjoying the Asian flair of Pandaria while familiarizing myself with the major changes to the game mechanics that had been introduced since my last serious game.
And then I got bored. So very bored.
Within minutes of a rather spectacular entry into the newly discovered expansion countries, I was back in the old World of Warcraft quest pattern. I killed a certain number of things. I collected a certain number of objects. While these simple tasks often culminate in spectacular set pieces, these brilliant moments end too quickly and it's all about the search again. I am a machine that accumulates experience points and equipment to make it easier to gain more experience points and equipment.
Within minutes of a rather spectacular entry into the newly discovered expansion countries, I was back in the old World of Warcraft quest pattern.
This is certainly the same formula that World of Warcraft has always used. The problem is, Blizzard has no more ways to distract me from it.
Part of the blame lies in the previous Cataclysm expansion. The profound restructuring of the world has been such a profound and powerful change that a handful of new areas to explore – no matter how well elaborated and full of lore – pales in comparison.
Gradually downshifting the game mechanics also plays an important role in revealing the tired gameplay. Back then, when there were sprawling skill trees and types of equipment to line and skim over, I could keep myself busy planning my character or hunting armor and weapons. Now I have nine sets of three talents each to choose from, and each quest line is designed to ensure my character is adequately equipped for the challenges ahead.
There are new distractions here. I participated in the expansion's Pokemon-style pet battles and enjoyed the supplement cooking mini-game more than I probably should. However, with full game versions of both experiences available, there's no reason for me to spend $ 15 a month playing around with them here.
Mind you, I come from the mindset of a World of Warcraft veteran who only plays player versus environment. I am not an attacker. I am not a PVP. I just enjoy getting together in a group with friends or strangers and going through quest content. At least I did.
It's funny that Kate mentions that Mists of Pandaria focuses on the most loyal players in World of Warcraft. I count myself among them, but I don't feel love.
Republished with permission. Kate Cox is an editor at Kotaku, as is Mike Fahey. You can also find him on Twitter.