World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review – Does It Bring Something New To WOW Or More Of The same?
by Kevin Knapp
Three weeks ago, Mists of Pandaria finally released to millions of World of Warcraft fans that have been clamoring for any new content they can get. With the supposedly general disappointment of the Cataclysm expansion for not having enough content to keep players busy for long, Blizzard had to do something to exceed players expectations. In my opinion, Blizzard has managed to do the improbable. They’ve created what I believe is the best expansion pack yet with the most content available at launch to date.
This time around, I’ve decided to write a more condensed review that hits all the high points instead of an elongated approach.
While playing through this content from level 85-90, I used a human rogue. Before the expansion started, my character was substantially geared, and I was able to play through all of the main story content in about 1 1/2 weeks. Please keep in mind that I was power-playing this expansion 12+ hours a day, so if you like to casually play World of Warcraft, your first time through MOP main content should be around 2-3 months instead of 3 weeks for me.
There are NO Spoilers for any of the story content in this review.
Graphically, WoW still manages to look decent despite being 8 years old. Compared to other expansions and the world of Azeroth in general, the realm of Pandaria has the most well-detailed environments to date. The attention to detail gives Pandaria a very exotic feel and actually does an impressive job of creating a sense of wonderment and desire to explore again. On the sound design side, there’s a myriad of appropriate music that creates the ethnic feel of the new continent. Voice acting was a little more sparse than I wanted it to be, but what is there is serviceable.
The quest structure for MOP is mostly comprised of 80% kill / collect quests and about 20% variation off this path. Even though the quest mix is in line with your expectations, the delivery method is disguised and presented in a way that’s different enough to be refreshing the first time through without detracting from your game experience.
Quest Story Strength:
Compared to previous expansions, I felt the overall sense of story and direction wasn’t as strong and compelling as previous expansions. The finale main story components for each zone do have some high points of interest, and the best story content is probably yet to be seen as more raid / end-game content becomes available. For me, the primary stories do enough to drive the player to the next area, and some of the secondary content is on par with main quest lines. For the most part, the story doesn’t present as much of a sense of urgency to achieve something great, but if you manage to find an item that starts your legendary quest line, you’ll be in for a few interesting surprises.
Quest / Item Easter Eggs:
One change I really enjoyed about MOP was the addition of adding a lot of archeology sites / content to give you a rich sense of history in Pandaria. There’s also many random items that can be found for a tidy sum of gold, and many more items can be found through using secondary skills and exploring that are used to turn in bonus quests for faction rep and rewards. Personally, I’d like to see this form of extra hidden content retroactively added to all previous and future expansions. Overall, the extra hidden items / content is something that occurs often enough to give you a sense of added discovery that adds enjoyment to the overall experience.
Faction Rep / Faction Rewards / Faction Grind:
What made the previous Cataclysm expansion not as enjoyable in this area was the poor diversity and pacing of faction content. It was almost too easy to get all your extra crafting items regardless of your skill choice, and players quickly ran out of things to do because of lack of variety. Fortunately, Mists of Pandaria seeks to remedy this approach by spacing out content in a more meaningful way that gives the players something to look forward too.
Rather than have one centralized point for Justice and Valor gear, several factions unlock the option to purchase this gear as you increase rep. The purpose of this approach is to get players to experience the story content instead of allowing players to ignore all content and go straight to level 90 dungeon grinding for badges. As players complete primary and secondary quest lines, more and more daily quests can become available to increase your rep faster. One thing I really appreciate Blizzard doing this time around is removing the cap on daily quests. Now you can grind out dailies for all factions until your heart is content.
Rep grinding for factions serves a couple of purposes. About half the factions have content that will earn you vanity mounts, recipes for skills, and misc gear / items. The other half of the factions are necessary to unlock valor / justice gear purchase options and advance the next tier of story. For example, the player is forced to reach revered with one particular faction in order to unlock two additional factions that have story and quests more inline with the endgame content.
One might argue that having multiple tiers of faction grinding is a way to superficially pad gameplay, but I disagree. I think the method of funneling players through one tier of story and rep grinding to reach the next was necessary as a stopgap measure to prevent players from overplaying and burning through the content too quickly. Personally, I get that grinding rep gets old fast, but once you knock out the secondary / vanity factions, your daily rep grind time is cut to less than half.
With the additional of the monk class and a more streamlined approach to select skills and building characters, Blizzard took a chance in either alienating or exhilarating its player base. Before MOP hit, many veteran players screamed bloody murder that they would have to re-learn their classes, and because WoW didn’t play the same, they wouldn’t like it. I couldn’t disagree more. By changing up gameplay mechanics, character builds, and removing the need to obsess over analyzing character builds, I think Blizzard has managed to make the game more streamlined and approachable for new and veteran players.
Every 15 levels, you can pick one of 3 major skills, and there’s an overall 3 builds of each class that you can select. Rather than focus on micro stats, MOP has the player focus on which abilities serve the most utility in terms of a player’s preference in play style. For my Rogue, I primarily use the Combat skill set, and I have my character tweaked for a blend of maximum dps, survivability, and PVP combat utility. Sure, I’m not spec’d to play as well in PVP because of my lack of focus on stealth, but since I like to PVE a lot more than PVP, my build is perfect for my tastes.
End Game Content – Dungeons / Raids / Scenarios / Challenges:
I’ve been able to play through every single dungeon on normal and heroic, and I thought each dungeon was very well designed albeit some were a bit short. Personally, I felt going through dungeon content was somewhat easier than I remember from playing cataclysm. Every time I ran a dungeon, I used a pick-up group to test difficulty with random players. Overall, I was satisfied with the dungeon content, and the boss battles have a couple of new mechanics that will surprise and entertain you the first few times through.
On the raid side of things, I didn’t get to play as much content because both my guild and my server in general didn’t reach high-end content as quickly as I hoped they would. As of now, my item level is 468, and I’ve managed to play through a handful of world boss encounters and Mogu’Shan Vaults 25-man using the Looking For Raid Finder and the 10-man raid for normal mode. Even though the dungeons seem easier, Blizzard makes up for it by making the raids a more punishing experience. Without well geared players, actual teamwork, and knowledge of boss mechanics, its very difficult in MOP to even clear the first boss in order to get any piece of high-end gear.
I realize for raid areas that I’m nowhere close to where I need to be in order to completely review all the end-game content, so I’m not going to try. I will say that what I have experienced so far is very challenging, fun, and I looking forward to clearly additional content in the future.
The last component of dungeon-like content is scenarios. These are 3-man style dungeons where you have to fight your way through multiple stages of objectives in order to earn value badge rewards, items, a chest of gold. Personally, the amount of time you have to invest in these is equivalent to clearing any heroic dungeon. The difference is that in a heroic dungeon, you get to fight more bosses, earn more justice points, and have more chances to get better loot. I’ve cleared all the scenarios except two, and I liked what I played. However, investment vs reward wise, I feel this content needs to be tweaked and rebalanced. I’m glad Blizzard added this extra form of content, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they refine it in the future.
Pets / Pet Battle System:
This is one of the features added to WoW that I wasn’t personally interested in, but I gave it a chance anyway. Pet battles allow you to take most of the pets you’ve found or bought in the game up to this point and pit them against creatures you’ll find on every continent. All of your pets, abilities, and gained experience are bind on account, so you can build up your pets regardless of any character you wish to play. As you increase your pet’s level, you gain new abilities that allow your pets to manipulate, heal, or damage enemies. You can also have more than one of the same pet, and there’s a list of all the pets you can find in-game so you can complete your collection.
Pet battles seem like an excellent way to bolster your overall achievement score, get extra gold, and have fun “Catching em all” if you’re into games like Pokemon. Personally, I was much more interested in playing through all the level 85-90 content to backtrack through each continent to find and level up pets. One minor annoyance I dislike about the pet system is that when you highlight over a pet in the Auction House, the game no longer tells you if you already own that pet. Sure, you can find most pets now, but people still buy faction rep pets so they don’t have to grind for them personally. From this point forward, unless you manually check your long list of pets before making a purchase, you can end up buying duplicates that waste gold and time.
Playing The Monk:
Personally, I was determined to hit end-game with my rogue, so I haven’t had a chance to play the entire game again with the Monk class. I did manage to play through the beginning area, and I liked the story overall. However, once you complete the initial story line and are dumped back into Azeroth, I felt that same sense of dread I had from leveling a Worgen. The initial story is a breath of fresh air, and then levels 20-85 fall into the “Same old game” feeling.
Monks can be used to tank, dps, and heal, so they have a wide range of utility despite your play style. Monks use abilities and chi-based abilities. You might call this combat style a standard / rogue skill point hybrid system. Overall, I liked what I played, but I’ll have to spend more time with the Monk to get a sense of its overall feel. Personally, I plan I using a Monk to tank end-game content once I get around to it.
Playing WoW without a guild these days is now considered unnecessary drudgery because if you’re in a level 25 guild, you have access to gear, perks, and bonuses that make leveling and overall gameplay so much more enjoyable. This time around, Blizzard has added new heirlooms, mounts, crafting recipes, and vanity clothing to motivate your guild to have something new to shoot for. As of now, the guild level cap still sits at 25, and I’m not sure when it will be increased. Once that happens, we’ll all have something new to shoot for that adds a new level of convenience and accomplishment in-game.
Player Verse Player Content:
As of now, MOP doesn’t have a new dedicated PVP area similar to Tol Barad or Wintergrasp, but it does have 2 new battlegrounds and 1 new arena for your killing pleasure. Personally, I’m not good at arena combat, and my guild is mostly PVE. Despite this, I was able to get both the crafting tier and honor tiers of Season 12 PVP gear. Right now I’m working on getting a complete set of conquest PVP gear.
The first new battleground is the Temple of Kotmogu. In this battle, there’s 4 flag points in each corner of the inner structure on the map. Once either team grabs these neutral flags they can points as long as they’re not dropped. The closer you bring the flags to the center of the map, the more points your team scores per tick. If you stay on the outer middle section, you can score 3 to 4 points per tick. If you’re feeling dangerous and drop into the center portion of the map, you’ll get 5 points per tick. If a flag carrier is killed, their flag is instantly moved back to the pickup point in the corner it came from for either team to grab. Technically, a team could take the flags and run to the out edges of the map, but this strategy won’t score any points. Overall, this battleground has a beautiful balance of attack, defense, strategy, and teamwork. This battleground is also designed in a way that forces combat in a meaningful way.
The second battleground is Silvershard Mine. In this battle, there’s 3 neutral mine carts moving to collection points. If a team walks up to the mine cart first, they gain control. Then, its your objective to defend that cart until its collected to score. The opposition team has to kill all players within the area of effect of the mine cart in order to steal control away. There’s also railroad track control points that allow a team to redirect the movement of a mine cart, so your team respawns closer to were the cart is moving. This particular battleground is also very well balanced in premise. If you can manage to consistently control or regain 2 of 3 mine carts most of the time, you can win rather quickly. However, since this battle takes place in more closed quarters, each team is much more susceptible to AOE damage.
I had a chance to max out all secondary crafting skills like cooking, fishing, and archeology. This time around, Blizzard added additional content to elongate the experience and give players more to do. For fishing, players need bulk mats to convent them to cooking badges. For cooking, after you level up your main cooking skill to 600, there’s 6 additional sub-factions of cooking skills that must also be level to 600. The purpose of doing this is to earn more recipes geared for buffing 10 to 25 man raids. On archeology, a lot of exploration points of interest were added into the game to unlock hidden gear / vanity items and grind rep for the new explorer faction.
For the main skills, the only ones I’ve had a chance to max out so far are skinning and leatherworking. Getting leather materials or scales to craft mail this time around isn’t particularly difficult, but crafting many of the new items / recipes are dependent on getting 10 motes to form 1 spirit of harmony. The drop rates for spirit of harmony motes aren’t very high, so you could quite possibly grind for over an hour just to get enough to make 1 if you’re lucky.
I particularly liked that with leatherworking, players can how craft item level 450 Season 12 PVP gear. That means that instead of sucking in PVP battle while you painstakingly buy each piece of your Item level 458 gear from the honor vendor, you can at least craft or buy this gear at the Auction House to be competitive.
Unlike Cataclysm, where it was too easy to get way too many epic leather crafting recipes up front, you have to grind one faction to Revered before having access to the few recipes currently available. For my rogue, I was able to finally craft a chest piece and gloves, but it took forever to get them. Why? The chest uses 8 spirits of harmony, and the gloves use 6. Since Blizzard was smart enough to make premium material items Bind On Pickup this time around, it takes a cosniderable amount of time to make one item.
Despite WoW showing its age, I felt Mists of Pandaria is an excellent expansion that brings a large amount of engaging, diverse content compared to its last expansion. For WoW veteran players, the majority of this new content is geared towards players like you that want to grind and fight-it-out for endgame glory and supremacy. For casual and new players, WoW has become so much more approachable now that its fun to pickup and play for just about anyone. Veteran players might not like the more streamlined approach to character builds and development, but this approach will definitely attract more players to try WoW and continue to play. In the end, I think all WoW players want more people to play with, so I believe Blizzard is making the right game design decisions needed to keep this game fresh and interesting. If you decide to dive back into WoW after a long hiatus, I think you’ll be satisfied with the overall content. Take this from someone who normally plays this game a lot in 1 or 2 month chunks and then takes a 6-8 month break.
+ Tons of secondary content
+ Significantly better pacing to unlock faction rewards, crafting items, and story content
+ An Impressive amount of end-game content is immediately available
+ PVP has a significant amount of new content
– Story lacks the sense of urgency and potency past expansions have had
– Past level 20, Leveling a Monk to 85 still feels depressing for veteran players
– Scenarios Risk Vs. Reward balance could be improved upon
OVERALL RATING: 8 / 10
Thank you for reading my review! Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section below