World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (PC) Review
Posted by Marc Morrison on 11.08.2012
Does the newest expansion to WoW manage to update the game in new and exciting ways? Or is it simply show what a relic the game is from when MMO’s were all the rage? 411mania’s Marc Morrison finds out inside.
Title: World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Players: 1-Thousands (MMO), Online Multiplayer Only
Rating: T for Teen
Another two years and a new World of Warcraft expansion hits the shelves. Since the release of WoW back in 2004, expansions have hit fairly regularly with Burning Crusade in early 2007, Lich King in late 2008, Cataclysm (or Cah-Tack-Ah-Lism if you want to use the proper pronunciation) in 2010, and Mists of Pandaria in 2012. Each expansion has fundamentally altered and expanded the world of Azeroth, from new land masses, new races and classes, and increasing the overall game in a multitude of ways. The question of “Is Pandaria worth your time?” is a bit double-sided because if you’re already a WoW-addict, this review won’t dissuade you one way or the other from having (likely) already bought it, and burned through the new content in your never-ending goal to get better loot. If you’re a casual WoW player though, this review is geared more towards you and whether or not it’s worth your time or not.
I was originally hoping to split the review into two parts, with me covering the high-end part, and another reviewer was going to cover the starting area and a bit of the Monk class. Those plans fell a bit through, so I took on a bit of the Monk stuff, but not enough to dive deep into that. Look for that info near the bottom.
The new high-end level content is fairly decent. It isn’t quite as revolutionary as Lich King’s or Cataclysm’s but the overall mechanics are as solid as ever. Actually, some of the mechanics feel a bit dated with the game kind of showing its age in certain spots. The basic formula in MoP is to get a few quests from a town, do them, get a few more quests, do them, and then either get a boss quest, or a quest to go to another town and begin the process all over again.
The quest types are all staples that you’ve done a million other times also, “Go Kill or Collect this Enemy or Item” seems to be the most prevalent one in the new land. There are a few unique ones, like doing a mini-game like the “Test Your Might” game from Mortal Kombat, or quests where you take over another character, and do things from their perspective. One of these was pretty nifty, as you are a sniper who is killing “hosen” (monkey’s) and Orc’s, from a scoped perspective, as a partner does actions in the enemy camp. Yes, they’ve finally managed to get Call of Duty in World of Warcraft. Good job, Activision.
It feels just…stale. If you are into that, that’s fine, but it’s going on 8 years now, and the fundamentals haven’t changed much. Maybe it’s asking too much to expect them to, but I’m tired of picking up random sparkly bits on the ground, or waiting for the monster’s I need to kill to respawn in an area, because they’ve already been killed by someone else.
The big new place is obviously the Pandaria continent where you can explore and level up. Leveling up is actually a pretty streamlined affair, I was able to go from 86 to 87 in about a day of hard playing, and 87 to 88 in about 2 days’ worth of work. Quests lead into each other very well, with you getting a quest to talk to three people in three different towns, and each town having multiple quests for you to undertake. The odd thing about the Pandaria land is that I actually kind of found it vaguely racist. It just feels like it goes FULL bore on every stereotypical Asian location that I got uncomfortable and bored after a while. There is the zone full of palaces, another zone full of gardens and cooks, and another zone full of Cherry Blossom’s and so on. There are even two zones that are separated by a MASSIVE wall that borders the entire zone boarder. They do spice it up from time to time, but I’d say it leans 90/10 in terms of Asian locations vs. something actually original. Three of the big new dungeons are; “Temple of the Jade Serpent”, “The Stormstout Brewery” and the “Shado-Pan Monastery”. Give me a break, guys. The zones in the overall map aren’t much better, with their being 7 distinct zones on the Pandaria continent but the names are so bland, “Valley of the Four Winds” and “Vale of Eternal Blossoms” as to be completely meaningless when you’re trying to figure out where to go. Only 1 of the 7 sections isn’t an Asian stereotype.
One of the new overall gameplay systems is with pet battles. Finally, pets aren’t just status items, but they can be indentured to you and forced to fight on your behalf. It’s basically a slightly less competent version of Pokemon that Blizzard has come up with. Each pet (there are over 200) has an affinity, mechanical, aquatic, critter, and so on, and each is weak against one affinity and strong against another. You can find random pets in the world to fight, or you can challenge specific trainers to fight them. Each pet has up to 4 different attacks that can be utilized in a fight. You can also trap “wild” pets in the game world, in which after you’ve lowered their health below 35%, you can throw out a box to trap them. If you get them under 20%, you’ll have a better chance of trapping them. It is a very goofy and simplistic system, but it is kind of neat. I have a fondness for collecting pets, so it’s cool to see my Mini-Thor, or Netherwind Whelp battling a rabbit in the streets of Stormwind.
There’s a new “Challenge” mode that is associated with the new dungeons. Basically, you’re given a timer for the dungeon, the gear is “normalized” (meaning you get new temporary gear for the instance), and you’re told to get through it as quick as possible. There are three medals associated with this, gold silver and bronze, with the better prizes being given to people who earn gold medals. It’s a neat idea (in theory), but I just don’t like it. Before this system, even in the normal game, most groups rush through a dungeon at top speed, trying to get it over with. Giving insane people like that, even more ammunition to speed-run a dungeon doesn’t sound like fun to me. I like to take my time when I’m questing, or in an instance, not having the jackass (usually) tank pulling everything he can, without giving any of the mana classes time to regen mana, or saying that if the priest was “doing their job” then he wouldn’t have died on a boss.
The spellbook and talent system is changed in this game, for simplicity’s sake. Blizzard chucked out the previous talent system, where you had a huge talent tree and you got a point to put in a new talent at every level. Instead, the new talent tree has only 6 levels, with you getting a single point to put into a specialization every 15 levels. You still choose a specialization at level 10, but that isn’t as important now, especially since they introduce dual-spec a while ago. This has removed a lot of spells from the game, and streamlined things a bit. It’s a good and bad thing, really. It’s good in that it does help focus your attack patterns, and the new abilities are pretty interesting. It’s bad because it really kills the idea of customizing your character, and some spells that were in the game since launch (or even beta) have been removed. You can still dual-spec so it’s mitigated somewhat, but it feels like a weird “Two steps forward, one step backward” situation.
The Monk class is the new thing to this expansion, and my overall thought was that it wasn’t that fun to play. The crux of the class is that it’s basically like a Druid, in that it can either be a tank, a DPS, or a healer, with the specialization chosen. Only instead of mana management, you deal with energy management, and more importantly, Chi management to utilize attacks. The basic rotation is that when you attack an enemy, you Jab him twice (knocking your energy below the 40 number). With two Jabs though, you will have built up 4 Chi to use, then all your other spells come into play. Some spells might require 1 or 2 Chi to use, while others require 3 or 4. Once your Chi has been depleted, it’s time for you to Jab again to build it back up. This is pretty much all I did during my time, Jabbing, using the other spells and watching my Chi counter go up and down. Later spells and talents do change this around some, but I didn’t make it that far. Each class of Monk also has their own talent tree (like every other class in the game), and some classes have multiple stances for you to deal with, as well.
The Monk starting area has you on a giant Turtle (literally, a Turtle island floating around), as you try and see what is going on. The Alliance & Horde have crashed on the Turtle-Island though, and you have to get them off. At the end of this little section (think around levels 1-10), you’re given a flat choice of if you want to go with the Alliance or Horde. Once you make your choice, that it’s for Turtle Island (which also has a lot of Asian motifs), and you’re drop-kicked to Stormwind or Orgrimmar. It would’ve been a very neat idea if they had just kept the Pandarian race neutral, completely, so that you could side with either side in the game.
There are a few general improvements I do like in this expansion. For one, they got rid of all the stupid reagents and stuff certain spells/abilities needed. My main guy is a mage, so I always had to carry around a supply of Rune of Teleportation/Portal, some Light Feathers, and some wood for making a cooking fire. Most (if not all) other classes had a few items that were in-line with this philosophy. All of that is gone. They just made it so that nothing really requires reagents anymore. It’s sporting of them. Another nice thing they did is make the pets and mounts bound to your account, and not just to your character. So before, if you had two characters, they each had two different sets of mounts and pets, and so on. Now, it’s all just in an overall account pool of pets/mounts, so even if you make a new character, you’ll still see everything from your older characters (outside of the actual mount training/level requirements).
Graphically, the game is really starting to show its age. While the graphics engine has been improved and tried to keep up, the game is still feeling old. The game can’t rely on its art style anymore, especially since the art style feels lifted from Asia so completely. Weather, water, and some animations/designs are good, but the overall technical detail feels lacking. The new continent is pretty, and so is Azeroth still (due to the Cataclysm upgrade), but Northrend and especially Outland are dated to the extreme.
Audio is about what you might expect from the game. The new voice work for the Alliance and Horde are good, but the Pandarian are (again) fairly stereotypical and generic. Likewise for the music, with the Asian influences fitting into the overall specific area, but the moment you think about it, it all sounds anachronistic. The sound effects are nothing to write home about either, with everything sounding the same, going back 8 years. One really cool thing though was the pet battle music, it used a remixed (I think) track from Warcraft 2. That was a very nice tough, and it brought a smile to my face.
The amount of replay you have in the game is largely dependent upon how big of a WoW addict you are. Once you hit 90, and do all the main quests, you can start doing “dailies” (repeatable quests), and then this leads into instances, which leads into normal raids, which leads into heroic raids. There is something like over 40 daily quests for collecting faction rep, which is insane. I kind of like running an instance or two, but that’s it. Raids and guilds are for crazy people to me. Collecting gear and loot doesn’t appeal to me because, ultimately, the entire endeavor is pointless. WoW, from a practical sense, is going to probably go on for 10 years, at least, if not 20. You’re never going to get the best necklace in the game because there is *no* best necklace. There is only the best necklace currently, and who really cares? You can spend 6 months running raids, gathering the materials, to craft “Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest” (the best caster staff in the previous expansion), and the second this expansion hits, those items you poured all that time and energy into, instantly become worthless, and the grind begins anew. Still, the pet battles are fun, the Monk can be interesting (if you like some versatility), and if perpetually doing the same things over and over is your thing, then World of Warcraft has your back in spades.
There is a prevailing sense in this expansion that it didn’t go far enough. After the update that Cataclysm brought, Pandaria should’ve updated Outland AND established the new Pandaria landmass. The lack of an overall “big bad” enemy, the quasi-racist themes, and the generally feeling of “I’ve done all this before” stays with you almost the entire time you play the game. While there are some new systems (pet battles), new improvements (talents, mounts and reagents), and a new race/class combo, the expansion is a bit of a let-down. Fans of World of Warcraft will surely enjoy it, but those people are barely human. It’s good to look at for 30 days, but unless you enjoy raiding and running on a big virtual hamster wheel, then you will likely tire of the game quickly.
Dated but still decent enough. The environments and such aren't that impressive anymore. Some good weather effects, though.
The pet battles, Monk, and talent system are neat additions. The core gameplay of WoW hasn't changed much in the past 8 years and is stale.
I hope you like Asian-themed music, and a lot of it. There's some good voice acting in the game, but a lot of it is very stereotypical.
Considering the end-game isn't in the game yet, is bothersome. How much do you like doing repetitive motions over and over again?
Aside from getting ganked several times, it's still decent enough to level, skill up, and kill enemies. There's just nothing driving you anymore, outside of gear.