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World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Genre: Role Playing
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment Classification: TBC
Release Date:
25th September 2012
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review
Review By @ 03:22pm 31/10/12
When it comes to MMOs, things don’t get much bigger than World of Warcraft. Love it or hate it (and there’re plenty of people out there in each camp), it’s hard to deny the momentum this juggernaut of a game still has even after nearly nine years since its initial release. Which brings us to Mists of Pandaria (MoP), the latest and possibly most controversial expansion for the game.

When MoP was announced, it set the internet afire with accusations that Blizzard had finally jumped the shark, with their plans to introduce a new race of anthropomorphic pandas known as the Pandaren, along with their homeland, the titular Pandaria. After inhabiting this mysterious new land for the past month though, I have to say that in my opinion this is probably the best expansion Blizzard has made for their aging MMO in a long time, possibly ever.

Now the reason I prefaced my previous statement with “in my opinion” is because, in the case of a game like World of Warcraft, it’s really impossible to state with any absolute certainty that something is good and will appeal to players, because there’s just such a huge range of players out there who enjoy many different aspects of the game and play it in many different ways. Since Mists of Pandaria launched I’ve seen it bring people back to the game who haven’t played for years because it’s such a fresh, new take on things and I’ve seen it drive other people away who’ve stuck with the game because it turns them off. It’s also worth noting, if you already hate World of Warcraft, or have not enjoyed it in the past, this expansion will not change your mind.

While the content is new and fresh, and some of the mechanics such as the talent system have been revised, it is still the same game it always was, with all the baggage you would expect from a nine year-old MMO. Of course, if you’re a fan of World of Warcraft, this is good news, because it’s more of what you love. So, your mileage may vary, but for what it’s worth the general consensus seems to be that Blizzard has really pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this one.

By introducing the continent of Pandaria as the new level 85 to 90 questing area, Blizzard has managed to recapture that feeling of exploring a strange new land that really hasn’t been present in the game for a while now. A major criticism of Cataclysm, the previous expansion, was how spread out and disconnected the new content felt but MoP most definitely does not suffer from this problem. The whole levelling experience throughout the continent of Pandaria feels connected, as the things you do in one zone ripple on and affect the other zones you travel into afterwards. At the same time though, the levelling experience is a lot less linear than has traditionally been true in World of Warcraft, and players are often able to choose which order they will tackle the zones, and the quests within those zones in.

New level 85 players arriving in Pandaria will start in the Jade Forest, a zone which by itself is probably 1.5 times larger than anything in Cataclysm. Unlike previous expansions, all players, from both factions will all come into Pandaria through this zone, and while this did cause a few issues in the few days after the expansion launched, with overpopulation and fierce competition for quest NPCs and such, it quickly smoothed out into a generally good experience. After the Jade Forest players can move into the Valley of the Four Winds which is the agricultural heart of Pandaria, full of fields and rolling hills, and from there can either go and explore the jungles of the Krasarang Wilds or the soaring peaks of the Kun-Lai Summit (a zone which is essentially the Pandaria equivalent of Tibet, complete with a Mount Neverest). From there things take a bit of a darker tone as you head over the Wall and into the Townlong Steppes and the Dread Wastes, home of the insectoid Mantid. In the middle of the continent is the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, which contains level 90 content as well as the new Horde and Alliance cities that you will be using as your home bases in Pandaria. Some of these zones are bigger than others, but it all adds up to a tonne of new content, possibly the most of any expansion so far.

And they haven’t gone for quantity over quality, either. The new content in MoP feels like a breath of fresh air and is just what the game needed at this point in its life. It has felt like over the course of the past few expansions the game has been getting darker and darker, and there has always been some big bad evil about to wipe out all life as we know it, but Mists of Pandaria bucks this trend. This latest expansion heralds a return to a tone the game hasn’t really had since way back in its original vanilla days. There is a feeling of wonder and exploration as you move through the new zones which has been, for me anyway, sorely lacking for a long time, and there is a light-hearted, fun feeling to the game again instead of everything being doom and gloom. This could possibly turn a few people off, if dark and gloomy is their preferred narrative scenery, but for me it has refreshed a game I wasn’t sure I’d be going back to after quitting halfway through the previous expansion.

Also like original vanilla World of Warcraft, Mists of Pandaria approaches its storytelling in smaller chunks. Rather than have one huge over-arching storyline that everything is a part of, there are many smaller stories to find and play through in the continent of Pandaria. There are a few common threads that run through everything, mostly introducing new enemies such as the Sha (physical manifestations of emotions like Anger and Doubt) and the Mogu (the corrupt previous rulers of Pandaria), but there’s always something new to find and someone who has a new story to tell.

And the content doesn’t stop once you hit level 90 either. There are many new factions added to the game with Mists of Pandaria, and each faction has their own storyline and set of quests to do which you can only start once level 90. These range from raising and then racing your own flying serpent, through to working for the Shadopan (a secretive group of hardcore ninja Pandaren) or the August Celestials (essentially the Pandaren gods) to combat the Mantid, the Mogu, the Yaungol and the Sha and keep the land safe. There is even a farming-related faction (the Tillers) through which you can start your own farm then improve it and build it up over time, growing and then selling (or cooking) the results of your labour.

All told there are hundreds of repeatable daily quests that you can do at level 90, though not all can be done at once, the available quests are randomised each day. With the previous limit of only being able to do 25 daily quests removed, there’s nothing stopping you from spending hours each day going through all the different factions and doing their quests, but this is by no means necessary, even though a couple of the factions offer gear and upgrades for your character, the majority offer novelty items, mounts, or profession recipes. You can really get away with doing as much or as little of this content as you want, and it’s this kind of choice that is embodied through the expansion; the idea that different players can play the game in a way that best suits them.

The danger here is without limits really imposed on what and how much content you can consume (and how quickly you can do so), there is a risk of metaphorically over-eating and making yourself sick. It’s a trap I fell into for my first few weeks, trying to do every daily quest and everything I could every day and it didn’t take long for me to start resenting the need to do so. When I took a step back though, I realised, it just wasn’t necessary. Even as more of a serious player, and avid raider, there isn’t an overwhelming need for me to do everything every day, and once I realised this and slowed down my pace I started enjoying things a lot more. If you’re an avid mount collector or Achievement hunter you might want to go hard and do as much as you can as often as you can, but the important point to note is it’s really up to the specific player how they want to tackle this avenue of advancement.

If questing or exploring mysterious new lands is not really your thing though, never fear, because Mists of Pandaria comes packed with instances that are full of bosses just waiting to be bashed until the loot falls out. This expansion includes six new five-man instances, as well as a heroic version of the newly remade Scholomance, and a redesigned Scarlet Monastery which is now split into two wings: the Scarlet Halls, and the Scarlet Monastery.

The difficulty of the heroic instances in this expansion is turned down from the difficulty of Cataclysm heroics. While they are still moderately challenging, especially to a group of fresh faced and bushy tailed new level 90s, they’re balanced, keeping in mind the fact that players will often be doing them via the Looking for Dungeon matchmaking tool, and won’t necessarily be with a group of friends and able to heavily strategise and discuss their plans. If you want that kind of experience though, Blizzard hasn’t forgotten you, because each of the five-man instances can also be run in a Challenge Mode.

Challenge Modes are hard, and I mean genuinely, REALLY hard. If you’re an old-school WoW player you probably remember running heroic Shattered Halls early in the Burning Crusade expansion, well imagine that level of difficulty and brutality except you’re rushing through at a breakneck pace with no time to stop and recover because you’re racing a clock. Challenge modes are timed runs through very difficult versions of the instances where you are trying to complete the instance in the quickest time possible, in an attempt to win Gold, Silver or Bronze medals and have your best times immortalised on the Leaderboards.

Depending on how many medals you win, and what quality of medals you win, there are also mounts, titles and special gear available that you can use to transmogrify your current gear into something that shows everyone just how awesome you really are. To top it all off, when you enter a challenge mode, all your gear and your stats, and even your trinket procs, are scaled down and normalised to the level of heroic gear, so no matter how much raid gear you get or how powerful you end up, Challenge Modes are ALWAYS going to be this hard. It’s a welcome challenge for people who are really looking to sink their teeth into something, and after dealing with a handful of them with my guild I can honestly say, without exaggeration, it’s some of the most challenging content I’ve ever experienced in the game.

If you’re looking for something a bit shorter and a bit less strict than an instance though, Blizzard has also introduced the concept of Scenarios in this expansion. Scenarios only require three people, and you can queue up for them via the Looking for Dungeon matchmaking tool, but the catch is there is no required roles, so there’s no waiting for tanks or healers, as soon as you have three people you’re good to go. You can do a scenario with three DPS classes if you so wish and you will be successful. Scenarios are short, fun little story-based instances kind of similar in style to things we’ve seen previously in the game like the assault on Undercity during the Wrathgate quest chain in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, it’s just now they’re separated out into their own instances and they’re replayable. Frankly, I love scenarios; they’re just really simple fun. Probably not a lot of replayability there to be perfectly honest, but I mean one of them has a boss who is a monkey pirate, and you need to keep the fresh fruit away from him until he comes down with full blown scurvy. How can that not be awesome?

Of course the other big slice of the instance pie is the raid instances. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the quality of ALL the raid instances because Blizzard is releasing the first tier of raiding content in a staggered way, but when everything is available, this expansion will have one of the biggest tiers of raiding the game has ever seen with 16 bosses split across three raid instances and 2 outdoor raid bosses. The first raid instance, the Mogu’shan Vaults, was released a couple of weeks ago with the next raid instance, the Heart of Fear releasing this week. Then in two weeks’ time the final raid instance, the Terrace of Endless Spring becomes available.

Each of these raids has a normal mode, a heroic mode, and an easier “Looking for Raid” mode, similar to how the Dragon Soul raid worked at the end of the previous expansion. So far the quality of the encounters is top notch and the fights in Mogu’shan vaults have proven to be a lot of fun. If this is indicative of the quality of the encounters in the Heart of Fear and the Terrace of Endless Spring, then this could most likely be a collection of some of the best raid content yet to-date.

The biggest change to raids comes in the new method of loot allocation introduced with Mists of Pandaria. This new method of looting is currently used in the LFR difficulty of the raids, and for the open-world raid bosses and essentially what happens is instead of the server making one decision on what loot the boss drops then all players rolling on the loot, the server makes a separate roll for each player to see if they get loot and if they do, a piece of loot suitable for their class and spec is given to them. No more wasted loot, no more people rolling on loot they don’t need and giving it to their friends. It’s an elegant system and works quite well so far. The other new loot-related mechanic is the charms that players can collect by doing their daily quests. These charms essentially let you get another pull of the handle on the loot dispensing slot machine and potentially get a free piece of bonus loot (or some gold). It’s only a small chance granted, but who doesn’t love getting stuff for free?

All this and I haven’t even touched on the Pet Battles, or the new PvP Battlegrounds, or the new Monk class. To be honest, it’s because even after a month of playing I’ve barely even scratched the surface of these features. This is easily the biggest expansion Blizzard has made for World of Warcraft, with a tonne of stuff to do, and it’s going to occupy any average player for many months to come. But let’s touch on the features I mentioned above anyway, because they’re all certainly worth a mention.

The new monk class isn’t something I have personally had much experience with, only levelling through the monk starting zone (which is completely beautiful and a great experience itself), but Monks are quickly making their name as very solid contenders in any of their three roles. The Monk can take on a tanking role as a Brewmaster, a healing role as a Mistweaver, or a melee damage dealing role as a Windwalker. They are extremely capable at all three roles and are very quickly establishing themselves as one of the best tanking classes in the game, as well as having some of the coolest looking animations and abilities of any class so far (any tank that gets aggro by throwing kegs of beer at enemies has my vote).

Pet Battles are a fun new time-wasting mini-game that they’ve added in this expansion. Essentially it lets you play Pokémon with all your vanity pets, and travel around the world levelling up your pets and learning from/competing against renowned pet trainers. It won’t progress your character at all, it’s purely there for the fun factor, but it does manage to be surprisingly fun. To accompany the pet battle system, there are also hundreds of new wild pets that have been added to the world that you can capture by battling them (yes, it really is Pokémon). As a bonus, you can challenge other players to pet battle duels and put your super rare mini Tyrael pet to work kicking some ass, and the soundtrack that plays during the pet battles is retro sounding remixes of the old Warcraft and Warcraft 2 music which is just plain awesome.

After the reasonably disappointing offering of Battlegrounds in Cataclysm, this expansion brings some genuinely new BGs with mechanics that haven’t been seen before. The Silvershard Mines is (as you might have surmised) a mine, containing a network of railway tracks which minecarts will travel down. Your job is to guide and defend the minecarts and change their direction as needed to make sure they end up dropping off their valuable loads at parts of the map you control. The other new Battleground, the Temple of Kotmogu, is sort of King of the Hill but to gain points you need to be holding one of the orbs that spawn around the map. There are multiple orbs, and while any member of your team is holding an orb your team will gain points, but if they hold it in specific areas of the map (like the middle) they will gain more points faster.

I’ll confess, I have only barely scratched the surface of the PvP so far in Mists of Pandaria, but from what I have played, the two new maps play in a refreshingly different style and pace to anything from past expansions.

So after all this, it’s time to mention the negatives. Probably the biggest negative is that all this is built upon a game that is going on nine years-old now, made with an engine that is even older than that. While they keep adding new tech to the engine with each iteration, its age is definitely showing, and it carries the baggage of a game designed nine years ago. This expansion has more voiced dialogue, and more in-game cut-scenes than WoW has ever had in the past, but the extremely limited models and animations don’t allow for much to be done, and when you stack it up next to some of the more recent MMOs like The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 or the Old Republic, it definitely comes off feeling old and tired and lacking, graphically and mechanically. For fans of the game, who have stuck with it over the years, this probably doesn’t matter, you know what to expect from the game and you’re going in with open eyes, but at this point in its life-cycle I’m not sure I could, in good faith, recommend it to someone who hasn’t played before when there’s quite possibly a better alternative out there for them. If you aren’t already a fan of World of Warcraft, this is not going to convert you, because underneath the fresh coat of paint and the new features, it’s still the same game, and at this point in its life it would be unrealistic to expect that to change.

For fans of the game though, I honestly believe, it doesn’t get much better than this. People who enjoy World of Warcraft won’t care about the dated character models or the stiff animations or the aging mechanics, they’ll just be happy to have a good excuse to jump back into the beautifully crafted and storied world of Azeroth, which is where WoW has always excelled. Some people turned their nose up at the expansion purely because of how off-the-wall it all sounded at first, and to a degree I was even one of those people; very wary after being disappointed by the previous Cataclysm expansion. Blizzard has pulled it off though, and I can honestly say I haven’t enjoyed the game this much in years. They have managed to do what 12 months ago I wouldn’t have thought was possible, they’ve put the fun back into World of Warcraft.
What we liked
  • Fresh new content that breathes life back into what was becoming a stale game
  • A return to the feeling of the earlier days of WoW when things were a bit more light-hearted
  • Tonnes of new PvE content with new heroics, raids, scenarios and challenge modes
  • Less restrictions and a more non-linear approach allow players to play how they want
  • New classes, new quests, pet battles, new pvp battlegrounds -- there’s enough here to keep any WoW fan happy and busy for months to come
What we didn't like
  • It’s still World of Warcraft, if you hate it, this won’t change your mind
  • Carries the baggage of a nine year-old game and a 12+ year-old engine on its back
  • Not really up to the standards (graphically or mechanically) of some the other Triple-A MMOs we’re seeing come out these days
We gave it:
Latest Comments
Posted 04:08pm 31/10/12
Lol khel trusted at giving an unbiased review of anything to do with world of warcraft!?! What are you on crack? Whats next you going to res steve jobs to do reviews on apple products?
Posted 04:14pm 31/10/12
Posted 04:23pm 31/10/12
Lol khel trusted at giving an unbiased review of anything to do with world of warcraft!?!

Yeah, my first draft was just "LOL Guild Wars 2" repeated five hundred times with a score of 10 attached, but then I thought of what you'd say Taipan and so I gave it another shot.
Posted 04:28pm 31/10/12
what taipan said.
Posted 06:05pm 31/10/12
Whats next you going to res steve jobs to do reviews on apple products?

Next on AusGamers: infi provides an in-depth and balanced review of the Liberal Party!
Posted 06:25pm 31/10/12
I know I probably shouldn't take the bait, and its not going to make any difference to the haters anyway, but since there could be people reading this who aren't forum regulars I figured a little bit of an explanation couldn't hurt.

If you had a look you'll notice its not all glowing praise that I heap upon it, its an old game built on an old engine and that shows. Graphically and mechanically it can't stack up to newer releases like Secret World, Guild Wars 2 or Old Republic. Its really for the people who like WoW and have stuck with it over the years, its not going to change the mind of people who already hate WoW. Best I can do is compare the experience within the realm of WoW and its other expansions because any comparisons outside of that are pretty meaningless, so thats mostly what I did. I mean, its not even a whole game so its hard to really review in that sense, and its not like theres much new that can be said about WoW that people don't already know. Unless you're already committed enough to WoW to have previously levelled to max level you can't even do the new stuff.

But as far as WoW expansions go, its pretty damn good, so if WoW is your thing then I'd be grabbing it (if you haven't already) cos theres a tonne of new stuff to sink your teeth into, and its some of the best content the game has seen for years, I haven't enjoyed it this much since BC I don't think.

Seems to be a growing trend of dismissing any reviews which actually say good things about a game, like if you praise a game for being good you're somehow a sellout and the only valid opinions are negative criticisms. What would be your suggested solution, getting someone who doesn't play WoW and doesn't like WoW to review it? How would that be any less biased or any more useful? Especially in a case like this where the product only really has any benefit at all to people who already like or are fans of the game.

Sure, I like WoW, but all forum baiting, flaming and joking aside, I'm not actually a mindless fanboy with a one-sided view of things, and I made sure to make an effort to outline some flaws and criticisms I had of MoP in the writeup. But of course I'm going to say good things about it as well because, well, its good. You might disagree with some of what I wrote, and more power to you if you do because thats what keeps discussion interesting.
Reverend Evil
Posted 11:05pm 31/10/12
Speaking of WoW they are adding some new music for the Darkmoon Faire in patch 5.1 which sounds awesome

Posted 01:06am 01/11/12
Yeah, I think they have Danny Elfman on staff there now or something
Posted 10:32am 01/11/12
lol - that was a good review Khel. Might fire this up during one month break over Christmas!
Posted 12:51am 03/11/12
Holy s*** I instantly thought of Jack Skellingtons head listening to that song for the Darkmoon Faire... Then I had awesome memories of KH1 ;)
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