World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review (PC)
Mists of Pandaria isn’t just a pretty face, far from it. The levelling process within Blizzards latest expansion adds a strong sense of progression throughout the journey of level 85 to 90
While each zone is beautifully crafted, the way in which quests are worked into the zones is wonderfully done.Sure there’s still plenty of fetch quests and a large number of killing a certain amount of monsters, but they feel like they have a point beyond just a simple experience grind.
For the most part quests are part of a progressive story which eventually leads the player into a new zone as well as the next part of the before mentioned story. The more important zone quests are usually accompanied with a short cut scene, this allows the player to feel more like their questing has an actual point beyond gaining experience and gold.
For the most part, cutscenes are handled well and don’t feel out of place and in a few cases, they can bring the NPC’s to life; this is worthy of praise given the almost robotic nature of many NPC’s featured in many MMO’s.
Progression isn’t limited to stories and lore however. Item rewards have been reworked to scale with the players class and spec. This change greatly reduces the chance of players completing quests and quest lines only to find all of the items are useless for their class and spec.
This change also caters for players wanting to purely focus on one spec, which in the long run is extremely beneficial. The journey from 85 to 90 is made all the easier thanks to, in part at least, the new item reward system. Levelling as a protection warrior would normally be seen as a strange choice (lack of damage being one reason and lack of quest rewards being the other) but Mists of Pandaria validates that play style.
Not only does the quest reward item system validate all play styles and specs, it also rewards it. This has a overall impact on the likes of dungeons as searches for tanks will take a lot less time.
The quests themselves are a combination of the fun, short, prolonged and frustrating…and the daily. Pandaria’s quests tend to go the classic routes of killing a number of enemies and gathering a set number of items. The “love them or hate them” vehicle quests are laid on thick at times, but in fairness their length feels thankfully shorter than when the concept first came into play.
Kill quests often climax in mini boss battle involving a number of NPCs. These mini boss battles provide a similar feeling first experienced in Vanhilla World of Warcraft and the early days of The Burning Crusade. The quests link nicely together and do a decent job of keeping the player on their toes by switching the general themes and type from quest to quest.
There are a few cases of some quests feeling rather flat and some what pointless but these quests are easily avoidable if the player wishes to do so. The amount of experience quests reward players with is on a scale of fair to generous; this halts any sense of being ‘cheated out’ of rewards for the players efforts. The amount of experience rewarded also helps players naturally move on into new zones, thanks to the pace in which experience is gained .
The levelling process as a whole feels almost more defined and well rounded, this provides the player a smooth and enjoyable climb from 85 to 90. The smooth progression from zone to zone feels natural and unforced. This allows players to feel like they are playing at their own pace, rather than the pace of the game.
Quest rewards being tailored to players class and specs is also a triumph. The system keeps player’s gear updated and effective, allowing them to obtain the required gear score for various dungeons. The only issues worthy of note during the levelling process are purely subjective to Horde/Alliance ratio on PvP severs. Some quests will become near impossible. As mentioned this is a problem which purely depends on the sever status and how populated zones are thanks to general population and cross realm population.
The instances of Pandaria offer a decent range of locations and mobs, but overall tend to feel slightly too easy. Boss mechanics tend to be overly simplistic or just straight up under-powered, this results in most fights being nothing more than tank and spank. While the difficulty, or lack of it, may be a positive to some players there will undoubtedly be a player base somewhat disappointed with the lack of challenge.
Unfortunately the lack of challenge extends into the Heroic difficulty setting. While the gear score requirement is raised, as are the enemy stats and hit points, things play generally the same. The lack of challenge and short length of the instances does allow players to more effectively ‘farm’ heroics and normal instances for gear and Valour/Justice points. At this point things start to feel slightly stagnated thanks to the new way in which Valour/Justice points are spent.
Justice points tend to be used to buy various heirloom gear and past expansion heroic items (handy for anyone looking for transmorgs) as well as honour points and trade goods. Valour points can be used to purchase items from the high end blues to the low/moderate rated epics, but there is a catch.
The majority of items purchasable via Valour points are tied to the players reputation with the various factions of Pandaria. This becomes a problem if a player does not wish to grind reputation via the plentiful dailies on offers. To be frank dailies are the Marmite of World of Warcraft. Repeating the same quests each day every week is the very definition of grind. While they do have their place (and their fans) attaching them to such a key part of gear progression feels almost sly. Sure a player doesn’t have to get the loot on offer, but it does create a question mark over the point and usefulness of Valour points.
The raids on offer in Pandaria follow the pattern of the instances and heroics, e.g. they feel rather easy (at least in Looking for Raid). The boss mechanics are predictable, ineffective and way too easy to overcome. Most fights boil down to either understanding a very basic tactic or fully nuking a boss till he/she/it hits the ground.
While the fights may be easy that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. For the most part rotating positions, tanks and roles makes the fights feel rather engaging. Raids are a different type of animal in 25 man mode however; mechanics need to be learned and bosses pose a genuine threat to any group of players, even when its a well drilled guild. There’s a clear divide between Looking for Raid and 25 man, both modes target a different audience.
World bosses roam the lands of Pandaria, adding that little extra sense of community interaction. The most popular world boss, Sha of Anger, provides a great opportunity for players to gain their first taste of raid bosses, as well as their first Pandaria epic. While Sha of Anger can be easily downed by the majority of pick up groups, it’s still a frantic and enjoyable encounter.
Two of the biggest additions in terms of instance based content come in the shape of Scenarios and challenge modes. Scenarios place players in small groups and task them with playing through a short (about 20 minute) experience in which they pretty much kill everything in their path.
Scenarios don’t require the holy trinity of tank/dps/healer and instead allow players to play the role they want. The main issue with scenarios is they feel a little pointless. Some of them can be fun but others simply drag on and feel a little dull to play through. The rewards also feel a little flat, the small amount of gold and so-so items don’t really feel like much of a reward for the players time.
Challenge mode puts players in a selected instance and tasks them with completing a goal. An example of this is to finish a instance in the quickest time. Players times/scores are uploaded onto a leader board along with a few extra rewards going to the players. Challenge mode is where the majority of the difficulty of Pandaria seems to be, outside of 25 man raids of course. It’s a great addition for PVE players with a competitive edge. Challenge mode also has plenty of room to grow in future patches. Due to its difficulty it may no provide a enjoyable experience to more causal players.
PvP in Mists of Pandaria has a overwhelming sense of team work about it. The two new zones don’t just encourage team work but require it. Silvershard Mine tasks players with pushing a cart forward, the opposition must halt the card from progressing at any cost. It’s a similar concept found in a certain Valve free to play multiplayer shooter, but to be fair it works nicely within the grounds of World of Warcraft.
The Temple of Kotmogu is a mixture of traditional PvP action and almost relay like gameplay. Grabbing relics at the right time in the right places can tilt the results of a game due to the damage buff given to the team in possession. Both PvP areas are great fun, as long as they are played with a team willing to communicate.
It’s unfortunate that both areas can be ruined by a couple of players who refuse to cooperate and instead run off to play lone wolf. This is a issue that is purely community based so pointing the finger of blame at Blizzard feels wrong.
Beyond the levelling, raids and PvP, Mists of Pandaria still has a few new tricks under its sleeves. The addition of the Monk class has a large number of the player base all a flutter. The class is a versatile option for players thanks to its ability to spec for healing, damage or tanking. The Monk uses energy generated by core skills (such as Jab) to fuel a number of skills as well as create ”Chi”. The appeal of the Monk will undoubtedly be huge throughout the World of Warcraft player base. At this moment in time they appear to be effective in each role.
Another feature added into the game came as something of a surprise when it was first announced. Pet Battles turns all the vanity pets and critters within the World of Warcraft universe into lean, mean fighting machines. The comparisons between Pet Battles and Pokemon are unavoidable, and thankfully the Pet Battles system is genuinely fun.
It’s a great way to spend some down time between raiding, PVP and grinding. There’s a strange giddy feeling when a rare pet is tracked down and captured. It’s not a game changing addition but its never the less a great slice of fun with plenty of potential to grow.
By far the most controversial change brought it by Mists of Pandaria is the change to the talents system. Every class talent tree has been stream lined and presented as a three skill choice option rather than a talent tree like the Warcraft of old. While this change does make switching between spec a lot more simpler and less overwhelming it can be seen as the talent system being dumbed down.
This ‘dumbing down’ has created something of a backlash within the community. World of Warcraft veterans will rightly feel that the change is a dumbing down. On the flip side it does allow people to more easily adopt to a new class or spec, thus increasing the chances of appealing to new players. While the change does have a certain legitimacy about it there is a undeniable feeling that it takes some of the depth away from World of Warcraft.
Mists of Pandaria as a expansion pack is a well crafted experience. The levelling process is well paced and brings back a sense of progression that was missing from expansion packs gone by. The world is beautifully presented with each zone feeling unique. Quests are surprisingly enjoyable, for the most part anyway, and have some interesting tales to tell.
Instances and Heroics do feel rather easy, but the addition of challenge mode adds that much needed difficulty to life in Pandaria. Pet battles are a great addition to the game, as too is the monk class. With all these positives there are a few negatives. The dependence on dailies in the endgame feels rather rough, being almost forced into them in order to progress a players gear feels slightly primitive. The talent system stream lining does take some of the depth away from the overall game, but does have its reasons for being included.
Mists of Pandaria is a great addition to the World of Warcraft universe. Veterans, and returning ex-players, will find plenty to enjoy after the somewhat disappointing Cataclysm. Mists of Pandaria is a return to form for Blizzard and World of Warcraft.World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review (PC),