Like a lot of people, I’ve been playing Mists of Pandaria pretty full on since Tuesday. Well, technically, Monday night since I was there for the in-game launch at 11pm British time but considering it took me 30 mins just to target the NPC (see above) and then the whole Jade Forest zone crashed before I finally gave up, I’m not going to count it. Nice to know that even the biggest MMOs still have launch woes even if everything has been running pretty smoothly since then.
Although I was feeling pretty lackluster about the expansion for the first couple of days, I’m deep in the throws of it now having explored loads of the new continent, run several dungeons and being well on my way to level 88 with my Warrior main. I’ve even found time to dabble with Pet Battles and roll a Pandaren Monk alt and, overall, I gotta say I’m really enjoying it. Yes, there’s nothing hugely special about the expansion and no, it’s not going to rock the MMO industry with its innovation but it is everything you would expect from Blizzard and the traditional polished WoW experience.
Whilst the new level 85-90 content initially appears to be quite linear, I actually found – much to my pleasure – that once I got past the initial intro quests, the game opens up and grants you a lot more freedom to run around the world and quest as you will. This was something that people complained about with Cataclysm as the whole leveling experience was very much on rails there so it’s good to see that Blizzard have avoided it again this time (for the most part), letting you roam and explore as you will. And what sights there are to behold.
For a game that’s almost eight years old, I have to say that Blizzard do make exceptionally good use of their game engine. Traversing through zones (if I can call them that), watching how the environment and landscape changes is incredibly immersive and occasionally breathtaking with some wondrous and beautiful sights to see. The huge size and scale of the areas truly do make you feel like you’re part of a virtual world and Blizz put their technology to very good use, none perhaps better than when, during the Pandaren starting area, the camera pans out to reveal the giant turtle the whole island is resting upon (note to Blizzard: Terry Pratchett called and wants his IP back).
The quests are hugely fun as well and varied enough to keep you interested as you level up (did I mention how bizarre it feels to be leveling my character who’s been sitting in Stormwind running nothing but dungeons and battlegrounds for the past two years? Well, it feels bizarre), the patented WoW humour being put to good use. Whether taking down huge demons or washing yaks, there’s more often than not something enjoyable to do, Blizzard obviously striving hard to stay away from the traditional ‘kill X foozles’ quests as much as possible (although there are still plenty of them kicking about).
As a quick side note, regarding the humour, I have the say that I was surprised how much I liked it. Sometimes the WoW tone can be a bit juvenile but I swear the early Alliance SI:7 quest with the raccoons Gizmo and Socks had me chuckling away to myself.
I know it’s still early days but I do think the continent of Pandaria is a triumph for leveling content, the only negative so far being that you seem to end up fighting the same damn vermin and monkey mobs constantly (I swear if I ever see another giant comedy rat or drunk monkey, I’m going to scream). Likewise, it’s a shame the whole experience is going to come to end when I hit level 90 and my Warrior main will be neglected to residing in Stormwind and running instanced dungeons and battlegrounds over and over again, just as before. I honestly think they need to add a mechanic where quests reward Justice/Honor Points at the level cap to encourage you to keep exploring through content that was, no doubt, a huge amount of time and effort to create.
And finally, a few worlds on Pet Battles, Pandarens and Monks: Pet Battles are actually a lot more entertaining than I thought they would be and a nice distraction that doesn’t revolve around crafting or the hideously grindy Archeology skill; Pandaren players just look weird and I can’t decide if I like the race or not – they look rather out of place somehow, perhaps something to do with the fact they have a much higher depth of animation and design than the other races; Monks are a novel concept but I’m not sure I like the implementation. I’ll need to level mine up more to properly get a feel for the class but right now their abilities seem more gimicky than anything else.
So in conclusion, Mists of Padaren is jolly good and well worth the buy for anyone currently playing WoW or thinking of getting back into it. If anything does make me feel sad about it though is that I’ll be completely finished and bored of it by Christmas and will have to wait another two frickin’ years for the next expansion. I guess Blizzard just can’t churn them out fast enough.