Games for the Weekend: World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Even from the trailer released a month ago, I got the feeling that Mists of Pandaria, the fourth World of Warcraft expansion, was going to be a little, well, different. That the two main factions in WoW (the Horde and Alliance) really, really hate each is the foundation WoW’s story is built upon. However, the last three expansions have made that conflict little more than window dressing. Mists of Pandaria is trying to bring that war back to the front page of the news. Blizzard, being the fine souls they are, have released a Mac version at launch.

They did it in a very unsubtle manner: The leader of the Horde — Garrosh Hellscream — essentially nuked the Alliance city of Theramore. In the naval battle that followed the new continent of Pandaria was discovered when some ships crashed into it. The Pandaren (a race of bipedal panda bears), for reasons lost to me, aren’t thrilled about being the latest turf battle in the war between the Horde and Alliance.

New races and classes

Pandarens are a new playable race, and also introduced with Mists is a new class, the monk. The monk, as you’d expect, are a melee class that favor punches and kicks for their attacks . Blizzard usually does a good job with the starting area for the race introduced with the expansion, and I feel the Pandarian starting zone is the best yet.

Your job is to research why the turtle you live on is sick and to heal it — yes, I was sober when I wrote that, why? The Pandarian starting zone is called the Wandering Isle, and it is indeed on the back of a roaming turtle. Over time, forests and hills have grown upon its back and the few Pandarian that went on walkabout with it have been living there for over 10,000 years. (Yes, still sober, I promise.)

Mists of Pandaria has an Asian style to it with lots of bamboo buildings, Chinese dragons, and voice acting right out a B-level Kung Fu movie. I found the entire starting zone to be very calm and harmonious. The overall nature of the quest and the peaceful music made the zone a complete blast to play through. There was a nice variety of quests, too. My favorite was when you had to jump from balancing pole to balancing pole and knock other monks off their poles — better than the usual quests that have you kill 10 rats.

I’m not sold on the monk yet. There are two resources to manage during combat (Energy and Chi) and there was a bit of a learning curve to it. From what I’ve read, the overall resource management is very similar to how a rogue plays. I’m also willing to concede that I’ve been playing a hunter since launch, so some old habits may be dying hard.

The meat of the expansion: Pandaria

Cataclysm, the previous WoW expansion, tried something different. Instead of sticking to the old saw of an “undiscovered continent,” Blizzard appended the new zones into the existing continents. At first I found this a fine idea, because, let’s face it, after a handful of “undiscovered continents,” it strains credibility. With Mists, Blizzard drags the “undiscovered continent” story out, and you know what? I like this better. The new areas all in one place allows for a better flow through the story. Also, from what I’ve seen the story is much more upbeat than the depressing plot lines of the last two expansions.

While the quests unfortunately do tend to run the meme of killing 10 of something, what I do appreciate is that Blizzard changed how you earn your quest achievements. Up until now, you’d earn an achievement (very similar to the achievement you’d earn in an Xbox game) for completing, say, 10o quests in an area. With the last expansion, I’d often end up one bleeping quest short of the achieve and have to backtrack to try and out where I missed it. Now, the achievement is earned by finishing story lines in each area. Since the story lines are pretty easy to follow with a clear beginning and end, the achievements are a lot easier to accomplish.

As with most WoW expansions, Mists increases the level cap from 85 to 90. While some brave souls were able to get these five new levels in about 13 hours for the Realm First achieve, from my observation someone taking a more casual approach to this effort will likely spend about 25 hours getting the levels. After, that it’s time for the new raids, crafting skills, and the like. I tend to favor the slower approach myself.

It’s purty, Daddy

Man, this is one great-looking expansion. So far, I haven’t seen any areas that look like a designer imbibed in too many recreational substances. I’m a sucker for Asian architecture to begin with, but Blizzard has created such a soothing, immersive environment that I almost — almost — feel bad about running my motorcycle through the city streets like an out-of-control Goblin Hells Angel. 

Final thoughts

I haven’t gotten too far into Pandaria, but I like what I’m seeing. Since Blizzard is roughly on a two-year expansion release cycle, we’ll be spending a lot of time here. Usually the end boss to an expansion is released about a year or so after the main expansion and Blizzard will be releasing new, free, content updates for the next year and half as they continue to tell the story in Mists.