Centered around the serene continent of Pandaria, the fourth World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria adds both a new race and class to the MMO, in addition to plentiful and engaging content for returning players.
- Unique art style
- Plentiful end game content
- New Pandaren race and Monk class add variety to the world
- Well-designed pet battles offer no rewards
- Not much new content for low level players
- Not enough Horde vs. Alliance interaction
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review:
World of Warcraft adventurers have constantly had it rough. First, we had to slay an entire burning legion and their master, Illidan. Then, we had to conquer a massive continent filled with the undead minions of the menacing Lich King. We even had to slay a cataclysmic dragon who was intent on taking over the world. With three undeniably amazing expansions under their belt already, many wondered what else Blizzard Entertainment could possibly add to the most successful MMORPG of all time, and it turns out the answer isn't simply "pandas."
With World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard has proven once again that they still have tons of tricks up their sleeve, and they've managed to create yet another beautifully engaging expansion, but it doesn't quite live up to its predecessors.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Panadaria revolves around the once serene hidden gem of the continent Pandaria, and its native inhabitants: the gentle, brew-loving Pandaren. Pandaria is made up of seven central zones and a moving starting zone for the Pandaren race called The Wandering Isle. Each zone is filled with rich content and its own unique storyline. On top of that, they all feature some of the most beautiful and original art ever developed for an MMO. The ancient Chinese style that inspires the expansion fills every inch of Pandaria and the peaceful continent feels truly untouched by the spoils of war that's evident in the other areas of Azeroth.
Pandaren are the newest playable race in WoW. They are a tranquil group of giant pandas who seem to love nothing more than drinking ale and working their fertile land. Like Pandaria itself, each Pandaren character model is rich in detail and the chubby bears all look equally amazing. Pandaren are WoW's first neutral faction and at a certain point when leveling up (around level 12) you get to choose whether you want to be a member of game's existing factions: the Horde or the Alliance.
I Like Giant Turtles
All Pandaren start their adventure on The Wandering Isle, a new zone that's actually on the back of a massive ancient turtle named Shen-zin Su. When creating a Pandaren, players can choose to be one of WoW's pre-existing classes (aside from the Druid and Warlock) or Mists of Pandaria's brand new class, the Monk. Pandaren benefit from a number of fun abilities like Bouncy, which makes them take half fall damage and Epicurean, which allows the Pandaren to receive double the stats from food bonuses.
The Wandering Isle itself offers the perfect bite-sized chunks of Pandaren lore and humor to introduce both new and returning players to the Pandaren race and Pandaria. The Isle is beautiful, filled with lush green fields, tall mountains, forests of bamboo, pools with training poles where Monks train, and various shrines and temples that all help to immerse you in the zone.
A new Pandaren begins his journey at a training dojo high in the mountains with Master Shang Xi. As you begin to learn the lessons of Master Xi, he'll encourage you to meet up with other characters in the Isle who need help assisting the turtle Shen-zin Su. The quests in the zone are definitely enjoyable, and getting to explore the Isle through them is a treat.
Even though the majority of quests are still "kill x amount of things" or "pick up x amount of items," the game does a great job to constantly move you from one area of the Isle to the next. The result is that even though you're essentially doing the same thing, it always feels fresh. The Isle also introduces tons of new types of enemies for players to defeat, and I was impressed with how everything in The Wandering Isle felt like something I had never seen in World of Warcraft before.
Kung-Fu Comes To Azeroth
Monks are the new class addition to the MMO and they're the first class to be introduced to the game since the Death Knight with World of Warcraft: The Wrath of the Lich King. These masters of martial arts have incredible attack animations and can be played as a Brewmaster (tank), Mistweaver (healer), or Windwalker (melee damage).
Each Monk uses energy as well as a new resource called Chi to activate their abilities. Monks can acquire up to four Chi at a time by using Chi generating moves like Jab, but generating Chi costs energy. On the other hand, certain stronger abilities require Chi to use, so playing a Monk becomes a delicate balance of managing your energy to build Chi in order to unleash your abilities.
The class doesn't really fill any sort of gap that was missing in WoW, but it does add a new way to play and, more importantly, it adds more tanks and healers to the game. Monk tanks are incredible at dealing tons of area of effect damage to packs of enemies. One Monk tank ability, Drunken Haze, allows the Monk to throw a keg of brew at their enemies that causes them to get drunk and hit themselves, and causes me to giggle.
On The Road Again
While Cataclysm focused so heavily on the 1-60 experience, Mists of Pandaria seems to be more for returning players rather than brand new ones. Returning level 85 players start their journey in Pandaria in The Jade Forest zone after going through some faction related quests. As an Alliance player, it was up to me to find the King's missing son.
Upon arriving in The Jade Forest, the Horde and Alliance immediately begin fighting against one another for dominance over the new lush land they've found. Quickly after the fighting begins, all of the negative energy and hatred the factions have towards one another manifests in to Sha, evil shadow creatures who feed off despair. The Sha represent one of the main enemies in Mists of Pandaria, and the opening quests where you release them get the new 85-90 leveling experience off to a great start.
Leveling in The Jade Forest is linear but I really loved how each quest hub offered a unique story, complete with achievement progress once you finished them. I also really appreciated how each quest hub would give me maybe five or six quests to do all within the same area, instead of having me run all over the place like in the old days. Additionally, this allowed me to play in all sorts of different ways -- killing, exploring, and gathering -- rather than just doing the same type of things over and over again.
One of my favorite zones to level in was the Valley of the Four Winds, a lush level 86-87 agricultural zone filled with farms and rice paddies. Quests in this area have you helping out farmers with their chores and it's also where you'll meet the legendary Chen Stormstout and learn the tale of the Stormstout Brewery. Everything seemed a little laid back in Valley of the Four Winds and it was great fun going through quests to help out the farmers and get all the ingredients to brew some fantastic ale.
Another zone I really enjoyed was the level 89-90 Dread Wastes. In this wasteland of a zone, players have to work with members of the Klaxxi, a new preying mantis-like faction, to fight against other Mantid who have been corrupted by an unknown energy. The great thing about the Dread Wastes is that as you rescue certain members of the Klaxxi, they'll give you zone-wide buffs that really help in combat. My favorite buff called down a Klaxxi warrior (on a minute cooldown) anytime I was fighting against more than one enemy. He'd cleave them all for massive damage making the encounters much more manageable.
Each zone in Pandaria feels incredibly different from the next, while still maintaining a consistent aesthetic. You'll find drunk Pandaren in all of them, and once you're level 90, different factions will offer daily quests to have you coming back for more. Depending on your class and profession you'll want to complete daily quests for access to epic gear and recipes. For collectors, you can even raise your own dragon cloud serpent mount from a baby by doing the Order of the Cloud Serpent daily quests.
Fat Loots From The Wall To The Monastery
While leveling up or upon reaching the new max level of 90, a wide variety of dungeons await eager adventurers looking for loot. There are nine five-man dungeons already in the game, and while I think they're all pretty fun and offer their own individual challenges, a few of them really stand apart from the rest.
The Gate of the Setting Sun dungeon is unlike anything I've ever seen in WoW. The majority of the instance takes place atop the Gate of the Setting Sun, which is basically WoW's version of the Great Wall of China. You have to stop Mantid invaders from coming over the wall, and at the end you face a massive beetle who is strong enough to break through the seemingly impenetrable wall. The atmosphere of GoSS is phenomenal, and it's by far my favorite instance in the expansion.
Other instances offer interesting mechanics as well, like having to slay 40 party monkeys to make the boss spawn in Stormstout Brewery, or having to drop sap on Mantids in the Siege of Niuzao Temple. Yet more than anything I can't stress how impressive each dungeon looks, inside and out. The Palace and shrine dungeons in particular have so much detail and little intricacies weaved in that they really come alive every time you venture through them.
Blizzard has even redesigned old dungeons like fan favorites Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance to be more streamlined. The new instances are now available in both normal and heroic flavors, and the level 90 heroic versions offer challenging fights like Armsmaster Harlan in Scarlet Halls who can instantly kill you with his Blades of Light ability on the harder difficulty.
I Want To Be The Very Best
If you can't find a good group to run dungeons with, or you don't have time for one, a good alternative in Mists of Pandaria are scenarios. Scenarios are three-man mini-instances that you can queue up for at any time. Each scenario is different, but if you're familiar with the Ring of Blood quest chains from previous expansions, it lives on in scenario form in Mists. Scenarios are a nice breath of fresh air when you've only got fifteen minutes, but some people might be turned off by the fact that by doing a scenario you're kind of making a gamble for your time, since you're not guaranteed loot or badges like you are for running dungeons.
Mists also introduces pet battles, an in-depth feature that collectors are going to adore. The pet battle system is a truly deep minigame that's been built into WoW, allowing you to take your non-combat pets that you've collected over the years into battle against other non-combat pets and critters for the chance to catch the opposing critter for your collection. Every pet can now level up and learn abilities, and each type of critter has its own strengths and weaknesses against other types, like elemental pets being weak against aquatic types for example. But since there's no reward for participating in pet battles other than earning new pets, and it's kind of a pain to level them up, the system lacks incentive for me to keep playing.
Quitters Never Win
For competitive players, there are two new battlegrounds: The Temple of Kotmogu and Silvershard Mines, and they both offer new gameplay types that haven't been seen in other WoW battlegrounds yet.
Temple is a 10 vs 10 powerball map where the objective of your team is to grab and hold on to up to four Orbs of Power for as long as possible in order to be the first team to earn 1600 points. Players can earn more points by holding the ball in dangerous places like the center of the map, but they risk being out in the open, susceptible to attack.
Silvershard Mines is a payload battleground, similar to payload maps in Team Fortress 2. In this 10 vs 10 battleground, teams capture and escort three mine carts to depots. The more teammates surrounding a mine cart, the faster that team will capture it and be able to start accumulating points. Getting the carts to the depot acts kind of as a flag capture would in WoW's other battleground, Eye of the Storm, and racks up a lot of points if your team is able to get them there. Players can also switch the track that the mine carts will roll on, and depending on the situation it can provide a big payoff if you take a riskier route. The first team to reach 1600 points wins.
The Sweet And Sour Side Of Things
What it all boils down to is this: if you're a fan of WoW itself, you're going to love World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. The expansion adds more wonderful charm to the game while not exactly taking the huge risks that we've seen in past expansions, and that's okay. As a returning player, there's plenty to do to keep me busy thanks to all of the end game content, and there will be more to come when Blizzard implements the game's upcoming 10 and 25 man raid encounters.
One way I've described this expansion is that rather than it seeming like a new chapter in the large book of WoW, it seems like you're picking up a whole new novel. Mists might not be able to keep me interested for all that long with some of the other competing MMOs on the market out there, but for now, it has me happily and hopelessly addicted to WoW again . . .at least for a little while.