I’ll be getting back into action with my own column soon, but for now I wanted to bring you highlights from World of Warcraft’s fantastic new expansion, Mists of Pandaria, which released on September 25th.
You might recall that when Blizzard released news about this expansion there were many who thought it was an offensive joke, and I was certainly at the head of that crowd. With ten months of Dragon Soul to trudge through after that dreadful news, I was genuinely concerned that my beloved WoW career might be coming to an end. The pre-expansion “event” capped off my fears by being completely devoid of really essential lore, as well as ridiculously short and easy to complete – not nearly the exciting precursor that previous pre-xpac events have been (and something I might review later). But Rafe admonished to be patient and have faith in Blizzard’s craft, and, wow, did Mists deliver. Let us just say that I’m as pleased as punch right now. If you aren’t playing, you should be. Here’s why:
Beautiful and interesting new content…
Asian-themed and very beautiful, the new continent of Pandaria is a real treat for both lore-buffs and those who don’t care much for the grind of questing. The fact that there are only five new levels to work through helps to minimize the impact of the leveling process, which is great since there’s so much to do once you hit level 90! Several of the quests have new mechanics or a unique style that makes them feel like a mini-game within the game, and though we don’t entirely get away from gathering and/or “kill X number of bad guys” type of questing, the replay-factor of the zones seems pretty high to me. This is good news for those of us with 9 alts to cap!
There’s a fair mix of traditional Asian theme (with a genuine nod of respect to the culture in many places); a decent amount of typical silliness, including plenty of drunken humor, and even “redneck” Pandaren; a serious underlying story that will give storycrafters and roleplayers plenty to discuss and debate; and many new NPC races to learn about. My recommendation: stop every now and then to watch how mobs and NPCs interact – it’s really pretty hilarious (especially the winter sprites). Pandaria is rife with curious new animations on critters, mobs, and NPCs.
The new race and class – Pandaren and Monk – are full of Zen…
I haven’t played either race or class yet so my review here is going to be limited, but let me assure you that both are cool, cool, cool. For all that I thought I was going to hate the fat, furry pandas, I find them to have a subtle humor and some really neat characteristics that make Pandaren a fun new race. I even like their graphic design, and don’t find them to be childish at all, something I had definitely been fearful of. Kung Fu Panda was great when I watched it with my daughters, but not what I want in my Warcraft. I’m not sure that I’ll ever play a panda beyond trying out the new starter zone (I’m a lore buff and want that info), but I don’t object to the race anymore. That said, I wish the Sprites were a player race!!!
While I won’t play a panda, I will definitely roll a monk eventually. Their spells and abilities are just…well, just freaking awesome. Word around the guild is that this applies to all the specs, too – in fact, one of my dedicated healers (“I’m a crappy tank!”) keeps threatening to Flying Dragon Kick one of my tanks and steal his spot because he likes monk tanking so much. (No, Rafe. Just no.) The spell effects are so very cool, with plenty of bells and whistles to make this a very utilitarian – not to mention powerful – class. Several of the races can play a monk, so you’re not limited to being a panda in order to try out this new fun class.
Ooh, a spankin’ new Talent system…
If you’ve played WoW previously but have been away for awhile, the new Talent system will surprise you and may stump you at first. But don’t let it annoy you – it’s actually pretty sweet because it allows so much personalized customization. It’s a totally new system though, for sure. Where previous incarnations of the Talent trees affected your damage/throughput, this one really doesn’t. It’s more about utilitarian playstyle. That’s a little off-putting to the meter addicts out there, but in reality I feel like it encourages people to think more about how they play – and really clever players will find that they have some fascinating new tricks that enhance their performance. Good play will shine more than ever before.
This doesn’t mean the theorycrafters are out of a job, mind you; there are definitely still strong recommendations in each tier of the tree for every class and spec. Fortunately, your talent “spec” is easy to change now, requiring a simple Tome to remove an old selection in a tier, just like we changed glyphs previously (and still do). Glyphs and the Talent tree both use the same Tomes – and Tomes are cheap and easy to acquire this expansion! – so stock up before you head out. You may find that you change glyphs and talents frequently depending upon the situation.
Whoa, what’s this? Scenarios?
Scenarios are totally new to the scene, and are essentially a 3-player mini dungeon. Once you hit level 90 you can queue for these just as you would for a dungeon, and they reward a personal treasure chest at the end that might have a nice piece of gear in it… or may just have gold. Supposedly scenarios don’t require specific roles in order to complete (and you don’t queue by role), but in my experience it’s really helpful to have a geared tank and someone with a healing offspec – though the healer can be in a dps spec, to speed things up. I’m truly not sure what three pure dps do in some of the scenarios, because the mobs hit hard sometimes! Likewise, low dps is going to be a liability in scenarios. Or at least make them challenging. Still, scenarios are definitely fun, and have a bevy of achievements to go along with them, for those of you chasing points.
Pet Battles – not just for Pokefans anymore…
Pet battles are also new and quite fun – and promise to be competitive at the higher ranks. This mini-game utilizes the non-combat pets that so many players adore and collect, with an entirely updated pets (and mounts) tab. Friends who are former Pokemon trainers assure me that the turn-based combat system is very familiar. The pets each have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and you eventually can pick a set of three to battle with. There is a series of quests that helps you to learn and master the process, but it won’t be long before you’re out there looking for new pets to battle, and rares, too.
I’ll add that non-combat pets got a total overhaul in general, with all pets now account-bound, and, best of all, nameable. You can set favorites, sell excess pets and rares that you capture in pet battles – you can even release your pets out into the world if you like. It’s just one of many new tweaks to the game that allows for a more personalized interaction with the world we play in. So much fun!
Zomgourds, Cooking became totally awesome!
If you were hoping for player housing like I was, the new farm connected to Cooking Central (actually, it’s called Halfhill, in the center of Valley of the Four Winds) feels like a strong step in that direction. Cooking has been completely overhauled, with several “Ways” to cap, each of which specializes in a different sort of buff: Intellect from the Way of the Pot, Stamina from the Way of the Oven, and so on. When you cap each Way, you gain access to a feast, and when you cap all Ways, you gain access to an even more awesome feast. Nearly all foods are buff foods, so leveling cooking is (finally) personally beneficial as well.
To help you to get all the vegetable-based foods you’ll need to level your cooking (you’ll still have to kill critters for meat and/or go fishing), you can (and should!) start a quest line with a group called the Tillers that will give you your own farm plot. As your reputation with the Tillers faction grows, you can plant seeds… and more. There’s a weatherman nearby to tell you what tomorrow’s forecast favors for growing – so you can get excess of that crop – and tools to deal with the various pests, weeds, and dry soil that plague any farm. Next to the sprites, this is probably my favorite new addition to WoW. Oh, and no one can see you while on your farm plot, which makes it especially handy for going AFK on a pvp server (hint, hint).
All this, and more….
I could probably go on forever about how much fun Mists is, but I think you should get in there and check it out yourself. Blizzard really hit the target with this expansion, and I believe it’s more than just the first flush of new content that makes it feel energized and exciting – this is really good stuff.
That said, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, and I do have my concerns, primarily about the difficulty of the heroics (I’ve already finished them all and it’s only been a week since release), but I’ll address that in my next column. For now, “SLOW DOWN” – but only after you’ve installed the expansion and started leveling.