Monday, October 15, 2012

Review of World of Warcraft's "Mists of Pandaria," Part Two

In Part One of the review, we discussed "Mists of Pandaria's: new race, the Pandaren, and the new continent of Pandaria. Besides the Pandaren and Pandaria, the new feature getting the most talk is the Pet Battle System. Here, all those non-combat pets players have been collecting over time can be put to use besides showing them. It's gotten a lot of comparisons to "Pokemon," which even Wowpedia admits.

To gain the ability, one visits a Battle Pet trainer. Only one character needs to do so as the ability is account bound rather than on one single character. One's pets start at Level one, and by challenging wild pets or another trainer's pets in duels, winning pet battles increases' ones pets experience and over time levels them. Like items, pets can be common, uncommon, or rare in quality, rares having higher stats.

Players can heal their pets once every ten minutes. They can also pay a stable master to heal them or a special battle pet bandage. There are some achievements and quests than can be done. One can also buy and sell pets at the auction house. Naturally rares sell for the most. 

Mounts have also become account bound, although characters can still use only those of their level or lower. And those of the opposing faction will be unavailable.

Another new feature is scenarios, which are much like instances, but are shorter "with progressive objectives and a story arc." Unlike regular instances, tanks and healers are described as not truly needed. One "WoW Insider" writer described them as much more ideal for warrior class characters than instances. The first one, Theramore's Fall, was made available a couple weeks before the release of "Mists of Pandaria," which gave the sense of the Horde and Alliance, already hostile to one another, getting closer to all out war. If this was a signal for "get ready for more player vs player," there were opportunities for it in two new battleground areas.

There's some fun new things in the game. One feature isn't so much new as brought back from WoW's beta days. While the game was still under development, druids in their travel form could carry a passenger. But this feature was cut before the game's release. The reason, Blizzard was a bit wary of juvenile wisecracks of guys "riding" female druids. But with some of the more suggestive jokes and flirts for the past couple expansions, a guy going about on a lady druid's travel form was mild in comparison. So the feature was brought back for "Mists of Pandaria", with the addition of a new glyph for druids. By now though, it's more of a neat feature than a practical move since back then it took a lot longer to get to level 40.

Players in Pandaria can also do a bit of farming. Unlike games such as Runescape, there is no farming skill. Instead, one can help a farmer at Sunsong Ranch in the Valley of the Four Winds, and he'll let you grow your own veggies. Quests allow one to gain favor with the farming faction, the Tillers, and the further one goes, the more plots that are available. Naturally it isn't always so simple to just plant and forget. Your crops may need watering, weeding, defending from critters trying to make lunch out of them, and "wild" crops will need to be wrestled (see picture). "Farmvile" certainly didn't involve defending pumpkins from Level 86 Swooping Planshawks. Successful harvests yield cooking ingredients for Zen Master level Cooking and other items such as herbs, enchanting materials, and even skins, minerals, and cloth.

One fun new gadget for engineers is the "Blingtron 4000," as well as fun for everyone else around it. When summoned, it hangs around for about ten minutes and gives a gift to anyone who talks to him. WoW Insider described the gifts as a variety of items from potions to items that help raise your skills, to "a steamy romance novel."

It's a little easier for those doing the archeology profession. Instead of three digs, one is able now to dig five times at an archeology site on a map before it fades. In Pandaria, Pandaren archeological finds can be crated and stacked in one single space in your backpacks and get you better reputation with the Lorewalkers.

With five new levels come some new moves and attacks. For the Hunter, one fun move is "Stampede" in which all of your pets attack the target at once, although each having only a quarter of it's offensive strength. 

One major difference between "Mists of Pandaria" and the two previous expansions is the lack of a single villain dominating the plot. "Wrath of the Lich King" got it's name from it's big bad boy. With "Cataclysm," it was Deathwing the dragon aspect that threatened to wreck the world. Here, no one bad guy dominates the field like they do, players dealing with a few separate bigger bosses as they go about Pandaria.

However, there will be one interesting villain that players will deal with later on after a major patch several months from now: Horde Warchief Garrosh Hellscream. In the plot, Thrall's replacement as the Horde's leader as he goes off to help the elements against Deathwing isn't the careful statesman he was. Instead of bargaining, Hellscream feels the Horde should simply take what it wants, and if it means war with the Alliance, so be it. Unlike Thrall, he feels only Orcs are deserving of the most honored roles in the Horde, and woe to anyone Orc or not who openly questions him. His plans to expel the Alliance from the continent of Kalimador change to outright genocide. More and more, Horde members are increasingly dissatisfied at his rule, and eventually rebellion will break out. In the upcoming Siege of Ogrimmar, both Alliance and Horde players help the Horde rebels to defeat Hellscream, whom as it turns out has been secretly been doing some abominable activities. There is only speculation as to who replaces him. Will Thrall return, or will the Horde see a third Warchief? Time will tell.

Considering World of Warcraft's size and fanbase, any news involving it is going to get conversation, and the "Mists of Pandaria" expansion has brought about no shortage of them. A number dismissed it from the beginning as little more than a "Kung-Fu Panda" joke because of the new race. Others however welcomed them, one girl saying, "They are just so CUTE!" Some PvP players do have a preference for this kind of character, feeling others will be embarrassed to be "pawned" by a cutsie character, "You just got your a** handed to you by a panda?!" The biggest complaint about the Pandaren I've heard is of them being a neutral race, though most can see why Blizzard made them available to both sides, some citing Horde fan complaints about the Worgens' Alliance status.

Of the Pet Battle System, many have dismissed that as well as "WoW meets Pokeman." Others find it an occasional interesting break from the routine of the game. Though few if any seem to be making it a major part of the game for the long haul. The new scenarios, however, have gotten praise.

Among the comments about the expansion was of the detail of Pandaria, very picturesque with it's towns' architecture and the wilderness. Some also commented the land seemed more "normal" than previous parts of Azeroth. Here, you're more likely to see NPC people going about their lives farming, mining, fishing, and otherwise living. You'll also see a lot more kids.

WoW players interested in the role-play aspects of their characters have expressed these kind of  Pandaren players have something of an interesting challenge. Not only do they have to come up with an explanation why they sided with Horde or Alliance, but as from a race that's been isolated, war-torn Azeroth that's had to deal all kinds of threats and challenges from The Plague, Goblin technology, all kinds of demons and monsters, and of course that the Alliance and Horde are perpetually at some level of conflict. A new reality entirely foreign to these characters, it could certainly warp the mindsets of these furry adventurers. Or perhaps they somehow remain laid back and curious at heart.

A number of people feel Blizzard did a better job with "Mists of Pandaria" than "Cataclysm." Among the people I know, the Sunweavers guild in WoW is active again, with players both rolling up Pandaren characters and exploring the new land. The response doesn't seem to be as great as Cataclysm, when the guild grew with new players happy to have Worgen characters, but it has brought life back to a guild that was seeing only minimal activity for the past few months.

It's been commented on that if "Mists of Pandaria" fails to keep World of Warcraft's numbers up, it will be the expansion that sees the biggest multiplayer online game begin to lose it's dominance. While it will still be number one for at least a few more years, if it continues to decline like it has, games like Star Wars the Old Republic will begin to have comparable numbers of players. For the short term however, "Mists" has been a success, with 2.7 million units sold in its first week and the total number of players past ten million again, up from 9.1 million in August. So at least for now Blizzard is unlikely to make any major changes, such as expanding it's free-to-play version beyond level 20. It's a safe bet this game will eventually be getting players who hadn't been born when it was first launched.

My personal opinion is "Mist of Pandaria" rates a four out of five. If you're a dedicated WoW player you'll most likely love it, especially if you're a panda fan. If you're not already playing, it may not hold your interest for more than a few months. As for yours truly, I'm keeping my subscription.

And that's it for now from Azeroth.

Sources: WoWpedia,, WoWInsider,

Bixyl Shuftan

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