While Garrett’s off gallivanting with the likes of industry starlets and icons in Austin for GDC, it’s my turn to pick up the World of Wacraft: Mists of Pandaria review in progress to dig into the early levels of the new Monk class, the Pandaren starter experience, and the “new” leveling of WoW in general thanks to the revamped talent system. In general, I’d like to preface this entire article by stating that Mists is easily WoW’s most beautiful expansion to date. So much so that the rest of the game outside of the new zones seems dull and simply dated by comparison. There almost needs to be another “Cataclysm” to bring another facelift to Azeroth after the artwork seen here. While it’s still the same eight year old game that you’ve come to love or hate, the visuals in Pandaria are simply of a whole other level compared to previous expansions. But personally, that’s not quite enough to get months and months out of me again. Let me explain.
The Rough Spots – Week Two (New Talents and Old World)
By far the most off-putting new feature to WoW is the re-vamped talent system. I’ll admit, when I first heard this idea back at BlizzCon 2011, I thought it sounded like genius. Of course! Take away the useless “stat-boost” talents and make every talent an actual skill that players can use. This gets rid of the “Oh, I need the 5% armor boost” builds and instead focuses the game on the cool spells and abilities of each class. The problem is that in theory it’s entirely sound. In practice… it takes away customization and the fun of leveling in many ways.
Instead of a talent point to spend every level after 10, you know only get a talent point every 15 levels. This means you’ll pick six talents by the time you hit level 90. No more min-maxing. The idea was to solve the “you need this build” problem plaguing WoW’s PVE. It didn’t do that. You’re still going to have people saying you need such and such builds for healing, tanking, and so forth. All it really did is make leveling more of a chore in a game that’s getting quite long in the tooth. How? When it used to be that every other level or so you’d get a new skill or spell, now you only get one very sparingly. Leveling, though faster than ever becomes a chore when starting a new character because you have fewer spells and skills to use and combat thereby is far less interesting than in the upper levels.
Gone also is the only true sense left in WoW that your character was your own. By reducing the number of talents in this new system, the game has pretty much taken most of the choice out of raising your character and building him or her to your liking. It’s pretty depressing, really. And easily my least favorite part of this expansion.
Additionally, while I love the Pandaren starting experience (which we’ll get to next), the downside of starting a new Pandaren is that after the first dozen or more levels which won’t take much time to chomp through, you’re back in the same ol’ Azeroth. Barrens and Goldshire await you. Of course, they’re still the “remade” zones from Cataclysm so if you’ve yet to experience the re-done zones that might be a treat. But eventually, you’ll be back in The Burning Crusade, Lich King, and Cataclysm zones you may have done several times already. Such is the life of a new character in an old game. I loved the way the Death Knight let you start at 55, and I’m a bit sad the Monk isn’t the same. Luckily, it’s a fun class in and of itself.
And though I’ve always been a fan of the Pandaren since their first “we’re kidding” appearance, I remember them seeming much more ferocious and badass in artwork and other representations. In Mists, they’re quite a lot cuter than I expected. They’re fat, cuddly, and goofy. It’s as if even Blizzard still thinks of them as a joke when all is said and done.
The Shiny Parts – Week Two (Pandaria Starting Quest and Monk Versatility)
With all of my whining done, let’s get to what I did enjoy about the new starting experience the Monk’s early levels. I played an 85 Monk in the beta quite a bit, and have seen all it’s capable of doing as a Windwalker. But I chose to try out the Mistweaver this time around. The notion, even after only a this first 20 or so levels that I’ve spent with him, that this guy does his best healing when he’s kicking a mob’s arse makes for the kind of healer I can get behind. The Mistweaver Monk gets Stance of Wise Serpent which is his healing stance. What’s awesome about this stance is that it dishes off healing equal to 50% of the non-auto attack damage you deal to the lowest nearby ally (including yourself). It’s a fantastic stance to use for survivability for solo-ing, even if it does slow down the pace at which you kill mobs. This stance combined with the other healing abilities you obtain (slowly) as you level makes for a pretty potent healer that’s also a lot of fun to play without watching your party bars too closely. Whether as a healer the Mistweaver is as fun and powerful at later levels someone else will have to chime in and say.
Additionally, the opening story of the Pandaren starter area makes for one of the most enjoyable beginning zones in WoW. The Pandaren are the first race in Azeroth that can be either Horde or Alliance, and the way the game slowly reveals the differences between the two and lets you choose around level 10 is pretty brilliant. Plus you can get a nice hint of how crazy ol’ Garrosh Hellscream has become when you choose the Horde and first arrive at Orgrimmar. The only downside, as I said above is that after a few hours you have to leave Pandaria and you won’t be coming back for nearly 75 levels and that’s a bit sad. These guys might be “cute and cuddly” as a race, but they sure can fight. I just wish they didn’ have a tiny panda-tail hanging out of their pants. That’s kind of disturbing to me, if anatomically correct.
Next Week – Garrett’s Back!
That about does it for my week at the helm of our Review in Progress. Overall, I’d like to say there are some really bright spots in Mists of Pandaria. But there are some things I find incredibly off-putting for the game as a whole as well: the talents, the slow speed at gaining new skills. But then the Monk itself plays wonderfully, the starting experience is intriguing, and the zones themselves are more beautiful than ever. But there’s no denying that WoW is starting to feel very dated, even after this expansion is intended to refresh Azeroth. I just hope that the Scenarios, Dungeons, and the upcoming world PVP make up for the massive steps back the game has taken in the character customization department.