I began playing World of Warcraft the day it launched in 2004. I anticipate that on the ten year reunion of the game we will get the next expansion. In the meantime, we have Mists of Pandaria. Mists was a tough journey in the beginning but became a much more fun experience as I went through the content and worked my way up. For me, Mists is an excellent Worl d of Warcraft expansion. However, in terms of MMOs in general it does not bring the thunder that a WoW expansion used too. If you are a veteran WoW player than Mists has a lot to offer in terms of game play and especially content. If you are a hardened MMO vet looking for something new this is not the game for you any more. Let’s go through the stages and get this final score underway.
Aesthetics – 9
Mist of Pandaria is absolutely beautiful. This is one of the areas where the game truly shines. The world is an amazing tribute to Asia itself and holds plenty of secret locations and treasures for all to enjoy. Zones like the Jade Forest and Vale of the Eternal Blossoms truly stand out as some of the most beautiful zones in the game. The idea that the Horde and Alliance have brought their war here to Pandaria makes for a quality story line and really does bring the player into the new landscape with purpose.
The monsters and bosses all have nifty new animations and the instances while sometimes short, look fantastic. The Pandarians themselves may have a cartoon look that turns off some, but I found as I played through more of the game I really enjoyed them (keep in mind they did exist long before Kung Fu Panda). The character and story behind the race adds to the feel of the continent and theme of the expansion. The other creatures I found to be really interesting were the Sha. Not only is the story fascinating to follow, but the artwork of these evil creatures created by imbalance and anger was a sight to behold.
The artwork, zones, story, and philosophy behind Pandaria really are some of its strongest points. I found it much more playable than Cataclysm just based on the look and feel of the expansion alone. The art and writing teams at Blizzard have a lot to be proud of with this expansion. The only downside is that compared to all the rest of WoW, the Pandaren and the Pandaria zones stand out like sore (beautiful) thumbs when compared to the dated visuals of the other areas. A model revamp for all races is due, and I wonder what other facelifts the game could be in line for.
Gameplay – 8
There are a few things that hurt Mists in this area and yet several which saved it from getting a much lower score. The first is the fact that Warcraft’s gameplay systems are really starting to become out of date when compared other MMOs emerging in the market. Linear questing and hubs are becoming a thing of the past. This style of MMO gameplay needs to evolve in Warcraft’s next expansion for sure. Mists offered some solid rewards in terms of getting through the content, no doubt, however there are much better worlds to play in out there on the horizon and even right now.
The talent system also hurt a lot here. The fact that talents are now so simple and that a strong portion of character customization is reduced to so few choices really makes the leveling process feel like you are missing something. If this system was designed for players to join the game from the start I would find it very unrewarding. For high level players it is just a respec and a few choices at the end to flesh out your character. I do think this new system has hurt the game. Even if players argue that there are more choices for classes, I personally can’t see it. The idea was to be rid of cookie cutter builds, but this seems to have only made it worse.
The new dungeons, scenarios, challenge modes, and the Pet Battles definitely save Mists from getting a low score. The new challenge mode system really is fun and gives players a whole new goal to shoot for. The Pet Battles also are a lot of fun and add a lot to the game even if they’re “fluff”. I found both of these to really add to the enjoyment of playing the expansion.
Innovation – 6
This is where Mists of Pandaria really disappoints. Warcraft is very much Warcraft and while it is not the same game from 2004, this expansion does little to truly push the innovation in the MMO genre. I know it’s an expansion, and that means just building on the old, but I feel like Blizzard is missing chances to really push its game into the next generation. If you are a WoW player it will slip on like an old glove. However, if you have spent your time playing other MMOs over the last few years you will find a lot of the systems frustrating and dated.
WoW definitely uses the same formula and it has become obvious with Mists. Quests continue to be kill ten of these and collect ten of those. Though the game has gotten better at adding in new pieces and parts to questing, it still follows the same format it always has. The instances on the other hand are still fun to do and while boss fights continue to get more challenging, the format is still very much the same. Go in, kill trash, kill boss, get loot, and repeat.
I suppose on the other hand you could say that World of Warcraft sticks to what works. However, there is not enough in this expansion to really get excited about in terms of innovative playstyles. You play WoW for what it is, and don’t expect it to feel “new”. The Pet Battle system is definitely the bright spot, and so are the Challenge Modes.
Polish – 10
Blizzard never launches an unpolished product. Seriously, it doesn’t. Right from the beginning Mists download time was almost an afterthought. It was super fast and easy because they had pre-loaded the content over the course of months. The game plays extremely well and smooth as silk. There are very few issues to worry about in any of the new content.
The zones are amazing and offer more hidden treasures than before adding even more to the clean expansion. Mists is like cleaning up a room in your house and then redecorating it with Feng Shui. It really moves well and adds a sense of newness to an eight year old game. This is definitely another area were Mists shines. If anything we should come to expect this from every Blizzard product that is put on the map. They honestly never launch a game that is “broken” except on minute levels.
Longevity – 8
Mists of Pandaria may not have the innovative muscle but it does have some amazing content. It also adds in some game systems like Pet Battles that create a whole new aspect of World of Warcraft. The longevity of this expansion gets a solid score of eight for that very reason. Simply put, there is a lot to do in this expansion and the fact that Blizzard is promising to speed up its content release schedule is exciting for fans of the game.
From exploring the new zones to hitting the instances and raids, Mists gives players a reason to repeat their journeys now more than ever before. The timed instances makes for great fun and the larger raids are challenging enough to keep guilds busy for some time. Add in the scenarios, the factions, farming, and other little games WoW’s included in Mists and you have a lot more choice of what to do than you’re used to in Azeroth.
Social – 7
There are good and bad in the social aspects of Mists that bring the score to seven. While I find the community on WoW really has become Eliteist Jerks, like one of my favorite guild names, Blizzard has done a lot to enhance the social systems in the game. The group finder and open world group finder systems both add a lot to getting players into groups to run instances or explore new areas. It also adds to getting some of the quest lines done as you level up. Add in Cross-Server zones (which have their own pluses and minuses) and you have the servers in WoW feeling alive again.
The thing that really falls short for me with Mists is the idea of Horde or Alliance players truly taking pride in their factions. While as a Horde player I began the expansion killing Alliance and creating more bad karma, it still did not give me a reason to take pride in my Horde bretheren. I think if Blizzard does do another expansion for the ten year anniversary, they should absolutely make this the focus point. It was hinted at in Mists, but the death blows were not struck to really push the Alliance and Horde into full all out war. Here’s hoping 5.1 and beyond bring this war to light more and more.
Value – 9
As a World of Warcraft player for many years, Mists of Pandaria absolutely wins in terms of value. It is a welcome expansion for a game that really felt like a downward slide after Cataclysm. Mists is a solid expansion with plenty to do. It is not anything crazy new and innovative but it is an enjoyable update to the king of all MMOs. I believe the true value comes in the form of the pet system and instance designs. They are really quite fun and Blizzard continues to add to their world by pushing new systems and fine-tuining older ones with new ideas. Although I liked Lich King the best of all the expansions, Mists of Pandaria definitely delivers. With recent sales on the old expansions, WoW is still King of the subscription MMO, and you get quite a lot for your money.
Mists of Pandaria continues the long tradition of Warcraft in a great way for veteran players. I don’t know that too many new players will be joining WoW in this expansion, but it does favor the fan base. We will see how Blizzard handles patches and updates in the coming months and into 2013. My hope is that in 2014 Blizzard will truly deliver a knock out punch for the game’s ten year anniversary. If they are also launching Titan around that time it will be a very interesting year indeed.