World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria - One Week In
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria - One Week In
I have been playing World of Warcraft since it first began in 2004 and I vividly remember my first days roaming around the Night Elf world of Teldrassil. I was hypnotised by its glorious spirited charm and admiring the land’s magical beauty. In my first few days, I did not fully understand all the game mechanics nor realise exactly how the world was interacting around me. I recall a time where another player had cast their Druid ‘Mark of the Wild’ buff on me as they passed but with me being in the infancy of my WoW career, I thought it was blessed upon me by an NPC because they liked me for doing their quests.
A lot of things have changed since I began my journey as a lowly Night Elf Priest all those years ago. I am no longer unaware of my surroundings, I have poured more hours than I really want to confess into playing five characters through the first 1 to 60 levels. Then, as each expansion came out, going to the midnight launch and rushing home to continue levelling from 60 to 70, then 80, then finally with Cataclysm, 85.
Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard’s fourth expansion pack, was released in Australia about a week ago and has further broadened the player experience, increased the level cap and yet again changed the world each of my characters have become familiar with and call ‘home.’ However, I have my reservations about whether this expansion is going to attract new players and keep existing ones.
Over the more recent years, I have cancelled my World of Warcraft subscription a few times because I simply no longer found the game as entertaining as it once was. I used to be in a guild as part of a solid hardcore raiding group but over time raiding started to feel more like a second job and less like a fun game I could jump into whenever I wanted to kill an hour (or a few).
Despite the new content released with each expansion pack, I began to find the quests and combat boring and repetitive – once you had gotten through end game content, the game seemed to have no-where left go. Yet, with each expansion release and the more time I spent reminiscing on all the good moments I’ve had with each of my characters, I would return to the world of Azeroth time and time again.
So it was with some hesitation that I dived back into the deep end when Mists of Pandaria finally hit our shores. I reactivated my subscription and began the journey all over again as a level 1 Pandaren Monk. I prepared myself for the worst, remembering the bloodbath of fighting over quest monsters and items due to the influx of players both new and old wanting to play the Draenei and Blood Elf races and new Shaman or Paladin classes when The Burning Crusade was introduced.
Yet the new zones were quieter than I expected, which was a nice change from the constant urge to rush through the beginning content as fast as you could to beat the crowd. It allowed me the opportunity to take my time with the new quests and content. The Pandaren starting zone is set to an Oriental Zen theme, showing influence of real-world Asian architecture, art and culture. The new zone features a faction neutral (at first) new race of stocky, chubby pandas whose beer bellies wobble when they run, highlighting their passion for food and drink.
Even though the game is now sitting on eight years old and the graphics can’t compare to games like Guild Wars 2, I think Blizzard are comfortably happy in their cartoonish style. Regardless, I really enjoyed the art and detail put into the new starting zone. I appreciated the somewhat ‘familiar’ Oriental setting which is different to Blizzard's typical fantasy styled zones and it seems to fit just perfectly. This time around, I even left the music on and enjoyed it.
The gameplay isn’t earth-shatteringly different – you’re still essentially just pressing numbers or clicking buttons. The effort made by Blizzard to redefine systems such as the talent trees has me feeling a little unsure, though. Previously, talent trees were customisable with the spending of talent ‘points’ that allowed players to pick and choose where to spend their talent points to a certain extent. It ultimately meant that each player could have slightly varied builds despite being the same class and overall speciality.
The introduction of the new talent changes sees the old talent points spending method tossed in the bin and replaced by a much more simplistic system. Instead of spending points as they level, players get to choose an ability every 15 levels from their selected talent specialisation. I feel as though this takes away from what makes one player different from another or what made you feel as though you ‘crafted your skill’.
In fact, as I went through my first 20 levels as a Monk, I couldn’t help but feel as though many parts of the game have been simplified and “dumbed down.” If I didn’t want to take the time to read the quest, I didn’t have to. I could easily sail through the starting zone having not read a single thing and still be able to complete each quest I was given. All this is thanks to the helpful golden mini-map arrow that points me to the direction of my blue ‘quest destination zone’.
Whilst the golden arrow and blue zone marker were introduced into the game before Mists of Pandaria, it was all too easy to realise this expansion pack may not be for me. I began to wonder if I was no longer Blizzard’s target audience and, perhaps, that it is young children they want to entice. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the Pandaren have been in the lore long before movies like Kung Fu Panda ever existed but you have to admit that their appearance is cuddly and probably going to be the most appealing to children out of all the races.
Quest reading and navigation aside, levelling as a Monk doesn’t even feel like a real challenge; in fact, it feels a bit mind-numbing and Drone-like. I’m sure that Blizzard will make changes to how the Monk class works in the future, and their current concern is likely to be more on getting you quickly through the old content than anything else. For now, though, there is an overwhelming feeling that Monks can do, well, anything - with minimal to no effort or thought required on the player’s part. It’s even more apparent just how ‘easy’ being a Monk is with how effective and powerful their starting and early abilities are.
I particularly enjoy playing healer classes, so naturally I gravitated towards becoming a Mistweaver Monk (as opposed to the tanking Brewmaster or the DPS focused Windwalker). Considering this, I expected to die whenever I was careless and pulled several monsters at the same time, but I didn’t. The ability to jump effortlessly into Serpent stance, cast a heal on myself, and then return back to Tiger stance made it a complete non-issue. Not even a bit. It really shouldn’t be that simple and easy to survive - it teaches nothing about how to effectively play the game. I know, Druids are very similar in this way, but at least they have to pay for this convenience by sacrificing mana or rage.
So far I feel as though I have blazed through the zones faster than the game quests expect me to, without really even trying or intending to. I was out of the new Pandaren starting zone in about an hour and a half, only to find myself back to the same old Cataclysm content and quests, with a few changes to the world and instances here and there. I am already on the cusp of level 40 in just one weekend of casual playing.
It seems to me that new players are actually missing out because of the speed you’re pushed through the levelling content. These new players are required to buy each of the expansions in order to play, yet miss out on all the critical events and storytelling that has happened in each. Instead they only get to see it all after the fact, with no option to be part of it and to unknowingly steamroll right through it.
Perhaps as I progress further towards the new end-game content of Mists of Pandaria the Monk abilities will be truly tested and challenged and the game’s pace will even itself out. I hope that with more time and levelling this expansion pack proves there’s a good reason to keep paying for this game and keep pouring hours into playing, other than profit for Blizzard. I want to be challenged when I play and I want to feel as though what I achieve with my character took effort and skill - I want to have to be aware of what’s going on and to think like a human being.
Despite how rushed and easy it all feels so far, I am going to press onwards and upwards to level 90 and hope the journey is solid enough that I’ll be willing to do the same again and again for my other five level 85 characters. I don’t want this game to become so easy that the human behind the characters are essentially reduced to being no different than a levelling bot, yet I fear we may not be very far from that being the reality.
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