World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria - Four Weeks In
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria - Four Weeks In
Four weeks ago I began a journey to rekindle my life in Word of Warcraft as I entered into Blizzard’s fourth expansion pack, Mists of Pandaria. In my first week I went through my first 60 levels in what felt like the blink of an eye. After two weeks, I found myself traversing through Outland experiencing leveling that seemed akin to a snail’s pace. By week three, Cataclysm became my light at the end of the tunnel. Then, finally, I reached beyond the mists to the shores of Pandaria to complete the last leg of my journey to level 90. It is with both relief and sadness that I have completed my adventure.
Hitting the level cap of 90 is a total flood of content unlocks. Unlike the previous expansions where the opening up of new content felt a bit like a drip-feed system, there are 9 heroic dungeons to enter, time trial challenge modes, scenarios to complete, two new PvP battlegrounds to thrash the opposing faction in and, finally, the ability to choose my last talent skill from my specialty tree. Not to mention if I haven't gotten enough questing out of my system already, there are plenty of faction and daily quests to be completed. The ever familiar lovely little blue bar sitting above my action bar has disappeared. There is no more experience left to gain.
I still have mixed emotions about Mists of Pandaria but out of all four expansions released so far, I have to say this one has been my favourite. That doesn't make this expansion perfect and there are still some parts of the game and story which didn't work quite right. Perhaps I am missing something but the Alliance and Horde arrival to Pandaria felt awkward from the very first moment. I’m not always the most attentive person when it comes to following all the intricate details of Warcraft lore, but when I reached level 85 and got to Pandaria, I was mighty confused.
As Alliance, you are introduced to a cut-scene showing you King Varian Wrynn in a panic about the state of his son, Prince Anduin Wrynn, who goes missing after his flagship is wrecked near an uncharted isle. This particular ship goes missing amongst the 200 Alliance ships King Wrynn had set sail. For what purpose King Wrynn had a convoy of 200 ships sailing is never made clear. A broken message alluding “the white pawn is safe” is received and it becomes your mission to return him home.
As Horde, you witness the faction leader Garrosh learning news of his men engaging an Alliance convoy, only for it to be lost when the royal Alliance ship had 'run aground' near an uncharted land shrouded in deep mists. The mission becomes to storm the land and paint it red.
Initially, the resident Pandaren who value their calm lifestyle express their displeasure with the Alliance and Horde war spilling onto their land. I can understand that reaction and would expect Pandaren to be bothered by a war which is not their own suddenly invading their shores. The confusing part for me is why the Alliance was out there in the first place. At least the Horde's purpose for being there makes sense, even if the reason is lazy and straight-forward.
To me, Blizzard has never been very masterful in weaving lore into the game. There are fundamental problems with any storytelling living within a multiplayer environment which means the story can never properly work for that reason alone. What bothers me is the the basics of the storytelling, though. We saw it in Cataclysm when King Wrynn suddenly returns to Stormwind after years of being absent, without any explanation as to where he was and why. Now, in Mists of Pandaria, I am at a total loss as to why Prince Anduin was part of a fleet of 200 ships at all.
I can think of so many different answers to this riddle. Perhaps Anduin 'felt' something within his Priestly powers and this draws him to seek the mists. Maybe the Alliance wanted to expand their horizons and explore for uncharted land and resources. The Pandaren land is clearly alive with energy, both positive and negative – it is possible the land sensed it needed to be cleansed and called upon Prince Anduin to fulfill this task. Yet the question still remains: what purpose did those Alliance ships have that Blizzard thought wasn't necessary to make clear?
Not every part of the story was bad. It's the moments which came together so effortlessly that made me like this expansion far greater any of the others. I connected to the people of Pandaria. I shared their sadness and their pain. I saw a world in a deep depression, desperate for its weight to be lifted. When the Alliance and Horde started coming to blows beneath the almost complete Jade Serpent statue, only to bring it crumbling down, I was angry and sad at the same time. I was upset with how selfish both factions were being. It was as though the Horde and Alliance are two fighting parents, with the Pandaren being the children caught in the middle of it all.
This connection differs to how I ever felt about the Alliance or Horde. Even when Deathwing came and ravaged Azeroth and Stormwind City, I did not feel sorry for its people. My reaction to the Alliance is as though they had brought their own problems upon themselves. No one asked for the Alliance and Horde to start fighting on the shores of Pandaria, though.
It was difficult to follow a story where the flow was incomplete and seemed disjointed. If it wasn’t the story letting me down, it was the quests. As I journeyed through the land I ran into a Pandaren by the name of Loremaster Cho who. Upon our first meeting, Cho imparts knowledge about the history of Pandaria and its people. In fact, Loremaster Cho considered me so distant from the Pandaren people, whenever he spoke to me he would refer to me (and those like me) as “your people.”
In his eyes, I was not Pandaren and I knew nothing of their culture, the way of calm, patience and peace. To him, I was not Pandaren, despite these values and ways of life being quite clear and present when I began my first 1 to 10 levels on the turtle back of Wandering Isle. For any other race, this part of the story works perfectly and makes sense. In fact, it's quite a good way to introduce players to the new race and help them discover a bit more about their newest pals.
It brings me back to why I was even in Pandaria in the first place. The King wanted me to go find and rescue Prince Anduin, then return him home. Every time I encountered the Prince it was always some random and extremely vague ‘prophecy’ that was keeping him from coming home. He would say he could not leave yet and he still had things he wanted to do. As the player, I was left in the dark on what this was or why it was important. It was extremely frustrating to repeatedly have to consider a situation where a King’s order could not be fulfilled because some punk kid wants to ignore his father’s command. As though I would not be prepared to return him by force if necessary and, instead, just let him run away each time to do his thing.
I even encountered a few quest bugs at times preventing me from completing their objectives. One particular quest bug occurred on a significant turn of events where the Mantid insects begin invading Pandaren, starting a war in the Valley of Four Winds. I tried time and time again to get the quest to complete properly, which required the aid of NPCs who kept resetting. I watched as some fellow players struggled with the same issue. Not even abandoning the quest and restarting helped. I know bugs are a typical occurrence in most games, especially new releases but I have come to expect better from Blizzard by now. It certainly wasn't helpful in keeping me locked into the story. Not to mention the outbreak of Mantid and the sudden war erupting is yet another 'random' thing to just happen without any real explanation or preparation.
Call me crazy, but I think Blizzard are beginning to clutch at straws when it comes to World of Warcraft content. Their creativity is giving way and the game is seeing lazy writing and a lack of exciting, unique experiences. Last week I talked a little about achievements, mounts and pets being account-wide, removing the adventure that used to come with those things. Even how you obtain a pet now has become more of a chore and another excuse for a time sink. Instead of having a rare pet drop from a boss, be earned through a currency system or purchased from vendors, players can now obtain pets by capturing them in the wild as part of the new pet battle system.
Once you have your first pet and obtain training from a pet battle trainer, your little friends can then be entered into battle as a solo fighter, 2v2 or 3v3 in two different ways. One way is to pit your loyal companion against other wild critters, either killing them or choosing to try and capture them for your collection. The other way is to queue for a random pet battle match against another player. So far, I have found the pet battle match-making system to be hopeless at providing me a player with pets as equally skilled as my own. In every battle I have entered, either myself or my opponent has been far overpowered against the other, resulting in a clear defeat without contest. This becomes boring very quickly.
As you battle, whether it be against player or environment, your pet will earn experience in the same way you as the player usually do. The more challenging the opponent defeated, the more experience your pet earns. As your pet levels up (to a maximum of level 25), new abilities are unlocked and can be used to your pet's advantage. A level 25 pet will have 6 abilities at its disposal but you can only select to fight with 3 abilities at any given time. Pets fall within 10 different categories, each having their own strengths and weaknesses against one of the other categories. For example, humanoid companions do more damage to dragonkin companions but less damage to beast companions.
It seems to me the only purpose of the pet battle system is to obtain even more pets of which the limit is currently 500. I also can't avoid saying it - no matter how much time I spend with the pet battle system, I cannot stop myself from seeing it as nothing more than a Blizzard branded version of Pokémon. The idea of having to rinse and repeat leveling each of your pets you wish to battle is tedious and an obvious way for Blizzard to make one last attempt at saying, “Please, don't go!”
I'm beginning to wonder how much longer World of Warcraft has left to go. It's had a great, unprecedented life and success but all good things must eventually come to an end. While I enjoyed playing Mists of Pandara, I struggle to imagine what new life could possibly be breathed into this game without reducing the experience even further than they already have. I'm not sure what I will feel when Blizzard announce no more expansion packs will be made. I hope when the day comes, they also announce a new MMO for everyone to migrate to. I think the gaming industry lately has shown us there's room to move in the multiplayer environment. You only need to look at the ARMAII mod DayZ to see there are other styles out there waiting to be mastered.
I will say this: Blizzard are good at what they do. When they create something, you can tell they have tried to put their every ounce of effort into bringing you something amazing. Managing such a successful and massive game series like World of Warcraft for eight years was never going to be easy. I'm not even sure they saw the journey being quite this long and it's beginning to show. Overall, I enjoyed playing Mists of Pandaria and I'm glad I took the journey right from the very beginning as a Monk. Would I do it all again with one of my level 85's waiting for their turn? Yes, but I think the replay value is going to wear thin after the second or third cycle around.
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Tue 30 Oct 12, 8:16amDavros
Posted: Tue 30 Oct 12, 8:16am
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