Into the Mists: Beyond the Wall

Looking out over the Townlong Steppes and the Dread Wastes in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaMy journey has ended, sooner than I expected. My warlock is now level 90, and I have completed all of the leveling zones included in Mists of Pandaria.

But before I fully throw myself into the endgame gear treadmill, I have one more (spoilerific) “Into the Mists” column to write.

The Townlong Steppes:

There are two main things that struck me about the Townlong Steppes.

My warlock leveling in the Townlong SteppesOne is that it’s a great example of an important but often overlooked aspect of good story-telling: anticipation. Think about it; even the most epic, exciting event won’t be interesting if it just comes out of nowhere. Building anticipation puts things in context and makes the climax all the sweeter when it comes.

Since very early in our journey in Pandaria, we’ve been hearing about the wild lands beyond the Serpent’s Spine, and the threat of the Mantid. We’ve learned there’s something terrible going on over there, though not exactly what.

All this anticipation made the venturing into Townlong Steppes feel like an epic experience even before I picked up my first quest, and thankfully, it didn’t disappoint from there. The zone provides a gripping, emotional journey, full of action as we battle both the Yaungol and the Mantid. Once again, we come face-to-face with the terrible consequences of our war.

A kypari tree in the Townlong SteppesAnother example of the power of anticipation is Townlong’s Sha of Hatred arc. The Sha is introduced very early on in the zone (and sooner if you do the Shado-pan Monastery dungeon), but it takes most of the zone’s storyline to finally track it down, and that again allows one to build anticipation for the final confrontation. It makes it feel a bit more epic than just fighting another quest boss.

The other thing that strikes me about Townlong is how far Mists of Pandaria’s story is from what it was advertised as — and that’s a good thing.

“Kung Fu Panda game for the eight year-olds” was the cry of every QQer prior to the expansion’s release, and while I doubted this myself, the previews seemed to fall mostly in line with this theory. The intro cinematic seems more like a Three Stooges skit than the opening to an epic Warcraft expansion, the announcement trailer basically boiled down to two minutes of “lolpandas,” and the previews were all bunny-men and alementals.

Thankfully, though, that’s not the game we got. MoP has its silly side, mostly in the early zones, but most of the time, it’s actually quite dark. I would go so far to as to say it’s darker than Cataclysm.

The Sha of Hatred in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaThis is best summed up by the tragic tale of the husband and wife team of Suna and Lin Silentstrike in the Townlong Steppes. Lin is captured by the Yaungol in battle, and a desperate Suna sends players to find her husband.

But by the time the player arrives, it’s too late. Lin has been tortured to death. Mad with grief, Suna runs into the wilderness, swearing to slaughter every Yaungol she finds. The player must aid the Shado-pan in tracking her down, eventually finding her in an area where the very land itself has become choked by hate. It becomes clear that Suna has been possessed by the Sha of Hatred, and players are forced to put her down.

Yup, pandas are for kids all right.

In terms of aesthetics, I wasn’t a huge fan of Townlong. It was neither ugly nor pretty enough to be truly memorable, though I’ve certainly seen worse zones. The music is largely excellent, though.

My warlock meeting with Taran Zhu and the other Shado-pan in the Townlong SteppesOverall, Townlong is probably my favourite zone of the expansion, though it’s in a dead heat with Kun-Lai.

The Dread Wastes:

The Dread Wastes are a good example of the balance that needs to be struck in video game design. The zone has a great story, and if this were a book, that would be enough, but World of Warcraft is a game, and that’s why this zone falls short.

As I said, the story is good. The Klaxxi are a very interest bunch, the lesser of two evils and our reluctant allies against a greater monster. I absolutely loved the idea of the Paragons. They’re a concept strong enough that an entire game — or book, or movie, or whatever — could be based on them.

My warlock battling the Mantid in the Dread WastesBut yet, even as the lore nut that I am, I wasn’t overly impressed by the Dread Wastes. Why?

The quests are boring.

It’s just that simple. The story behind the quests is good, but that story makes little impact on the content of the quests, and from a simple gameplay perspective, the quests just aren’t interesting.

Mostly, I just seemed to be killing animals to feed to the Paragons. Seriously, how many expansions need to go by before Blizzard realizes that killing a dozen turtles for their meat when only about half them drop it (because apparently the others are made of paper machè or something) simply isn’t fun?

My warlock flying across the Dread Wastes with the help of a Mantid ParagonGive me a vehicle quest. Give me some phasing. Give me something.

The Klaxxi dailies are no better. There’s an epic war going on between millions of Sha-corrupted Mantids and every other living thing on Pandaria, and you’ve got me killing turtles, picking up amber, and beating up Saurok? Really?

(As an aside, I’ve also found the Golden Lotus dailies extremely dull and uncreative. So much for the innovative new dailies we were promised — these are all major steps back from the Molten Front, and even from many Wrath dailies.

But anyway, back on topic.)

The Heart of Fear in the Dread WastesOn the plus side, the Dread Wastes is probably one of the best zones Blizzard’s ever produced from a visual perspective. It’s bleak, but it’s spectacularly bleak. Like in Icecrown, you feel like a badass just for having the courage to be there. All the Sha corruption is surreal and dreamy (if those dreams are nightmares), and the vaguely Gothic look of the Mantid architecture is just great.

On the other hand, the music is pretty weak, distractingly bolstered by reused tracks from Outland and Northrend. And not even particularly good tracks from those continents at that.

Blizzard did a lot of things very right in the Dread Wastes, and they also did a lot of things very wrong. In the end, it averages out to a zone that is neither great nor terrible, but merely mediocre.

A Sha-tainted kypari tree in the Dread Wastes* * *

How about you, dear reader? What did you make of Mists of Pandaria’s final leveling zones?

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6 thoughts on “Into the Mists: Beyond the Wall

  1. Kalxxi dailies start to get more variations in them as you progress in reputation. There are 2 more Paragons (I was very impressed with the Paragons, makes the Mantid society seem very fleshed out – stop and listen to them interact with each other and they talk of empires and empresses past) that you have to awaken and they will have more dailies for you. Also, play with the combinations of Klaxxi enhancements that you get. The tooltips all say that only one will be active at a time, but it’s always the last two you picked up. There are also extra, “hidden” dailies in the zone – at least one extra monster drops a quest item and there is a spot that requires 2 players to activate a second. (Shared loot mobs, tag it and you can get the quest item regardless of grouping.)

    Visually, I’m not fond of the Dreadwastes but I did find the quests compelling.

    • The buffs are fun (the text isn’t clear, but you actually get one enhancement and one augmentation), but they’re not enough to make an interesting experience on their own.

      I doubt I’ll have the patience to continue grinding with them. Golden Lotus is bad enough. Maybe if I need more Wrathion rep after I’m done with them.

      I’m aware of the “hidden” daily. I tried doing it once with the help of an Alliance player, but it seems the mob can only be summoned by two players of the same faction, and I gave up in frustration.

  2. The turtles! Oh Gawd, the turtles! I found that especially annoying because WRA is high population (and CRZ has made it even HIGHER! Oh, the fail …), and so live turtles THAT JUST MAYBE MIGHT POSSIBLY COULD drop a darn piece of turtle meat were one heck of a hot commodity. As a huntard, I became quite grateful for my superior range. Oh, I’m SO SORRY, you were running for that turtle over there? /cough

    And what is up with the drop rate on that turtle meat? Is this Paragon PICKY or something? Will average Joe turtle meat just not do!? Let me remind all Paragons that beggars can’t be choosers.

    Also, I forgot the name of the little bug pet thing whatever it is that he makes follow you around, but that sucker was annoying as hell. THE SOUNDS NEVER STOPPED. If I ever see that thing again, I am squishing it.

    • Keep in mind CRZ hasn’t been enabled for Pandaria yet.

      Even so, I feel your pain. I also play on WRA, and while the later zones were okay, the Jade Forest got pretty brutal at times. I remember one quest where we had to kill sprites, and there were, like, a dozen people dog-piling each one the moment it spawned.

      • It hasn’t? Derp! It just felt so competitive (TURTLE RAAAAGE) I assumed “Oh, must be that CRZ crap.”

        My current thing is Tillers rep (because I swear I am going to ride a goat into battle some day), so I’m always thinking there aren’t enough goats to kill or ropes to burn. For God’s sake, where are the ropes!? If I just burn some randomass rope and say I burned the special ropes, Ella would NEVER KNOW.

        If you are ever bored or want to say hi, I’m typically playing Thermalix, Centina or Mechbeth on WRA Horde-side these days. Alliance-wise, I keep meaning to drag Niremere through the rest of Jade Forest to compare A/H quests, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. (ONE LAST WEEK TO GEAR THERM UP FOR RAIDS. OGODHALP NOTHING IS DROPPING IN HEROICS AND I’M A DAILIES WIMP!)

        I am always looking for people to chat with or have misadventures of doom and, possibly, “OMGWTF HAVE I DONE” transmog moments.

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