So the last major patch of Mists of Pandaria is upon us. I’m finding that the expansion is ending the same way it began — with inconsistent quality.
Of course, the main feature of the patch is the Siege of Orgrimmar raid, which sounds like it’s going to be very cool, but the wings for the Raid Finder are being trickled out at a glacial rate, with the whole process ending in late October. Because people like me are casual scum who should be grateful we get to see content at all.
I’ve very interested in immersing myself in the story for this raid, so I probably won’t bother touching it at all until all four wings are released and I can run them back to back.
Unfortunately, since that’s over a month away, I’ll probably have every aspect of the story spoiled for me by then, because subtlety is unheard of on the Internet. I’ve already heard who the new warchief is.
Sigh. Thanks, Blizzard. Really.
So that leaves me fiddling around with the other additions of the patch. Compared to how epic and game-changing 3.3 and 4.3 were, I’m finding 5.4 rather anemic.
The Timeless Isle:
After a few hours of running around the Isle, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s nothing but grinding in its purest form. Kill stuff, then kill stuff, then kill more stuff. MMOs have apparently come full circle back to the EverQuest days.
It shines an unwelcome light on some of the more outdated mechanics in World of Warcraft, too. The fact that mob-tapping is still in effect for all but the rares is painful. With what appears to be literally hundreds of other players running around the Isle, the main challenge is not in defeating the enemies, but in simply finding some that haven’t been tapped yet.
It also sucks that bind to account gear still isn’t really bind to account. With my alts spread across multiple servers, sharing the gear drops is near impossible for me.
I’ll probably appreciate the Timeless Isle a bit more once my monk reaches 90. Dull though it may be, it’s an avalanche of gear. Not the greatest gear — my warlock finds none of it useful — but good for getting an alt ready to go.
Still, even that just feels like a bandaid for how badly they’ve buggered the gearing process in MoP.
The one thing added in 5.4 that does have me rather excited is Proving Grounds. Truly challenging solo content is something I’ve always wanted to see.
Thus far, I’ve only taken my warlock through it. I won’t bother on my rogue because, well, I’m not a masochist, and I don’t have any other characters at 90 right now.
I’m not exactly pleased with my performance, but I’m not disappointed, either. I was able to complete the silver DPS challenge without too much trouble, and I got up to wave nine of the gold challenge before finally calling it quits. I might come back in a while and see if I can claim gold.
So I’m pretty middle of the road. Which is what I expected.
The difficulties are well-designed. Bronze is quite easy, silver is noticeably challenging but manageable, and gold is panic-inducing. All in all, it was an exciting and enjoyable experience, and I think it will do wonders to help new players. They should make it like the Gatekeeper in The Secret World and make it mandatory for entry to endgame content.
I also think it’s very cool that they let you try all challenges regardless of class or spec. I was able to get bronze in the tanking challenge with dark apotheosis, though silver proved more painful. Again, I might come back and try again. I don’t think my build was optimal.
Proving Grounds does have a few flaws, though. For one thing, it seems quite skewed to favour certain specs over others. Burst and mobility both seem to be utterly crucial. Switching to destruction spec from demonology made far more of a difference than it should have.
It also lacks replayability. Once you’ve gone as far as you can, there’s no reason to go back. I still think it’s a very positive addition to the game, but it does little to alleviate the content drought until the Raid Finder finishes unlocking.
The decision to not add any new dungeons this expansion is really starting to hurt.
The one other thing I’m appreciating about 5.4 is the way the world has changed as a result of Garrosh’s actions.
The night before the patch, I made sure to redo the quests to open the Vale one last time on my monk. It was a bittersweet experience to watch all those refugees — driven from their homes by crimes we had committed — streaming into the Vale with the hope of a new beginning.
That hope has now been crushed.
This is something that WoW’s story often lacks: failure. We’re supposed to be the heroes, and we failed utterly.
There was only one nice place left on Azeroth. Untouched by the Legion, the Scourge, and the Cataclysm, Pandaria was a bastion of hope and calm.
And we destroyed it. The hatreds of the Horde and the Alliance unleashed the Sha, ravaging the entire continent. We as players tried to make right our wrongs by defeating the Sha, and we achieved some great victories.
But it wasn’t enough. We were too late to stop Garrosh, and now he has dealt the killing blow to Azeroth’s last saving grace. The refuge of the Pandaren people has been destroyed. The sacred heart of their culture has been defiled. The lifeblood of their society has been drained.
Think about it. The waters of the Vale were what made the Valley of the Four Winds so bountiful. With the waters gone, the Valley will no longer be able to produce such mighty harvests. Already battered and beaten from war, Pandaria will now face famine and starvation.
It’s reversals like this that make stories meaningful. A story where the heroes faceroll to victory at every turn quickly becomes dull. Failures make the victories all the sweeter, and they provide a greater motivation for the heroes.
I don’t know about you, but I’m more eager to take Garrosh down than ever. For vengeance, and for atonement.
While less dramatic, I also appreciated some of the other world changes that came with 5.4. Orgrimmar is now in lockdown and feels like a proper police state. The warlocks are being rounded up, the Goblins in the bank are being shaken down, dissenters are being arrested, blindfolded Trolls are being executed outside the gates, and there are surly Kor’kron everywhere.
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All in all, I find 5.4 a good microcosm of Mists of Pandaria as a whole: fantastic story, headache-inducing game design.