Review: World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Epic nerd rant time.

I have a lot to say, both good and bad, so I’ll get right to it. Let’s start with…

My monk stares down the Sha of Doubt in World of WarcraftThe bad:

For me, Mists of Pandaria has been an expansion defined by grind, excessive gating of content, and a tedious and confused endgame that seems designed to keep me playing the game for as long as possible not because I enjoy it, but because that’s the only way to play.

Let’s start with the daily grind early on. This issue has been beaten to death, but I’d like to address it anyway, because I think some important points have been lost in the arguments.

There’s nothing wrong with dailies. They’re a valid form of content, and an important part of WoW’s endgame. The problems with dailies as they were at the start of Mists of Pandaria are twofold.

One is that most of them were simply not good dailies. They were largely lacking in vehicle quests, bombing runs, or anything else interesting. How many expansions need to go by before Blizzard realizes that killing crabs for meat at a 25% drop rate is not fun and never will be?

The other, more important issue, is that forcing everyone into a single type of content to be competitive is always a bad idea. We went through this in Cataclysm with “raid or die.” In MoP, it became “rep or die.”

My rogue is inducted into the Shado-panNeither dailies nor raids are bad content; the problem is that everyone had to do them if they wanted to progress, whether they enjoyed them or not. People should be able to progress through whatever content they most enjoy.

This worries me more than anything, because it shows Blizzard isn’t learning from their mistakes. MoP had many of the same problems as Cataclysm, just in a slightly different wrapper.

On top of that, endgame progression was made all the more daunting by how confusing it was. I’m pretty tolerant of iteration in a live game, but the changes to the gearing path just about gave me whiplash.

“You need to grind rep to buy valor and justice gear. Okay, now just valor gear. Now you can also use your valor to upgrade your gear. Oh, wait, nevermind, we removed that. Here’s new valor gear locked behind a new and marginally less painful rep grind! Okay, now we’re bringing back the valor upgrades, and some of the old valor gear now costs justice, but no new valor gear.”

Valor and justice were also greatly devalued. Valor rewards were drastically reduced from where they were in Cataclysm, and justice was made so useless that it was mostly just converted to honor so people could buy PvP gear as a starter in PvE.

My warlock grinding Black Prince rep in the Dread WastesLet me repeat that: The primary PvE currency was only useful as a way to buy PvP gear, to use in PvE.

The mind boggles.

And this hobbling of valor and justice rewards made players more reliant on luck with drops, further increasing a sense of grind. Nothing like running raids all week and getting absolutely nothing meaningful out of it.

I hate relying on randomized reward systems.

For as long as I’ve played WoW, my endgame has revolved around farming justice and valor (and frost and triumph before that). It’s what I enjoy. It’s how I like to play.

By completely mangling the valor/justice system, Blizzard all but destroyed my endgame. They tried to make me do more, but they left me unmotivated to do anything at all, and I wound up losing interest in WoW for months at a time.

This brings me to another point: I find Blizzard’s efforts to artificially extend the life of content to be ultimately self-defeating.

My warlock meets with Lor'themar Theron following the Purge of DalaranFor instance, I loved the Landfall storyline in 5.1. Absolutely top notch storytelling. But I did it once, and I’m never doing it again, because I’m burnt out on the dailies needed to unlock it.

By contrast, I also loved Elemental Bonds back in Cataclysm, and since it’s all fun and no grind, I’ve done it on every character that’s hit 85, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Another thing that greatly irritated me was the immense gating on the Raid Finder. Waiting over a month to see a full raid after its release is ridiculous.

It’s especially painful if you care about the story, because it means you either have to cut yourself off from the WoW community entirely or have everything spoiled for you long before you get to experience it yourself.

And it’s yet another thing that sends the message that anyone not in a raiding guild is a second class citizen.

Then there’s a lengthy list of little annoyances: The pointless removal of Have Group Will Travel, no “Tome of Pandarian Flying” for alts, no spectral gryphons while dead, etc..

My warlock earns her legendary cloak at the Seat of KnowledgeAdd all that to my longstanding complaints about the game — such as my dislike for the subscription model and Blizzard’s apparent unwillingness to put any significant effort into moderating the community — and I’m finding it very hard to get excited about WoW like I used to.

But the heartbreaking thing about MoP isn’t how much went wrong. It’s how much went right.

Behold the wonders of Pandaria:

Probably the best thing about MoP was Pandaria itself. The entire continent is beautiful, immersive, and filled with memorable characters and captivating soundtracks.

I can’t say enough good about Pandaria. It’s so different and exotic, but yet it doesn’t feel out of place compared to the rest of the Warcraft universe. Blizzard crafted thousands of years of new history for this continent, but it doesn’t feel random or slapdash. It fits perfectly into the greater story of Azeroth.

Speaking of story, MoP featured one of the best main storylines in WoW to date. Far from the kid-friendly expansion many expected, it was incredibly dark and mature. It harkens back to the glory days of Warcraft III with its moral complexity and epic scale.

The Sha of Hatred in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaAt its best, Warcraft has always been a bit subversive. It seems to glorify war at first glance, but at its heart, it’s really about how evil and pointless war truly is. MoP exemplifies this.

MoP made me emotionally invested in a way few other expansions have. It wasn’t afraid to paint both Alliance and Horde as less than perfect. We as players did terrible things and failed in some spectacular ways, but we also had the opportunity to redeem ourselves and make things right. It was a very satisfying arc.

Please, Blizzard, give us more of this.

I was also quite impressed with the Pandaren themselves. I was never a panda hater, but I definitely had doubts about whether they would be a worthy addition. I was quite happily wrong; the Pandaren are one of the best cultures in Warcraft.

The clever thing was that Blizzard let us see all sides of Pandaren culture. From the humble Tillers, to the sage Lorewalkers, to the mighty Shado-pan. Seeing such diversity among the Pandaren made them feel like a complete people, not just an archetype.

Also, I absolutely adore Lorewalker Cho and Taran Zhu. Each is utterly awesome, but in completely different ways.

My rogue plants the banner of Theramore in OrgrimmarMonks were also a very positive addition. Admittedly, as a rogue player, I can’t help but feel cheated by monks getting all the improvements we’ve spent years asking for, but brewmaster tanking is stupidly fun, so I can’t stay mad at monks.

While the progression model was a train wreck, the actual content of MoP’s endgame was very good, dailies and Timeless Isle aside. Throne of Thunder was a bit dull, but otherwise, the raids were all fun. I loved all the details and cameos in Siege of Orgrimmar.

Scenarios are fantastic. They fill a great niche of quick, low-stress group content, and they’re a great storytelling tool.

I believe that the five-man dungeons in MoP were among the best in the game’s history. They were visually engaging, had good lore, and were neither too long nor too short.

Unfortunately, this brings up another complaint, as MoP was the first expansion in WoW’s history to not add any five-man dungeons after launch.

There’s not much to say about this decision other than that it was terrible, and it once again sends the message that what I want doesn’t matter because I’m not a raider.

My rogue exploring the Temple of the Jade SerpentLet’s be clear. The choice was not dungeons or raids. It was dungeons or slightly better raids. It leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth when giving one section of the fanbase a slightly better version of their preferred content is a bigger priority than giving you any content at all.

It seems as though there’s no positive aspect of MoP that doesn’t come with some annoying caveat.

The verdict:

MoP had all the right ingredients to be a mind-blowing expansion. But they still managed to suck almost all the fun out of it with a litany of poor design decisions. I won’t say it was a bad expansion, but it fell far short of its potential, and the way Blizzard keeps making the same mistakes year after year leaves me very worried for the future of the game.

Overall rating: 7.1/10 As a story and a piece of art, it was excellent. As a game, it was a major step backward from where we were at the end of Cataclysm.

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8 thoughts on “Review: World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

  1. I stopped playing WoW during WotLK because I can’t stand being forced to play a certain way. This is why I love Guild Wars 2. I actually hate being forced to play with people. I know that it’s an MMO but I kind of have the attitude that I have in real life: I like that people are around and that I can interact with them if I want to, but also I can ignore them and go on with my life if I want to. And most of the time I just want to be left alone. It really put me off WoW because I’m not the hard core player that the game wants me to be. I just like playing and doing whatever I want. I don’t want to have to have a certain type of armour or weapons to succeed in the game. The subscription fee is also a deterrent for me. If I’m paying a subscription fee I feel like I have to play the game all the time to get my money’s worth. That’s when it stops being fun for me. I want to play on my terms and WoW was very clear about not letting me do that.

    • I sympathize with many of your complaints.

      Ironically, I felt Wrath was when I had the most freedom to play how I wanted — save perhaps the very end of Cataclysm. Since anyone could get full tier 10 just doing random dungeons through the Dungeon Finder, it was very friendly to those of us with limited in-game social circles.

      • I’m not a dungeon-y kind of person, which is the problem that I had with WoW and the reason that I like GW2 better. In GW2, you don’t have to have the whole tank, healer, dps thing. Anyone can get together which makes things a lot less tense for me. I don’t find it fun playing with rude people and there were so many rude people in WoW. I once got kicked out of a guild because I didn’t make small talk in guild chat when I was online. We all have different playing styles and I think that’s what frustrated me the most. I sometimes miss WoW because I loved the stories in the game and my characters were really special to me. I also met some really good friends that I’ve met in real life, so it was fun for a time. But it just didn’t last long enough. I probably won’t play it again unless they change their model.

      • Again, I’m hard-pressed to disagree with any of your points.

        I did like the overall design philosophy of GW2 a lot better. It just didn’t grab me long term due to the appallingly bad story/lore/writing. I couldn’t get invested in the world.

  2. I have to agree with you about the game play – locking rep behind dailies, the old grind, etc. but is anyone really surprised? The game play “feel” seems to be one big experiment with no direction and no reason for the players. Tinfoil hat time – I wonder if we are the lab rats for Titan. It’s being re-booted (my guess it’s going to be full-blown F2P monstrosity with every micro-transaction nightmare one could imagine) so perhaps they are just testing game play to fit that model.

    Also, considering how the forums are filled with players whining about the “good old days” of Vanilla/TBC with it’s attunements, grinds, etc. maybe Blizzard is giving them just what they want – hopefully to shut them up lol.

    Mix in people complaining the game is “too easy” and still are confused about what is “casual” and what is “hardcore” (hint: unless you get paid to play games you’re a Casual – deal with it) and you have a recipe for exactly what we got – mind-numbingly boring and confusing game play.

    Don’t even get me started on RNG…

    But I”m still playing. As long as I can ignore what I don’t like and there is enough I do like then I have fun and I’m entertained for my money – and that’s really the bottom line. If I could find a steady raid group I’d be perfectly happy with the game despite the things I don’t like.

    There is still more for me to do in WoW than I ever found to do in GW2. Yeah…GW2 jumping puzzles…I don’t think so.

    • I don’t think the WoW team is screwing with us just for the sake of testing for Titan, but I’m sure the Titan team is watching WoW closely and learning from WoW’s mistakes. I just hope what they think are WoW’s mistakes and what we think are WoW’s mistakes align.

      It’s the “ignoring what what I don’t like” part I’m having trouble with. I’ve got no problem with content I don’t like as long as I don’t have to do it. I think Pet Battles are absolutely ridiculous myself, and I wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole, but there’s nothing goading me to do them, so I’ve got no problem with them. I’m glad those who enjoy them can have their fun.

      But there’s a lot of stuff I don’t like that I just can’t seem to avoid. RNG gear grinds, the dailies, etc.. Even the Timeless Isle is proving difficult to avoid, despite my best efforts.

      SERIOUSLY WHY CAN’T I JUST BUY EPOCH STONES WITH TIMELESS COINS I HAVE TWENTY THOUSAND OF THESE USELESS THINGS OH GOD WHHYYYY…

      Ahem.

      To be fair to GW2, the jumping puzzles are a very small part of the game, and quite optional. I just avoided them when I played.

      My offer of a buddy key for TSW still stands if you ever want to try something else. I seem to recall you saying you were a Lovecraft fan, and TSW is basically World of Lovecraft. Plus every world mythology and obscure piece of folklore under the sun, with the occasional zombie apocalypse thrown in for flavour. But mostly Lovecraft.

  3. Great review, and you sum up most of my thoughts as well.

    I cancelled because of the repeatative nature of it, new factions, new reputations, new dailies … over and over … And the lack of vision. Tokens for this and for that. Elder charms here, these charms there …

    New raid here but you can’t do it yet because you are stuck doing the previous ones until your i-level is sufficient . Oh wait here, another new raid with a raised i-level gear … keep on fighting against the RNG gods. I just couldn’t take it anymore.

    The setting, the lore, the art, the expansion started out so great. But like you said, somehow the fun was sucked out of the game, and it became a chore, at least for me.

  4. If by “MoP featured one of the best main storylines”, you mean “MOP featured one of the worst main storylines”, you’d be correct.

    Similarly by “It wasn’t afraid to paint both Alliance and Horde as less than perfect” You must mean “It wasn’t afraid to paint the Horde as less than perfect, while the Alliance was led by Perfect God King Wyrnn.”

    Even orcs who were previously sympathetic became totally evil under MOP’s quality shit writing. Warlord Bloodhilt who started as a general who cared about his tauren allies, and killed a subordinate for abandoning them, Bloodhilt in Mists became an orc supremacist who hated the other Horde Races with no explanation. Meanwhile, even unscrupulous Alliance characters such as Moira and Twinbraid get whitewashed.

    All the characterization of the Horde thrown out the window for this stupidly plotted expansion, so many characters wasted, entire zones of Horde players having to do countless atrocities, then siding against Garrosh with no explanation or development.

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