WoW: The Curious Case of the Pandarian Nostalgia + Patch 6.2.3

It won’t seem that way to readers, but this post is in some ways the first after a long hiatus from blogging. Now, I have been doing my TV reviews, but those pretty much write themselves, and aside from them, I haven’t been written any new posts in months, instead relying on the backlog I gave myself while looking for apartments/moving.

Ah, how I miss thee...(Incidentally, I am very happy to be back in Toronto.)

I wandered what my first new topic should be after such a long break, and I decided it would be best to go back to basics: a nice long ramble about Warcraft.

I’ve noticed something odd in the WoW community as of late. People everywhere seem overcome with nostalgia for Mists of Pandaria. An expansion that was loathed at the time is now being almost universally hailed as one of the best periods of the game’s long lifespan.

Some might not find this surprising. There’s a common perception that every WoW expansion is hated when it’s current, and then becomes viewed with rose-coloured glasses after the fact. I don’t like this argument, because it’s a bit of a cop-out and mainly serves to shut down discussion or deflect criticisms of the game, but there’s definitely some truth to it. The prevailing opinions on an expansion do tend to improve after it’s gone.

But never this thoroughly, or this fast. Warlords of Draenor is not yet a year old, yet already Mists is being roundly hailed as second only to Wrath of the Lich King, which is nowadays generally viewed as when the game peaked, despite being regarded as the Spawn of Satan for many years after its release.

I’m not immune, either. Lately I find myself missing Pandaria, badly. I still have my hearthstones set the shrines, and sometimes I’ll fly out across the Vale, or up to Kun-Lai and just be overcome by nostalgia. The other day I hopped on my monk (who is still 90 because I’m sick of Draenor) and did some scenarios purely for the nostalgia value.

My monk runs a scenario for old time's sakeBut yet none of these good feelings were to be found when MoP was the current content. It faced at least as much disdain from the supremely negative WoW community as any other expansion, if not more, and I was certainly none too happy with the state of the game at the time, as long-time readers will remember.

So what happened?

The wonders of Pandaria:

In my case, I actually saw this coming somewhat, though I didn’t expect my turnaround on MoP to happen this soon or be this dramatic. But I did often have the sense that I’d feel a lot better about Mists of Pandaria after the fact.

See, I had a lot of complaints about MoP, but they were all gameplay related. The daily grind, the tedium of Timeless Isle, the devaluing of valor and justice points.

Yet the content of the expansion, its story, and its setting were stellar. As I’ve always said, Mists of Pandaria kind of sucked, but Pandaria was amazing.

My rogue meets with Lorewalker Cho following the Siege of OrgrimmarAs time goes on, I forget the unpleasant gameplay, and all that’s left is a fantastic story.

Make no mistake, for all its myriad flaws, Pandaria was a fantastic adventure from beginning to end. It was probably the best told story in WoW’s history. Not best overall — I’d still give that to Wrath, but it has the advantage of more interesting subject matter — but best executed.

MoP, more than any other expansion, told a cohesive story, with each event flowing into the next organically. The Thunder King was kind of an odd detour, but aside from that, the entire story from the discovery of Pandaria to the Siege of Orgrimmar was one big arc that spanned the entirety of Azeroth and the full spectrum of human emotion — rage and sorrow, hope and joy, humour and tranquility. Its pacing and its flow were impeccable.

The world-building was also excellent in MoP. Blizzard essentially started from scratch with Pandaria, but they created an incredibly intricate and exotic world full of new cultures and history that still managed to fit perfectly into the greater Warcraft mythos.

All this is exactly the sort of thing that earns my love, so perhaps it’s not surprising I now miss Pandaria as much as I do. But most people don’t care about story as much as me, which leads me to wonder why there’s so much nostalgia for MoP throughout the community.

One could write it off as being blinded by nostalgia, and there’s bound to be at least some of that going around, but I don’t think that’s all.

Compare and contrast:

A lovely view of the moon in World of Warcraft's Shadowmoon valleyUltimately I think this sudden wave of panda-love may have less to do with MoP itself, and more to do with Warlords of Draenor.

Warlords of Draenor is, by a wide margin, the smallest expansion World of Warcraft has ever received. By comparison, MoP was enormous.

Say what you about MoP, but the one thing you could never say about it was that it lacked ambition. It offered a huge selection of new features, and it cranked out four major content patches over its lifecycle. I’ve heard some describe MoP as “the golden age of content,” and there’s definitely a lot of truth to that, as it offered content in copious quantity and (mostly) high quality — though it does lose points for the lack of post-launch dungeons.

By comparison, WoD offered only one new feature, garrisons, and only one content patch. Tanaan Jungle was originally slated to be a launch zone and was delayed, so really WoD’s only post launch content additions were a single raid and the garrison shipyard. And let’s not forget that WoD removed a lot from the game, too, to the point where the game has probably been made worse by it — something that has not been true of any other expansion to date, in my opinion.

The difference in scale and ambition between Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor is cavernous. In light of that, it’s no wonder that MoP is suddenly being viewed much more highly.

My monk flying over the Krasarang WildsI suspect if WoD had been a larger and more successful expansion, we would not be seeing the sudden outpouring of love for MoP that’s happening. MoP probably still would have ended up being viewed much more positively, but I think it would have taken much longer, and I’m not sure the change in opinion would ever have been so complete.

Although I am cautiously optimistic about Legion right now (emphasis on “cautiously”), it’s still looking a bit anemic compared to past expansions, and one has to wonder if Mists of Pandaria was the last great World of Warcraft expansion — in terms of scope and ambition, if not necessarily quality.

There are those who say that the worst thing about Cataclysm was that it followed Wrath of the Lich King. I think the best thing about Mists of Pandaria may have been that it preceded Warlords of Draenor.

* * *

Patch 6.2.3: The mea culpa:

Of course, just as I’m getting ready to put up this post, Blizzard has a big announcement to make. WoW will soon receive a small content patch, 6.2.3, to tide us over during the (undoubtedly lengthy) wait until Legion, and it’s looking to be the best patch of the expansion to date.

Valor is back.

Flying over the fungal seas of Draenor in World of WarcraftHoly Hell, did not see that coming.

I really thought valor points were dead and gone. Rare indeed is the time when Blizzard reverses one of their decisions after so long.

Valor will only be used for item upgrades, not buying gear, which isn’t ideal, but it’s a start. The game needs valor. It was the best progression system for non-raiders, and it allowed all content to still have some relevance. Dungeons were pretty much killed by the removal of valor points.

For my part, I have no patience for RNG gearing, and apexis crystals were/are an excruciating grind with mostly underwhelming rewards. Valor was my endgame, and without it, WoD has nothing but a legendary quest and garrison chores to me.

Unfortunately I’m already super burned out on Draenor, and there are a lot of other games I need to find time to play, so I’m not sure how much difference this will make for me, but it’s a step in the right direction. It shows me Blizzard is willing to learn from their mistakes. For the first time since WoD was announced, I feel a little of my faith renewed.

The swamps of Tanaan Jungle by night in World of WarcraftI can only hope they realize what a huge mistake they’ve made and that valor is a launch feature for Legion.

There are some other nice things in 6.2.3, too. Timewalking is being expanded to include some Cataclysm dungeons, as well as some more Wrath and Burning Crusade dungeons, and timewalking bosses will now have a chance to drop an Infinite Drake mount. Shockingly, it’s not just the old Infinite drake model, but a totally new (and awesome) model.

Perhaps even more surprising is that the upcoming Grove Warden moose mount is going to be made temporarily available as a drop from heroic Archimonde.

A store mount available for free? This is unprecedented. I might even overcome my distaste for raiding and get a kill in, because flying moose.

I mean, I am Canadian.

It’s hard not to see 6.2.3 as a giant mea culpa from Blizzard for how much they’ve bungled Warlords of Draenor, but frankly, they needed to do that. I’m glad they’re swallowing their pride and trying to make it right.

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