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World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria review

AT A GLANCE
  • New zone and class offer plenty to do
  • This is the most player-friendly WOW ever
  • Pet battles are surprisingly addictive
  • Playable Pandaren are a little underwhelming
  • Some game mechanics are starting to show their age
  • Novel lore may be hit or miss

Hardcore raiders have already hit level 90, and World of Warcraft virgins aren’t likely to start now. But for those who’ve played Blizzard Entertainment’s genre-defining MMO at some point, you might be wondering if the latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, is worth your time and subscription fee. The short answer is: Yes. Though there’s no telling how long it’ll keep its addictive grip on you this time around, MOP is the freshest WOW has felt in years.

After the widespread zones of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, MOP keeps things centralized with the appearance of Pandaria, a massive island consisting of seven varied zones. This is the mystical homeland of the Pandaren, a race of portly panda people with origins tracing back to the Warcraft III. The long-anticipated race is now playable for both factions (a first for the MMO), alongside the latest class, the Monk. If you haven’t guessed it by now, this expansion is heavily themed around Pan-Asian motifs; that means plenty of mythological creatures and master martial artists roam the Pandarian countryside.

Personality-wise, the Pandaren’s philosophical musings and generally mellow attitude make them one of the most amiable races to choose from. Creating a Pandaren plops you into their short-but-sweet Wandering Isle starting zone, on the terraformed shell of a gargantuan turtle. Questing hasn’t changed much--killing and collecting is usually the name of the game--but Blizzard has mastered the art of perfectly pacing the quest hubs, so that it’s on to the next area as soon as you’re starting to feel fatigue for your surroundings. After the stellar starting zones of the Goblins and Worgen in Cataclysm, it’s a bit disappointing to blow through the low-level Pandaren content so quickly, though it’s definitely fun while it lasts.

What could’ve been an interesting opportunity for WOW’s first truly neutral race is sadly skipped. After completing the Wandering Isle quests, you’re jarringly forced to enroll your Pandaren with either the Alliance or Horde, before being unceremoniously dumped into their general starting zones. Being forced to choose sides is a shame, given the Pandaren’s diplomatic demeanor; it’ll also be strange to see Pandaren killing their own kind when they start to populate the PVP zones.

The Pandaren race is the perfect pairing to the near-universal Monk class, which becomes exponentially more fun to play as you approach the new level cap of 90. Like the Paladin or Druid, the Monk can take on the tank, DPS, or healer roles--but their gameplay has the kind of frenzied activity as a Rogue or Warrior. Playing a Monk means you’ll have to balance your quickly replenishing Energy with orbs of Chi, which enable powerful fist or foot strikes. Early on, Monks’ limited arsenal can be a drag--but they eventually offer one of the most enjoyable tanking experiences, soaking up damage and tossing huge kegs of ale to initiate fights.

Those that are returning to a previously-max-level character will find a staggering suite of changes. First off, talent trees no longer exist. Instead, you’ll find a consolidated list of 18 abilities which you’ll have to pick and choose from, no matter your specialization. It’s a change made to promote player ingenuity, placing less emphasis on “cookie-cutter” builds--but time will tell if this accomplishes the opposite effect, by making every character feel homogenous to the rest of their class. One thing’s for certain: The new talent system makes leveling a lot less exciting for fresh alts, as you’re only granted new choices every 15 levels.

That’s not the only change, though--months’ worth of tweaks and balance changes have polished WOW to a mirror finish, with nearly every parameter adjusted to make players’ lives as pleasant as possible. Each class has also undergone varying degrees of transformation to make your role of choice feel as dynamic as possible, and the changes largely succeed. Combat is pretty much the same as you remember it--but the new quests and dungeons offer just enough innovative encounters to keep things interesting. The adjustments may feel a bit shocking for vets who’ve been away for a long while, but it’ll only take a handful of fights to get back into the swing of things.

What could’ve easily been a throwaway change--the introduction of the Pet Battle system--ends up being the best distraction/obsession in the game, giving glorious purpose to the formerly vanity-only pets that players have been collecting all along. Capturing and battling trainers and friends alike is addictively amusing, and watching your team do battle to classic Warcraft II music will give you the same giddy uncertainty of a Pokémon encounter.

Pandaria offers the best high-level questing area since World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, in terms of variety and sheer awe at your surroundings. Tranquil fields, snowy peaks, and ornate temples are all incredibly pleasing to the eye--an impressive feat, given the engine’s old age. Of the new zones, the Dread Wastes is our favorite, offering gloomy, foreboding wastelands that sharply contrast with the jade forests and peaceful breweries of earlier areas.

Your main enemy isn’t a singular villain like Arthas or Deathwing; instead, you’ll fight back the corrupting influence of the Sha, which are the manifestation of emotions like hatred and doubt. Blizzard employs the phasing technology from previous expansions to amazing effect here, constantly morphing the landscape to reflect your recent successes. It goes a long way towards making each fetch quest or extermination errand feel like an actual accomplishment--a change for the greater good that’ll last long after you’ve left.

Solo play is also the best it’s ever been, with more boss-like encounters, dramatic in-engine cutscenes, and quests rewards tailored specifically to your class. Though few in number, the new dungeons are loot-dropping thrill rides, with very few trash mobs in between the splashy boss fights. After playing recent competitors like Star Wars: The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2, it feels a bit odd to be playing a silent MMO protagonist--but Blizzard does the best with what it’s got, conjuring characters that make up for your champion’s void of personality. Novel races like the Hozen and Grummles feel like ham-handed attempts at humor, but interacting with the Pandaren and Klaxxi NPCs (giant insects with an air of superiority) is a treat.

So yes: If you and some buddies feel like dipping back into WOW, MOP offers some pretty enticing incentives to do so. Even if you only resubscribe for a month, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth thanks to the 40-hour (taking time to smell the lore roses) journey to conquering Pandaria. It might be showing signs of age, but that doesn’t mean WOW can’t learn a few new entertaining tricks.

More Info

Release date: Sep 25 2012 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Blizzard
Franchise: World of Warcraft
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence, Mild Language

67 comments

  • chrisda - October 5, 2012 7:30 p.m.

    You're all implying the addition of the Pandaren race is the main part of the game. Pointing out the fact that there's Pandas and bashing the game on that is completely ignorant. The game is good, there's a reason I've been playing it since Burning Crusade, and the MoP expansion hit many spots well (Except for Warlock changes, f*** you blizzard for making my class as easy as a mage) And on the topic of addiction: If you weren't playing wow, you'd be playing any other vidya, the amount of time you're wasting playing games isn't changing. Even as a hardcore raider, I don't find myself addicted to the game, videos games in general maybe, but my social and academic life hasn't been hurt by it. I'm able to manage my time on the game, I limit to maybe an hour a day simply to get gear for the upcoming Raids. When they come, I will be on the game for maybe 5 hours a week. I don't see WoW going free to play any time soon. The player base, while it has shrunk, is still massive and WoW makes well more money than other mmos.
  • larkan - October 5, 2012 7:57 a.m.

    I would pick this up, but after getting burned by SWTOR going F2P after playing for 3 months and dropping it because everyone lost interest, I'm going to pass. Guild Wars 2 has been great to me, in the way that I don't feel obligated to play because I'm not spending $15 a month to have the privilege to do so. Give it a year, WoW will be F2P, and probably pay2win.
  • ObliqueZombie - October 4, 2012 5:26 p.m.

    Flawless expansion in my eyes. To put it simply, it pushes every button that pulls the right strings. It's fantastic, and I'll be playing this for awhile.
  • Brutalicus - October 4, 2012 3:41 p.m.

    God damn it, I'm going to buy this after being away for a year and a half. It seems like they've added a whole slew of features for people like me who have crap to do other than ten-hour marathon MMO sessions. Not to say I don't miss college, of course.
  • lazer59882 - October 4, 2012 1:34 p.m.

    lmao i couldn't make it past the first picture. literally, a kung-fuing panda.
  • ObliqueZombie - October 4, 2012 5:25 p.m.

    This ignorance again? Kung-Fu Panda: 2008 Warcraft II: Reign of Chaos (Pandaren's first appearance): 2002.
  • lazer59882 - October 4, 2012 11:17 p.m.

    lol, "ignorance." nah dude, it's just a game about pandas. by definition, fuck it.
  • ObliqueZombie - October 5, 2012 6:13 a.m.

    Okay.
  • Fluke - September 30, 2012 10:56 a.m.

    Best experience in WoW since Burning Crusade. All of the flaws of Cataclysm have been fixed so far as PvE is concerned. I don't care about PvP so someone can comment on that. Levelling (or questing) is still the same, you kill stuff, escort stuff and find stuff.. but somehow they've made it feel relevant. You feel like you are participating in one long quest rather than a series of disjointed and meaningless fetch, carry, kill assignments, with a few humorous exceptions. Things like questing through areas that will eventually be run as heroic/normal instances for example or participating in interractive NPC flash backs are some of the ways they make it feel fresh. In three days (a record for someone that hates questing and levelling) I've completed 5 of 6 quest zones and ran each of the 4 normal instances once. That was more than enough to take me to 90 and I felt almost no pain - except maybe for the last half of lvl 89. The instances themselves were great, another huge improvement over Cataclysm and LK, all of them finished in under 30 minutes. The very first (available at lvl 85) we completed in 15 minutes on the first go. Which brings me to heroics and Raid Finder. For those that left the game, Blizzard finally listened and created heroics that can be done in under 30 minutes and a raid experience for those that can't be bothered to join guilds and don't want endless death. Raid Finder in particular is awesome. You get somewhat lower, but still very viable, drops that can complete set bonuses and include weapons and shields. Rolls are handled automatically, there's no arguing, you get what the game says and nothing is tradeable. Usually you just end up with 25g at the end of each boss fight, but every now and then you get a tier piece or other item. They are better than heroic drops but not quite as good as running a raid on normal. So running a raid in a pug is not for you? Well to keep it from ending badly, Blizzard dumbs down each boss fight just enough to make it viable if you are carrying a few noobs. Stuff that normally kills instantly just wounds heavily. Stuff that would wipe a raid is removed and there are few if any timers. You won't get mounts or titles running raids this way, but each one normally takes around an hour to complete and makes raiding entirely feasible for the casual player. This for me has kept WoW viable and is the reason I won't change MMO. I'm sure Guild Wars is great, but paying a few bucks to get the entertainment I enjoy from WoW each month is well worth it imho. As someone who has a job, $13-$15 a month is not exactly painful. Actually it's less than I pay for my combined Netflix and Hulu subscriptions. So while I understand that some people may disagree strongly with paying a subscription fee for a game, I'm not one of them.
  • lazer59882 - September 30, 2012 11:24 a.m.

    but really though, motherfucking pandas?! and then blizzard says they werethe most requested race? you shittin me? that's the most retarded thing to come from the games industry since John Romero said he was gonna make everyone his bitch.
  • VoodooDoll - September 29, 2012 3:38 a.m.

    Alright, the 'girl' in me really, really wants to play this expansion. However, I have been WoW-Sober since Cataclysm launched. I was one of the many who jumped ship when the talent tree got chopped down, wood-chippered and made into some kind of plywood. I gave Cata a chance, I really really did but now i'm admittedly too far behind for a hope to catch up and I don't really want to.... at least not with pandas anyway. For the many who are still committed to this game, I hope it's so much better than the image i've got of it in my mind :)
  • Bitchslapthehomeless - September 27, 2012 7:39 a.m.

    I enjoy the game. I don't mind paying for it, as it's really the only game I play these days. As for the "addiction" thing, well that's everyone's prerogative, but everything in moderation. I have a great guild filled with adults and we do this little thing called "play for fun" instead of obsessing over raiding or anything like that. Anyway, I think it's great fun in what little time I've gotten to play it.
  • ImanSain - September 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.

    Don't start. It consumed my life for over a year & a half. My work suffered, my relationship suffered, friendships suffered, & all because of some "online game" " believe me I didn't plan on getting addicted to World of Warcraft but I guarantee you neither did the other people who spend days online going through dungeons just for some silly weapons & Armor for either pvp or pve play. It became all I wanted to do, but I quickly found out how selfish people were in World of Warcraft, the truth is that people level to all the way up & then don't help people in their own guilds most of the time. Many guilds require "donations" to stay in them, & at least one high level character. I left WoW during the Wrath of the Litch King expansion, I realized that everything in World of Warcraft is monotonous. Nothing actually changes, it's just leveling, questing, grinding, dungeon runs that guild members do to give their own members better, or people paying 10g for low level dungeon runs & upto 100g for high level dungeon runs. No one wants to do things the normal way, they spend hours at the auction house selling things rather than enjoying the game or making fun of people who do not know that much about the game & make mistakes. crossroads chat is the absolute worst at this when I left. The moderators don't do anything about the racist comments in WoW & believe me their are plenty of racist people who play wow who have nothing better to do than to talk about sick disgusting things which they wouldn't dare say to the other persons face but they know that they are protected by a CPU screen & anonymity. I left because of the users of WoW they completely made the game less fun for me. From not being able to level up because I was constantly being asked to raid or do Dungeons or PvP or run people, to guilds hounding me to join them, to complete ***holes, they just ruined the experience for me. I want you to know it's not the 15 dollars that bothered me, it's what I was paying for. I was paying for a service to have fun gaming online instead I received the exact opposite of what I paid for.
  • angelusdlion - September 27, 2012 4:56 a.m.

    Your complaints are hardly limited to WoW and seem to be just part of the proverbial MMO landscape. Not saying they're not valid, mind you, just that it's hardly just happening on WoW.
  • zombi3grim - September 26, 2012 8:49 p.m.

    I have never played WoW. It looks really cool and really fun. But Im not paying 15 bucks a month to play a game online....
  • lazer59882 - September 27, 2012 1:47 a.m.

    i actually agree with you. it always looked interesting to me, but no way am i paying a monthly fee for ANY game. looks like it's finally jumping the shark though, with a whole expansion pack dedicated to pandas.
  • KnowYourPokemon - September 27, 2012 5:34 a.m.

    I can understand not wanting to pay $15 monthly for an online game. However, you never judge a book by it's cover. People criticized this expansion without playing as much of a minute of it(like yourself) but since the expansion actually launched it's been met with lots of praise and how it already is a million times better than the cataclysm expansion. Yup, an expansion "all about" pandas(if you know nothing of WoWs story at least) is better than the expansion that was about fighting an giant dragon aspect of Death that wanted to destroy the world whole.
  • lazer59882 - September 30, 2012 7:19 p.m.

    here's the thing though: i don't have to know shit about WOW to know fucking dancing kung-fu-ing magic casting MMO ninja pandas are lame as hell. even if i loved WoW i'd still want to punch whoever was behind this in the nose. it's fucking pandas, period. there is not a single game in the world that would remotely benefit from adding pandas: 99% would suffer the same ridicule as this. and then they give that bullshit of "they were the most requested race". that's why there's so many other panda games on the market, right? i refuse to believe that. it's fucking absurd. i love elder scrolls games. i have played and will continue to play them all. however if the next skyrim expansion was some panda shit, starring pandas from some place called "pandaria", and i was told they were the most requested race, i'd laugh loooooong and hard, and then never buy another elder scrolls product. not to mention the monthly goddamn fee.

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