World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria review

  • 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

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  • zombi3grim - October 11, 2012 1:45 p.m.

    My god you are the most idiotic, fucking stupid person I have EVER come across on this site. You dont even realize what your posting do you. You have the equivilant of a "I know you are but what am I" argument. So everything you just typed is you saying you're NOT telling us to NOT play the game. Ok. I give you that. Fine. So, you still havent answered the very basic question. What the fuck are you arguing? What IS your point? What are you trying to prove? That you know about WoW and we dont? That you think its a good game and we dont? That we're not looking into it deep enough and judging it based on pandas? Do you NOT realize how fucking stupid that makes you look? You're arguing for the sake of arguing. I dont know what you're trying to acomplish with this. And yeah, I AM going to keep replying to you. Its how I am. Ask anyone on this site, Ive turned 2 pages into 24 pages by saying just ONE word as a reply. So you MIGHT wanna stop.
  • 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.
  • zombi3grim - September 30, 2012 8:56 p.m.

    But....but the pandas....
  • KnowYourPokemon - October 1, 2012 2:37 a.m.

    Maybe not in the general market they weren't "the most requested" but yes, people have been asking for Pandaren in the WoW market for a long time now. They were originally intended for WoW's first expansion "The Burning Crusade" but they felt the Draenei were a better fit. Comparing WoW to Skyrim is like comparing Apples to Oranges, both fruit(fantasy), not much else in common though. Also Skyrim would be pulling them out of nowhere, the Warcraft storyline has had Pandaren since Warcraft 3... But yes in the end, you haven't played it and don't know a thing about the Warcraft story in general(Pandaren, like I said, are nothing new) then you have no comment. It would be like me calling The Elder Scrolls universe a complete waste of pen to paper even though I've only played a small bit of oblivion.
  • zombi3grim - October 1, 2012 5:56 a.m.

    Except the one thing we DO know about it makes it ridiculous and absolutly NOT worth it. Thats a $15 a month fee. FUUUUUck that. If Guild Wars 2 can do it, WoW can do it. Dont give me that shit about "they have a much bigger user base and theyve been around longer." Doesnt matter.
  • KnowYourPokemon - October 1, 2012 8:43 a.m.

    If you base entire purchases around one single aspect that you don't even bother looking into and take it for face value I'm afraid to see what other games you've probably missed out on. Guild Wars 2 has yet to prove it can do it, it's model is still thriving on the hopes of people paying for the game. If nobody buys exp boosts, Armor skins, etc the game won't be able to stick around. And sure Guild Wars 1 survived, but t was also much more heavily instanced which is a big factor compared to the openess of most other MMOs.
  • zombi3grim - October 1, 2012 12:26 p.m.

    So apparently your oblivious to the micro transaction model. They only need a small percentage of players who buy the armour skins and exp boosts to make a profit. The rest comes from the $60 price tag. That one single aspect happens to be money. Yeah, I base my purchase on money. Kind of a funny thing, huh?
  • KnowYourPokemon - October 1, 2012 1:01 p.m.

    The micro transaction model requires enough people to pay for boosts, skins, etc to keep the servers up. Considering that subscription MMOs need a minimum of if I recall right, 100,000 subs to keep going(it might differ from MMO to MMO, I remember Bioware saying they needed somewhere around 200,000 from Swtor to make a profit the first year). I'm not sure if you understand just how much extra money is needed to make MMOs compared to other games. And while 100,000 people mightn't seem like a whole lot out of however many Xmillion(myself included) playing Guild Wars 2 at the moment, it does count on them staying. And considering GW2 is primarily a PvP game I really do see it becoming the game a lot of people dive into when looking for some good multiplayer through WvWvW. Which doesn't give a whole lot of incentive to buy things like Exp boosts when you realize PvP boosts you to 80 while you're in there anyway. I remember watching a video a while back that explained things pretty nicely, and that's that Guild Wars 2 would be more successful if people bought it and just never played it, considering they wouldn't have to worry about keeping the servers maintained. As for the money aspect I couldn't help but laugh a bit. I mean it was pretty obvious what was being referred to, and that's taking a look at a game for face value, looking at one part of said game and saying "Oh thats stupid" without researching it in the slightest and just brushing it off. The only comparison that comes to mind at the moment would be me seeing a friend play starcraft 2 for the first time and seeing that they have a Pandaren as their avatar in the game and saying "This game's stupid I won't buy it cause there's a Panda in it". Like I said in one of my previous posts I completely understand people not wanting to pay $15 monthly for an MMO, money is something to think about before purchasing anything, obviously. It's the fact you would look at it a game, make an assumption about one thing you see and know nothing about it and then not buying it because you decide to be ignorant of it, it's kind of funny.
  • lazer59882 - October 1, 2012 2:02 p.m.

    sorry buddy, i personally couldn't make it through the fucking acronym minefield that is your first paragraph. i have no clue what you're talking about anymore. i DO know that watching football this sunday, i must've seen 3289274 commercials advertising that goddamn jump kicking spinning kung-fu-ing magic using Raiden hat wearing panda and this game, and all it did was make me want to punch things. i didn't see a single commercial advertising all those "deep improvements" you keep blabbing about. just pandas. and yet you keep saying i need to know something about WOW to say that i don't want fucking cute furry bears and animals in ANY game i play. i don't. if your main selling point for any game you're making is "magic pandas!" then as far as i'm concerned, fuck you. what else can i say here?
  • KnowYourPokemon - October 2, 2012 5:45 a.m.

    It was never about you not liking the game. It was more along the lines of making wild assumptions about the game "jumping the shark" using your words. And since you're having trouble with my "acronym minefield" let me help you MMO- Massively Multiplayer Online game GW2- Guild Wars 2 PvP- Player vs Player WvWvW- World vs World vs World Hope that helps
  • zombi3grim - October 1, 2012 6:24 p.m.

    My god, what the fuck....seriously. I feel like Im in an episode of South Park. Im not reading your huge bible on why I need to play WoW or why its so great. I also love how your talking about assumptions and then assume the only thing I know about WoW is the price. Your assuming I never played it. Your assuming I dont have friends who play it. Your assuming I dont read about it online. And you call me ignorant because I refuse to play a game where I have to a pay a $15 monthly fee because you ASSUME thats all I know about the game. Look up the word hypocrit in the dictionary, realize no one gives THAT much of a fuck about Warcraft, THEN get back to me, fuckface.
  • lazer59882 - October 1, 2012 10:35 p.m.

    hahahaha niiiice. tell him to look up a non-existant word...he'll be looking for years. i give him till 2014 to realize there's a 'e' at the end of hypocrite.
  • zombi3grim - October 2, 2012 5:16 a.m.

    yeah yeah, whatever....
  • KnowYourPokemon - October 2, 2012 5:47 a.m.

    If you seriously want to get into the grammar war at least start your sentences with capital letters...
  • KnowYourPokemon - October 2, 2012 5:40 a.m.

    If you actually read it you'd realize I never said two words about one game being better than the other, and you're telling me to look up the word hypocrite? Nice one. Also, you say I'm ASSUMING things? let me quote your EXACT comment from earlier. *Ahem* " 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...." NOW, in what part in any of that should I NOT get the impression that you have never played the game? Yup, pretty sure I'm using that ignorant term properly.
  • lazer59882 - October 2, 2012 10:46 a.m.

    shhhhhh, no one gives a fuck anymore. it's fucking pandas, in a monthly fee game. it is total bullshit by definition. it's over. stop now.
  • KnowYourPokemon - October 3, 2012 9:31 a.m.

    That's your argument? Nice. Guild Wars 2, Cat People.

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