Mists of Pandaria’s out now, and, quite obviously, I’ve been playing it. Why? Because I love WoW with a kind of puppy dog enthusiasm that's unmatched in anyone I've met. I’ve got a whole heap of jumbled thoughts about what I’ve played so far (the Wandering Isles and the first chunk of the Jade Forest Horde side - although I played through the Wandering Isles during beta). I’m not going to call it a review in progress because a) we don’t do reviews yet and b) it’s dumb. But: here we go.
Quick background note:
I’ve been playing WoW since Vanilla. I’ve raided heavily, and used to be the guild-master for a 400+ person guild. I left the game to have a baby. My Druid has all the Blizzcon pets. I love this stuff.
Don’t burn through this
Mists of Pandaria is heavy in lore, story, atmosphere and sense of place. The Pandarian isles themselves are lush in every sense of the world: beautiful places to bounce around with draw distances that stretch out into the distance. More than any MMO launch I’ve played, Mists has already made me stop, pause and just gaze at the place I’m playing in.
It is intensely story led
Like The Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic, Pandaria is incredibly focused on telling a story. Blizzard have been moving this way for years now, but with Pandaria, they’ve gone well beyond what I expected. Pandaria is a different kind of story to what we’re used to. Blizzard have always used their villains to center their expansion packs and provide motivation to the players. But that’s a fairly primitive tool; one which we always know the ending. A bad man will die at the hands of a 10 man raid, and there will be a cutscene which will be on Youtube.
But ever since the Wrathgate, Blizzard have been touching on better ways to tell the story. I think they’ve found a really happy medium between fully voiced and ‘just give me the goddamned objectives, bitches’. There are many in-game dialogue moments - an early friendship with a Pandarian scholar was particularly lovely. They’re a nice mix, too: unlike say, The Old Republic and Guild Wars, where it’s mostly talking heads, some cutscenes are like little cartoons, others play out with voice-over in the open world. Best of all: you don’t have to wade through hours of idiocy from two barely animated talking heads to get to your quest objectives.
More importantly, it’s just not feeling as predictable. As I play, I feel like I don’t quite know how this is all going to play out. Right now, I’m in a party of five exploring this strange new land. We’re lost and alone, but making friends along the way. And there’s some magical stuff that feels a bit like the force but with a vague sense of ennui. Anything could happen.
It’s a great, great adventure.
The only frustration: Blizzard announced who the final boss of Pandaria would be at a press event earlier in the year. That reveal gives players way too much knowledge of what’s coming. I think it a horrendous shame. I would have loved to have gone into this blind.
The new talents system is odd
I think there’s a mismatch between what players think talents are for and what designers think talents are for. Players want hard choices that differentiate their characters. Designers want to give you options that won’t break the game. The new talents system: where you’re given a menu of three passive and active abilities every 15 levels is an interesting mish-mash of both. But I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. I spent a few minutes picking stuff that I thought were obviously meant for levelling, and then put it to the back of my mind. I haven't touched it since.
I’m not sure that’s what Blizzard intended.
There are less people playing than I expected.
I played from about 11pm to 2am on the opening night, about six hours yesterday and another couple of hours today. Although the servers are quite busy, they weren’t the ridiculous sea of pain and drama that I experienced at the Cataclysm launch. There just weren’t anywhere near the same amount of people. I thought at first it was down to the Horde and Alliance players being better separated across the continent. But... of the guild I’m in, which has 300 plus characters registered, only 30 odd were online. Today, that’s dropped to 18. At the height of the Cataclysm launch, there were hundreds playing.
We have seen the end of clown suits. FOREVER.
I was kind of dreading Pandaria - for the ritual humiliation of the new zone clown suit. I put together a decent Tier 11 set before leaving - and I knew I’d have to replace it with quest greens and blues as I levelled. And they are always, always mad.
But hey! Turns out, Blizzard recognised the problem. There are now vendors selling quest level green armour sets for your class dotted about the place. And they match. Oh the humanity. This is a very, very good thing.
I will never get used to the new druid travel form.
Just look at it.