All it took was a single trailer. I’d been on the edge of re-subscribing to World of Warcraft for months now. I’d quit sometime during Cataclysm - popped in a little for the launch of Mists, but never found the hook. Then, Garrosh, the Siege of Orgrimmar, and 5.4 happened. And now I’m back.
As it turns out, WoW’s still my favourite game.
I love this time in an expansion pack. At the end of an expansion cycle, Blizzard are freer to experiment with new ways to play. Meanwhile, there’s a vast backlog of end-game content to rinse through - the dungeons and raid tiers that were built to keep the long-term playerbase occupied. It’s exactly the right time to dive in.
So: here’s what I’ve learned since hopping back online.
WoW still has the best levelling content in any MMORPG
Mists of Pandaria’s levelling zones are, simply, the best Blizzard have ever made. They’re better than everything I’ve played elsewhere, too. I love Pandaria. It’s a perfect mix of whimsy and serious business that Blizzard can do so well: one minute you’re rolling a depressed panda bear home while being attacked by angry monkeys, the next you’re discovering shrines to an ancient and unrepentant evil. Pandaria as a continent gives that same sense that I had when I started playing World of Warcraft for the first time: the sense that I was discovering a new and beautiful place, a place that could surprise me with its heart, and its humour.
For lapsed players who haven’t blitzed this expansion, it’s worth popping back just for the questing. What’s more: the levelling speed has been accelerated, so you’ll reach 90 way faster than you’d expect (extra bonus: join a guild with the levelling guild perk enabled). That gives you a quick route into the end-game, as well as a chance to earn masses of gold from continuing with the quest chains.
There’s way more to do than raids
Pet Battles are an odd addition to the game that I never expected to enjoy. However, they’re a surprising treat: something to do between the more serious content like raids and PvP. But they’re not alone. In patch 5.4, Blizzard opened up the Timeless Isle. Think of the Timeless Isle as a quest hub, but without quests. It’s built as a place to explore - with randomised creatures and chests to discover. Rare and Elite creatures drop tokens that can be exchanged for high-end loot. It’s a very, very different experience from traditional WoW rep grinds. It’s a place to play at your own pace, without the pressure of a quest log full of dailies to complete.
Which brings us to…
The end-game is considerably easier to enter
The big fault of Mists of Pandaria was what happened between levelling and the end-game raids: gearing for the first tier of content was via a punishing series of reputation grinds and daily quests that were enough to dent your enthusiasm. Those quest series are now irrelevant for lapsed players: and even better, end-game gear is practically thrown at newly minted level 90 characters. Certain prices for end-game gear have been reduced by 75% from vendors, there are items that you can quickly buy from the auction house, and of course, if you’re in a guild, there’s plenty of craftable epics. Daily dungeons and scenarios (a new type of very short instance introduced in Mists that only requires three players) will also help There’s a good video overview here of what you need to do. But it’s achievable and fun; there’s nothing in the route to end-game that new and veteran players should be afraid of.
And it’s available for casual players too
If you’re into raiding but have discovered that real-life gets in the way, there’s an alternative. Looking for raid was introduced towards the end of Cataclysm and offers a toned down version of raid bosses that can be tackled by groups of players that haven’t met before. Think of it as the equivalent of dungeon finder. Looking for Raid has been criticised for some of the harder core of WoW’s playerbase, but if you simply can’t schedule a regular raid time it does provide a healthy alternative. It means that you can fight the biggest monsters in WoW, at a time that suits you.
But the end-game still matters
WoW’s raids remain some of the best in the world. And now they’ve just set one in the capital city of the Horde: The Siege of Orgrimmar. And it’s good. Really good. The bosses are varied and interesting; there are novel mechanics within there, but most importantly, it feels like the players are making a real dent in WoW’s lore.
And this is the final point. Mists of Pandaria has been building to this climax for over a year. In the early days of the expansion, the Alliance and Horde found a new and mysterious continent. In the last days of the expansion, the effects of that discovery will can be felt throughout Azeroth: the Horde has split, their Warchief has lost his final vestiges of sanity, and he’s now the final raid boss of the expansion.
The story of that expansion pack: why Garrosh lost his mind, why he’s so aggressive, and why the Alliance fear him so much is some of the best work Blizzard have ever produced across all their games. It’s absolutely worth experiencing it for yourself.
I’m back on the WoW, and I think you should be too.