Can Mists Of Pandaria Change My Mind About World Of Warcraft?

World of Warcraft and I never did really get along. Since its launch in 2004, I've lost track of the number of friends of mine who loved it. They'd tell me breathlessly about their druids, priests and hunters while extolling the benefits of the Alliance or the Horde. After ages of politely declining to join them, they've all moved on and given up on ever convincing me. Yet after all these years, the time may finally have come for me to re-evaluate WoW. Starting with pandas.

I've dabbled in a fair number of MMORPGs since I first dove into the genre in January, 2005. I played EverQuest II for over half a decade, but I've also put in a few hours here and there in games like City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings Online, as well as participating in something like a half-dozen different MMO beta experiences.

World of Warcraft, though, was always the elephant in the room. I last played WoW in 2006, when a dozen EQ2 friends went over there and begged me to come with. I lasted for about three weeks. I absolutely hated the UI, I didn't love the art, I wasn't a fan of the way movement and combat felt ("like steering a cow with a piece of string," I said at the time), and discomfort with my human rogue's build and animations were the final straw. I wished my former guildmates well and ran back to EQ2, where everything felt comfortable. For a while, it became a running joke: of course I would manage to be the one contrarian who hated what seemed to be the most popular game on Earth.

But in game terms, the difference between 2006 and 2012 can be like comparing the Roman Empire to the Information Age. I bailed on World of Warcraft before even its first expansion, The Burning Crusade hit, and years before Wrath of the Lich King or Cataclysm were even a mote in anyone's eye. The game has changed, and so have I. And so, when I found myself with a Mists of Pandaria beta key in my hand this week, the time had come for me to approach Azeroth once more.

I rolled myself a new Pandaren to start with, naturally, and a few moments after deciding that black patches around the eyes suited a rogue nicely I found myself standing in what was nominally a quiet, meditative panda village.

World of Warcraft has roughly 10 million subscribers, and in some ways it felt like every one of them was standing on the Wandering Isle with me when I first logged in. Still, I dutifully ignored the hundreds of other pandas-in-training crammed into the courtyard around me and tried to accept various masters' assurances of my uniqueness and skill at face value. After all, this is a challenge nearly every MMO has faced: when hundreds, thousands, or millions of players are coming through your levels, starting at different times, over the course of years, how do you tell every character that it is special, unique, or worthy? I blithely moved on, from one vaguely Zen instruction to the next.

I collected my weapons, fought dummies, and learned my basic skills, all as NPCs dictated. I gathered items, took down easy enemies, and collected my first bits of gear. The thread of quests led me easily from one NPC to the next, from temple to village to wood. My Pandaren backstabber gave me sultry, knowing looks when I left her idle, shifting impatiently until I had her running lumpily across the land once more. Not very zen of her, I thought; all of these masters extolling her calm and balance would be disappointed if only they could see what I saw.

Whether World of Warcraft has had some tweaks or whether I have grown more patient I couldn't say, but I did find that the experiences I've had trying on a number of games in the years since I last tried had mellowed me on the things I used to hate about WoW. The steering didn't seem so bad, I felt there was more of a flow to fighting, and the stylization and bright colours of the art no longer bothered me. I actually kind of liked it all, once I managed to get a few key binding options tweaked, and I prepared to settle in for an evening of questing.

But try as I might to read every word that appeared from quest-givers, and to think about what I was doing and why, my mind kept drifting. Killing eight of something is tedious, when you are barely level two and have only one weapon and one combat art to use. Killing eight of something that can land on your head, forcing a string of "you are facing the wrong way!" messages from auto-attack no matter which way you turn, is more tedious still. After barely an hour of the panda life, I wasn't frustrated, angry, intrigued, or enthralled. I was bored.

The Wandering Isle, and the entire continent of Pandaria, are still in beta. It's entirely possible (likely, even) that the beary experience will see many small tweaks before its official launch, curing the low-level tedium and fine-tuning the tasks.

Beta or not, though, it seemed that I was failing with WoW again as I had once before, where millions of others had thrived. I was so sure that this time would be different. What was wrong? Was it me, was it the game, or was it the Pandaren experience?

There was only one way to find out. I logged out of the Pandaren and created a new character. I stayed on the same Beta server, and I stayed with the same character class. (I pretty much always play rogue-types in everything.) But this time I rolled a Gnome. I knew I had played one before, in 2006, for about 10 minutes, but other than her baffling pink pigtails I remembered nothing about the experience. Whether it was original or had been revamped (a quick search tells me the gnome starting experience was changed with Cataclysm), it would be different from The Wandering Isle, and would give me a different feel for the game.

I kind of loved it. Gnomes are always fun, or at least I always enjoyed them in my EQ2 days, and I was pleased at how smooth, quick, and comical World of Warcraft's gnome experience was. I felt that I'd accomplished more in 20 minutes with her than I had in an hour with the Pandaren, and, most importantly, I wanted to keep playing.

Joining an MMO that's more than five years old doesn't always feel right. It's like coming late to a party and walking up to a knot of merry conversationalists just in time for them to share the punchline and disperse without even noticing your arrival. You might hang around for a few hours but you missed whatever happened at the start to tie everyone together, and that amazing dessert someone brought is already gone.

So considering all that, is Mists of Pandaria a good or worthwhile way for someone who's never played World of Warcraft, or who's been away from it for many years, to jump in? Ultimately, I haven't loved the Pandaria experience but that — again, like my failure in 2006 — might be just me. But I did, through my little gnome, have the chance to discover a much-changed Azeroth, as a much-changed player. I found it a good world, and this to be as good a time as any to explore it.


Comments

    The problem Mists of Pandaria has is that there are three other expansions before it., and the lengthy levelling process through old content will likely turn new players off. Also, there's the cost. You can pick the battle chest up for about $20-$30,. Wrath of the Lich King for $30-$60, and Cataclysm for $60. Then you've got Mists of Pandaria for another $60. So that's at least $170 for a new player to get into the game and experience this new content. And that's not taking the subscription fee into account either.

    I'm quite excited for Pandaria. It seems like the focus has been shifted from standing around in Stormwind/Orgimmar waiting for dungeon/battlegroud/raid finder queues to pop, to actually getting back out there into the world.

      Why does a new player need to see the neww content right away? There's no need to buy all the expansions at once, there's hundreds of hours of content in just the base game alone.

      And on your second point, the world is still out there! Nobody's forcing you to spend all your time in a city, y'know.

        A new player might like the idea of pandas, or werewolves, or goblins. They won't be able to create their first character in the race of their choice if they don't have that expansion. I do agree that they don't need to upgrade right away, but with everyone else playing as Pandas, you might feel a little left out.

        And yes, the world is still out there. But there's no real incentive to get out there and do things unfortunately. That's what I'm most looking forward to about MoP. You're going to be able to get valor from dailies, rather than just grinding dungeons, which is going to be awesome.

      The levelling process from 1-85 takes less time than 1-60 did in original WoW.

        Very true however with a new player who is not acquinted with the leveling zones, PVP, dungeons and certain other WoW paraphenelia it can be a monstrous trek the first time.

          Is that not the whole point though? If you're a new player you don't care about what's happening at level 85, you're interested in what you're actively doing right then and there at level 10.
          A new player might not be interested in raiding and farming PVP points. They want to experience the world, explore and meet all the characters. TBH the longer that takes, the more value you're getting from the game.
          It only becomes an annoying monstrous trek if you're levelling your 3rd alt.

            That is an issue I face now, as a new-to-WoW player.
            I keep being told that the "game doesn't start 'til you hit 85", which seems to defeat the purpose, no?

            If I were playing for the endgame content only (sure, I may *someday*), why would I bother with something so immersive as an MMORPG in the first place? Admittedly, I find it a damned shame that the only players I come across are those that are on their second/third/fourth character, with the sole aim being to get to 85 as fast as possible.

            As has already been mentioned here, I guess I'm just 5 years too late.

              I wish I could be a new player again.

              That sense of discovery, the thrill of exploration and wonder as you go through an experience you've not had before.

              While Mists of Pandaria will offer a few new zones for long time players to once again dive into anew and feed on fresh content, the core experience is still nothing like the original shine from when World of Warcraft first launched. Even though the game itself is now much shinier and better developed than any would have thought possible at the time.

              Even with Guild Wars 2 looming on the horizon, and it's evolutionary changes to MMO genre, I can't help but feel that it's not the games that are tired and old... it's us as players.

              Having experienced the beta, I'm still looking forward to Mists of Pandaria, yet I acknowledge that WoW is perhaps unable to be that 'new thing' I want to have again so much.

              It seems still appealing to those who've never played an MMO before, and I would recommend it as the quintessential starting point, as WoW rapidly consumes and incorporates ideas from it's competitors into it's own structure, while learning from mistakes of its past. But it's not for everyone, and nothing is forever.

                Well said, Nworb. Nothing is forever.

                I have to say that's not true in some ways. I came into WoW very late (mid summer 2011). I am now level 85 and wanting to level another character to 85 soon. When people say the fun starts at 85, that's actually true. PvP, HoT's, Heroics, Raids, lvl 85 dungeons, 2's, 3's, 5's. And that list goes on for me! But I can say what is true, is that level 85 isn't what it's all about. Leveling, experiencing dungeons and new players, and places. Trying to grind and getting that feeling when you do. Why I think MoP will be outstanding, is because it's not only new, with more things and new things to offer, but changes that people wish to happen. Like in all of the hate about WoW. After hearing some interviews about MoP from the official developers, I think it will make a lot of old timers come back, as they have said in comments all over videos from the interviews since the launch of the beta

      for real? you think that it will cost $170 for a new player to start playing mists of pandaria? That blizzard/activision have no business acumen at all?

      When mop comes out, there will be the entire game in one package available for purchase, and it will be less than $170. If you choose to buy individual x-packs, once mop comes out, cata will no longer be full priced.

      The Games aren't that expensive the new expansion is only like 40 bucks...which yah is still pricey but your overreacting a little bit.

    you just about 5 years too late im afraid.

    Ive thought about going back to wow a few times. It is actually a cheap way of gaming. $15-20 a month for subscription or wahtever it is now vs. $60 every 2-3 weeks for the flavour of the month game.

    Mist is what put the nail in the coffien for me when quiting WoW

    Personally, I don't know what to think of MoP. I acknowledge that WoW is a strongly fantasy-based game, but the fact that people will be running around with pandas just strikes me as ridiculous. You can take a werewolf seriously, and you may have fun with a gnome, but pandas just seem ridiculous to me. Could they not have picked a better type of animal?

      Pandaren have been in the game since Warcraft III. I know it may seem like it's coming out of left field, but Pandaren make more sense for a playable race than Worgen.

        Well, at least as much sense. I always feel a little...confused by the "Pandas, now it's gonna suck" argument. Why do you care? If you don't want to play a Panda, you don't have to. You can just enjoy the new Endgame with your Human, or Tauren or Draenei or whatever. Don't want to be put into groups with Pandas? Don't want to talk with Panda NPC's? Funny thing is, that happens every expansion. Hell, it classic just about every joke or insult was leveled at Gnomes and Tauren, now we barely bat an eyelid.

        Oh, and...I think just about every otehr animal is taken already. Pick a half Human Hybrid, and Blizzard already has some out there for you to stab at for a bit. Of course, in Cata the new races were already running around, and just needed an update to becoming player characters, i can't see the same happening to Gnolls, or Naga...Though Naga player characters WOULD be fun.

          There's the other thing, it's not all about what they look like. They look different geared anyways. But if it plays good, but looks bad, idc... I would still play on it and realize that there is more to life than the bad parts of things, and a good example is the Pandarens

    It's so true. They've ruined the entire leveling process with cross server instance queuing and the like. If you were new to the world and followed the path of least resistance (let's face it, nearly everyone does), then I guarantee you that you would experience half the amount of wonderful places and people that players used to, pre BC. They were the glory days, kids.

    played WoW for a lon g time from about 4 months before BC to 3 months after Cata and just couldnt had to quit the lack of accomplishment when you lv now is horrible you have to wait 2 lvs to get a talent point and from what i've read about MoP there is no talent tree so there will be no reward at all for lving i guess that just sucks yea untill they fix this and get it back to the days where lv was fun i wont be back but i can save 15 bucks a month oh well on to some f2p games like champions online and everquest 2

    When I joined wow, wrath was released 6 months before and I had no idea how to play or what class was mine. Exploring talent trees and professions was fascinating, discovering new regions and skills was rewarding, but I was told as well that the game began at 80. Once I got to 80 I realized what began, my rep.

    Something I enjoyed while leveling was the serenity of the landscape in the remote regions. With a friend or solo, the lore and history of the game itself have a magical component that I found quite enjoyable and surreal. I felt like an anthropologist (hope that's correct) walking through regions and quests that are never mentioned in trade chat, random dungeon queue only enhanced this effect. Its inevitable that curiosity will drive you to look at new classes and mess around with their crazy skills, I never found the need to power level an alt. I enjoyed having a half finished character, something to look forward to improving.

    WOW is a nerfed down pile of crap now.

    pandas and pokemon.... goodbye WOW.

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