World Of Warcraft: Mists Of Pandaria: The Kotaku Review

World of Warcraft's Mists of Pandaria expansion is huge. One one end, it starts at level one, with a new starting area for the new Pandaren race. On the other end, it raises the level cap from 85 to 90 and adds an enormous amount of high-end and end-game zones.

Mists of Pandaria, then, is best looked at from two different perspectives. One: how is it for the new player? Since the game introduces a new character race and starting area, that implies it offers a good chance for players new to the game to jump in. And two: how is it for the experienced player? If someone's been in a holding pattern at level 85 for years, what does Mists of Pandaria offer to that player, and how do its many changes improve or diminish the World of Warcraft experience?

To get both perspectives, we did something we've never really done before, and tag-teamed the review. I created a brand-new World of Warcraft account and rolled my first ever level one Pandaren to experience the world. Mike Fahey logged back in to his long-dormant level 85 character and set out to explore the higher levels of Pandaria. Both of us have been logging our experiences with the game. Here's what we think.

The Newbie: From Level One On Up

Imagine a party.

As you approach, there's music and laughter pouring from every door and window, down the lawn and into the street. Clearly, the folks inside are having a good time.

WHY: It offers a continuation of the World of Warcraft experience, but at this point that experience just isn't quite enough.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Developer: Blizzard

Platforms: PC

Release Date: September 25

Type of game: Asian-themed expansion to enormous, sprawling, well-established fantasy MMORPG

What we played: [Kate] Created a new level 1 pandaren and played primarily solo quests to the high 20s

[Mike] Earned a couple of new levels for my level 85 Alliance mage, collected pets, farmed turnips. Logged into my nephew's level 90 character to explore the rest of the new zones. Transferred gold from my nephew's account to mine without him knowing it. That'll show him.

Our Two favourite Things

  • The massive size, scope, and scale of the world (complete with suitably epic music
  • The lands of Pandaria are beautifully crafted considering the limitations of the ageing game engine.

Our Two Least-Favorite Things

  • Constant competition with other players for resources (mainly kills) and the hurry-up-and-wait (for respawns) roadblock it puts in questing
  • There's not enough to distract from the tired gameplay of the previous 85 levels.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "I'm a blue-haired panda killing homeless people for, apparently, the side of good. Wow, WoW." -Kate Cox, Kotaku.com
  • "It's been a beautiful seven years, but I think it's time we started seeing other people." -Mike Fahey, Kotaku.com

The house is huge. There must be 20 rooms, plus a sprawling backyard. Everywhere you turn, there are enormous crowds of people. You haven't been able to find the bathroom yet, but you did manage to get to the kitchen and the bar well enough.

Drink in hand, you're shouldering your way from room to room through the mob. You thought for sure there were going to be some people you know here, but then you find out you missed them by a couple of hours — now, they're somewhere else, and not coming back.

As you listen to the conversations around you, you begin to realise everyone else here works for the same massive company. They're all talking about stuff from work that you just plain don't get. They all showed up fresh from the office in $US1000 suits and designer shoes, fresh from the office, and you're wearing a year-old pair of jeans from Old Navy.

It's not a bad party. The drinks are good, the hosts are hospitable, and there's a crazy amount of food. Everyone else is having a blast. But having arrived so late, you just don't fit into the established conversations. You drift on the edge, overhearing some inside jokes you don't get.

It seemed like it should be fun, but this just isn't your night. This party got started without you, and you're not really adding anything to it — or getting anything out of it. After another circuit of the house, when your drink is gone, you put the cup down and quietly leave the revelers to it.

I cannot think of any better analogy for me and a month of World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bad game. It does many things very well. Most of those things, though, feel oriented toward getting players quickly and efficiently to the maximum level, where those players can then enter the raid progression.

After eight years, it's not unexpected that WoW would be focused on its loyal players, the roughly 10 million or so subscribers who occupy those upper levels. As a result, though, it doesn't feel particularly welcoming to new players — and that starts from the moment of purchase. Mists of Pandaria doesn't include the base game or any other expansion content. A new player must first buy the Battle Chest, and then purchase a Pandaria key.

The early-level Pandaren content also doesn't necessarily add very much to the new player experience. Although the Wandering Isle itself is lovely, it introduces WoW's many small annoyances early on. Every task needs repeating slightly too many times — why 10 or 12 dead whatevers, when 6 would teach me a skill just as well? Why does the [x] I need to collect from monster type [y] only drop an average of one in three kills? And given that, why do I need a dozen of them?

Still, the plot arc that wanders through the Wandering Isle does a good job setting up the point and purpose of Pandaria in the larger scheme of things, and introduces both the Horde and Alliance as worthy partners a young Pandaren might join. But once the Horde and Alliance show up, that's the end of it. Right around level 12, the player departs the Wandering Isle, never to return, and heads straight into "old world" content.

Cataclsym is all right, but it's not Pandaria. To understand why a cataclysm is so important, and to know what effects it has on the before and after of Azeroth demand a context that a new player simply doesn't have. And instead of running around exploring the diversion of an Asian-themed world, full of soaring temples and irritating monkeys, it's right back to the same-old same-old of humans, dwarves, and elves.

To a genuinely new player who's been busy exploring other MMORPG offerings over the last few years, WoW's age really shows. The art has a clear style, but it feels very undefined around the edges, and lacks the crispness of a 2012 offering. Getting around feels clumsy and slow, and the Pandaren experience involves a lot of back-tracking for a player who wants to level up a profession like skinning or mining.

As well, the game's well-known penchant for pop humor can be extraordinarily distracting at times. Sure, I get that Mikael Bay is going to make something go boom (which is in character for a gnome), but... where do the thugs of the medievalesque human village I'm in get their sunglasses from?

In the end, I just end up going through the motions, unsure of why. I do a quest because it's here; I collect loot from corpses because I really need coin in order to train basic skills. I'm moving through the world because it tells me to, and not because I want to see anything. Sure, the world has some highlights, but that's just not enough motivation to play through the 73 levels that interrupt the story that Mists of Pandaria began to tell on the Wandering Isle.

The Veteran: Level 85 and Up

Seven years. For nearly seven years I've played in Blizzard's colourful cartoon fantasy world. It began as obsession, every waking moment of those first few months not dedicated to sleeping, eating or earning a paycheck was spent exploring every aspect of that strange new place.

As the months turned to years my relationship with World of Warcraft settled, as relationships often do, into a comfortable pattern. I'd dabble in high-end content, eventually wandering off to give other massively multiplayer games a chance to win me over. They never did.

Blizzard drew me back again and again with the release of game-changing expansion. The Burning Crusade tempted me with the promise of new alien landscapes to explore. Wrath of the Lich King introduced an intriguing new character class and a battle with one of the setting's most tragic villains. The daring Cataclysm violently reformatted the entire world of Azeroth, giving me a compelling reason to explore the planet all over again. I awaited the release of each new expansion with giddy anticipation.

It was no different with Mists of Pandaria. I logged myself out in the Alliance capitol of Stormwind so I'd be ready to plunge headlong into the newly discovered panda lands the moment the pack went live. I spent the first few hours in game cooing over new features and soaking in the Asian flavour of Pandaria, all the while familiarising myself with the substantial changes to game mechanics that had been instituted since I'd last seriously played.

And then I got bored. So very bored.

Within minutes of a rather spectacular entrance into the newly-discovered expansion lands I was back in the old World of Warcraft questing pattern. I killed a certain number of things. I collected a specific number of objects. While these menial task-lines often culminate in some spectacular setpieces, those brilliant moments end too quickly, and it's back to the quest grind. I am a machine collecting experience points and equipment in order to make it easier to earn more experience points and equipment.

Certainly that's the same formula World of Warcraft has always employed. The problem is Blizzard is running out of ways to distract me from it.

Within minutes of a rather spectacular entrance into the newly-discovered expansion lands I was back in the old World of Warcraft questing pattern.

A portion of the blame lies in the previous expansion, Cataclysm. The major restructuring of the world was such a profound and powerful change that adding a handful of new areas to explore — no matter how well-crafted and packed with lore — pales in comparison.

The gradual dumbing-down of the game's mechanics also play a strong role in the open-sore exposure of the tired gameplay. Back when there were expansive skill trees and equipment types to hem and haw over I could busy myself planning out my character or hunting down pieces of armour and weapons. Now I have nine sets of three talents each to choose from, and every quest line is designed to ensure my character is sufficiently outfitted for the coming challenges.

There are new distractions here. I've harped on the expansion's Pokemon-style pet battles, and I've enjoyed the cooking-supplement farming mini-game more than I probably should. However, with full-game versions of both experiences readily available, there's no reason for me to spend $US15 a month to fool around with them here.

Mind you I'm coming at this from the mindset of a strictly player-versus-enviroment World of Warcraft veteran. I am not a raider. I am not a PVP-er. I just enjoy getting together in a group with some friends or strangers and running through quest content. Or at least I did.

It's funny that Kate mentions that Mists of Pandaria is focused on World of Warcraft's most loyal players. I count myself among them, yet I'm not feeling the love.


Comments

    I came back for Mists. Lasted 2 weeks, less than I had with any of the other expansions. Just really did not offer enough at all.

      I'm with you Andy. I did exactly the same, but lasted 3 days. I think I'm finally done with it!

    Like i have always said Blizzard has lost their mojo....

      if you always said it then you never thought they had it ;)

        Ever since starcraft 2 they have been going down hill fast...

    Playing WoW for quests is like playing GW:2 for endgame PVE content - you are simply in the wrong place.

    " I am not a raider. I am not a PVP-er." - In that case this is definitely not the game for you, and I am curious as to why you are reviewing it.

    WoW has never been about questing or levelling, those are simply gateways to bar endgame content (and you can level fully in under a week so its hardly a fair judge of the game).

    What this review should focus on, and yet doesn't even mention, is the new raid content, the new world bosses, the changes to the valor point grind, the way the new factions reputation gains work, the state of PVP and the changes to Raid Finder as well as the introduction of Challenge modes.

    You touch on none of the endgame content which people actually play the game for, and instead get bogged down talking about quests that people will clear in 3 days then never touch again.

    I understand that you may be a PVE player who plays WoW solely for the questing - I just don't understand why you seem to think this is how the average WoW player plays.

      I agree with the review but I understand your point. There should be a third angle to the review which investigates Raiding, Dungeons, Battlegrounds ect and compares the expansion to previous expansions. I have not played Pandaria and most likely never will however it does look like an improvement to Catacylsm. I just don't think it will be enough for Wow though. GW2 offers a far better PVP experience and Swtor a far better Story/IP experience. I would say the last element Wow holds is PVE, it's Raiding is still king but it is in decline. If a new MMO or a recent MMO can overtake Wow in that area I see that as being the final unstopable tipping point against the game. GW2 is subscription free, Swtor will soon have a option to play completely free and I suspect most western mmos will adopt some form of F2P from now on. Nothing lasts forever this could be the expansion Wow drops a ton of subscribers not because it's bad but because finally they're better, newer, fresher options on the market. Perhaps Wow should go F2P at the end of Pandaria?

        See if these were the points raised in the review then I would have little issue of it, you do a much better job of objectively portraying information than either of the reviewers did.

        I agree with you in part, GW:2 is better for PVP that much I can say for certain.

        SWTOR has a much better levelling experience, the endgame just falls flat and is an identical copy of WoW which is unfortunate.

        If someone did make a raiding MMO superior to WoW, you are right - that would be threatening them on the last thing that they do well.

        That being said, there is no reason for Blizzard to move to free to play. They are down maybe 1/5th of their population - but other than that they have tons of cash coming in from the remaining players which offers a lot of freedom in developing content and supporting the game (as well as working on their next MMO).

        I don't think it's fair to judge GW2 against WoW based on the subscription model until you see exactly what your lack of a subscription is paying for content wise - something that wont be apparent for much longer. It's a similar situation with TOR, you have to pay to raid properly so thats where the development money comes from - although the population of that game is so low that I don't know if we can look at it as a serious contender, we may as well talk about DC Universe Online (which is sad because I loved TOR for the few months that it was relevant).

          I also loved Tor and still play on occasion but even more so then Wow a bunch of bad design decisions hit the game hard. I still have a small glint of hope it can find a market to expand in but I am aware it may never happen at this point. What sub numbers would you think Wow would need to hit before F2P would be an option? Because you're right currently the subs at 10m are a great source of revenue. Or do you think Wow should retain it's subscription until the servers are closed?

            I think the most logical choice is to swap to a free to play or a freemium model once they have launched their new MMO (depending on what exactly it is).

            It's been in development for atleast 4 years, which means we are certain to hear something about it in the next 2.

            That gives a 4 year grace period for WoW to do two more expansions, one more 90-95 to kill content (Vashj, Emerald Dream) and then a final expansion to pull in players for the final battle against Sargeras and level 100.

            After that point they can release their new MMO and probably convert 40-70% of their subscribers to early adopt across depending on the genre and what exactly it covers.

            Otherwise, I'd say 3 million is the magic number before a free-to-play model would be viable for WoW. It's slightly more than most other MMOs break at, but that reflects the insanely huge playerbase they have been catering to for so long.

      "WoW has never been about questing or levelling, those are simply gateways to bar endgame content (and you can level fully in under a week so its hardly a fair judge of the game)."

      Quite a statement.. never is a pretty definitive word.. a statement I have to disagree with in the most profound way. I'm not sure when you started to play the game or what kind of games you normally play but the original WoW was definitely all about the questing and PvE.

      However I agree that WoW is no longer that.. and someone with a more balanced outlook, not someone like you nor the author, should be reviewing it..

        I've played WoW since 2 months into vanilla, and while admittedly there was a bigger focus on levelling back then (although personally it was generally focused on instances) the questing generally was for attunements or gear, I don't remember any big parties forming to "go questing" or anyone LFG any quests at max level - maybe my server was different to yours.

        If you think me pointing out massive discrepancies in their review in an agitated manner is somehow reflective of how balanced my outlook is then you are pretty off the mark. We also need to watch how we use the term PVE.

        I consider PVE to be raiding - apparently this isn't how you guys are using the term.

        I also fail to see how "what games I normally play" are relevant. Because I normally play a lot of games :S

        In short, I wouldn't fixate on a hyperbole at the beginning of my post while neglecting the actual content of what I posted.

    In 4 nights off release I was lvl 90...full PvP geared 3-4 days after the PvP content was out (capping CP everyweek)...also Raiding every Thursday night.

    And now Im WoW'ed out...waiting for friends to hit lvl 90 and bored of other Multiplyer games....Need something new...idk what though..not another MMO!!

    I recently started playing WoW again after mists lauched with my boyfriend who has never played an MMO before. Beacuse of this I completely understand how difficult WoW makes it for new players to get involved in the world. Despite the steep learning curve playing together has been incredibly enjoyable.
    He finds everything new and exciting and I am getting a kick out of doing zones I havent visited in years.
    The grinding of fetch and kill quests are starting to bug me a little but I'm excited to play the end game content and am enjoying my breif stints with my level 87 through the world or pandaria.
    I agree that the game has lost a bit of its charm and entertainment factor, I however am still enjoying myself and as long as they continue to upgrade the content and try new things like the pet battles I'm going to keep up my subscription. :)

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