October 17 2012
Revisiting World of Warcraft after a long hiatus is always a bit jarring. Apart from the fundamentals, there isn't a whole lot left of the Azeroth that launched 8 years ago, and the game continues to take new directions with its fourth expansion, Mists of Pandaria. We have a new playable race, a new class, a new continent, and a new level cap of 90, all of which is pretty standard fare for a WoW expansion. On top of that they've added PvE Scenarios, a timed "Challenge" mode for Dungeons, and Pet Battles, as well as completely overhauling the talent system. Needless to say, I've so far only seen a small portion of what Mists of Pandaria has to offer.
I started a Pandaren monk to see how the new class and starting area stack up, fully expecting the character to be too cute to play long-term (like say, Gnomes), but I've been pleasantly surprised by how they've been implemented. Of course, a lot of people simply won't be able to get over a race inspired by pandas, and I can appreciate that. We all have our limits. Still, we're talking about a game that has, among other far-fetched things, playable space goats.
The Wandering Isle on which the Pandaren begin their journey in Azeroth is as brilliant as any starting area in the game. There is a nice mixture of quests and an appropriate amount of Blizzard charm, such as monkeys that jump on your back while you're fighting them. In many cases it is the little things, like a bombing run from a balloon or even playing with the Spirit of Water, which propells you high into the air for a unique viewpoint, that sets WoW's questing apart from the competition.
Pandaren are the game's first neutral race, available to both the Alliance and the Horde. You aren't required to choose a faction until you leave the Wandering Isle at about level 12, after which you move into older parts of the world you may already be familiar with if you've played a lot since Cataclysm.
I've also spent some time on the game's new Asian-themed continent of Pandaria, which takes your character from level 85 to level 90. Blizzard has consistently designed spectacular landscapes, and from what I've seen, the zones added in the expansion are up to their exacting standards. Having undergone a few graphical upgrades, WoW has aged exceedingly well, the art direction still rocks, and the interface remains unrivaled.
It's impossible not to notice how vast WoW has become, and how diverse the feature set has become. For instance, Pet Battles, which consist of a Pokemon-like mini-game, won't appeal to everyone in the game, but some players will devote countless hours to them. Some people level alts, while others are in it strictly for endgame Dungeons and Raids. MoP appears to do a decent job of appealing to all of those varied interests.
Of course, it suffers from some of the same shortcomings that previous expansions have had. The addition of level 90 Raids and Dungeons renders large portions of Cataclysm content obsolete, as Cataclysm did to Wrath, and Wrath did to the Burning Crusade. Regardless of how you feel about leveling, reaching end-game as a new player involves a considerable time commitment.
There's no doubt that, given WoW's incredibly long run, many people have had their fill of the game and won't be lured back by any expansion. But that still leaves millions of people that continue to call Azeroth home, even though the market is much more competitive today than it was when WoW launched. The things that WoW does, it does extremely well, and when all is said and done, it continues to do them better than the games trying to imitate it. As good as some of the other MMORPGs out there are, a return to WoW is always a reminder of the care and attention to detail that have made this game such a success.