World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (PC)
A little under a year ago, at Blizzcon 2011, Blizzard announced the fourth expansion to the MMORPG behemoth that is World of Warcraft. Called Mists of Pandaria it seemed at the time that Blizzard was returning to some of the core principles of Warcraft, focusing on the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde.
It's now eleven months later and Mists of Pandaria is launching worldwide on September 25th at Midnight local time in Europe and the United States, and on the 27th in Korea. Anticipation of the new expansion is running high, with the beta being available since March and the public test realm since July the internet has been awash with content information and the Warcraft community has done its usual job of dissecting every little change that the developers make.
So, what will Mists of Pandaria bring to a game that is now almost 8 years old? And will this latest expansion arrest some of the subscriber number decline that Blizzard has seen in the last 18 months?
Pandaria/Pandaren and the Monk Class
The big character addition to Warcraft in Mists is the isle of Pandaria itself, along with its native race the, very panda looking, Pandaren. First introduced to the Warcraft world as part of the bonus Horde campaign in the RTS Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, until now the Pandaren have only been hinted at in the World of Warcraft MMO.
Pandaria was a hidden land, shrouded in mist (hence the title of the expansion) keeping the outside world of Azeroth unaware of its existence. Following the events of the ending of Cataclysm and the damage that Deathwing wrought upon the land tensions between the Alliance and Horde are running higher than ever. With resources limited the discovery of a new continent is very interesting news to both Garrosh Hellscream and Varian Wrynn.
Existing characters will be sent off to the land of Pandaria where they will be tasked with securing vital resources or trade agreements with the new race. Of course Pandaria is an ancient and mystical land, so that won't be quite as easy as we would like.
Pandaria is split up into seven new zones that will take our characters from the existing level cap of 85, to the new level cap of 90. Along the way we will be introduced to the new Pandaren race and their own battles to secure the land of Pandaria for themselves. This new expansion takes us back to a single new location for zones, like we saw in The Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King instead of additions to the existing world like we saw in Cataclysm.
Of course with Mists we will also have the opportunity to roll a Pandaren and play this new race ourselves. The Pandaren are the first race in Warcraft that start of neutral, and remain that way for the first 10 levels of their starting zone called the Wandering Isle. Once we get to the end of the starting zone we will be asked to pick an allegiance to either the Horde or the Alliance and once we select our Pandaren will then be part of that faction. So for the first time in Warcraft we will see the same race on both the Alliance and Horde sides in battle.
Finally we have the Monk class. The Pandaren are primarily a martial arts based culture and to support this Blizzard have introduced the new Monk class. The Monk will be available to Pandaren however it will also be available to other races, just as the Pandaren race has access to the other traditional classes in Warcraft.
The Monk class will offer us the opportunity to play either as a Brewmaster (Tank), a Windwalker (melee DPS) or as a Mistweaver (healer). Although this sounds very much like the Druid class the Monk will offer us a different game play experience. For example the healing spec, the Mistweaver, operates up close to the action unlike traditional healers who tend to stand back from the tank and melee DPS. This is because some of their healing will be done by dealing damage to the enemy.
As part of the pre Mists patch, 5.0.4, that was deployed onto the live realms a couple of weeks ago players got their first look (unless they were in the beta) at the new talent revamp. Applied to all classes the talent revamp in Mists is intended to take out the cookie cutter element of the old style of talents.
Previously in Warcraft the talent options would generally lend themselves to have one best specification, or cookie cutter spec. If we were at all interested in getting the best performance from our character we would look up on the internet what the most popular specification was, or learn which talents the best raiders were using through the armoury and copy them.
With this new talent model the concept was to reduce the overall number of talent options and to make them more about personal play style, rather than DPS boosts. Now we have only 7 levels of talents provided from 0 to 90. Each level has three talent choices offering a slightly different mechanic based on different play styles.
In addition it will be much easier to change these talents on the fly, even between boss fights within a raid. Already we have read that the cutting edge raiders are switching their talent choices up on the fly, to suit the mechanics of the boss they are fighting. This sounds very exciting and makes the talent system far more engaging than the previous set and forget model that Blizzard used.
PVE and PVP
Whenever we get a new expansion we get new dungeons, raids and arenas and Mists is no exception. From launch there will be six new dungeons available in the continent of Pandaria as well as three old school dungeons, The Scarlet Monastery (in two parts) and Scholomance, revamped for level 90 heroic mode. This will give us plenty of content to level through while we go from 85 to 90.
Blizzard have stated that there won't be any level 90 normal dungeons, that we'll go straight into heroics when we get to 90. In Cataclysm one of the challenges was the steep increase in difficulty from normal to heroic dungeons, so we hope that with Mists that Blizzard have smoothed out that difficultly curve just a little bit.
One of the big new PVE changes is the introduction of Challenge mode. Challenge mode will be the ultimate test of a five man dungeon group. Players will have to run heroic dungeons against the clock, earning either a bronze, silver or gold reward based on their time. The best times available on servers will be posted on a Challenge leader board, giving bragging rights to the most organised team. To ensure consistency moving forward as more powerful equipment becomes available all Challenge mode runs will be done in normalised gear, i.e. any equipment will be scaled back to a set level.
For end game PVE we will also get three new raids, giving us access to a total of 14 new bosses. Blizzard has stated however that not all three raids will be freely available from launch day, in fact only the Mogu'shan Vaults will be available to begin with. Blizzard will release Terrace of Endless Spring and Heart of Fear several weeks after Mists goes live. In a further return to a mechanic we last saw in The Burning Crusade won't be able to access the later raids until we have cleared all the bosses in Mogu'shan Vaults. All the new raids available in Mists will have the usual normal and heroic modes however they will also all ship with the new Looking for Raid mode that was introduced with the final raid in Cataclysm.
For PVP in Mists we have two new battlegrounds to get our teeth into. Firstly we have a powerball style battleground called the Temple of Kotmogu, which is located in Pandaria. This 10 player battleground will see teams battling to absorb ancient mogu artefacts.
Finally we have the Silvershard Mines, another 10 player battleground located in the known zone of Stranglethorn Vale in the Eastern Kingdom. This battleground is a resource race as teams from the Alliance and Horde battle to collect the most gems from the depths of the mine.
Gotta Catch Them All
One of the more controversial new gameplay components in Mists is the new pet battle system. This system will take the existing vanity pets that have been in Warcraft since day 1 and allow them to battle each other, in a style similar to a very popular game from Nintendo.
Pets will belong to a specific family, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses over other families. We will be able to teach our pets new abilities and attacks, and as we battle with them they will gain experience and levels.
In battles we will be able to pick three of our pets and pit them against other players or NPC pet battle masters.
For a number of players the introduction of the Pet Battle system is seen as another example of the trivialisation of Warcraft, taking it away from its more adult themes to a younger audience. From our perspective we feel that Warcraft has always been a broad church, providing a range of experiences for all types of players. It is one of the reasons why Warcraft has remained so popular for so long. Certainly the Pet Battle system is going to attract the younger player base, however it's fun and harmless and there is plenty of more mature content available if this doesn't appeal.
And the rest...
As with any expansion there is far more content revamped than we could cover in our standard review. With Mists some of the other notable changes to the game include
- The return of outdoor raid bosses with the attraction of inducing some world PVP
- Scenarios will allow any three players to group and undertake a short instanced experience to gain valor points
- Account wide mounts and achievements
- A number of changes and improvements to existing classes
- Updated model for Glyphs
- Daily quest cap removed
- and AoE looting
Overall Mists of Pandaria has shaped up to be an excellent expansion to the game with some really interesting new content.
Ultimately as Warcraft creeps up on its 10 year anniversary in 2014 we have to ask ourselves how many more expansions Blizzard has left for this game before it looks to deliver a replacement. We know that they've been working on a next generation game, referred to as Project Titan, for some time however we don't know if this is being seen as a replacement to Warcraft or something completely different.
Mists certainly does a great job of keep the existing Warcraft world alive and feeling fresh. We can't wait to see what the follow on patches for this expansion brings and what plans Blizzard have for Warcraft in the longer term.