So I finally gave in and went back to World of Warcraft to check out Mists of Pandaria – the expansion right after Cataclysm. Curiosity and nostalgia got the better of me. Last I played this game was about 6 years ago. In fact, the last report about it should be right here in the 2011 line of blog posts.
If you’re wondering how it’s like to level from 85 in 2017, in a time where two more expansions may have affected the balance of health and damage, look no further. It was all solo – no dungeons or raids.
And I can say right off the bat that it was too easy, even for a jellyfish like me. I can’t for logical reasons say if it was always like this or if the two later expansions and all their patches have affected the balance. I sure hope it was harder when the expansion arrived in 2012. I played my main Retribution Paladin and I could kill almost all solo enemies in approximately two ability attacks. Typically a judgment and then a follow-up. Solo enemies also did really weak damage to me, typically a total of much less than 10%. I rarely bothered with healing spells, food or bandages. The only place where it felt like Blizzard finally turned the tides was right after going through the wall gate into the north area of Townlong Steppes. There were a few mobs here that actually smacked my health bar down for me to see an actual gap.
But alas, it turned out to be the exception that proved the rule.
I must say the art and diversity of the zones were top notch as usual. I’ll never find peace with the repulsive low polygon count, but Blizzard sure knows how to make awesome art design. Jade Forest was a green bamboo jungle, Vale of the Four Winds had fields with rice or exceptionally large fruits, and Krasarang Wilds in south went down across a cliff edge and offered a war between Alliance and Horde down by the beach. Kun-Lai Summit and Vale of the Eternal Blossoms were brown and somewhat withered, but it was a nice diversion from the green neighbor zones. Townlong Steppes was back to the green stuff but also had small islands with very high cliff sides. And finally, Dread Wastes was the typical end zone – dark blue and sinister. There was a long, Chinese wall cutting down to separate some of the zones, and an evil presence called the Sha left scorched areas with blazing white edges. Some up against the big wall, some around enormous trees, the size of which may compete with the biggest of them in any RPG.
Still, in spite of the great artwork, the low difficulty actually affected my enjoyment of the expansion, and I also sometimes had to cut off a session as the cornucopia of quests made it feel too much like working at an assembly line. I remember when I was wary about any elite monster and often kept my distance, but in this expansion it only meant that I got to click about five to seven abilities instead of two.
Some elite monsters were champions, recognizable on the minimap as a golden star. These were a bit of a gamble. To be fair, most of them were not much more than a medium pushover that took less than half a minute to kill, and then I got a blue item. But it didn’t take long before I started avoiding them for several reasons. The first was that sometimes, just sometimes, the odd champion had a weird ability that suddenly ate 90% of my health bar. I died once or twice to a surprise like that, but then I just took the talent point ability that automatically created a divine shield around me whenever I was supposed to die, and then I just brute forced my damage output without worrying about my health. Usually that worked wonders.
The second reason was that after a few encounters, the blue items started repeating themselves. Sure, they still had new names – but the attributes were the same as last time. And the third good reason was that after visiting the Timeless Isle, there was no point in killing champions anymore.
The Timeless Isle was a secluded island with a separate loading screen that I could zone into. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candy land quite like this in World of Warcraft before. It was raining epic loot there. There were lots of elite monsters but most of them were easy enough to kill. Here and there, just behind an elite monster, there was maybe a small chest that offered coins for vendor loot, but the chance of getting an epic item straight out of either it or the enemy loot itself was surprisingly high. After circling this island a few times I was almost decked in epics. Forum writers stated that this epic loot wasn’t actually all that good, but it was considerably better than the quest loot I was wearing. Supposedly Blizzard made this island to speed up players getting ready for dungeons and raids.
Speaking of quest loot, I was surprised to see that the quest rewards offered items that were only just a tiny bit better than the gear I was wearing from when I left Cataclysm. I remember problems in previous expansions where there was a significant jump in attributes that immediately rendered old epics useless, but it seems that Blizzard managed to fix this problem for Mists of Pandaria.
But Holy Paladin, did Blizzard dumb down the abilities and talent points since last time. It was both a blessing and a curse. Remember the problems with putting an MMORPG aside for a while, only to return later and not know where to start with a zillion abilities you can’t remember how to rotate? Not a problem in World of Warcraft anymore. At least that was a good thing, but then…
I think I used about three or four abilities repeatedly, sometimes supporting with another ability or two on the side. There was still the collection of holy power, but the very few abilities that were affected by this lit up when they were ready. Easy peasy. As a Retribution Paladin, I had one general healing spell. Throwing a hammer at escaping enemies was gone. Instead I now had an unsatisfying ability to slow down an enemy, after which I still had to run up to where it got to before I used it. Judgement was just sort of a damage ability now instead of passing on a prepared spell. My only AOE ability had to be wound up by acquiring a few holy power points which was uncool when entering a group of enemies. Typically I had to use another solo target ability a few times before the AOE ability was ready, but then there was only one or two of the enemies left. I went through a ton of levels in Pandaria without seeing one single new ability added to my pool. And the talent points? With wide level gaps I could choose one of three improvements.
It was way too much of a “good” thing and contributed to the feeling of meh.
At least they didn’t overdo the vehicle and replacement character quests this time. Vehicle quests have always been hit and miss in my book, and I also prefer to play my own character, not learn what another can do while being attacked first hand. At first in Jade Forest there were a few of the annoying kind (like the trilogy that told their stories of what they had endured lately) but it seemed as if Blizzard completely dismissed most of these in the subsequent zones. There were still the rare vehicle quest to be found, but most of them were relatively relaxed – like sniping mantid creatures, or fighting a big leviathan using a harbour cannon. So all in all, these two types of quests were luckily in moderation this time.
I’m not entirely sure what to think of Blizzard using Jeremy Soule as one of their zone musicians this time around. That sure was a bit late, wasn’t it? I’ve always loved his music but also associated him with anything not Blizzard, like Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls or Dungeon Siege – even Guild Wars. Then suddenly also hearing his distinct symphonic style in World of Warcraft feels like Björn Borg doing downhill skiing, or Chris Stuckmann as an actor in an epic Hollywood movie.
Not entirely unthinkable, but still a weird combination.
I had heard about the farming minigame and dreaded it a little, but luckily there wasn’t much to do. It was barely a sophisticated quest about digging and watering. I didn’t even get the impression that they added extra code for it. In fact, there was much more busywork doing all the cooking quests close by.
Oh man, did I love the new reagent bank and the automatic reorder button for it. It purged a lot of mess out of my bags. The void storage was okay too, as soon as I managed to wrap my head around what it was all about. I stored a lot of old vanilla blue and epic loot in there. Still, I wish we could have had mannequins instead to actually show it. I didn’t like the transmogrifying much, though. At first I tried it on my current gear at the time, then was really disappointed to learn that new loot didn’t carry over the appearance. In other MMORPG you can change the appearance for good and I was kind of hoping it worked in a similar manner here. But the way it works just means I can’t be bothered to spend much money on it.
I can see it might be nice for raid loot that is rarely replaced.
So, any noteworthy quests? A few. There were a lot of assembly line quests about getting bear asses, and in all honesty that’s one of the reasons I subscribed after having completed The Witcher 3. I was craving for easy and relaxing quests where I didn’t have to think too much. But it didn’t take long before it felt like moving from one extremity to another. A middle ground might have been better for me.
Nevertheless there were still a few awesome quests worth mentioning here. I laughed out loud when I was playing as the dwarf Sully. A small raccoon ran up to him and he immediately gave it a name – then he cried out in pain as it died literally seconds later. There was also the quest about gathering up yaks and herding them through sort of a car wash portal to be cleaned up. And a Pandaren warrior party and I was attacked by archers, after which the leader complained about an arrow in the knee – a friendly jab at Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Sure, it was a rusty oldie but I couldn’t help smiling anyway.
And of course there was one poop quest as well.
In Krasarang Wilds, I found a small town with depressed pandarans. One of the quests here was about rolling one of them home as he was too depressed to actually walk along next to me. I also liked the way I had to ride from hub to hub in Townlong Steppes together with a few pandarans; it gave this zone a more coherent quest feeling instead of just handing over a quest to go find someone in another town. And I was questing together with the King of Stormwind on the beach of Krasarang Wilds at one point. Plus there was the separately loaded Isle of Thunder that had long scenario quests, sort of like a small RPG story.
And I really liked the atmosphere of The Briny Muck in the south of Dread Wastes.
This south part of Dread Wastes also had quite a number of underwater quests. No doubt Blizzard knew players didn’t like the slow speed and need for oxygen, so each dive under gave me a buff to overcome both these problems. I didn’t hate these quests at all, actually. They were… fine. The buff did get rid of the reasons for disliking underwater quests, and then it just feels kind of like flying around. I’m still not 100% fine with the concept though and would rather have liked some more quests on land. Maybe it’s because the history of underwater traveling in video games automatically gives it such a bad rap.
I didn’t do many scenarios apart from those on the Isle of Thunder, but I did the one about patience for the King of Stormwind. I was quite surprised to see that it started with a bit of strategy-style preparation of defenses (gnomes building traps which I had to get resources for) and I also had to do some kiting against the boss in the end to avoid the worst bout of melee attacks. I was unsure about the preparation part and even considered bailing out, especially since the gnome spots were hard to find at first (I probably got a relapse of the Maraudon sickness) but as I got the upper hand it was fun after all.
There was one quest I couldn’t manage. It was the one where you had to fold into a ball and roll down the Chinese wall, sort of like a fast vehicle quest. Lots of picking up speed enhancer icons and jump chutes and bridge gaps. Tried a few times and even made it past the first long bridge gap once, but then I either got stuck behind a wall or just plain rolled off. Way too twitchy for my old reflexes.
I was level 95 when I was finished with the expansion.
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World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
2012 Blizzard EntertainmentMMORPG 26
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