It’s time to save the world…. of Pandaria
Mists of Pandaria is the fourth expansion to the massively successful World of Warcraft and takes us to a new continent, the mysterious land of Pandaria. The story goes that Pandaria is a world of balance and magical mists have kept the island a secret, until Deathwing came and ruined everything with the C ataclysm. The beta doesn’t include every part of the new expansion, but lets us have a look at the new class, race, and starting zone.
I came into the beta eager and excited. Whilst MoP has been much-ridiculed for the Kung Fu Panda setting and introduction of petémon turn-based battles, I’ve been eager to get something new from World of Warcraft. I’ve played it on and off since vanilla, and Cataclysm didn’t really do much to change up the game I’ve played for the last seven or so years. The new races were nice (although my goblin is now a dwarf) and the revamped zones brought the original areas in line with WoTLK’s excellent questing system; but generally the game was much the same as always. The new areas were very similar in my eyes to the old ones (Ok one was underwater but the zone still felt like Netherstorm to me) and the enemies we were fighting didn’t have the kind of artistic consistency that WoTLK spoiled us with. MoP looks to bring us a much needed breath of fresh air, with a completely new type of zone, a new class, new minigames, and a distinct art style.
I came into the beta quite late and immediately followed the herds in rolling a Pandarian Monk. Monks are the new class that can do tanking, melee dps, and healing. Their abilities consume energy and produce or consume a new resource, ‘chi’, and focus on slapping monsters about. Ever since Jade Empire I’ve loved the high of highly disciplined kinetic-based combat, but I have to say the Monk class has not won me over so far. Admittedly I’m only level ten, but it feels like most other classes get something substantial and characteristic by that point. Hunters and Warlock have pets, Rogues have stealth, Mages have frost nova, Druids have cat form, and so on. By level ten, Monks can jab, kick, roll forwards, and that’s about it. Whilst I understand the focus of Monks is simplicity and control, it feels like they are lacking something that stands out. Everything they do seems like it can be done better and in a more exciting way by another class. This is still a beta though and the abilities are likely to change. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Monk get something exciting by level ten before the expansion goes live.
Now I’ve got my only real gripe out of the way, I can gush a little. The new starter zone is breathtaking. For someone who has played World of Warcraft for a long time, it really is incredible. The graphics enging is holding up surprisingly well, and the expansive vistas and unique temples really add character to the world. I don’t want to delve into spoiler territory here, but the island is much more interesting than any zone I can think of. Everything feels full of life, and the quests explore this life rather than ignoring it. You’re taken across magnificent bridges, you fight in forests, and train in tranquil pools. Everything feels new and so different to what has come before. One concern is that newcomers to the game may be disappointed when they are kicked out into ‘old’ Azeroth after exploring this paradise.
The questing is streamlined but with much more storytelling and NPC movement than the old-fashioned quest lines. You really feel like you’re doing things and getting to know characters in this. There is still a reasonable amount of ‘go here and kill ten of these’ but you generally feel like it’s for a purpose, or the enemies themselves are entertaining enough that you don’t mind. Each creature I have fought so far has been new as far as I know, and their character models are carefully detailed. It all starts to feel like a new game. The abilities you have and the way you fight may be the same, but even low-level enemies have the odd interesting mechanic. Early on you get to fight some monkeys, I was shocked to see one jump onto my head where I couldn’t hit it for a while. Little surprises like this go a long way to making the game feel fresh.
The beta itself is still in that kind of hilarious chaos phase. The starting zone is rammed with people all trying to complete the same quests. Blizzard have cleverly lowered the spawn timers for enemies, but this often leads to new enemies spawning as soon as you’ve killed one, ending up with you fighting upon a pile of identical corpses. Chat is a predictable nightmare with real questions lost in what approaches good old fashioned Barrens chat on acid. There are still bugs, but they are generally predictable or the community has found ways around it. Blizzard are keeping up with logging bugs via monitoring the forums and maybe it’s just me but I get the feeling people are being listened to. World of Warcraft is a delicate beast with any number of balancing issues, it’s important for Blizzard to keep on top of feedback, and by not setting a release date, they can tweak throughout the beta, and get a wealth of information in return. If you join up, expect everything to change, I haven’t touched on the new talent system, further professions and pet battles aren’t implemented yet, and the level cap is still restricted to 87.
I did transfer my level 85 shaman over to the test server to see the new content for that. What I was met with I’m sure featured somewhere in ‘The Divine Comedy’. PVP flagged players charged through crowds as players from both factions ported to Pandaria, innocent players found themselves flagged as they tried to click on NPCs, a never-ending war was in full swing. I really wanted to test the zone, but I could barely seen the landscape for the goblin gizzards and elven innards flying through the air. Welcome to the ninth level of hell.
You can find out more about Mists of Pandaria at www.battle.net