WoW Factor: The World of Warcraft expansion tour – Mists of Pandaria

    
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WoW Factor: The World of Warcraft expansion tour – Mists of Pandaria

It’s time, people. It’s time to remember you should never say no to panda. Yes, we’ve reached one of World of Warcraft’s most weirdly controversial expansions with Mists of Pandaria, and if you’re mostly familiar with the expansion because of people making jokes about Kung Fu Panda or stating the expansion actually wasn’t that bad, you… wait, who are you?

No, really, I’m serious, who here started playing WoW only after this expansion? Was it anyone? I feel like it wasn’t.

Anyhow, we’ve got a format going here, so the point is that it’s time to head back to the dewy slopes of 2012 and talk about the absolute mistiest conceivable continent. That’s Mists of Pandaria, and it’s an expansion I have a lot of conflicting feelings about, at once a type specimen for so many of the problems that modern WoW has leaned in on while being pretty darn good on its own.

FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT

Premise & Setting

“Hey, fellow members of the Alliance/Horde? You know how much fun we were having beating the snot out of the Horde/Alliance while the world was basically literally on fire? Well that southern continent that had been surrounded by mist up until now is now… not surrounded by mist, and it probably has some people who would love to join the Alliance/Horde to beat up the Horde/Alliance with us! For the Alliance/Horde!”

Of course, that was really just the starting point; the reality is that Pandaria was a big continent with its own problem, at once resistant to the ways of outsiders and also being eaten away from within by its own problems that it scarcely was willing to acknowledge. After starting off with a very straightforward narrative, it quickly moved into an examination of what various forces were fighting for and why, and an examination of the ongoing mess of a conflict that was spilling into Pandaria.

The ultimate point, in some very strong thematic direction, was that the drive for power by both factions was ultimately damaging and the faction leader who could not walk away from that would ultimately lead the people to ruin. Story threads about discontent with Garrosh finally paid off with an outright Horde civil war that gave Vol’jin the seat of Warchief, but along the way we got to see just how badly mindless fighting could really be for the world around us.

Gosh, it’d sure feel dumb as hell if we just rehashed this in six years, wouldn’t it?

Tasty.

Major changes

Pandaren are this expansion’s new race, and completely undoing any and all arguments about racial silhouettes that Blizzard is still pretending are a thing, the Pandaren can belong to either the Alliance or the Horde past the starting area. They’re also big and soft and furry.

Meanwhile, the game adds the first new base class to the game with the addition of the Monk, which is functionally identical to Druid except instead of turning into a bear or a kitty or a grumpy tree, you shout “HOOO-OOOH!” and then you heal people. Joking aside, I adore Monk as a class and it’s actually a lot of fun to play, even if the explanation for how you can have monks for other classes has never felt… totally together. (A lot is pulled from the melee enemies dubbed as monks in Scarlet Monastery, but that seems to more suggest that at one point Discipline was a melee tree… ah, well.)

Of course, Monk has no talent trees because no one has talent trees any more. Yes, this expansion removed talent trees altogether, replacing them with single ability picks at certain levels and many of your abilities being automatically granted just by your spec. This was another major change to the status quo, starting the modern divide into less being about your chosen class and more about your chosen spec within that class.

The end of the expansion introduced the flexible raid tier, which was meant to be harder than the raid finder difficulty (and not queueable) but also scaled according to group size in terms of difficulty. The idea was that it’d be easy to form PUG runs with less demanding size restrictions, a change that would become very important with the next expansion.

Reputations were also changed; tabards were no longer worn to run through dungeons, but you could instead pick a specific reputation to champion and get a bonus for a random run. There were also… dailies. Lots of dailies. So many dailies. You got a random daily that sent you to another daily hub, which in turn had other random dailies, daily daily daily quests all day long. People who liked daily quests were happy. Unfortunately, this expansion also changed how badges worked; instead of high reputations having vendor gear and another vendor having badge gear, the reputation gear was also the badge gear, so it was another kick in the pants toward actual bad luck protection.

On a brighter note, this expansion brought in the farm, a phased region of content wherein players could explore and build up a farm (hence the name) as a sort of pseudo-housing content. It was fun. Lots of people liked it. It’s a shame it then went on to get so thoroughly mismanaged later… but now I’m previewing coming attractions.

It’s also worth noting that this was kind of the last point when leveling up generally would give you new abilities for a given expansion. Look, we can’t pretend stormclouds aren’t on the horizon.

Let's dig our way out!

Playerbase consensus

For all the not-great future consequences I alluded to up there, the thing about Mists of Pandaria was that it was itself a pretty good expansion… that people hated right from the start because it was a bunch of pandas and it removed stuff like talent trees.

Some of this was justified. Instead of actually changing elements that people really didn’t like from Cataclysm, many elements of the expansion doubled down on what had already made people angry. The removal of talent trees altogether didn’t calm anyone, and when Cataclysm already had a tone problem, saying “our next expansion is fun animals” rubbed lots of people wrong straight off. Speaking for myself, I certainly wasn’t excited that an April Fools’ Day joke from Warcraft III kept getting more and more prominence, up to now being the premise of an expansion.

However, a lot of people were eventually worn over by a combination of factors. Monk, for example, was really fun and well-designed as a new class. The actual story of Pandaria was in-depth and well-presented, with lots of novel NPCs and a good sense of pacing. (Although the Hozen wore thin pretty quick.) For many people, once you got over those initial speedbumps, what you found was a remarkably good expansion that didn’t feel as good as Wrath but definitely felt better than its immediate predecessor.

Of course, some of the bitterness was still there, and there was a hope that this was the start of a climb back rather than a resurgence before a backslide. Sadly, it… wasn’t going to last.

A throne indeed.

A wanted Classic experience?

Keeping in mind we’d probably be talking about 2027, I don’t really know. But the thing is that I can see how it might be… as a slice of amber, so to speak.

Whatever bad design choices we see in modern WoW that didn’t have their roots in Wrath or Cataclysm had their roots here, and so on one level I feel like this expansion might be getting looked upon even more harshly seven years from now… or more positively if things just keep getting worse. And a lot of what Mists did well was ultimately undercut by the fact that many of its most positive aspects were done even more effectively in Legion, easily the apotheosis of this era of design.

At the same time, Mists deserves a chance in the sun and a chance to be re-evaluated free of jokes about animated children’s films and the rawness of Cataclysm. And what there actually is in this expansion is good stuff. It’s a place of lovely environments, interesting story, engaging quests, and probably too many dailies until you see how aggressively they got pruned back. A lot kind of depends on where the game actually is when this would be up for Classic servers.

Still, you’ve got enough content and it is, in its own way, a classic. It’s not like it got abandoned halfway through, right?

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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Stiqman

“even if the explanation for how you can have monks for other classes”

I think you mean, “other races”

and later on… not “worn over”

but “won over.”

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Robert Andle

I’ve always had mixed feelings about MoP. On one hand, the land of Pandaria is great and the best they’ve added since the game’s early years, and the monk class has been my favourite class of them all. On the other… pandas. God, I hate them as a playable race with a vengeance. They look so stupid that even after all these years I still haven’t managed to play through the Pandaren starting area and I always felt their conclusion in the game was an all time low point for WoW. And then dailies on top of dailies on top of more dailies. Oh, and a side helping of dailies to go with it.

But overall I enjoyed MoP. If you don’t play a panda and try to pretend they don’t exist, there’s some solid content here, and the farm is a blast. After the disappointment that was Cata, MoP felt like a real return to form. If only things had stayed that way.

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Danny Smith

This was the last time i sincerely loved World of Warcraft as a product. I loved the monk class -i levelled two in the beta to cap just for the fun of it, when not stuck rolling forever which in Outland was “a problem” to put it mildly- and i liked the theme of the ‘stranger in a strange land’ that really was the only time it was pulled off in the same way it was in Wrath where it didn’t feel like “the zone you know but X” and you were meeting new races with original concepts.
I was ready and waiting to try a Pandaren monk since i really liked the idea of this zen, easygoing race in a world that from cata onwards had the horde vs alliance thing seem increasingly brute forced and frankly pointless/stupid. I took the free account i got from some battlebox promotion and levelled 3 characters to set levels to gift my monk day one so about 3 hours into the expansion i left wandering isle, jumped to 85 or whatever it was in SW, got the BiS BoE gear i saved up and bags and the like and was queing for Cata dungeons with some very confused players asking if i was a hacker :p

On the whole i loved the actual continent and the worldbuilding of the Sha, the Manitd and the idea of a race of titan constructs that didn’t degenerate into fleshy savages when the titans left but said “okay, we were abandoned, we built this. Now we rule” as a enemy culture. I would even go as far to say the Throne of Thunder Patch was the last time Blizzard peaked.

But much as i can gush about things like the legendary questline, the new ideas like the farm and farmers reps or raids like Heart of Fear and Throne of Thunder the moment Siege of Orgrimmar hit it felt like the moment WoW changed in a way its never recovered from. The Lich King was dead. Deathwing was dead. Pandaria was no longer a rumour and Wrathion said Sargeras was on his way with the Legion as the Horde and Alliance looked like they were finally taking their war to a close with a very clear “what is worth fighting for?” message and the biggest of all threats apparently coming next.
But we know now of course that didn’t happen. Something behind the scenes clearly did. Almost like the realised at this rate they were ramping up WoW, their cash cow at the time, for its finale. Its last hurrah. They couldn’t have that so we got a time travel alt U vacation before they started to fart out a “n-no actually these were the higher power tiers and the true big bads are still out there!” like a tv show that runs out of villains but would rather run it into the ground for a few more seasons than go out on a high note.

Still though it did end with the beginning of the end for WoW’s heart and soul for lack of a better term its still some of my fondest memories of the game and i’ll be damned if i still dont listen to the OST now and then because of it.

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Bryan Correll

Gosh, it’d sure feel dumb as hell if we just rehashed this in six years, wouldn’t it?

Baby, don’t be like that.

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Lucky Jinx

After skipping Cataclysm altogether, I enjoyed Pandaria a lot. It’s one of my favorite expansions I still have fun to level through. The whole panda thing seemed weird, but actual experience was absolutely delightful. A rock solid expansion after Cataclysm that redeemed WoW for me, only to ruin it again with Draenor, only to ruin it further with Legion (yes, I’m in the minority here— live long and suck it). Oddly enough, I’ve been enjoying BfA quite a bit again, so I guess I’m just derailing from the mainstream more and more as I age not-so-gracefully. :)

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Chris Walker

I’ve played all the WoW expansions, and MoP was one of my favorites, both visually and gameplay-wise. Love Monks. And despite the outcry about pandas, the Pandarians, and their zones, were elegantly and well presented for people who were able to overcome their personal biases.

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Paragon Lost

Yup, I almost didn’t get that expansion but took a chance and joined my wife and don’t regret it at all. It also ended up being one of my favorite expansions. Good times.

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sirradoria

I always said no.

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Ironwu

Tell you what, I sure do miss the time when there were “…to many dailies…”.

Now you have to rep grind with only a few, and those contested with other players!

To heck with that stuff!

WoW design is now firmly in the toilet, and the can is clogged up. Someone needs to come and snake it out!

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Wilhelm Arcturus

I was dead set against this expansion and stayed away for the first year. But when I did try it, I found it a pretty enjoyable leveling experience, with decent 5 person instances. It was good enough to push a few alts through. Using my metric of how many factions I managed to get to exalted on my main when it was the current expansion, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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Minimalistway

I hope they bring back tabard for reputation system, but i don’t think they’ll ever do that, tabards now are transmog item and one of the rewards to get exalted with a faction.

I started playing WoW by the end of MoP, i liked how some classes designed and even with WoD removing many abilities i still liked Shadow priest and ret paladin, shadow priest used orbs, and vampiric touch was raid wide healing ability, i loved it and used it a lot in MoP LFR, but then Blizzard changed it and and now it heals the caster only.