WoW Factor: What’s a Mists of Pandaria remix and why is World of Warcraft doing it?

Local Panda Recalls When She Was Special.

In hindsight, I feel like I was gentler toward Season of Mastery than I should have been. World of Warcraft has turned everything into that. WoW Classic just went all-in on just launching as many limited-time modes as possible to stop the darkness from creeping in, but between Plunderstorm and this newest thing, it’s clear that this is just what we have forever now. I am not a fan in general, and these remixes are not endearing me to the format.

But the time-limited format thing aside, this is a weird addition to the game for several reasons. It is, however, an interesting weird addition, and speculating on why it’s weird and why Blizzard would choose this particular route to go is worth some effort. And as a bonus, it doesn’t even have the slim patina of “what the hell” offensiveness that characterized Plunderstorm as a concept! So that’s nice.

So why is this so weird? It feels weird as soon as you read it even though strictly speaking there’s not a whole lot different between this and otherwise normal anniversary event antics. But it feels weird, and the reason is mostly about timing, which also gives a hint as to why it’s happening.

This year is the 20-year anniversary of WoW, and so you just naturally expect some callbacks. The most recent BlizzCon even talked that up. The problem here is that conceptually Mists of Pandaria has about as much to do with that 20-year anniversary as Beast Machines has to do with the Transformers 40-year anniversary. It wasn’t even released a decade ago, so it doesn’t have that tenuous connection to the game’s history. We’re not going back to Pandaria for the next expansion. Heck, the closest association it has to anything happening right now is…

Well, Cataclysm.

No one needs me to repeat that Cataclysm is not a well-remembered expansion or a well-loved one, so moving on to that expansion from Wrath of the Lich King after WoW Classic already bungled its handling of that beloved expansion was always going to be contentious. Yet that is the course that Blizzard has opted to take, and surprising no one, it hasn’t really been received well. Even the people who are mostly on board for what WoW Classic has actually been designed to be are kind of not looking forward to that.


Still, the time to course-correct was ages ago. This is what we’re getting, and I suspect that the whole “well, let’s just do a micro-version of Mists But Classic” is driven in no small part by exactly this. The developers have accepted that any and all efforts to rehabilitate the image of Cataclysm are just not working, so until you hit the next big release, they’re just going to draw in players who would prefer to skip that ostensibly classic round altogether.

You might say that WoW Classic and WoW Retail have entirely different playerbases, but my guess is that Blizzard has data that suggest otherwise, regardless of throwing all the subscription numbers into a single bucket for investors. Blizzard simply has a greater insight into who is actually logging into its games on a regular basis than the average forum poster.

Heck, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but in this case it does match with my own evidence. People who are die-hard adherents to WoW Classic (and it is always that particular mode when you’re talking about players who think the other side are some alien group) make up a far smaller population than people who will talk about it while playing the current game. This is not an idea without merit.

So that makes this functionally an attempt to soften the blow. “Yeah, no one wants us to make Cataclysm happen again, but we refuse to put any real development budget or design time into WoW Classic, so that’s what we’re doing. Hopefully this will keep anyone from being really mad about it until we have a new expansion launch to focus on.”

Now, I’m generally not on the Mists of Pandaria love express. It’s not a bad expansion, but it also introduced a pretty awful talent system into the game and represented another step in the wrong design direction that would culminate in Warlords of Draenor explicitly inviting players who dislike raiding to just get into the nearest available trash can. It looks better because it’s sandwiched between two bad expansions.

However, it does have a genuinely good leveling experience, quite possibly the best one the game has ever had when you factor in that most of its story beats generally work. It definitely feels like the last time the game’s fiction worked more than it failed from start to finish. It’s not as disjointed as Legion, and it managed to have some good thrills and upsets along the way. That’s not nothing.

It's all riding rats.

What winds up being the most odd about the whole exercise, at least from my perspective, is that we’re looking at a limited-time mode that omits the main thing that (theoretically) makes Plunderstorm interesting as a concept. The content you are going to be experiencing is not meaningfully changed from what is in the game right now. You can literally log into WoW at this moment and get most of the experience from that alone, barring event-specific rewards. The quests aren’t changed, the dungeons are the same, and it’s all familiar concepts in a new mix.

But it does give some incentive for folks who may have otherwise missed the boat on this particular expansion or just aren’t as familiar with the game and don’t have the same degree of experience with the game it its totality. I’d be curious to know how much of this particular event had been designed and planned ahead of the Plunderstorm reveal; some parts of it appear to be a calculated effort to mitigate how people received that mode, and other parts clearly required enough effort and planning that this was always in the offing.

As an attempt to call a mulligan on what is increasingly looking likely to be a poorly received installment of the game’s progression servers that refuse to call themselves progression servers, this remix makes a certain amount of sense. As a piece of content unto itself, it feels a little more perplexing as something no one was particularly asking for. But the people who are into this are also super into this, and I get the sense that a lot of players who wouldn’t have asked for this are just pumped that it’s happening.

It’s not really the sort of novelty of content or approach that I’d like to see, and it certainly doesn’t feel quite as substantial as a whole new mode, even though that mode was itself re-using existing assets. But I do think there is some merit to it just the same. Sure, the limited-time aspect isn’t great, but I’m in favor of Blizzard trying to actually make use of the immense backlog of content WoW really has available. And hey, it could be fun if you need another 70 or two before the next expansion.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with almost two decades 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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