|Release: September 25, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
In the MMO world, there's perhaps no event bigger than the debut of a new World of Warcraft expansion. And on Tuesday, the gaming public was blessed with Mists of Pandaria. This expansion is particularly interesting because it finds Blizzard in an awkward place. World of Warcraft is unquestionably the MMO kingpin, and it has legions of loyal fans—but the game is showing its age, and some serious competitors have emerged in the past year or so.
To address this situation, Blizzard basically split the baby. For veterans who have reached the previous level cap of 85, Mists of Pandaria introduces a ton of challenging new content. For initiates, the expansion adds a new starting area, a new race, and a new class. (Much of the content for newcomers is available without buying the expansion, but playing the new high-level content will require not only Mists, but also all the previous expansions as well.) For those in between, there are a variety of subtle gameplay tweaks, as well as a fairly elaborate and fun Pokémon-style pet-collecting game.
Will Mists of Pandaria give hardcore WoW fans a reason to stick around? That's a silly question—of course it will. World of Warcraft is a well-oiled machine at this point, and the folks at Blizzard are smart enough not to introduce game-breaking problems at this late date. Instead, they have offered hours upon hours of new material to experience while keeping to the basics gameplay-wise.
It's actually amazing how much they added to a game that was already so huge. The most notable addition is the land of Pandaria, which features content for players who reach the previous level cap of 85 (the new cap is 90). All in all, there are hundreds of new daily quests, along with numerous added zones, dungeons, and factions. Cross-realm zones have been added as well. Further, the talent trees have been reworked, so returning players might feel out of sorts at first.
There is absolutely no way that an early review could do justice to all of this content, but there are a few general points that are worth making. One, the developers responded to complaints that the dungeons in Cataclysm were too time-consuming and difficult, and the ones that appear here are considerably easier. There's a new "challenge" mode for the hardcore, so don't worry if you liked the tough slog of Cataclysm.
And two, this is expansion is much, much lighter in tone than the last two. The overall look of Pandaria is sure to cheer you up, with its bright colors and traditional Asian architecture setting it off from the rest of the WoW universe. The developers have said that since players have already spent so much time saving the world, this time they can focus on exploring. The soundtrack of inspiring instrumental music helps as well.
That's all great for current fans, but given the various competitors that have joined the field since Cataclysm (SWTOR, The Secret World, and, in particular, the excellent Guild Wars 2), I was more interested in seeing what efforts Pandaria makes to woo new players. In this way, I'm afraid, the expansion is a bit of a letdown.
New characters can now be Pandaren by race and monks by class, and there is a new starting area that goes by the name "Wandering Isle" because it's situated on the back of a live turtle. The Wandering Isle looks a lot like Pandaria, of course, so it gives low-level characters a taste of what the high-level content will be like. It's also a lot of fun to run around looking like a panda, though it doesn't change the gameplay much.
The monk class is interesting as well—they are masters of martial arts, something WoW hasn't really seen before, and they are capable of serving as damage-dealers, tanks, or healers. (All new WoW players can use Pandaren, who can become Alliance or Horde, but you need to buy the expansion if you want to be a panda who knows kung-fu.)
But for a newcomer, the big question isn't what Mists of Pandaria has that World of Warcraft didn't have before. Rather, the big question is how World of Warcraft compares with the other games they could be playing.