Is Mists Of Pandaria WoW's greatest expansion pack, or is the MMO feeling its age? Find out in our review.
Published on Oct 5, 2012
It’s hard for any World Of Warcraft: Mists Of Pandaria review to avoid the inevitable split-argument.
On one hand, it’s only an expansion pack and we should judge it as such: how much content, what are the improvements and new features like and – most importantly – is it fun?
But alternatively it’s an extension to a multiple-years old MMO, with all the stipulations and consternation that come with its age. And man does it show.
But first, the Mists Of Pandaria content. With a brand new starting area, a whole new continent (and raised level cap to accompany it), a brand new race and class and the various dungeon and raid content that you’d expect.
There’s no denying the value of Mists Of Pandaria: if you’re already invested in the World Of Warcraft then you’ve got plenty new to see, do and kill. And we’d have it no other way.
The Pandaren race takes centre stage here, as you might expect, and bring with them a wealth of gorgeous visuals, unique characters and an entertaining shift in culture.
It’s a tangible change, too. The Chinese aesthetic really feels different to the usual WoW content, and provides enough new and fresh that even grizzled veterans of Blizzard’s opus will find it hard not to be dazzled.
This is how Mists Of Pandaria begins. Forget flying around Pandaria, though.
The story surrounding Mists Of Pandaria is unusually deep too. The eternal battle between Horde and Alliance once more takes precedent, albeit if only to spawn a greater threat in the form of the mystical Sha – a force of nature that embodies our negative emotions.
Hatred, anger, vengeance: all names of Sha entities that the arrival of the warmongering Alliance and Horde races inflict on the generally peaceful race of Pandaren.
This mistrust of the ‘strangers from beyond the mist’ is a theme common throughout the PvE content of Mists Of Pandaria and – with more cut-scenes than WoW has ever been treated to – it is very ably told.
There’s a reason to invest in the tale this time, which is a must when the likes of Guild Wars 2, The Secret World and even Star Wars: The Old Republic are shaking up the MMO market.
That doesn’t mean Mists Of Pandaria isn’t without the same old problems, however. Its questing still relies heavily on the filler content and, regardless of how much it ties in to the story of the expansion, you’re still just hunting animals for meat without any real reason.
Honestly, by now you’re probably the greatest hero Azeroth has ever seen: dragons have been slain, entire alternate realms have been conquered and even the end of the world has been halted. Almost solely by your hand.
The pet battles - while throwaway - are good fun and a great distraction.
So why on earth are you willing to head out and kill yak so a dwarf warrior can eat? Why is he so incapable of doing that himself? Shouldn't you have someone to do that shit for you?
There are moments where this monotony lets up, and it’s here that Mists Of Pandaria really excels. Quests that are a little more inventive than the usual generic fodder are far more common this time around.
Whether it’s collecting yak to drive through the yakwash, hopping in a gyrocopter to bombard your enemies below or defeating your mirror image to prove your worth to a giant talking wolf, there’s just as much to enjoy about Mists Of Pandaria as there is to dismiss.
Best of all are the dungeons, which are as varied as they are entertaining. Stormstout Brewery, the earliest of the bunch, highlights Blizzard’s ability at injecting humour into its dungeons, while Mogu’shan Palace proves it can craft interesting boss battles.
There are other changes, of course. The Monk class is a jack-of-all-trades and yet a master of all. Already it's being called out as overpowered, perhaps even more so than Death Knights, which doesn’t bode well for the inevitable nerfing.
But they’re still a fun class to play as, acting in many ways like a hybrid between classic warrior and rogue styles of play. And the animation is so silky smooth it is hard not to enjoy battling through to 90.
There's plenty of different locales. It might not look like much, but The Jade Forest is one of the more colourful.
The reworked talent system isn’t very good though, we’ll say that outright. Maybe it’s our aged-minds resisting change, but the simplicity of the system seems like an unnecessary attempt to streamline World Of Warcraft further.
By having only one ability to choose every 15 levels the wait seems a little unfair, especially since it doesn’t really offer any more personal control over character development – as Blizzard had explained it – than the old system.
And this is kind of testament to World Of Warcraft as a whole. It’s very much an MMO of its time that, for all its flaws and incessant grinding, had something of a personality to it.
It was Warcraft 3 in third-person, tying into the story of the Scourge and the undead plague with real depth. The more expansion packs we see, the further from the original vision World Of Warcraft becomes.
That, in itself, has both negative and positive connotations. Yes it improves the game with every new release, but that original vision becomes more and more diluted.
With Mists Of Pandaria the content is fantastic; a healthy blend of new and old with many of the improvements and changes that World Of Warcraft desperately needs.
But on the other hand Mists Of Pandaria feels restricted by the mechanics that tie it all together. As more and more elements are brought in, those classic mechanics start to feel older.
The Pandaren are a unique race, and bring that over into the quests of Mists Of Pandaria.
There are elements that are new – pet battles, inventive quests, Pandaria as a whole – and all of it is really well done, but the sad truth is that it still feels as though concessions have been made to make them work in an archaic system.
If anyone has the quality to reinvent its own MMO all over again it’s Blizzard and, as great as Mists Of Pandaria is, it doesn’t change enough to bring back all those fans who once adored the World Of Warcraft.
Which brings us right back to the original conundrum: is this a good expansion pack or a prolonging of World Of Warcraft?
Ultimately, if you still enjoy WoW - and why shouldn't you, it's still a very well made MMO - then this is a certain upgrade for you.
But if you have since moved on, perhaps to Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World, then Mists Of Pandaria does not offer enough new to rectify those complaints you had when you left.