Mists of Pandaria: Settling in Nicely

Okay, time to be honest.  When Mists of Pandaria was first announced for World of Warcraft, I was a bit underwhelmed.  Thrilled about any new expansion, sure.  Did I buy the Collector’s Edition?  Absolutely.  But… pandas?  The whole brewing beer thing?  I’m not sure how I feel about appropriating all the Asian architecture and music, for pandas.  Wasn’t Kung-Fu Panda done already?  The whole thing just seemed so silly after the Epic Epic Epicness of Cataclysm.

Now cut to a few weeks after the release of the game.  I’ve pretty much worked my way through the new content for levels 85-90.  I haven’t yet started a Pandaren, but that’s okay because I wanted to see how the expansion fit into Warcraft as a whole, and new starting levels always feel like an altogether new game.

The verdict so far?  I can’t believe it myself, but I’m really liking it.  In fact, I think I’m liking it more than Cataclysm.

Here’s a Story

The storytelling in quest chains continues to improve.  This is the first expansion where I’ve actually played through all the quests in one zone before moving on to the next.  And honestly, the time has flown by.  Just as something started to feel repetitive or tiring, it was time to move on.  None of the quests felt particularly grinding.  And I’m actually interested in the story, in what will happen.

Now, granted, I said much of the same when I quested through Cataclysm because I think they were finally starting to hit their stride when it comes to balancing quests.  However, later additions (the Firelands stuff) failed to hold my attention as well, not to mention the fact that I never did finish Mount Hyjal or Stonecore.  Thus, this might not be an earth-shattering improvement, but it’s further refinement that I appreciate.

A Three-Hour Tour

I may have whined just as loud as anyone about the fact that I couldn’t fly ’til I hit level 90, but really the continent did feel all the larger, and now that I can fly I do tend to zip around and take in the scenery less.  The only downside is that the map could be a little difficult to navigate before flight – I got myself trapped in spaces where I truly thought I’d need to put in a ticket for a rescue, only to manage to scramble out after several minutes of trying.  Maybe that says more about me, though.

Oh, and I did squeal in delight when I first got on a kite taxi.  Yep.

Fluffy, but Cohesive

No, I’m not talking about marshmallow spread – I’m talking about the theming of the Pandaria expansion as a whole.  When you think of Cataclysm, at this point, you probably think of Deathwing.  But what about the moody Worgen starting zone, or the Goblin fun?  What about the underwater level, or all the new stuff that was added to the old content?

Pandaria is far more like Wrath of the Lich King in that the theming feels much more cohesive, even if separate zones have their own identity.  I realized this when I was thinking about the music – some of the most interesting music from Cataclysm isn’t exactly the most memorable, because it came from, say, the underwater zone that no one wants to ever visit again.  It’s cool, but it doesn’t “feel” like Cataclysm.

Pandaria, however, feels like Pandaria no matter where you are in the continent.  It has a very distinct look and sound that separates it from everything previous (but not so much that it feels like a separate game), rather like Northrend.  As much as I rolled my eyes when I first heard about the Asian influence (it felt lazy somehow), I have to admit that it’s integrating nicely.  And really, how different is it from the Northern European influence of Lich King, or the fact that there are pyramids in the game?

Pandarens themselves are integrating better than I thought they would, too.  Honestly, they now feel like they ‘belong’ almost more than Worgen.  I’m not sure exactly why that is – maybe because Worgen feel like human-plus instead of their own identity?  At any rate, I’d say they’re comparable to the Draenei more than additions from the past few expansions.  Are drunk Panda Monks kind of silly?  Sure, but I guess no more silly than Taurens or Gnomes.  They fit in better than I expected.

Zero to Hero

The one thing I really, really didn’t like about Cataclysm: the heroic dungeons.  They were long, they were a pain, people whined about them for weeks.  Not so with this expansion!  I didn’t try a dungeon of any sort until I was almost level 90 – I was inwardly cringing at bad memories and I didn’t even realize it until I did my first Pandaria dungeon and had a smooth, fun experience.

Some might say the dungeons are too easy; I say that we’ve successfully been “trained” for them, through the quests and dailies and normal versions.  Just as the Looking for Raid version was a much-needed step for some to prepare them for raiding, I think the developers have realized the value of these middle steps in dungeons, too.  Plus, I notice I haven’t heard anyone complaining that they “don’t know how to play their class anymore.”  That probably makes a big difference too.

You Know You Want To

There’s one change that is decidedly negative: the removal of the Mass Summon ability.  Summoning people one at a time is an unneccessary pain, and I’m just hoping we won’t run into any phasing issues like the end of Lich King.  Bring back the Mass Summon!

These are just a few of the observations I’ve made in the first few weeks of Pandaria.  What about you?  Have you liked the new expansion, or do you think it’s too cartoony?  Is there anything you’re looking forward to, or wish they’d change?  Share your thoughts below! 

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