Blizzard's latest expansion brings in many new features, but will it revitalize the ageing franchise? We ask Gazimoff for an answer.
By now you’ve probably seen the deluge of information emerging about Mists of Pandaria (MoP), the next expansion to World of Warcraft. If you’re still in the dark about the latest episode in Blizzard’s magnum opus then head over to Wowhead, where you’ll find detail on almost every known element. We’ve also managed to grab some exclusive video interviews to extract even more information from the development team!
Since the initial flurry, we’ve had a chance to go through all the juicy morsels of information and work out what the expansion actually means to the players on the ground. Are we looking at a brief burst of activity followed by months of inactivity, or will this be a content update that’ll have us deeply engrossed for months if not years? Will Mists of Pandaria be met with acclaim from all corners of the player base, or will there be groups feeling neglected by Blizzard? Can the veteran game still be fresh and innovative, or is this an expansion of borrowed ideas?
Blizzard’s also going into what could be its most challenging year so far. Star Wars: The Old Republic emerged late last year swinging lightsabers in both hands and aiming for the MMO Story crown. Guild Wars 2 is looking to revamp many of the MMO staples we currently take for granted. The Secret World looks to tempt us from the shadows with a new and interesting setting, and WildStar remains the punk-kid with attitude. A poor expansion at this point in Warcraft’s life and the challengers would pounce on it like wolves on a sickly gazelle.
Has the Mists of Pandaria Press Event changed that perception? Undoubtedly yes – Blizzard has clearly shown that there’s plenty of vigor left in the game that celebrated its seventh birthday last November. This is an All Inclusive Expansion, with new content for every single style of play. PvPers, raiders and even casual players have something to smile about with what’s been announced. There’s also a collection of quality-of-life enhancements to keep the game evolving in response to player feedback.
That’s not to say that it’s had a completely smooth entrance. Until recently, MoP was an expansion without an arch-nemesis waiting in its traditional lair. Instead we were presented, at Blizzcon, with this abstract concept of ‘war’ being the eventual foe we would face, with slender references to the Sha and similar creatures of negative emotions. Since then a forum post revealed that the final foe will likely be Garrosh Hellscream, as both factions take part in a Siege of Orgrimmar. Compared to the grand enemies of Illidan, Arthas and Deathwing, Garrosh feels a little anticlimactic. And although Metzen has yet to reveal the story arc that will make a traitor of the warchief, the out-of-context reveal did spoil some of the intrigue around the expansion.
Don’t let the ending drag on you too much, because Mists of Pandaria is bursting at the seams with things that have us desperately anticipating that elusive beta. Chief among them are the new and revamped dungeons we have to look forward to as we work our way to the new level cap. It’s great to see old favorites Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery join Deadmines in getting that heroic mode treatment.
The more significant addition to our 5-man routine is Challenge Mode, providing an alternative to the Dungeon Finder heroic mode zerg-fest. This is a huge boon to raiding guilds looking for something to do on off-days, as well as providing smaller guilds something they can work toward. There are also likely to be much sharper tests of PvE skill, with achievements, transmogrification armor and unique mounts up for grabs. By adding leaderboards to the mix, this will create an interesting alternative to the raiding “server first”.
On the subject of raiding, we’re being welcomed to level 90 with three new raids. While it’s likely that one of these will be the loot piñata style boss we’ve come to expect in an expansion, it’s reassuring that we’ll have 14 new bosses to beat into the dirt. Raiding Guild Masters know that one of the keys to battling raider burnout is keeping things varied, so we should hopefully see a healthy mix of encounters and environments in the first tier of raiding. We might even see an end to tiers completely, with Blizzard debating the role of tier tokens and valor points as a way of awarding loot.
The success of Looking for Raid caught many of us by surprise, particularly with players being able to form ad-hoc cross-realm groups. It’s also been a constant source of loot drama, with forum flamewars and vendettas started on a dice roll. The new LFR looting system introduced in MoP has everyone in the raid rolling to see who gets loot, with the highest three to six being awarded an item from the loot table that’s suitable for their class and current role. Gone are off-spec rolls, loot theft and the drama. Without it, realm forums are destined to become places of Zen-like tranquility.