Mist of Panderia Announced at BlizzCon 2011

As anticipated the latest expansion to the World of Warcraft series was announced at BlizzCon 2011 on Friday. My first reaction after seeing the introduction of the Panda (or rather Panderan) race was:

WTF??????

Quite honestly, I thought it was a joke. But alas it’s not April Fools. Even reading the reactions from others, a similar sentiment was shared by the online WoW community. However, even without the details of the expansion, the level of depth in the graphics for the announcement alone should dispel any doubts of the seriousness in Blizzard’s devotion for developing this expansion.

Even if you might think that playing a panda might be a complete joke, if you examined the hints of the new world, you could not help but be impressed by the new art and possibilities for this expansion. I’ve always wanted an Asian themed part for WoW and finally we’re getting it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Panderan race is that players will be able to choose between factions after hitting a certain level. I think I might’ve blogged about the idea in the past because it’s a good one. In my own game, I had a similar idea (I called it “traitors”) but the division gives the game a new dynamic in terms of role playing. Of course, for whatever reason once someone chooses their faction, they no longer will be able to communicate with other Panderans of the opposite faction (which, imo, is horribly stupid from an RPG point of view).

With regards to the Panderan racial traits, the only one that looks promising is the increased length of rest experience. I’m guessing this has been added so that people who want to level a new toon can do so expediently.

Of course, the other big announcement for the expansion is the introduction of the monk class. It’ll play like a druid in that the class will be able to use leather/cloth armor and do multiple roles (tank, DPS and healing). Of course, this deviates from most monk types in other FRPGs where they either use cloth or no armor and gain boosts naturally. I’m assuming that monks will use unarmed combat to some degree as well, but I don’t know how that will play out in terms of gear (this is why it’s stupid to make gear as the thing that scales once a level cap is reached).

My interpretation of the introduction of the Panderan race is that by allowing them to choose between factions, Blizzard could introduce the monk class in a single expansion as well. The good thing is that if you don’t want to play a big fat bear, you still have the option of choosing another race (although goblins and worgen won’t count here) for the monk class.

That does imply that the 10 character per realm limit will need to be addressed. I think in one of the forums or Q/A sessions, the representatives from Blizzard mentioned that what they might do is an account limit on characters. I would love to see this happen because I would some day like to create my alliance toons on my current server. In that manner, I won’t have to transfer one of my toons off to another server just to hand out useless BoAs and gold to fresh level ones.

Another major aspect of the expansion is that the level cap will be raised to 90. Beyond the new talent system (which I will address), I don’t know how this will impact game play. Does the new level cap mean we’ll finally hit one million hit points? Or will we simply double our current hit points? I imagine that our damage will scale up in a similar manner, but this question is important for determining how some of us can handle old content. I know someone already managed to solo the Lich King using a Blood Death Knight. But given five more levels, perhaps that fight could’ve been even easier (reportedly he wiped around 11 times and had a large number of buffs)

Then we come to the Pokemon aspect of the game – that’s right, non-combat pets PVP style! I’m not sure how to interpret this aspect of the game, but it does sound amusing at the very least. Non-combat pets will have levels and limited abilities. I think most pets can be used for this. Awesome. Now, my wind rider cub can shred everyone else up.

Another interesting mechanic in the game will be PVE scenarios. From the sound of it, it kinda feels like Rift where people can join a raid/event. Right now, in the Molten Front dailies, you have a participatory raiding type of situation where people (alliance and horde alike) can help each other defeat foes (mini bosses) for credit towards a quest. I’m guessing that the new PVE scenarios aspect will turn out similar. Another description of this was that it’ll be like a dungeon finder thing minus strict roles. Or maybe another way to describe it is a mini-instance. Larger scenarios will have an epic feel to it and provide greater rewards. I think like the Molten Front, the game will provide dailies that people can choose from leading towards rewards. In this manner, beyond raiding and instance grinding, people can gear up by other means.

Then there’s the dungeon challenge modes. This is actually a GREAT idea because it really is geared towards the hard core types. You’re stripped down to basic gear so there’s no real advantage and must defeat bosses within a certain time limit. The rewards from these challenges are more bling that go hand-in-hand with the transmogrification feature coming in patch 4.3.

I really like this idea because it truly addresses a major complaint that hard core types would rant and rave about in forums. The problem has been that certain content was not accessible by common players but then made too easy later on in WOTLK, thus disappointing the hard core types. With dungeons scaling back their difficulty to WOTLK (supposedly) in Mist of Panderia, you open up a can of worms from the hard core types again. However, the challenge modes offset this and provide the thing that hard core types wanted: some sort of material bragging right in the form of bling. Now, people who want to gear up can gear up and have access to content while the hard core types can sit around in Orgrimmar and feel proud (for whatever ego boosting reason that does).

Now, there’s one issue that I think the vast majority of people will end up despising and that’s the continual revision of the talent system. The new proposed talent system is supposed to eliminate cookie cutter specs by offering only three types of talents per 15 levels.

Hold on a second.

Eliminate cookie cutter types?

Only three choices per three levels?

For a total of 6 choices?

This is supposed to eliminate boring specs!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Naturally, the person seemingly in charge of this section is none other than AssCrawler, I mean Ghost Crawler Greg Street. Someone who is notorious known for making many bad decisions in terms of specs (except for Frost Mages because he plays one) as a result of his experience in real time strategy games.

I’ve been extremely vocal about the talent problems on various forums, but I will once again here on my blog spell out the core issue with why the talent system in World of Warcraft is messed up. The chief problem with the talent system in the so-called cookie cutter dilemma is that the game imposes a level cap, which in turn imposes a talent point cap. As a result, players are forced to put points into the trees in a very obvious manner.

The way World of Warcraft handles talents is that they’re treated as a reward system for leveling. Diablo 2 got it right when it came to what a true talent tree is because players could place points into areas they saw fit. The reason why that was allowed was because Diablo 2 had no level restrictions, thus allowing characters to level indefinitely and permit players to put talent points as they saw fit indefinitely.

The new proposed system is basically a dangling carrot system that allows players 6 choices in the span of the characters’ leveling experiences. However, I feel that in order to achieve some form of balance, the three choices at each of these 15 levels will probably have little differentiation between each  other outside of perhaps effects. If that isn’t the case, then these talents will exist on a situational basis, leading once again to the cookie cutter dilemma.

The thing is that you cannot get rid of the cookie cutter dilemma in a game like World of Warcraft where you have so many different variables defining how talent trees and abilities are structured. I personally think that Greg Street is just really lazy and has little to no true experience in RPGs when it comes to this kind of stuff. For him, the developers and QA, it’s just less combination of variables to test.

For the gamer, it’s basically a reduction of  thought and buttons.

The good  thing is that the game is not out yet and that patch 4.3 isn’t even ready. They managed to scrap the Titans-something-or-rather for Cataclysm, so there’s always the hope that this system would be scrapped (or something like a rock falling on Greg Street’s head, an automotive accident, etc.)

What’s my proposal in this? Bring back the old talent tree. The game designers themselves admitted that the revised talent tree in Cataclysm was a failure. Originally, it was supposed to simplify the way players were to make choices in the game so that people would make the so-called “right” choice in defining their tree (which is what lead to the cookie cutter problem in the first place). So narrowing the tree and forcing players to stick with only a single spec until that spec hit a certain number of points would allow new players to learn the game. Second, the choices in the talent specs were to be more “meaningful” and useful as opposed to giving some extra damage, crits, etc. (which it didn’t) Still, this didn’t appease everyone.

Here’s the thing. Bad players are going to be bad players period because they will never do the research to figure out how to play their class. There is very little Blizzard can do to offset this problem, except to create realms based on the ability of the players. You simply have to siphon off the two types in the game to really resolve this conflict of interest.

At the same time, I think the game designers need to re-think what a talent tree really is in conjunction with understanding what an RPG is. What we’re seeing in Greg Street’s world is the de-evolution of an RPG game to something overly simplistic. I mean, why even bother having levels? The content itself isn’t designed to be scaling.

My suggestion is this: go back to the old talent tree. Either increase the depth of the tree or give more points. I like the idea of increasing the amount of points we can spend on multiple trees. I think Cataclysm had great potential in allowing players to expand their own specs. For instance, why not have a combat healer? Or more PVP related talents for a raider?

This is the real problem with the current system. It’s not that the talent trees create cookie cutter specs. It’s that people are forced into cookie cutter roles. And those roles are really just for instances and raids.

However, the way I see it, the idea of the game being socially oriented, while ideal in nature, really isn’t practical. Let’s be honest here; the World of Warcraft community isn’t exactly something you’d tell your friends to aspire towards. Worse yet, supposedly the game has devolved from a community stance since the dungeon finder was introduced.

If that’s the case, maybe Blizzard should start designing the game more for the solo player in mind. From what it looks like, there will be more of it with this expansion. I’m very happy for that. But if people are forced to group, let it be in such a way that the barriers to entry are low.

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