World of Warcraft: Overall Mist of Pandaria Evaluation

With the expansion coming to a close, I wanted to look at the whole picture for Mist of Pandaria. While there may be a patch or two prior to the next expansion, it’s pretty much a lock that more than likely there will be no new major content patches as the Siege of Orgrimmar along with the ending of the Legendary Cape quest mark the major ending  story points for this expansion.

First, I will say that this expansion will probably be highly polarized when we look back in the history of World of Warcraft. Where Cataclysm pretty much was a near unanimous thumbs down, Mist of Pandaria will most likely end up becoming a thumbs between up and in the middle. I think most people will probably say that the daily quests burnt them out badly and possibly even demotivated most people into terminating their subscription status. There are those who enjoyed the daily quests but I think those people were in the minority.

The main issue with the daily quests in this expansion was how early on they ended up doing numerous gates. Daily quests would gate other daily quests hubs and gear. Some described the experience akin to having a job. And for some it was a mandatory chore early on as progression guilds wanted their raiders to max out on valor, reputation and gear. Then once one section opened up, you had more dailies to perform with unenviable reputation grinds.

However, in retrospect much of the gear from those faction venders pretty much are meaningless now and a huge chunk of the Golden Lotus was reduced. So while Blizzard might describe the situation as a learning experience for them, I feel that the dailies possibly were a cause of intense grief for the vast majority of players. Beyond the gating aspect, the daily quests were scattered and competitive on a resource level. As a result, doing a full run of dailies easily could take a few hours. This aspect differed drastically from the ones provided in Cataclysm which were more like supplemental reputation grinds. If you knew the dungeons well and had the tabard for a faction, the daily quests from Cataclysm would give you a slight boost. But they never felt as overwhelming.

Compared to Cataclysm, Mist of Pandaria was considered to be alt-unfriendly. The initial slow leveling process from 85-90, the daily grind, low valor point rewards and other gates discouraged having multiple toons for those who were crunched for time. Even for those with time, this expansion still was prohibitive on successfully maintaining numerous alts consistently at a top rate compared to the end of Cataclysm based on the amount of work required to do all the high end options.

On the other hand, Mist of Pandaria cannot be considered completely “boring.” And when I say boring, I mean lacking things to do at level 90. Quite the contrary, Mist of Pandaria boasts possibly the largest amount of content for players possibly as an expansion. Just to enumerate the opportunities available, you have leveling alts, the daily quest grind, pet battles, pet arenas, maintaining your farm, LFR, LFG/heroics, scenarios, Heroic Scenarios, PVP/BGs, arena, world PVP, the two islands, mount hunting, world bosses, rare hunting, fishing, cooking, professions, making gold, achievements, the Brawlers Guild, the Proving Grounds, Flex raiding, challenge modes, transmogrification runs, valor point capping, reputation grinding, lesser charm farming, the Legendary Cape quests, raiding and Heroic raiding. I’m certain there are other things that you can add to this mix, but just in terms of raw content available for a player, that’s a pretty lofty and unbeatable list.

More than what’s available is that there are different levels of difficulty that a player can approach this game. You can challenge yourself as much or as little as you want and partake in content that allows you to be a complete solo player if that’s your end game or work in a group setting. In short, the game is able to support both ends of the spectrum of the uber casual down to the hardcores. Of course, this division probably is causing a huge polarization in the community itself but that just comes in attempting to appeal to such a broad audience. Yet with the continuing push for LFR, flex raiding and scenarios, we now have even more options in difficulty level that really weren’t as dominating compared to before.

One of the continuing problems that needs to be addressed is the community itself. The polarizing effect on the raiding level is a huge issue where the split in opinions has hurt the game. On top of that, you have people at the LFR level who are poisonous to the game in general, most notably griefers, afkers and shit talkers. Unfortunately, Blizzard’s refuses to take a real stance on the problem, which is creating a massive black eye for Blizzard.

As the raiding aspect becomes increasingly difficult, the community itself is unable to properly police the situation to boot out the above types as there are inadequate tools within the game. This puts Blizzard into a massive dilemma since the two appeals for LFR, which are obtaining gear and seeing content, end up becoming massive walls as the community self-destructs in front of Blizzard’s eyes.

Putting the community aside for a moment, I want to talk about environment and story. I think the environment up to a certain point was beautifully done. The Jade Forest and Valley of the Four Winds are easily the best two zones in the expansion as far as questing goes. I felt that the cultural build up of the Pandaren along with music and landscape really had a nice flavor. Some of it may have appeared childish such as the evil vermin and even the monkey creatures, but things darken quite quickly as we’re introduced to both the mo’gu and mantid.

The big problem from a story point of view in this expansion was that we knew right from the beginning that Garrosh would be the end game boss. So everything would eventually lead towards him going power mad and causing this mass raucous. I felt the Garrosh/Horde storyline just didn’t fit elegantly into the world of the Pandaren. While Garrosh does make for an awesome raid boss, he really just doesn’t fit into the overall flow that was being established. It’s like going down a river in a boat when your boat splits and so does your body. Even in patch 5.4, the situation just seems so lopsided where you have this new wonderful environment of the Timeless Isle that’s mixed in along the murky, gritty Siege of Orgrimmar. The two really have nothing to do with each other.

Even in the Siege of Orgrimmar, the way the bosses are setup feel wrong. I understand about the Sha of Pride and that actually fits perfectly into the Pandaren world. But you go from the Vale wing of the raid right into the front door of Durotar. It feels so awkward and out of place. Sure, Garrosh caused the Pandaren a lot of grief, but at this point, he doesn’t feel as epic of a boss compared to say Lei Shen when you look at what has gone on. It really felt that Lei Shen should’ve been the end boss rather than Garrosh. Heck, I don’t even know why we’re fighting Lei Shen in the first place outside of “hey, look some powerful dude woke up!” But beyond that, what’s my motivation? Why should I even help the Pandaren? It felt that the entire Throne of Thunder aspect needed more development from a story point of view, but it certainly can be said to be one of top raids in World of Warcraft’s history.

What about other aspects of the game such as pet battles, etc.? I think the pet battle system and farm were two of the best mini game features in this expansion. Pet battles for me were just a really fun thing to do on my off time while waiting for queues to pop and to collect charms. I never really felt obligated to do them but jumped in once I needed a toon to get a certain number of charms. Although the new Isle offers similar opportunities, if I ever get bored with the isle and want a dependable method for getting charms, then pet battles are perfect. The farm for me was a godsend because of how you can easily obtain enough materials for whatever profession of your choosing. Once you have 10 farms maxed out, you have your own industry and never have to worry about the auction house again (or perhaps you can just use everything you create for the auction house).

Stepping back to the daily quests, I would like to say that not every aspect was bad. I think the gold and gear you could get down the line from daily quests were excellent things. Also, if you’re sick of doing the isle and need a few guaranteed charms or valor if you’re close to the valor cap, doing a few easy dailies isn’t such a bad thing. On top of that, not all the dailies hubs are awful. I think the Tillers, Anglers, Order of the Cloud Serpents and August Celestials were easily the best daily hubs. None of those were particularly difficult nor annoying and pretty quick overall. On top of that, I never felt that they were as mandatory compared to say the Klaxxi or the Golden Lotus. Although the August Celestials did gate gear, the others mentioned did not, instead providing their own little reputation items like mounts or pets (or a cool farm). Hopefully, Blizzard learned what makes a good daily hub vs a poor one for future expansions.

Leveling initially was a morbid pain since the zones more or less were linear and you had to complete most of them before progressing to the next section. I felt really numb after hitting my first 90 prior to the experience nerf and that caused me to not level another toon for a while. Part of the problem was that towards the end, I knew exactly every single quests, especially the painful ones. But I knew also that I couldn’t avoid them, which made me hesitant about leveling alts for a while. Once the experience nerf came along, I realized that it was the perfect time to level the rest of my alts. That was a warm welcome as it allowed me to choose my own path rather than being funneled for the 10+ times through the same zones in the same manner.

One thing that I did enjoy was gearing once patch 5.2 hit. 5.2 was a good patch because I believe that’s when the experience nerf came through along with the reduction in cost of previous faction venders. Hitting 90 and obtaining gear while progressing through dailies was fun for me since I enjoyed seeing the gradual growth of each toon. Sometimes it would get frustrating since my guys were horribly weak with such low item level initially. I had to skip the solo scenarios to access the Isle of Thunder because I couldn’t often times do enough damage to move forward without getting severely stomped. But I thought that made my situation interesting as I had to slide around to assail rares, get my keys and do the Treasure Trove scenario. But once I had enough charms and an ilvl of 460, it was off to the races in LFR. Usually, I never had to do a single Heroic for any gear unless I was off by a point.

With the Timeless Isle in place, I really wish that you still had to go through the same gearing and LFR progress. I think making Siege of Orgrimmar and Throne of Thunder ilvl restricted rather than progression restricted, Blizzard shot themselves in the foot again and created a new monster for people to short cut to the end. I have to say that I love the BoA gear aspect but it should’ve been used to do the older ones rather than allowing them directly into Siege of Orgrimmar. Or if the gear was better itemized or Siege of Orgrimmar was more forgiving (say as difficult as Mogu’shan Vaults part 1), I wouldn’t complain (and I’m certain others would feel the same).

Professions in this expansion was a very interesting mixed bag. I think universally everyone hated Motes of Harmony. By now, Motes of Harmony is probably only good for a few professions like leatherworkers who need to make leg armor. At this point, it’s probably being used as a trade good. At the beginning though, Motes of Harmony were another thing that was horribly painful to obtain, especially since many formulas cost Spirits of Harmony on top of using them as a key component. Things changed for the better where many crafting formulas are now randomly discovered by doing a daily. While the daily is a pain, it is simpler as long as you have enough materials to perform the daily. Also, the catch up mechanisms for gathering are great for those who choose to do mining or herbalism later on.

The real star of the show when it comes to professions for Mist of Pandaria was cooking. Raid food has always been an important aspect but the various buffs provided through cooking and foods give a nice motivation to level up the previously painful cooking far more interesting. The quick leveling opportunity once you hit the Valley of the Four Winds in particular allow anyone to pick up cooking very easily.

Fishing unfortunately did not receive as much of a warm welcome by comparison. However, the fishing dailies, rewards and ease of fishing in Pandaria make it less of a chore to level up your fishing than before. I do like the fact that they made is more feasible and rewarding to level up fishing and it motivated me to get basic fishing on all my toons, especially in working with the cooking dailies.

Let’s move on to scenarios. Quite honestly, I’ve only done a few of them. I just never really cared for scenarios. I had a poor experience where some asshat chewed me out in one scenario (I think it was the brewfest one) for not healing him on my paladin. Of course, I went in as a retribution paladin (maybe I was a protection paladin but it’s been a while) and my focus is on DPS. The idiot didn’t know that certain areas would heal you since these scenarios were supposedly designed around any role. That said, the incident turned me off for a while and I would only consider doing scenarios for quick valor caps. I like the idea of removing roles from instances but I dislike the random grouping as well as the funneled experience.

Heroic dungeons also were not my cup of tea this expansion. There’s a few that I don’t mind but I simply never felt motivated to do most of them. The End Time instances from Cataclysm were fine for me as I preferred the philosophy behind them (where the developers mentioned they were tuned for people who were on their lunch break). The lack of decent rewards and low valor points never made me really want to do heroics, especially when it was easier just crafting gear and heading straight into LFR.

How about raiding? Most of my experience in this expansion was through LFR, although with the Siege of Orgrimmar, I’m focused on Flex. But I think the raids were another mixed bag. I feel that the developers tried experimenting too much without finding a good rhythm when it came to pacing. What I mean by that is how the difficulty never felt like a linear growth but rather spikes. For instance, Heart of Fear is slightly more difficult than Terrace of Endless Spring (especially back in the beginning). But Sha of Fear and the Empress were two of the easiest bosses around whereas Garalon posed a nasty wall for most people. Similarly, you had Horridon, Durumu and Dark Animus which still give some people issues. Yet Iron Qon and the Twin Consorts remain far easier than the previous three mentioned. People often refer to Ulduar as the best raid conceived and I think the main reason why is how it genuinely became more difficult as you hit each boss. In contrast, the difficulty level between bosses in Mist of Pandaria really varied in each instance.

Probably, one of the bigger things I was disappointed with in this expansion was how the talent trees were stripped naked. Supposedly, the idea behind these newer trees was to simplify the process of choosing how a character is built, allowing people to select talents based on what they like or whether an encounter demands for it. But I felt that this idea is still not the end goal that people want. No matter what, you still will end up with cookie cutter builds that are defined by circumstance rather than choice. This aspect along with the mostly useless glyph system in place make the meaningful customization of a character impossible. I think that this was done to make the developers’ jobs easier for testing purposes; however, with the constant nerfs/buffs that seem to come every patch and every Tuesday, I still question the end goal of removing the original talent tree.

For me, the thing that sucks is the idea of making leveling feel meaningful. At this point, leveling feels more like a chore where you’re slowly gaining abilities and learning how to use them occasionally as you level. But there are points where you receive nothing. So why even have those levels where you get nothing beyond some attribute points? Levels 85-90 did not even feel memorable outside of you being qualified to enter the next zone. But that’s not how a level should be defined. As I level in this expansion on my monk, the only things that come to mind are, “When am I going to get to the next major zone?” This just makes the leveling process feel empty since all I’m doing is going through a grinding process en route to hitting 90.

There are other aspects that I really did not try like challenge modes, the Brawlers Guild, heroics, etc. One part that I am working on is the legendary quest. This quest is another super polarizing part of the game. I feel that it’s main problem occurs in that you need to complete the quests while others are doing it. However, if you’re late to the game, then much of your effort either goes out the window (such as being able to use your Sha Touched weapon with the gem) or having little to no help (like with Nalak). Part of the issue is the RNG grind aspects while the other part depends too much on people such as the elite you need to kill, Nalak or the PVP portion. Then there’s the grind for things like reputation. Again, if you start late, you will have a very frustrating time catching up.

But that goes along with Blizzard’s philosophy of how content operates. Here, Blizzard seems to only want to focus on their current content rather than older content. Unfortunately, by using that camera angle, Blizzard hurts players who are not on the cutting edge. To me it’s like eating a pizza where they only give you the crust to munch on because it’s the only remaining bits left. The same can be said for the way the Timeless Isle probably hurt older LFRs. Overall, this is a major area Blizzard must improved upon since they seem to focus too narrowly on only a few aspects rather than looking at the wider picture.

In general, I think this expansion will probably be around a B- rating for me. The expansion, while having good moments, had a lot of downer moments for me. There was a lot to this expansion that just made me feel burnt out and I’m certain that I’m not the only one. My biggest issue with the expansion was the sheer time commitment to do anything meaningful. There was simply too many grindy aspects in this expansion from reputation grinds, to valor cap grinds, to legendary material grinds, etc. In this regard, I felt Cataclysm far exceeded Mist of Pandaria as the time requirements were far lower by comparison, especially in the last major content patch.

While I cannot complain about the lack of things to do within Mist of Pandaria, I will say that I often times felt overwhelmed by the number of tasks that I felt I needed to perform on each toon every day. I don’t feel immersed into a game that makes everything feel like an overwhelming task, which, in turn, ends up providing only a mediocre reward. Perhaps, an analogy can be used to describe this situation in terms of going to a restaurant. So take going to a Chinese restaurant vs In-n-Out as an example. When you hit the Chinese restaurant, you’ll often be overwhelmed with an immense menu; while you want to try everything, you know that you have a budget and appetite limit. On the other hand, In-n-Out provides consistently on the expectation level and you’ll always know in advance what you want at a reasonable price.

The last thing I want to comment on is the end game aspect. I did mention all the various things that you can do. But those various things are not really the end game. The end game to me means setting a high level goal where you can see a personal level of growth. Since the game caps your level, you have to move beyond the level cap and focus on some other mechanic that is growth oriented. In this case, those aspects can be in the form of gear progression, raiding progression, pvp (ranks and ratings), gold, achievements, pets collections and mounts. Realistically, most people will probably focus on gear, raiding, pvp and gold as their end game. I feel when you narrow the game down to those four aspects, you really limit the types of things you can do at the end. At least for non-pvpers, I wish there were more ways for self-progression beyond gearing through raiding.

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