Mists of Pandaria marks the fourth expansion for World of Warcraft, a game that has been around for close to eight years. Despite World of Warcraft‘s long reign as the most popular subscription-based MMO, it’s tough to ignore the shifting trends of its slowly shrinking audience. These first days in Pandaria have shown, quite starkly, the effects that other high-profile MMO launches have on World of Warcraft since it reached its launch-peak with Cataclysm.
Anyone who had played during a previous expansion launch will recall how chaotic it is. Thousands of players funneling into a couple of specific zones, all competing for a limited number of quest objectives. You can barely get anything done, because it feels like every possible monster spawn-point is being camped round-the-clock, even during off-peak times.
Mists, by contrast, has felt quite empty. There are still people, but the terrain isn’t crawling with them the way it had in Cataclysm, Wrath of the Lich King or The Burning Crusade — and the last two even split players into different areas in an effort to make it less chaotic. Pandaria only has one primary arrival area. That’s not to say that it’s bad, because everything I’ve played so far has lived up to Blizzard’s high standards, and many innovations from other MMOs in the last couple years have been implemented to various degrees. But it does feel a little sad. Even the Pandaren starting area lacks hordes of new Pandaren Monks.
Putting that aside, there have been relatively few launch issues with Mists of Pandaria. Servers have mostly been stable, and although I’ve seen screenshots of hilarious-looking bugs that cropped up in the first few hours (see above), I have personally only experienced a minor issue where the victory theme from the Pet Battle System looped instead of actual battle music.
Actually, the Pet Battle System has attracted more of my time over the past couple days than it perhaps should have. Anyone who had paid attention to Blizzard’s announcement of the feature knew how similar to a certain monster-filled Nintendo series it sounded, and the reality is that it is indeed basically a Pokemon side-quest.
And it’s great. I’m genuinely, unironically enjoying it.
And, strangely, although Cataclysm‘s setup seemed darker and everything leading up to Pandaria seemed to be quite tongue-in-cheek, the general tone has been much more grim than most of what we’ve seen in World of Warcraft. There’s no looming threat like Arthas or Deathwing — instead it’s you and your faction causing strife in what was previously a very peaceful land.
After this long playing World of Warcraft on and off I was ready to go into Mists and hate everything about it, but I’m slowly being charmed. There are certainly some questionable elements – some of the dialogue and accents strike me as, well, a little racist – but World of Warcraft‘s undeniable charm is ever-present. And while some of the usability upgrades Blizzard added in the past, such as the Raid Finder, have been controversial, the changes to the Talent and Glyph systems seem to be almost universally preferred, and have made playing my mage a substantially more varied experience.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Pandaria has on offer, so look forward to a review in a few weeks where Pandaria is thoroughly disassembled for your reading pleasure.
How is Pandaria going for you? Share your experiences in the comments!