Saturday, October 20, 2012

23 Days in the Mists

Or: How to Deal with Facial Monitor Burn

J. Adams

Welcome to Pandaria
On September 25th, Mists of Pandaria (MoP) brought the land of the Pandaren to World of Warcraft (WoW).  Since then, I have spent most of my free time (except the time spent playing XCOM as I mentioned last week) working on my Pandaren Monk - the new class (and the new race) that became available with the expansion. Despite the initial controversy from a rather vocal minority, it seems that the Pandaren race has turned out to be quite popular.

I rolled up my Monk the day the expansion dropped and immediately spent the first 15 minutes gaping in awe at the surroundings of the Pandaren starting area. It was gorgeous. Even though the graphics of WoW are looking a bit dated, especially in comparison to Rift or TERA, the art team did an outstanding job in creating the Pandaren themselves and the lands from which they’ve come. The colors are vibrant, and the heavily Asian-influenced architecture is beautiful, whether you’re looking at a small shrine in the forest or the amazingly ornate Temple of the Jade Serpent (pictured above).

The Pandaren starting experience takes place on the back of a giant sea turtle named Shen-Zin Su and gives the player an idea of how the Pandaren have been living on the “Wandering Isle,” as well as how they react to the sudden appearance of the Alliance and Horde. I spent the first 13-14 levels on the Wandering Isle, learning about the Pandaren and marveling at each new landscape. I had a great time, but then came the moment where I had to choose between the Alliance and the Horde – this was fine, since all my characters are Alliance anyway. The problem was that I was going to have to play from levels 15 to 85 through content I’ve already played half a dozen times or more.

So I did it all again, and about two weeks after MoP came out, my new Monk was level 85 and ready to start adventuring in the rest of the new content that the expansion provided – the continent of Pandaria itself.

If I’d been impressed with the first area, I was blown away by Pandaria. Even more than in the starting area, the landscapes are polished to a point where they’re nearly blinding. The quests are more varied, though you still see plenty of “go to point ‘a’ and kill ‘x’ of ‘y’,” but these are broken up by plenty of story development and characterization so they really don’t feel like chores. Each zone is split into distinct “storylines,” and you can track how many you’ve completed and how many are left to go. Most storylines feed into one another, but there are also shorter one-offs in certain zones that you’ll find by exploring the land (and, helpfully, tracking the location of the “!” on your map).

I found myself becoming engrossed in the story of Pandaria in a way that the Cataclysm expansion hadn’t matched. Blizzard did a great job in creating an emotional hook right from the beginning by having a character, Taran Zhu, come right out and say that by bringing “my” war to Pandaria, it would be changed forever.

And Pandaria is changing, slowly but surely. Some of the changes are obvious, and because your character is directly involved, you can’t help but notice them. Others haven’t come to fruition yet, but in the way the storylines play out and from the small changes in dialogue from non-player characters you deal with as you progress, I just know some Bad Things are going to happen. It also helps that Blizzard has come out and said Bad Things are going to happen, but even if they hadn’t, this expansion has been so well written that it’s pretty easy to tell.

As of right now, I don’t have any characters up to the new maximum of level 90 because I’ve been working on my secondary professions and catching up on my primary professions that I’d allowed to lag behind in my rush to get from level one to level 85. This is another change from Cataclysm, as I had taken a character from level 80 to 85 (the maximum for that expansion) in under 14 days. For some reason, I just don’t feel as rushed in Pandaria. It might have something to do with this expansion feeling more polished. It may have something to do with the Pandaren credo of “slow down and enjoy the journey.”

Whatever the reason, I am willing, after these 23 days of playing, to call Mists of Pandaria my favorite expansion to World of Warcraft. If you’ve played before but left, give it a try. If you’ve never played, this is a good reason to start. 
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