World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review in Progress

27 Sep 2012

The folks at PC Gamer have been hard at work (six updates so far) on their review in progress for World of Warcraft's latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, which features the whole new race of the Pandaren, and a number of systemic changes and content additions.

Here's a snippet from it:
The Wandering Isle is a cool location, and the second half of it ratchets up the danger a little. A crashed Alliance prison ship has mortally wounded the turtle, with the crew and prisoners setting up a couple of different camps. Only with both sides working together can the damage be repaired, with sea monsters emerging to demonstrate boss mechanics make things worse for everyone. It’s very pretty. It has an explosives-loving goblin called Makael Bay. At the end, you and your friends separate to join either the Horde or Alliance and do what you can to save Azeroth. In theory, it’s a tight little story that sets up the Pandaren and gets them out in the world to fight the good fight.

In theory. In practice though, it ends up being a poor bit of narrative, riddled with thematic issues.

The big plot draw for Pandaria is reigniting the war between Alliance and Horde, or to give it its proper name, ‘the what?’ Pandaria, as a neutral place, becomes the unwilling battleground for this. That’s cool, and I hope it pays off later on. On the Wandering Isle though, what we see are the two factions yet again immediately dropping their differences to work together, give or take the occasional “Grrr!” Seeing this, our main Panderen characters – broken apart by a minor difference of opinion that ended up just fine – decide that the best way to get involved is to sign up, refuse to talk to anyone who chose differently (you only get your side’s language skill) and commit themselves to fiction’s least enthusiastic war.

Pandaren, listen up: this idea is a bad idea!

Unless it turns out that this is all part of a 90 level long scheme – in which case cool – none of this passes muster. What the Wandering Isle needed was to set up conflict, not co-operation, with players being forced to pick sides early and the characters alongside them burning their bridges and ultimately having no choice but to leave the island even if they wanted to stay. They’ve been dragged into the war, possibly against their will, and are now pot-committed to their faction. Or something. It didn’t need to turn into Apocalypse Now with pandas or anything, but there should be more emotional weight to this first contact than simply “Well, these guys seem cool. I’ll fight my loved ones on their behalf, I guess.”