World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Reviews in Progress

We have rounded up a batch of reviews in progress for the latest expansion to Blizzard's immensely successful MMO World of Warcraft, Mists of Pandaria.

PC Gamer has reached the eighth update of theirs:
Disappointingly though, while Kun-Lai and Townlong Steppes both have plenty of story, the Horde and Alliance stuff seems to have fizzled out in favour of general quests and a focus-shift to Pandaria's own lore and problems. It's fine, and suitably Warcraft style, with the mantis-like Mantid and former conquerors the Mogu doing their thing, and in fairness, in the former case because of the Sha, but I don't feel much resonance with the story or historical conflict at this point.

This isn't a massive problem though, just a personal preference amongst the stories the expansion is trying to tell. I hope the compass swings back its way soon, ideally without having to wait for the next chapter of the story proper to shake things up in however many months.

Just to get it off my chest, I also really hate how the dungeons and single-player story intersect. Pandaria does an interesting thing with the first couple, where you preview the terrain before it gets infested with monsters, but then things go back to the same old system a quest chain will end in a capital-D Dungeon. This has always bugged me, not least because the levelling content assumes that you've done them, but is especially silly in a story that otherwise has no group quests.

If the game is going to offer a single-player story and make no mistake, that is what Mists of Pandaria's levelling content absolutely is, despite being able to team up with people all of its narrative based content should be available to all. That could be done with alternate dungeons, with NPCs filling in for other players. I don't care. It's not like people aren't willing to go back and repeatedly do dungeons and raids for challenge and loot, even though there's no plot or character-based reason to do so. It is however jarring to have the game simply assume you've done this stuff, to the point of finding a major character you were just tasked to rescue less than two minutes walk away.

Neoseeker goes so far as to award a score to the starting area of the title, 7/10:
Where art-style is timeless and graphics transient and updatable, hard-coded design is concrete and inelastic. Such is the nature of World of Warcraft's quest and leveling system. World of Warcraft's launch was a special moment in MMO history. After all, the game revolutionized how quests were performed with tracking, exclamation points and plenty of rewards. Best of all, there were thousands of them. Nowadays, however, the World of Warcraft-derived term "Kill Ten Rats" is nomenclature and generally used as an insult. Mists of Pandaria's starting area does little to improve upon the formula the MMO has used and abused for so many years. Certainly, there are a greater variety of "Kill Ten Rats," such as balancing on a series of bamboo poles and defeating ten apprentice monks. Enough said, right?

To help break the tedium of questing, Blizzard mixes in it its "phasing" technology. Practically everywhere, in fact. What I recall as an interesting addition during the Cataclysm starting areas has turned rather gimmicky, and unfortunately, buggy in Mists of Pandaria. One quest line is based on rounding up four elemental buddies, and as they're collected they add a new animations to this central statue on the Wandering Isle. For example, after acquiring the water elemental it begins to rain on the statue. After I brought the second elemental back, however, all four elements were present around the statue, and remained that way. To be fair, there were some special moments, like when two NPC children begin to follow your character, asking about the elementals, or when when NPCs begin complicated scenes with many animations -- essentially creating an in-engine cut-scene. Still, it's more impressive as an idea with plenty of potential, as opposed to in practice where World of Warcraft really shows how little it can manage with such an interesting concept.

Hitting level 90 felt like a really big deal, and not just because it signaled the end of experience gain. As tends to be the case in World of Warcraft, hitting the level cap unlocks end game content, and in Pandaria's case it was an unlock avalanche. Whereas before I only had access to four Normal difficulty dungeons, at level 90 I can hop into nine heroic dungeons, two new PvP battlegrounds, six scenarios (seven if you include Theramore's Fall, which was also made available slightly before Pandaria's launch), take on an overwhelming amount of faction quests, play dungeons in time trial challenge mode, as well as finally choose a talent from the final tier of my tree.

The sheer amount of content included in Pandaria is extremely impressive. Though the gameplay is certainly familiar, from a content perspective it feels like Pandaria is an all-new game, providing a roughly 50 hour leveling experience across the new zones, then unlocking a bewildering amount of end game content at the cap.

The scenarios seem to vary in quality, but at least they're short. These challenges are three-person dungeon runs where no role (healer, tank, damage dealer) is necessarily required, so they're far less challenging than standard structured content. In some cases, like Theramore's Fall, they tell a story. In others, like Arena of Annihilation, it's simply a series of boss fights. As quick distractions (and a way to earn gold and valor points), they're fun to clear once or twice (except for Theramore's Fall, which was overfilled with boring trash mobs), but the appeal wears off really quickly considering how much better the rewards could be if you just invested your time in running a dungeon instead. Blizzard billed these scenarios as a way to tell a more focused story with more forgiving gameplay, but the story in the dungeons is just as good as the scenarios from what I've seen. It seems the scenarios occupy this strange limbo, a kind of half-step between open world questing and a full-on dungeon run, and the trouble is, there's no especially compelling reason to play them when story is done best in the questing and gameplay is done best in dungeons.

NowGamer (on the pet battle system):
The battles aren't overly deep, admittedly, but it does use a type system that Pokemon utilises and it works well. You need to know what creatures you've got equipped if you want to safely defeat another critter.

There are customisable abilities, too, as well as random rare or uncommon pets (which increase stats more than an ordinary pet) to give you enough tweaking and altering to make you feel like you're wasting your time properly.

And if a pet victorious in battle it'll earn XP, level up and unlock extra abilities. There's enough to see through this new feature that, if you take to it even slightly, then it'll make that grind to max level just that little bit more bearable.

There's a series of quests to follow too, of course, following the Human or Orc route through the main questing path that provide enough of an incentive to keep levelling your pets. Think of these as Gym Master battles.

Maybe we hadn't levelled enough though, since they were pretty tough battles too. Not impossible, but required sensible use of our pets to make sure they didn't all die.

And finally, GameSpy:
The Asian aesthetic works well in this framework, particularly because some genuine architectural surprises lie in wait throughout your travels. The human castles and orcish fortifications of old Azeroth look dull and uninspired when compared to Pandaria's ornate pagodas and shrines, and the sense of "otherness" extends to the wildlife and flora as well. You'll still find some holdovers from old Azeroth such as yetis, but for the most part, wandering Pandaria is like taking a visit to World of Warcraft's version of the Galapagos Islands. I already prefer my yak mount over the other 50 or so mounts in my personal stable, and I've enjoyed studying the new models Blizzard used for turtles and even the raccoons that dot the landscape. It's all so well done that you feel the age of the rest of Azeroth weighing down on you once you teleport back to Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms to toss a few things on the auction house. I may be on the fence about the Pandaren themselves, but I think it's safe to say that I'm in love with Pandaria itself, and this surprises me since the Asian aesthetic actually didn't interest me until I started playing.

You might also remember that I worried that Pandaria's dungeons were too easy on the first day, but last night's run through the Shado-Pan Monastery dungeon forced me to rethink that. Not only do I love the setting -- the secretive members of the Shado-Pan Clan, guardians of Pandaria, exude an unmistakable aura of badassery despite being, you know, pandas -- and I got a good laugh after our tank wiped us by running through a bunch of enemies and going down in seconds, regretfully explaining afterwards that "you could just run through them in beta" and then proceeding more carefully. The idea behind the Shado-pan Monstery is that some of its leaders have been corrupted by evil forces of the Sha, and you need to take them down. But the same members have to test you first, and the second fight is an entertaining (if somewhat easy) event in which you fight off the initiate and then one of the masters to prove your worth.