Why Mists Of Pandaria will make me re-subscribe to World of Warcraft
“Tell me this is just another joke by blizz… please”
“What the hell has Chris Metzen been smoking”
“Kung Fu Panda? Really?”
“R.I.P World of Warcraft (2005 – 2011)”
These are all genuine thread titles taken from Blizzard’s official World of Warcraft discussion boards at the time of writing. These are the 'nice' ones. There were many more unrepeatable comments. What could cause such an outcry? Simple: Blizzard announced a new expansion for World of Warcraft at their annual BlizzCon event in sunny California over the weekend.
Titled ‘Mists of Pandaria’ this fourth expansion adds the all-action ‘Monk’ class, a Pokémon-inspired Pet Combat system and a whole host of tweaks and features aimed at shorter sharper play. Oh and Pandas.
And this means I’m getting back in on the WoW action.
Surely a turtle shell can't be that comfortable.
World of Possibility
I’m James Bowden and I used to play World of Warcraft. I could extend this alcoholics anonymous analogy longer but it would all be in jest, and I’d rather not pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. I was never that deeply into the whole thing.
I was a casual player from, ooh, about 2005 to early 2011 and while showing my stats to anyone who has never set foot inside Blizzard’s MMO juggernaught may cause some eye-widening on their part, any ‘real’ WoW players would just roll their peepers and mimic a horse with their mouth.
Casual though I was, I do love the virtual ‘world’ of Warcraft, Azeroth. I believe Blizzard’s fantasy universe is one with enough bulk, jargon, depth and wonder to stand shoulder to shoulder with the great Middle Earths and Galaxies Far, Far Away that many devote their lives to understanding.
However, as is always the case, feeling so strongly for something means one develops opinions. I have my own views on how Warcraft’s narrative was advancing from its burning crusade to the worldwide cataclysm and they are as follows.
Warcraft, for me, had developed a horrible case of Dragon Ball Z syndrome.
Look at it! A house on top of a perilous, towering spire of rock! Fearless Pandas.
In case you don’t know what 'Dragon Ball Z syndrome' is, here’s the skinny:
First series of Dragonball Z starts and a nasty looking, powerful bad guy appears. Good guy trains hard, fights Big Bad, struggles a bit but eventually wins.
Next series starts and an even more insurmountable Big Bad turns up. Good guy trains harder, pushes himself to the limit. Good guy fights Big Bad, screams a lot, struggles, but eventually wins.
Next series starts and the strongest, Biggest Bad guy ever turns up. Good guy trains again, pushes EVEN HARDER. Good guy fights Biggest Bad, makes sounds resembling an F1 car, struggles, but eventually wins. Just.
Next series begins with a crazily godlike ultra powerful bad guy turning up. You get the idea...
On and on, just like that. Each new series of Dragon Ball Z tries to outdo the previous one whilst simultaneously pushing the fiction’s boundaries in terms of power, ability and, consequently, believability. This lasted for something like three hundred series.
Since its release, World of Warcraft has had players tackling an ancient, slumbering, millenia-old being of pure madness. It’s had them dealing with defences designed by ancient gods. It's seen them attack ancient Titans, the creators of Azaroth. It’s asked them to tackle a Dragon Aspect, a creature created to protect the world. It’s about to have them deal with the unfathomably powerful harbinger of Death itself.
As awe-inspiring as some of these fights were, I felt I was getting a bit big for my priestly boots.
So Cataclysm marked a full stop in my Warcraft tale. I tried it at launch but found I’d grown disinterested in the narrative's seemingly never-ending power spiral that was starting to reach heights that made crazy Japanese animes look like Dickens.
The Pandaren represent yet another graphical leap in terms of character models. Here's hoping for the long overdue Orc and Human update.
Everybody likes Kung-Fu Fighting
Mists of Pandaria will mark my return to Azeroth because it looks a mite saner once again. Cataclysm was the essential baptism to get the world ready to move on. Mists of Pandaria is the true start of a new chapter for Azeroth.
World of Warcraft is going back to basics in a new land.
Look at the title; it’s a nice simple design with no devastation wrecking it. Look at the world, so full of new Eastern style and culture, with mountains to make Skyrim blush. Look at the Pandaren, all full of life and excited for the journey ahead.
‘But they’re scrapping talent trees!’ I hear one person cry, and it’s true, the huge skill trees are gone. In their place is a system that sees players choosing one of three skills every 15 levels. But pause to think for a second. Choosing one skill every 15 levels is the perfect ‘less is more’ answer to previously expected cookie cutter 'character'builds'. What was the point of so much choice if every guild expected one specific set up per class?
If implemented correctly, the new skill system could help level the field between the min/max obsessed hardcore WoW-er and the play-for-five-minutes casual.
‘But the Pet Combat system is stupid!’ Another commentator offers. While this new element of creature collection, leveling, and turn-based battling does whiff of Pikachu put through a western fantasy art filter I would simply tell its naysayers this - don’t play it.
Just looking at this screen makes me want to frolic between the trees...
Pet Combat won’t be an essential part of play but will help World of Warcraft's appeal to broaden. This natural evolution of the game’s existing vanity pet collectathon will become a game within the game, Inception-style, and likely entice an entirely new demographic to Azeroth. You know the ones, those that have been throwing online petitions Nintendo’s way since Pokémon Red and Blue first consumed hours of their lives. Extra, unique gameplay diversions are good. Especially in an MMO.
‘But Pandas!?’ A third imaginary person exclaims. But Warewolves, says I. But blue futuristic space immigrants. But floppy eared David Bowie inspired Elves. But cow people. World of Warcraft has never prided itself on races and its always worn its humour on its sleeve. The Pandaren fit in rather nicely if you ask me. That and they were in Warcraft III anyway.
All this is before anyone's considered Mists of Pandaria's undisputed crowd-pleasing additions; the return of world bosses, dungeon time trial challenges, Player vs Environment (PvE) 'scenarios', a new battleground type, the new fist fighting and healing Monk class and a whole new continent to explore.
Mists of Pandaria may not see the sky raining fire and brimstone. It may not feature rising tides intent on swallowing the world. And there likely won’t be a ginormous astral deity appearing out of nowhere to shake the world in his hands, which players will eventually beat away by poking his thumbs with their tiny pointy sticks.
No, Mists of Pandria is World of Warcraft reigned in and tied down. Mists of Pandaria is World of Warcraft finding its sense and sensibility once again. Mists of Pandaria is Warcraft delivering a fun and more believable tale in a exciting new continent. A continent free of unfathomable, unnecessarily obese 'grand' designs. A game much more confident in its focused ideas.
That’s why I’m applauding Blizzard, and that’s why I’ll be back in Azeroth to investigate the Mists of Pandaria.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter - @Dalagonash)
Infernal Helm grants the wearer (and PS3 owners) bonus XP in Diablo’s console outing
Discover just what makes a game a 'Willy Waver' in part two of Made2Game's bumper Diablo III review.