First a bit of background on me and WOW (World of Warcraft):
I bought the game at launch but didn’t start playing until 2005. Once I did, I was instantly addicted — truly I’ve never been so addicted to a game in my life — and I’ve played at all stages of the game’s evolution. In Vanilla, my main (Undead Warlock) raided everything except for Naxx. Even my Night Elf Rogue wore Bloodfang. In Burning Crusade, my Warlock tanked Illidan and cleared all but the last bosses of Sunwell. My Paladin and Druid healed and tanked Karazan. In Wrath of the Lich King, I raided through to and including Icecrown with both my Warlock and Holy Paladin. But at the end of LK my guild fell apart and I didn’t have the willpower to apply to another, so with Cataclysm I merely leveled my Warlock, geared him for raiding, then gave up.
After almost two years hiatus, I swore I wouldn’t bother with Mists of Pandaria. Of course, this didn’t stop me from buying the collector’s edition. I have all the others except for Vanilla. I didn’t even log in for a few days.
Talent Trees et al
When I finally zoned in, I was daunted by the effort needed to revamp my interface before I could play. All the spells had changed. I had to pick new talents from the completely redesigned (non) talent trees. I had to update all my addons, glyph, and layout my action bars nearly from scratch. I’ve long preferred Destruction on my Warlock, with a minor in Demonology, only having briefly played Affliction during LK.
I found the new Destruction spells make for a much tidier toolbar. A lot of abilities are gone or moved to other specs and so all the main combat spells actually fit on convenient keys for the first time since vanilla. I’ll eventually have to see if this is true on my Paladin. Historically, the Pally’s obscene collection of roles and buffs has meant the default action bars don’t even have enough slots for all the abilities.
Anyway, the new Destruction rotation didn’t take long to learn — although it’s really weird not to have Lifetap and Corruption which were such longtime Warlock staples. The new Destro Lock is more Mage-like than ever with only a single DOT. But the burst is pretty awesome and thanks to a bunch of defensive cooldowns and heals, survivability is excellent. I didn’t choose either Howl of Terror or Shadowfury so my only problem is if I get mobbed by 5+ tough enemies.
I’m not sure how I feel about this new talent system. Broken as they were, I liked the talent trees back in the old days of Vanilla and BC. But the compressed Cata trees felt a bit lame. And most importantly, what seems to be missing now-a-days is the feeling of upgrading while leveling. Between 85 and 89 nothing happened. No talents. No new abilities of note (one minor passive change to Backdraft). All rather anticlimactic. I liked slowly depositing points into those trees and eventually gaining new abilities.
Pandaria looks gorgeous. From the trailers, I was initially skeptical of the whole Kung-fu Panda thing, but it actually works. The Asian look, and the shear dramatic verticality of many zones can be breathtaking. They are easily the best looking yet. I liked the look of BC and LK, but Cata never did it for me. Most of those zones were flat, and far too dislocated.
Jade Forest is a great place to begin and it’s really lovely. Valley of the Four Winds is tongue in cheek, but reminds me (in a good way) of Nagrand which was my favorite BC zone. Kun-Lai Summit is another favorite. This has a high Tibetan feel that is really cool. Being on foot/mount is great, as the scale when you crest some of these mountains wouldn’t work if one was flying. Krasarang Wilds and Townlong Steppes are a little less exciting, but certainly fine. I haven’t played the Dread Wastes yet.
The music is top notch.
I played Jade Forest, Valley of the Four Winds, Krasarang Wilds, and Kun-Lai Summit in that order, completing 100% of the quests in each before moving on (I’ve had Loremaster since two weeks after LK shipped, so this is no surprise). I turned 90 just as I finished up Kun-Lai. I’ve always wondered why Blizzard paces the XP so that you usually have two zones left over when you hit max level. In LK it was three! The Pandarian zones are the biggest yet. Jade Forest and Kun-Lai are almost heroically big. Too big perhaps, as I was starting to feel a little weary moving into the final sub zones of Kun-Lai.
The whole process took me less than a week and I wasn’t playing that hard.
Overall difficulty was very easy. Similar to Cata, but much easier than BC and Vanilla. In those old days you used to die while leveling. Sometimes a lot. I probably died 2-3 times from 85-90.
This was the best leveling experience in a long time, but I can’t help but think it would have been even better with 10 levels, and with the pacing spread out so you hit 90 right at the end of Dread Wastes and with more spell and talent rewards per level.
The quests seem hugely improved. There are still plenty of kill and gather quests, but they are doled out in a really efficient way. You almost always get about five quests at a time all concentrating on a single area. They usually mix collection and kill quests. You head back and pick up a new crop. There is no sense that you might miss some. It’s extremely easy to do them all and feel that you got 100% of the quests. This is in marked contrast to the haphazard nature of old vanilla quests. There is a total absence of postal (long distance delivery) quests and long back and forth quest chains. They also seem to have toned down those giant story chains that took a lot of time in Cata. I’m talking about the Bronzebeard one and that weird vision quest thing in the tedious and way-too-big Vashj’ir. I don’t miss these. Replacing it are some fun chains like the odd but funny monkey/sniper adventure and the highly amusing kung-fu training. It’s all pretty light hearted but enjoyable.
For perhaps the first time ever, the quest rewards were actually useful. I pretty rapidly replaced my blues and purples with green (and the occasional blue) quest rewards. The huge thing is that the rewards are ALL for your class! In the old days, particularly as a DPS only caster, 90% of the rewards couldn’t even be equipped, or were useless healing gear. Plus the rapid step up of base stats (dare we say runaway inflation – my level 90 Lock has 400,000 HP, at 60, in raid gear, I had 6k) means that in MOP, a level 87 green is probably better than your level 85 raid gear, at least for leveling.
Interestingly, there are almost NO socketed items until the endgame. Blizzard doesn’t seem to want you to have to deal with it. There is no need for enchants. The game is easy anyway, and the same scaling means that old cheaper enchants are a waste of time and new endgame MOP enchants too expensive to bother with on leveling gear. You grab and go.
Bag space, at least for a hoarder like me, is still a problem. I need to move some more crap into void storage. The asian look of some of the armor is cool, although I’ve been stuck at 90 with a dumbass looking green hat and need to transmorg it.
My Warlock is, and always has, been Herbology/Alchemy. I’m going to write up a separate post later on the level 90 endgame where I will discuss the bigger changes in the skills, and confine myself here to the experience while leveling. It’s clear that Blizzard is currently thinking that you should concentrate on crafting skills at 90.
Gathering nodes are, however, available in almost obscene quantity. This is in stark contrast to LK where there was barely an herb to be found. I hit 600 with Herbology about half way thru. At first I thought there was a crazy overabundance of Green Tea Leaf, but then I realized this holds for every Pandarian herb except for Golden Lotus. It’s nice that you get XP from the nodes as this rewards you for the 30 seconds spent chasing them down.
Alchemy right now is also very straightforward and doesn’t even require ANY return visits to the trainer or grinding of reputations. This is perhaps boring, but more on this in the next post.
Cooking and Fishing are clearly intended to level at the end as they are both tied to level 90 daily quests. First Aid is, as usual, trivial, and I find Archeology too tedious and am stuck at about 250.
There are only four leveling dungeons: Stormstout Brewery, Temple of the Jade Serpent and at level 87: Mogu’shan Palace and Shado-Pan Monastery. These are all really great leveling dungeons. The quest givers are inside and there are exactly two quests for each. They take about 15-20 minutes and are easy but fun. They feel different enough. They don’t require any sort of crowd control or marking. You just pull a pack and whack away at it and then pull another. Even adds won’t wipe you.
The XP and gear rewards are very good. The gear for sure is better than from quests. The overall balance and length of these instances is very consistent. All four are fun and there is no frustration factor.
If I had a major criticism I think that all the MOP dungeons should have been leveling dungeons and the heroics reserved for 90. I hopped right into heroics without ever playing the level 90 normals (and had no problem) so these are wasted. The designers would have been better off making the Palace and Monastery available at level 86 and the two bug dungeons available at 88 in normal mode.
Overall, the instances serve as nice breaks from the tedium of questing. Now-a-days, with the dungeon finder, you can just queue and keep questing, hop into one, and then back out to questing. It’s all very efficient. You don’t even have to walk in once like in Cata. At some level, I miss the cool interweaving of the world and dungeon quests that Vanilla and BC had, but in practice, back when I leveled vanilla, the time it took to gather a group and run the ludicrously large dungeons was not adequately compensated by the rewards. It was much faster to quest on past them.
I’m also of two minds about the dumbing down. It began with Lich King, saw a frustrating reversion in Cata, and is back in full force. I guess for leveling dungeons, where one is in a hurry, this is a good thing.
Despite the fact that I collect vanity pets (I had over 175 even before this expansion), I haven’t dealt with the whole battle pet mini-game yet. It doesn’t turn up XP or gear, so I figured I’d save it for when I run out of normal stuff to do.
I keep meaning to play a Pandarian (Monk) through the turtle zone, but I haven’t yet.
While there is nothing radically new about MOP, it feels a hell of a lot better than Cata. I didn’t expect to like it, but I did. It was fun to level again and Blizzard has cleaned up a lot of stuff that after four expansions had become a little messy. This “new” game is still very much World of Warcraft. They have not reinvented the wheel, but they continual the usual iterative improvements. I suspect that Cataclysm suffered from the redoing of the old zones, which was a lot of content that continuing players like myself never saw.
Anyway, the real meat of the matter is in the end game, and I’ll discuss that in a second post.
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My novels: The Darkening Dream and Untimed