Having discussed all the previous wow endgames, we come at last to Mists of Pandaria.
I wrote a previous detailed post on leveling 85-90. I won’t repeat myself and go into the talent changes again. Overall, while I like the new rotations and abilities for Warlock Destruction (the only spec I’m really playing), and feel they are the best yet, I do miss a bit of the crafting that went into old school talent selection. I have little incentive nowadays to investigate changing my spec or talents.
But I must admit I adore Kil’Jaeden’s Cunning, which allows casting while moving. This is a game changer for warlocks. Even with a cast and movement speed penalty, it means not having to cancel that big cast in order to get out of the fire!
Of Justice and Valor
MOP, great as it is, is a highly evolutionary expansion. The Justice and Valor system was born from BC badge system, iterated on during LK, and finally codified under Cata. It passes nearly unaltered to MOP. We have four major point systems, two each for PVE and PVP. Since I don’t PVP at all anymore, I’ll only talk about Justice (the lessor) and Valor (the greater) points.
But first, I need to discuss item level. As discussed in my Cata post, with reforging and the like, WOW gearing is more and more about ilevel. Better is generally better and there is an elaborate spread based on gear source and difficulty level.
- 458: Justice rewards, superior blue quality
- 463: Heroic dungeon gear, superior blue quality
- 476: Mogu’shan Vaults LFR and crafted PvE gear bought from reputations, epic purple quality
- 483: Heart of Fear and Terrace of Endless Springs LFR
- 489: Vaults normal mode gear and valor point gear bought from reputations
- 496: Galleon and Sha loot table, Heart and Terrace normal mode gear, crafted gear from raid-drop patterns, and valor rewards for the patch 5.1 reputation vendor
- 502: Vaults heroic mode gear
- 509: Heart and Terrace heroic mode gear
Justice points are more useless than ever. You earn them exclusively by killing dungeon bosses, notably heroic dungeon bosses. They earn fairly slowly. They buy ilevel 458 blues. But wait, heroic dungeons drop ilevel 463 blues. By the time you have enough points to buy something, you probably have a replacement that is slightly better from drops. Justice points are therefore useful only to fill in the occasional piece that you are unlucky on. I bought two items fairly quickly after hitting level 90 and wore them for a few days, perhaps a week, before replacing them. Theoretically you can also spend Justice points on heirloom items for your alts. I’ve sworn off this deadly addiction and so wouldn’t know.
Valor points are very different. You can earn them doing just about anything: Heroics dungeons, Challenge dungeons, Scenarios, daily quests, LFR, regular and heroic raids. Valor points cap at 1000 points a week. There is a strong incentive to reach your cap, but it takes awhile, probably at least 10-15 hours a week of play. If you don’t cap, you aren’t gearing as fast as you could. They buy you ilevel 489 epics, which is the same level dropped by the first half of the first tier of normal raids. After patch 5.1 Valor buys ilevel 496 and upgrades. For active raiders with a guild, these are supplementary, filling in on missing drops and allowing faster gearing. For players (like me) who only use LFR (more on that later), Valor gear is always better than raid gear, and represents the best and most important items. The only better gear open to us is world boss gear, and that’s very limited in selection.
Because of the cap, and its importance, grinding Valor feels like a bit of a chore, or at least certainly an obligation. This is a difficult balance for the designers to achieve. Set the cap too high, and there would be no limit to how much time you could sink into it, set it too low, and you feel that post cap, you are “wasting your time.” For me personally, it’s just about right.
In Vanilla and BC you spent a lot of time playing for no reward, and these point systems address that issue to a significant degree. This time around, the Valor system seems better than ever, rewarding all sorts of play. The Justice points seem like a fail and basically irrelevant.
The professions got their usual cleanups and tweaks. Many remain boring. Herbalism is the same as it ever was. Alchemy is even simpler than ever, as you now learn new recipes not from the trainer, but from making previous ones. This shouldn’t be confused with the more elitist Burning Crusade discovery system. By the time I hit level 90 and max skill level I’d learned everything. The better/cheaper “alchemist only” potion is nice. The Alchemist trinket is decent, but after patch 5.1 badly needs an upgrade to epic. I level enchanting on an alt and that seems to have lost the interesting daily mechanic from LK and been tied back to reputations. That’s annoying on an alt as I don’t want to level those reps there. These recipes should be BOA.
Archeology got a hell of a lot easier. During Cata I gave up on it because it was intensely boring and slow. Now I leveled it in 2-3 hours. But there isn’t anything good to make. No epics, no cool pets or mounts, just some mediocre blue weapons.
Fishing is easy to level now as it’s tied to the Angler’s reputation. It’s got a few cool things, although not as cool as the old BC Mr. Pinchy days.
Cooking is the real standout. Wow. This got a lot of love. It’s tied in with the whole farming game (see below), the awesome Tillers rep (see below) and even in of itself is chock full of goodies. There are now six different sub schools to level, and it takes considerable time and effort, but the whole combined cooking/farming/Tillers thing is great fun. I’m even training up my apprentice. They need to do all the professions up with this kind of complexity.
Mote in your Eye
A new system this time around is the “harmony” system. Monsters randomly and occasionally drop these little “motes of harmony” which combine into “spirits of harmony.” These currency items can be used to buy just about any top trade skill item, or even some of the other trade skill currencies like for cooking and archeology.
This sort of combines and improves two general systems/trends from previous xpacs. One is the “limited top profession item.” For alchemy this was the Lotus. For enchanting the epic enchanting mat. Motes normalize and make less frustrating the collection of these resources.
They are also an evolution of the older crafting essences that came in various flavors. Motes are a marked improvement. Spirits of Harmony are generally quite useful, and you accumulate them at a slow but reasonable pace. I’ve never been a heavy crafter and the old piles of 10-12 types of currencies for each xpac still clog up my bank alt.
A new addition to MOP is the scenario. This is a mini dungeon, for three players, not requiring a tank or healer. There are about 10 of them and you enter through LFG with virtually no queue (because of no tank/healer crunch). They reward some Valor and are designed to include hefty doses of lore.
Being even easier than dungeons (which were pretty easy), I found them ridiculously boring. They yield Valor, and are approximately the same Valor/time invested as dungeons, yet duller. In dungeons I enjoy boss fights and hate trash. Most of the scenarios feel like short outdoor dungeons with a 100% trash ratio. I hate trash. The rewards themselves are just some random and useless blues. Perhaps they might have been upgrades for about a day after hitting 90, but that’s about it. I haven’t even run all the scenarios. There is one in the Temple of the White Tiger, highly reminiscent of Lich King’s Trial of the Crusader, that is alright, as it’s just a series of bosses.
Shades of the Lich King
The dungeons in MOP have all been carefully tuned. They’re all pretty short and fun and none of them stand out as annoying or particularly more difficult than the others. Difficulty tuning is back where it was at launch in Lich King. There is no need to run a level 90 normal level dungeon. Maybe if you’re an ignoramus at gearing, you might have to pop into one or two. Basically you drop into heroic and steamroll. They take 20-30 minutes. CC is completely gone again. It’s like every dungeon is Heroic Utgarde Keep or Azjol-Nerub. My least favorite these days are Shado-Pan Monastery and Siege of Niuzao Temple, but only because they take slightly longer than the others. They aren’t harder and they are cool enough. This time around there is nothing like Halls of Lightening or Occulus to throw anyone a loop. It’s worth noting that in my entire (extensive) MOP playing experience I never ONCE had a dungeon group fall apart. Every single one has completed. Wipes of any sort are rare, and I doubt I’ve ever wiped more than 2-3 times. This is unprecedented, as in Vanilla, BC, and Cata groups that self destructed were more the rule than the exception. Even in LK it happened, particularly in Occulus or some of the Icecrown instances.
Gear is solid at 463 and things are well itemized. However, it only took me a week before I had every piece of dungeon gear I needed, after that, they’re just an easy way to earn valor (80 points a day).
Blizzard added a cool new Challenge mode in which you can run instances for speed with normalized gear. I’ve never tried it. The mode requires that you run with friends, and I don’t have a big enough group of in game friends or a guild.
The big Grind
While reputations have always been part of the WOW endgame, with MOP Blizzard put a lot of extra effort into them. In the BC-LK era reputations usually awarded a couple of small things each. Generally a free epic, maybe a cosmetic item like a pet, crafting recipes, and often enchants for certain slots like head and shoulder. While small, these enchants were considered mandatory by most raiders. So Blizzard removed them, but at the same time tied the Justice and Valor gear into the system. Rep gear isn’t free anymore, pretty much all Justice and Valor gear is divided randomly among four (five with patch 5.1) reputations. Initially, honored was needed for Justice gear and Revered for Valor. Blizzard argued that this wasn’t mandatory, and it probably wasn’t, strictly speaking, for serious raiders, as they have access to equal or better gear in raid. However, in practice, for those of us without guilds the Valor gear is the best available. Even serious raiders tend to optimize for getting the most stuff as quickly as possible. This meant bringing at least the four major reps to revered. Two of them, the August Celestials and the Shado-Pan are mysteriously tied to the Golden Lotus, and so you can’t even start their grinds until reaching revered with Lotus.
In LK and Cata you could combine tabards with dungeon grinding to speed leveling of the reputations. In MOP, the new tabards no longer give rep, although you can still finish out reps from the old xpacs in the new dungeons. This means doing the dailies for each rep. And dailies there are in spades. On the plus side, these give valor points and the special new currency that increases loot drops (more on that later). On the minus side, there are a LOT of dailies.
I’ve reached exalted in every MOP rep, including the fifth important one introduced with patch 5.1. At the beginning, and particularly about two weeks after 90, this meant A LOT of dailies. I’ll discuss all the reps below because Blizzard deliberately built a different style grind into each of them in order to experiment, but at the peak, it is very easy to have 2-3 HOURS of dailies in your queue PER DAY. On one level, this is a lot of end game content, as you could do it slower, on the other, for a few weeks it felt like a Herculean chore.
Because this rep gates two others, it’s very important. And the GL has a lot of good Valor items itself. Here Blizzard went with a “more is more” theory of dailies. There are three hubs, each with four quests that are completed sequentially per day and a final boss quest. This means 13 dailies (plus some connector quests). Not all of these are available at the start, as the hubs open up as you advance. The individual quests are well enough designed for the most part, but for a new 90 can actually be pretty hard. At the beginning, competition for mobs was fierce and frustrating. This chain alone could take 45 minutes a day and often felt very tedious.
There were also a couple different cool ways of earning bonus rep. Periodically you find keys which can be used to open secret chests (available only on select end dailies) that give you extra rep bonuses. GL mobs also (extremely) rarely drop a crystal that once you have 10, allows capturing an (extremely) rare mount. By exalted I had 2/10.
The second major rep open at the start is pretty cool. There are about 9 quests available per day in about four areas within a zone. You can select various Klaxxi (bug dude) champions to help you too. The quests are pretty cool, but some of the areas were better than others and the set could run a little long. There were a bunch of cool intermediate non-daily progressions on the quest-line. Much better than GL, but 5-6 quests would have been better than 9.
There is a collection mechanic here too. Killing mobs in the zone earn you crystals that you can turn in for rep. This is a great idea, but the drop rate on them was so low as to make little difference.
SP also has champions to help you and rotates roughly 6 quests between three locations. In between, you have non-daily champions to fight. This would have been an excellent rep except that one of the locations, “stra-vess” (sic) was very annoying and represented the only place in the entire daily grind across all reps where I died on a frequent basis. The mob density was just out of control.
This rep chain opens late and runs slow. Every day there are about 4 quests available in one of four spots in wildly different zones. You find the location at your home base and fly there. The quests are pretty quick and easy, but the grind goes on for longer than the other reps. One of the four zones (the Niuzao Temple) is far more annoying than the other three. One of the quests in the White Tiger temple complex (the one where you cross the bridges avoiding the wind) was incredibly frustrating and best skipped.
Dominance Offensive / Operation Shieldwall
This new rep, added with patch 5.1, gates the 496 ilevel rep gear and is very important. It’s also a very well designed daily grind. Blizzard learned from the earlier four in short order. There is an alternating mixture of non-daily quest groups of 3-4 quests and a group of 5 dailies that rotates between 4 hubs. There is even a cool daily mini-boss. The dailies are pretty quick and enjoyable (except the cave one was annoying because the caves are so dark it’s hard to see the tunnels) and the mix in of non-dailies felt great. It doesn’t have the tedious chore-like quality that GL, Klaxxi, and Shado-Pan often did.
This is a fun rep that is outside of normal progression. Bringing it to exalted wins you a cool flying magic disc mount and a few aides to the archeology profession. But it’s also the easiest rep, taking only an hour or two flying around Pandaria to level.
Order of the Cloud Serpent
You level this rep for one reason (besides the Valor points): to earn the right to fly on cloud dragons. It’s a fast and easy rep that thats takes 2-3 weeks and combines some profession tie-in quests and a rotating pool of fairly simple fight and gather dailies. Every once in a while it is possible to engage in cloud dragon racing. This was really cool. The problem is, there seems to be no way to know if they are available (which is about once a week) without flying over to the far away zone and checking. So once I hit exalted, I didn’t bother, because I didn’t want to haul out there for nothing.
This rep is tied to fishing. It provides 3 quick and easy fishing quests every day. They’re pretty easy, but not very exciting, and the quest hub has no flight point (serious annoyance). Once I maxed out fishing it was irritating to head down there and grind it out, even though it didn’t take long. I gave up for awhile at revered, then eventually finished it out.
There is also a separate reputation with master angler Nat Pagle. This earns you two different items and requires that you fish around the world for about 45 minutes every day for several months to fish up some EXTREMELY rare fish. This is the only grind in MOP I didn’t bother with, because it’s for the very extreme and the rewards aren’t compelling. It should at least have had a cool pet.
The Tillers faction, which dove tails in with cooking and the new farming mechanic, is hands down the best designed grind in the game. This all has several components. The profession itself has been split into 6 different grinds (the ways of cooking). They are all very similar, but for number collecting obsessives, it’s very addictive to level each. Then the master Tiller reputation is a nicely balanced 5-6 daily per day mix that rotates between 3-4 hubs. Some of these quests are very easy and some are related to farming. Some of the quests aren’t really attached to the hubs but are randomly selected floaters around the zone. Many are very creative (if a little annoying) like the weed war, pest control, and chase the chicken quests. One of the daily quests earns you a cooking token. These are actually quite valuable as they speed your leveling of the cooking profession and production of useful feasts.
Progressing through the main reputation opens up periodic cool quests that “level” the farm by adding more plots. You can also buy quests at one of the vendors at different reps to add convenience features to the farm like sprinklers, pesticide, and the master plow. The rep and token vendors have all sorts of fun and useful items. If you get enough tokens you can buy an apprentice that has a new daily him/herself that you can level. This opens up other stuff. As you level, your farm gains small cosmetic “improvements” relating to the quests (mostly farm animals).
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, there are eight or so quest givers who all have their OWN reputations. You level these up by completing their quests (randomly in the daily sets) and/or making particular foods for them and/or finding these oddball farming drops and/or finding the same drops in dirt piles around Pandaria. Reaching max reputation with a particular Tiller opens up a small person specific quest chain.
All in all it feels very fresh and varied, far more so than any of the other rep grinds, and being intertwined as it is with farming and cooking encourages you to engage in those other skills just to see what might be coming. Bravo!
Big Bags of Loot
MOP reintroduces world bosses, two of them to start. One of these, the Sha of Anger, is a replacement for the LK/Cata PVP loot boss. Sha is easy to kill with 30+ people (it can even be done with 25). He drops a random mix of PVP and the PVE ilevel 496 hands and pants. The first time you kill him, he gives a token for an ilevel 476 boot. He can be looted once a week and his respawn timer is 10 minutes. For LFR people like myself, this makes him very valuable as the set pieces are half a tier better in score than the 483 stuff from LFR. With the short timer, the only difficulty with this boss is finding a group. If one needs him, you usually have to do that on Tuesday, often early Tuesday. After that, too many people have killed him and you’re unlikely to find a raid.
The other world boss is Galleon. He drops a mix of various 496 loot and is fairly easy to kill. The problem with him is that his respawn timer is several days. I’ve killed him twice, and both times it happened after a server reset. At this point, when he’s up, both Alliance and Horde are usually gathered to try to kill him and it becomes a strange battle in which one can wipe the other side, but that results in flagging and a near infinite back and forth between the factions. We were able to kill him once when a Horde group outside the raid generously took it upon themselves to keep wiping the Alliance side.
Way of the Raid
MOP has more raiding options than ever, and as this is an area that keeps evolving, it’s worth mentioning. There are now five types: LFR (25), Normal (10), Normal (25), Heroic (10), and Heroic (25). LFR has it’s own per boss lockout, but the other four share the same lockout. I.e. if you kill the boss on Heroic (10) you can’t loot it again on Normal (25) in the same week. The lockout is all per boss, and only affects loot (but that’s what matters, doesn’t it?). The two normal modes share gear, so do the two heroic modes. I only run LFR these days, but presumably 25s are pretty rare, as they are harder to form and offer little advantage at this point. This is kinda a shame, but I can understand Blizzard not wanting to add even MORE loot levels.
LFR has a new loot system which is quite controversial. In the traditional model, still used in normal/heroic raids, the boss drops his loot, and the party divides it up. In the new LFR system, each player has his own individual random role, which appears to be about 1 in 10, to see if he gets loot or gold. If he gets loot than he is handed a random item from the loot table that fits the spec he is currently using. There is no consideration made as to what items you have. You can get an item that you already have even if something else in the loot table would be more useful. There is no trading. On the plus side, there is no drama. Each player’s loot situation is totally separate. On the minus side, you get a lot of “gold” and it’s annoying. Other players also get items they can’t use (already have), but you could, which feels frustrating. Overall, it’s probably better as drama in LFR is a bad thing.
To complicate this, doing daily quests earns a kind of currency that you can spend once a week to earn 3 coins in a different currency (up to 10 max in your inventory) that can be spent to buy extra rolls at a bosses loot table. In practice, you use these on the three bosses each week that have stuff you need the most. This is kinda nice as it increases your chance of getting the things you want. It is possible to partially abuse this system by killing a boss a second (or third, or fourth) time and using the coin, even if you are not eligible anymore for the regular drop. I don’t do this, too tedious.
Raid Finder Rules
I didn’t play Cata during the final months with its Raid Finder, so for me, LFR was new to MOP. This is the ultimate conclusion (for now) of Blizzard’s trend toward “let everyone see the content.” The raids are broken into 3 boss chunks with minimal trash (still sometimes too much, as in Heart of Anger). There is a gear level requirement, but the tuning is very easy, aimed at allowing the bosses to be killed with no active coordination and 0-2 wipes. The first week a particular dungeon opens, when most of the people are completely unfamiliar with the mechanics, there are wipes. After that, it’s a total steamroll. Mechanics that wipe raids have been “tuned down” so they don’t. There isn’t really much skill, although I personally, as a Warlock, amuse myself by focusing on maxing my DPS.
For me, LFR is a facsimile of real raiding. It’s missing the challenge and camaraderie, but it does feels kinda like raiding and yields pretty good loot. It also can be done on your own schedule in 30-45 minute chunks, which is huge. Raiding with a guild is scheduled, like 6-10pm Tues-Thurs, and involves drama and stress. LFR is queue up, steamroll, maybe collect loot.
Everyone is a Legend
What makes up a legendary has really changed in MOP, and probably for the better. I don’t know if they plan to still have the old kind of legendary weapons, but there is a new quest chain that anyone who raids can get which is more equivalent to the old Mount Hyjal or Ice Crown rep chains that allows you to slowly, but fairly straightforwardly, earn into legendary gems that can be placed into the sockets of special weapons dropping from Terrace of the Endless Spring. These are a pretty big boost, +500 in a primary stat, and the chain continues allowing you to keep upgrading slowly across the course of the xpac. This is a real nice touch and very compelling, although it’s a different thing than the traditional legendaries.
No need to PVP
As a PVE player, there seems to be no need to PVP in any way shape or form. With the Sha of Anger having taken over for the PVP bosses and no new world PVP zone, that’s gone. This is fine by me.
Return to the Old Raids
One of the new things I’ve been doing a lot of is actually old stuff. The drastic scale up of every stat has made it possible for level 90 toons, particularly us OP Warlocks, to solo nearly everything in the first three expansions. Vanilla raids are trivial (for Locks) and Blizzard has made some effort to change a few of the mechanics that were impossible to solo (Viscidius, Razorgore, who is still a pain). Plus, you can now go into old raids without a raid group and they added cool minipets to the Vanilla raids. I’ve been running MC, BWL, Naxx, and AQ40 every week and have all but two of the pets. I’ve also nearly completed my Felheart, Nemesis, and T2.5 sets (I had a lot of them from the Vanilla days, but the RNG is fickle). This is all good fun.
And last week, I even earned Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker! Too bad it can’t be used to xmorph. My Lock does dress old school, usually in Felheart or Nemesis. Even some of the really difficult titles can be soloed. I soloed Sarth 3 drakes 10 man and 3 manned the 25 man (I had the titles from before but I wanted the mounts). I soloed Ulduar 10 to get Starcaller and even facerolled some BC heroics to finish out two reps I hadn’t quite knocked out originally.
The Tillers have brought limited Farmville to WOW. Once you level up your farm you can grow up to 16 crops a day. It’s possible to make feasts pretty much for free this way, or easily earn extra cooking tokens. There are some optional plants that will earn you crafting materials or even teleports. It’s a pretty simple mini-game, and takes about 5 minutes a day, but it’s fairly fun.
I have yet to invest anytime in the pet battles, which is surprising given that I’m a pet collector. I’ve heard they are really fun and Pokemon like. They certainly have vastly expanded the mini-pet inventory.
Back to the Fun
MOP has brought a notable effort to really add a lot of fun and vanity items and quests. This stuff has been in short supply since Vanilla but there is a lot of it now. So many one of a kind vanity items that they fill up the bank. There are neat weird quests and achievements based on lore and whatnot too. We could still use more actual USEFUL items that have weird powers, like in Vanilla, but this is a good start.
The only patch so far is 5.1 and it’s a very evolutionary patch, including no new raid or instance. It did beef up the southernmost zone and add a faction, more dailies, and a rep vendor. The faction is one of the better ones. To help raiders spend their valor points a new upgrade system has been added that allows Justice points to upgrade blue items and Valor points to upgrade epics. This is a pretty useful point sink. It seems Blizzard intends that the epics from the patch 5.2 raid will not be upgradable until patch 5.3, which seems a decent idea to slow inflation. The item upgrade in general, while useful, continues the long trend toward anonymous gear based on ilevel.
Another very useful addition is that MOP reps have gained a hastily implemented feature for doubling the speed at which you earn revered to exalted, and passing on the advantage to alts when a main has hit revered. This must be very welcome for alts, but I wish they’d given me a feat of strength for leveling all my reps to exalted BEFORE the patch shipped.
In conclusion, MOP really draws together all of the elements present in Cata but rebalances them into a much much more effective (and therefore fun whole). There is a LOT to spend your time on at level 90 and pretty much all of it is either very fun, for vanity purposes (pets, mounts, xmorph etc), or contributes directly to your character via Valor. All elements of the game are more accessible than ever. I have a level 25 guild that I share with another real life friend, but it’s essentially a ghost guild and no one else is ever online. Yet I’m able through LFR and Valor to advance my character steadily.
Frankly, it keeps me playing and while without real raiding some of the extreme highs of the game are gone, it’s rarely frustrating and generally very fun. Pretty impressive after 8 years!