the good and bad of wow: mists of pandaria

I sometimes post my thoughts on major games I’ve played recently, and I notice I hadn’t said boo about WoW: Mists of Pandaria. I may as well say something!

I had taken quite a break from WoW last November when Skyrim, SWTOR, and D3 all hit in succession. And by break I mean, hadn’t logged in at all. But I’m back with MoP and enjoying WoW for what it is: a well-polished and solid game/experience. I play plenty, but I long ago put the raiding behind me (pre-Wrath, in fact), so my time is just leisure time spent gaming. That said, I tend to just do fun things with my guild and other relatively autonomous things like running 5-man Heroics and such. I have 5 toons at 85-90 (Shaman and DK are 90), a Druid sitting at 60, and a Monk in his 40s, I prefer healing/tanking over DPS (my only true DPSer is a Warlock), but when solo-questing I’ll of course offspec as DPS.

The Bad

The Farmville/Cooking Timesink – I’m one of those players who *tends* to max professions when it is practical (primaries yes, cooking usually, fishing sometimes, archeology not a chance). So it is a bit annoying at how convoluted the whole MoP cooking progress is with its 89 dailies and such. Bleh. Thumbs down.

Mess of a Skill/Talent System – In short, the talent/skill system is a mess. You have spells in a spellbook, more stuff in a glyph system that feels more like a tumor than a valuable feature, and a talent system in another spot. This makes organizing what you do and who you are a mess. The old system was just fine where you spend points. The D3 system was brilliant because it made multiple builds viable rather than just one “acceptable” build. But the MoP system is still fraught with “if you’re this class, you still need to pick things this way.” For most classes, the playstyle has changed almost not at all since Cataclysm (which is good for some classes!), so the net change is just annoyance. Likewise, leveling a new character is not as satisfying when you don’t get points to spend but for every 15 levels, and instead things are just handed to you on a platter. Boo to that. Like I said, I get the changes and what Blizz kinda wants to do (allow for multiple playstyles even if you play the same class as someone else), but the talents and glyphs usually don’t allow it. For instance, all healer Shaman will basically pick the same talents, because the other choices are for PVP or for the other builds.

5-man Heroics are Too Easy – Last night my 85 Disc Priest healed an 87 Fury tank through the starter normal 5-man with no issues and me rusty as all get-out. These new 5-mans are quick and, dare I say it, easy. Cataclysm 5-mans had character; you needed to execute what you needed to do, usually needed Crowd-Control on trash, and the balance at the start between difficulty and gear was brilliant. MoP 5-man heroics are a joke. There’s a few mechanics, but where a mistake in Cata would cost a death, in MoP it costs about 10% health, unless you are standing in something for 15 seconds. I get that there’s now Challenge Modes for these, but those are way more difficult for a casual player like me, and you can’t just queue for them with other random players. Honestly, Wrath heroics were more interesting and “harder” than MoP heroics, and that’s saying something since Wrath heroics were also easy.

Really, even for a casual player like me, I find most of this game is pretty easy these days.

Loot Rooling Table – This table just plain sucks. And I swear I see more asshats rolling on things they shoudn’t because of it. I just want to see the queued choices easily before I make my pick, and not in a window that keeps changing on me.

Female Pandas have Fox Tails – Not all of them, but the option is there. It’s telling, though, that almost every single female panda in the starter zone has a normal panda nub of a tail. The fox tail is just stupid.

Grinding Dailies for Rep – Never been a fan of these; really loved when I could wear tabards in dungeons to earn rep automatically, since those are fun. MoP? Nope, I have to grind rep by doing endless dailies. Boring and annoying. (It’s hard for me to get too down on it though, being from Classic I remember old school Timbermaw and Winterspring rep grinding and even Aldor/Scryer grinding in BC…)

Story Moments are a bit Sappy/Obvious

– The underlying story and underlying evil of MoP is this bad spirit that awakens because the Alliance and Horde “find” Pandaria and, as they are wont to do, start fighting with each other. It’s hand-fisted and obvious that the point of the expansion is to exagerrate the silly hostility between Alliance and Horde, point out how that bad karma fuels this underlying evil spirit (Sha), and how there should be middle ground, blah blah. A fundamental concept (and poignant in an election year) but it just feels a bit childish, ya know? Simple. And it’s not even fully fleshed out yet in the game progress…

The Good

The Game – First of all, having played SWTOR and even some GW2 in the past year, I appreciate all the things Blizzard does right with WoW, which is really most everything. It’s a solid piece of work and worth the money I pay for it. The game looks great, plays great, and so on. Also, the voice acting is excellent; not SWTOR-quality, but good.

LFG/LFR – The Looking For Raid tool came out just as I was taking my break from WoW, so I never got to use it. I still haven’t used it since I’m skeered (ok, it’s on the plan this weekend), but the idea that I can casually queue for a raid (as well as 5-mans) is absolutely awesome. It might not be as smooth and fair and awesome as a guild raid, but at least this is on MY time and not making me a SLAVE to someone else’s time. Win. (This option is one of the 3 things that crippled SWTOR.)

Pandas are Cute but the Game Didn’t Dumb Down – When pandas were announced for MoP, fans decried Blizzard for selling out to be more family-friendly. Yes, they’re cuter, but I’m happy that I don’t feel like I’m playing a game trying to attract kids. It has its dark moments and still has its dark humor, so I really *mostly* feel like I’m playing the same game I have been all this time. There are a few exceptions, but they’re fleeting moments.

Transmog – I know, Transmog came out just before I took my break, but it’s a game-changer to me. Transmogrification allows me to change any piece of gear I own to visually look like another piece of gear that I own. This means that armor set I earned 4 years ago raiding, while it is outdated and I can’t wear it and be a viable player today, I can make my current gear LOOK exactly like it. I’ve always said since BC that our gear will always be replaced and improved; the happiness is just in how badass you look in the moment. And now my toon can look relatively unique compared to others. (Especially since my Priest still has Benediction, which is no longer attainable.) This means I can also casually spend my time…

Old Raids Are Easy – Many old raids and 5-mans (and achievements) are now soloable or duoable. In fact, most everything pre-Cata should be duoable. Last weekend I sent my 90 DK into Gruul, Mag, TK, Hyjal, and BT and solo’d every boss. This is great to gather up some gear to transmog and look cool. (Nope, didn’t do SSC because it has some tricky parts and I only ever went through it a few times at level, so I don’t really know it.)

Class Playstyles – Despite the messy skill/talent system, the classes still play solidly, though that is more due to changes in Cataclysm than in MoP, but it’s to MoP’s credit that many didn’t change. My Shaman heals the same (though Teluric Currents returns less mana now). My Disc priest plays the same (though I miss the mana regen). My Blood DK mostly plays the same (less button-mashing). Prot Warrior plays the same. Warlock…ahh the warlock is my biggest changer and he’s lost his long-time staple Shadow Bolt, but at least as Affliction there is no getting away from the DoT mania. I’ll miss the SB but I appreciate that he’s truly differentiated now. In fact, all three trees are tightened up a lot to play differently. Nice.

Pet Battles – Yeah, not everyone thinks these are worthwhile, but it’s really fun and cool and interesting. Thumbs up to the throwback Warcraft 1 & 2 music. I’ve never played Pokemon, which is a bit of a travesty since I grew up with and loved and still love turn-based RPGs, so turn-based combat is a nice addition. I’ve not wasted much time in it (and make no mistake, it’s a time-waster!), but it is nice to know I have that to do if I want.

Population Sharing – I didn’t really think of it as a problem, but Blizzard implemented a way of getting players from different servers to be able to play in otherwise low-populated zones together. This means rather than leveling a character and being utterly lonely in Silithus, you probably will now run into plenty of other players leveling or hanging out in Silithus on other servers. That’s kinda neat to help out or just to socialize. Like I said, didn’t think it was an issue, but you do notice it now.