Beta Preview: World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria – Prologue
This is not the actual beta preview of World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, but a prologue. The preview can be found here!
As a long time player of World of Warcraft, I was excited when I got my hands on a Mists of Pandaria beta key. I’m personally expecting great things from this expansion, as I felt like Blizzard hit a low with Cataclysm after two otherwise extremely excellent expansions, which granted me hours of uninterrupted bliss without upsetting the balance in my home areas around Azeroth.
With the release of Cataclysm, I felt like someone was breaking and entering. Rudely cutting deep cracks in my wooden floor, setting things on fire and throwing around all my furniture, whilst at the same time opening my doors and windows for the benefit of public air transport. I felt raped.
To justify my feelings of extreme, I’d like to point out that World of Warcraft in many ways isn’t like any other game. With an average of over 9 million players worldwide and basically no fear of loosing any to some of the many newer MMOs coming out, it has become clear that World of Warcraft must posses something that other games for one reason or the other can’t seem to obtain. People, who have played World of Warcraft for years, regardless of it maybe being on and off, will know what I mean. It’s the feeling of coming home.
When World of Warcraft came out in 2004, it wasn’t the first MMORPG the world had ever seen, but it quickly became the most popular. And why is that? Many before me have tried to answer this question, and it generally comes down to not one, but many different things, and I’m going to list some of them here.
First off, World of Warcraft was the first MMORPG to implement different server types. Rather than being ganked over and again when you’re just trying to work your honest trade as a flower picking and selling character, you can in World of Warcraft choose to stay out of trouble (the kind that involves other players at least) by simply picking a PvE server and there live in peace. Or you can choose an RP server and live out your inner Shakespeare, or lack thereof. And if you actually are the sort of person that enjoys the rush of crushing inferior characters with your steeltoed, expensively earned boots, you can of course pick PvP.
The different server types along with handy tools such as an effective ignore list, spam filter and report option to block out inane banter from less intellectual (or more cheeky, depending on the view) players, all contribute to making World of Warcraft appeal to a wide range of people. There’s simply room for many different play styles within one and the same game, and you can block out anyone you don’t agree with. You can customize your own experience of the game.
Along with this, World of Warcraf is also smooth. Some might say that this is not really a big achievement as there are many impressive games out there, but it is remarkable for an MMO, which is in fact a continuously changing world and not a static worked-through game with a planned beginning, middle and end. World of Warcraft works. And brilliantly so. Even from it’s early vanilla days, WoW has had extraordinarily few bugs and interface problems, and it continues to work smoothly with each new expansion.
A lot of this probably also comes down to the fact that Blizzard has found a graphics concept that just works. A lot of people complain that the style is too cartoony and simplified and call out for more realistic looking characters and armor, but even more people happily dance across Azeroth in shiny pink robes or unnaturally pointy armor wielding gigantic squids as staves or skeletons as swords and bows. World of Warcraft is not meant to be realistic. If realism is your thing, peace be with you, but the simple and often humorous style of WoW has hit at least 9 million people straight in the heartroots, and in all fairness: In my oppinion World of Warcraft is the origin of some of the most incredible scenery even so. I remember standing on the shore of Northrend, taking in the cold breeze, eyes squeezed together in the evening mist as the sun made it glitter, the sound of the ocean at my back, the promise of a new land portrayed in the majestic beasts I saw before me, grassing on the frostglistening hillsides.
I’m coming back to my original point of World of Warcraft being more than just a game. It’s a feeling. I never feel more calm than when I’m striding over the fields and mountainsides, through the forests and rivers, taking out monkeys, mammoths and maleficars with my swift skeleton daggers and pointy little hood (yes, I play a gnome, I find gnomes ingenious). It’s the repetition, the unending slaying, fetching and occasionally flower picking that keeps me coming back for more. When I press that Enter World button, I just feel at peace, knowing that I will enter a world, where I have time to just endlessly run around in circles if I so wish. There’s no pressure for me to concentrate on following a specific story, learn a new interface or talent spec or work on getting to know new NPCs again. I actually hardly have to think at all, which is exactly what makes it brilliant after a long day of work where you come home and just want to wind down in a well-known and always welcoming world.
Of course, endless repetition can occasionally be dull and drive people to inanity as mentioned earlier. What World of Warcraft tends to do right in this case, is to keep the content feeling well-known, yet fresh with a unquestionably knack for well-timed patches. They always come in that exact moment where things have been quiet for a little too long, and then, suddenly, you actually become forced to rethink your talent spec or you are granted the ability to fly insanely large dragon mounts in the streets of the main cities and hence cause great turmoil. It’s simply brilliant. On top of this, the reoccurring seasonal and monthly events such as the Fire Festival or Darkmoon Faire keep the game alive and thriving throughout the four seasons of the year.
I could go on and on about all the things that, in my opinion, Blizzard is simply doing right with World of Warcraft. I haven’t even mentioned the brilliance of the ingame, well-working economy, where just playing the Auction House can grant immense fun and wealth. I haven’t either mentioned how fun it is to just collect materials for the both balanced and highly useful trade professions. Or how easy it is to find fast and effective groups for dungeons and raids. Or how well the guild system works, where you gain major collective boons from working and completing game content together. The social aspect of the game alone could fill up several articles here on the blog. Once you’ve ignored the occasional loot stealer and Sir Spamalot, which, of course, exist in every MMORPG.
Simply put: In my eyes, Blizzard is generally doing it right. But they messed up with Cataclysm. To an extent where I can’t even begin to count all the things that were wrong. Besides splitting what feels like my childhood areas apart, I can mention things as: Removing the portals from the Northrend capital Dalaran, effectively deserting it (which isn’t the first time this happened to a big city – does anyone even remember Shattrath anymore?), killing off numerous beloved NPCs (I was destraught to pick up the remains of my elven brethren that I’ve know for years from the shores of a splintered Darkshore), letting people use flying mounts in the capital cities (even though a dragon running down the streets is fun to see, it’s a pain in the behind to have it blocking the entire main street, when you just want to get to the mailbox asap) and creating “new” areas, at the expense of destroyed original ones, who just didn’t live up to any expectations. They were dull to put it mildly, and the price that was paid to get them was too high.
In general I feel like a lot less work went into Cataclysm than what went into the previous expansions The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, which seemed much more polished and detailed. Granted, I haven’t tried to raid in Cataclysm, but the general feel was that of none at all. I didn’t feel it, and I didn’t really believe in it.
A lot of people have been complaining that with Mists of Pandaria, we suddenly and yet again seem to discover a new continent and race completely out of the blue. Yes, it is perhaps peculiar that we seem to fare the oceans with blindfolds on most of the time (but it is also quite hard to see for our extravagant hats and pointy shoulder armor), but putting that little piece of logic aside, there is something that can hardly be explained as anything less of magical about exploring an entire new land. To get on that boat. To set out. With a full set of shiny, expensive armor that will soon fall to the greens that random quest givers will give you from a pile of scrap they have lying around. To step foot on that land and feel the breeze that brings on a new era of adventure, well-knowing that you can always take that ship back again if you ever feel like going home. But eventually as you get to know the new place, this will also, in time, be your home. Like an addition. An extra room. With a whole new set of furniture and with it’s entirely own sound.
This is what I hope will happen with Mists of Pandaria. From the trailer already, it looks to be … something. And that feeling of something is the first step towards turning into something greater. And to be fair, how could we have discovered their land when it’s surrounded in mist? Well, okay, it’s a giant effing land mass regardless, which is not that hard to miss if you sail in that general direction. But still, clouded in mist! Until now. And now we have talking pandas. Okay.
I admit that logic isn’t Blizzards strongest skill, but if you take WoW on for what it is and just accept that odd things happen, then it’s simply one of the best games of all times. Personally, I’m going to go ahead and accept that a race of talking pandas suddenly appear on the back of a giant turtle in the middle of the ocean. I think it is going to make my experience with this expansion so much more enjoyable. And when it comes down to it, then it looks like Blizzard has put in a genuine effort this time. It almost looks like they are trying to make up for Cataclysm. They are coming home.