Mists of Pandaria has been out now about a week, and I haven’t nearly had the time to play it as much as I’d have liked. Part of that could be due to the fact that, despite receiving major attention during the beta, I have found the Jade Forest introduction to Mists of Pandaria to be underwhelming.
The problem begins in that Jade Forest (and the quest from Garrosh\Varian sending us there) is not the true start of Mists of Pandaria. Although it seemed that patch 5.0.4 existed solely to insert the new talent systems and interface changes into the game, it also gave us the introductory cinematic and the introduction of Pandaren emissaries in Orgrimmar and Stormwind. When the Horde and Alliance leadership each discuss sending an elite task force to the new continent, they refer to an earlier naval battle which was the initial discovery of Pandaria – the naval battle depicted in the opening cinematic.
Finally we begin our travels to this strange, new land proper. From the Horde perspective, we fly up to Hellscream’s Fist above the Durotar-Azshara border and journey to Pandaria; where we immediately encounter an Alliance ship. Both parties trade fire, and after sinking the ship, the Horde comes upon a temple that has been converted to a makeshift fort by the Alliance. By the end of the siege of the temple we have encountered the Pandaren and the Sha, and the airship has been destroyed. This sequence of events (our long awaited introduction to the continent of Pandaria) was a little disappointing.
Nevermind that the size of the Alliance force that we unseat is larger than what Varian described as being on Pandaria in the Alliance opening. What I really found offputting was the rate new concepts were thrown at us. We go from arriving in Pandaria to contending with the Sha too quickly. For a land that was shrouded in mists where the environment is supposed to be mysterious, this felt wrong. I liked the way the introductions were handled in the cinematic; there were statues and some worn down structures in the background as foreshadowing, but the focus was on the Horde and Alliance until Chen shows up. Only after he stops the direct conflict, does he reveal the full scope of Pandaria in the valley below.
I’m a fan of the slow build and reveal. Instead, Jade Forest immediately places us in battle over a large, ornate temple. At the top of the temple we defeat the Alliance forces, but Hellscream’s Fist crashes and is destroyed. In a moment of anger and doubt, Nazgrim is possessed by the Sha and we meet our first Pandaren, Taran Zhu, who purifies Nazgrim while decrying our presence on the island. The Sha-as-a-result-of-uncontrolled-emotion concept is given to us without any great discovery or revelation. It happens simply because we were there, and the near loss of Nazgrim is not compelling enough to cause us to appreciate the threat the Sha represents. The end result is that the entire sequence feels rushed.
What is interesting is that this was a deliberate decision. In beta, players started out amongst the wreckage of the Sky Shark (another airship that played the role of Hellscream’s Fist) after it had crashed from the damage inflicted by the Alliance boat. The developers felt that the buildup to the conflict with the Sha was too slow, so they wanted to show just what was at stake and who the players on Pandaria would be from the get-go. I understand their decision, but I don’t like it. It all felt a little too ham-fisted for me. Finding yourself confused and lost among the wreckage of the Sky Shark felt natural.
There was a confusion in fighting the Hozen while trying to locate the other survivors of the crash, and that confusion was logical in light of what had happened: We were stranded on a strange new island with no idea of what is happening. Instead, when we arrive amongst the ruins of Hellscream’s Fist, we already know the Pandaren are here with their great temples, and we need to be wary of the Sha lest they possess us. The developers have been priding Mists of Pandaria with renewing the sense of exploration and wonder that was missing from WoW in Cataclysm. But when that wonder should be at its greatest, rather than putting us lost in the woods, Blizzard immediately gave us a map and a well-lit path.
In the interest of making the coming expansion exciting for everyone, Blizzard sacrificed the natural flow of storytelling. That’s disappointing, but given their track record of putting gameplay first and lore second, I can accept that. Sometimes, it’d be nice if everything fit together so that it the story and the game didn’t feel so mutually exclusive. Mists of Pandaria is going to be fun, and it is going to have an amazing story. It’d just be nice if they fit together a little bit better.
The pet and mount interface will be searchable come patch 5.1. Good! I can’t wait to start using my Yellow-Bellied Marmot! https://twitter.com/mumper/status/252318328641699840
Free character transfers for select realms available until 10/4. Make your decision by which realms you’ll get mixed with in Cross-Realm Zones! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/6713912167
Interesting article on how Blizzard tracks data to make development decisions. Now I need to go type out all my thoughts in trade chat. http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-09-28-blizzards-success-isnt-magic-just-hard-work-and-open-minds