While my initial experiences with Mists of Pandaria were disappointing, I am quite relieved that after more time spent in the new continent I am enjoying it immensely. The problem is that like Pandaria, the beauty of Mists is obscured at first glance. It is only once you’re able to truly dig into the heart of expansion that Blizzard can display the lessons it has learned in eight years of running a successful MMO.
Prior to hitting level 90, the only real new activity available is Pet Battles. However, upon reaching max level the options for what players can do are so numerous that it’s a bit staggering. When I dinged 90, I literally had to stop for a moment and contemplate just what I wanted to do next, because there was so much content I wanted to check out that I struggled to prioritize what to do first.
Raiding and PVP’ing have always been the major endgame activities for MMO’s like World of Warcraft. But Blizzard has tracked the behavior of its users to determine just how many players are reaching that content and how they are able to complete it. Blizzard likes to regularly weaken the power of the most recent raids on a regular basis after they are released to allow as many people as possible to experience the content. The argument has been “what’s the point of designing an experience if only a handful of people can see it?” It is this philosophy that culminated in the introduction of the Raid Finder in Patch 4.3. And this philosophy dominates the endgame experience in Mists.
The familiar dungeons and profession and reputation grinds are all still present, but there is so much more to keep players interested. The Order of the Cloud Serpent is a reputation grind that grants players a Cloud Serpent dragon mount. The Lorewalkers are faction that has no dailies – as you trek around Pandaria, you’ll discover scrolls that reveal the history of the continent. Collecting scrolls that complete stories grants you reputation for this faction. The Tillers and Anglers help you advance through cooking and fishing. The Tillers even give you the opportunity to manage a farm. And Blizzard added scenarios as a type of mini-dungeon experience. They are content that gives players the opportunity to work cooperatively in ten to fifteen minute increments. It’s as if Blizzard knew there were players who weren’t comfortable with the raiding playstyle, and gave them the other opportunities to enjoy the game.
We’ve seen Blizzard do this before: Patch 3.2 brought the Argent Tournament Daily Quests for mounts, but Blizzard didn’t realize the full potential of this design methodology until the Firelands zone was introduced in Patch 4.2. In addition to introducing a raid to finally kill Ragnaros, the Firelands patch added a series of quests that focused on the player repelling an assault in the Regrowth section of Mount Hyjal, and then leading a counter-assault into Firelands to establish a forward post. Blizzard used their phasing technology to allow players to unlock different features of the outpost in the order of their choosing, so that while it served as a Daily Quest hub for everyone, players could be at different stages of the quest-line and still be able to interact. It was one of the more successful experiences in Cataclysm, and provided content to all players; regardless of whether they were interested in raiding or not.
In Mists of Pandaria, each zone plays like the Firelands writ large. The phasing technology has evolved so much since Wrath of the Lich King that you can follow characters around each zone. In Krasarang Wilds, Sunwalker Dezco starts at Thunder Cleft, and as you quest with him and his crew, ultimately moves to Dawnchaser Retreat. The same applies to Anduin Wrynn, who is first encountered in the zone at Cranewing Refuge, before leading players to the Temple of the Red Crane. When all the quests are completed, these characters are nowhere to be found in the zone. Their stories resume at the Temple of the White Tiger in Kun-Lai Summit, and they even migrate further from there.
Ultimately, Blizzard realized that their success relied on providing players with content beyond the standard raiding and PvP that MMO’s have relied upon before. It seems crass to say that they are stealing from Pokemon or Farmville when adding some of these features, but it’s true because Blizzard knows that people are seeking that content away from their game; so there is no reason not to offer it within their domain. And the game is better for it. It’s been pretty fun getting deeply involving with WOW again. I’m glad Blizzard has given us the opportunity for all the new experiences this content has provided, and I can only look forward to seeing what they release next. After all, the next expansion has already been promised to be “awesome.”
Dev Watercooler on PVP! Dev Watercooler sounds like the name of an NPC that should be hanging out at Gallywix’s Pleasure Palace. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/7702178/Dev_Watercooler_Mists_of_Pandaria_PvP-10_31_2012
Update on Cross-Realm Zones! The gist: they’re still working on it, but everyone’s hanging around in Pandaria so nobody cares. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/7004442380#1
New Raid Release schedule! Don’t just queue in the Raid Finder on Tuesday — Queue at your local polling place! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/7705231