If I could describe myself in the moments prior to reactivating my World of Warcraft account using only one word, that word would be, “reluctant.” I had already owned the new expansion pack, World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, for several weeks, when the slightest of temptations reached me (a few friends had started playing again). I had been ironically resisting the urge to play the game, despite having habitually ponied up the cash for the collector’s edition.
I just didn’t want to do it again. I had been playing World of Warcraft on and off ever since 2004! And every time I reactivated my dormant account, I’d be whisked away into a powerfully addictive online game for two or three months before I inevitably noticed the change of season and wondered what the hell I was wasting all my time on.
It was not the time sink that caused my reluctance to renew this time around, however. It was another MMORPG called Guild Wars 2. Playing Guild Wars 2, I celebrated all the ways in which it did things better than World of Warcraft. It made questing fluid and dynamic by automatically activating quests based on proximity to objectives. It made combat exciting by allowing movement during spell casting and including action elements like dodging. It encouraged teamwork and cooperative play by allowing all players to receive quest credit for killing monsters, regardless of who hit the monster first or whether or not a group had been established. It provided a fast travel system to instantly transport players all over the world and a level scaling system to allow veterans the opportunity to play with new players, both features designed to make it easy to play with friends. And it provided an enormous game to explore without a subscription fee!
Considering the innumerable advances to the genre established by Guild Wars 2, I positively dreaded the idea of going back to World of Warcraft, going back to a quest book full of chores, going back to standing in place during combat, going back to the frustration of watching other players steal my quest objectives, and especially going back to an environment where if I wanted to play with my friends, we all had to be at roughly the same experience level. And of course, the subscription to play costs $15 a month.
But, my friends were all playing, so… with a grimace, I reactivated my account.
How many weeks has it been already? I’ve lost track. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria has made World of Warcraft more addictive than ever before, and I’ve barely come up for air. I know that within a few months I’ll probably gasp at the time that has flown by and put my account back into hibernation, but for now, I’m playing every single day, without fail, for more hours than I’d care to admit.
And while the problems still exist, in many cases, they have been made less severe, and I’ve managed to completely forgive them. Yes, other players can still get to quest objectives before you, but at least in the case of boss monsters, everyone can get credit. And yes, players still need to be around the same experience level to play effectively together, but leveling up has never been faster. And yes, there’s still a quest book full of chores, but the quests are easily the best that Blizzard has ever produced, with fully voiced recurring characters appearing throughout your journey, and objectives that are as varied as possible, considering it’s still mostly kill and fetch. And yes, there’s still a monthly fee, but… well… yeah, there’s still a monthly fee. I guess they can’t fix everything.
The core of the game remains the same as it has been since 2004, essentially. You go around completing quests, exploring dungeons, killing monsters, picking up random objects and trying to become as strong as possible by gaining experience and collecting ever more powerful gear. But the world that has grown around that simplicity is delightfully complex, and ceaselessly expanding. There’s just so much to do! So many goals to reach for! So many new features!
There is a new class, the Monk, which is a lot of fun to play, and has so much mobility in combat (tumbling rolls and flying kicks) that it makes the other classes look slow. There are new player verses player battlegrounds, and a promise of upcoming content to bring the “war” back to the World of Warcraft. There’s the new race, the Pandarians, a race of—you guessed it—Pandas, who do a much better job of fitting into the lore than I ever thought possible. There’s the new starting area to get Pandarians to level 10, which is set on one of the most creative stages I’ve seen in quite some time (I won’t spoil it for you). And of course, there’s the entire continent of Pandaria, with hundreds of quests and dozens of hours of gameplay for getting from level 85 to the new maximum level of 90, and once at level 90, even more new features become available.
One of my favorites is farming! You can start your own farm, but as you might expect from World of Warcraft, it’s not as simple as just planting seeds and harvesting fruit and vegetables. You have to deal with vermin, infestations, weeds and a variety of other crop threatening distractions. You can also build relationships with a list of characters around the farm. They all have specific dishes that they love, and if you want to get them to like you, it’s in your best interest to shower them in gifts. That means you are going to want to be good at cooking. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria provides an easy way to get the cooking trade skill up to an appropriate level to start cooking in Pandaria. Once your skill is high enough, there are six different styles of cooking you can specialize in (another great new feature). By maintaining your farm, cooking what you grow and building relationships, you’ll find your farm grows steadily, and new features continue to unlock. Eventually you even get animals! Needless to say, it’s very addicting.
Another feature unlocked at level 90 allows you to raise a baby cloud serpent into what will eventually become a giant flying dragon which you can use as a mount! It’s a very rewarding series of daily quests, and along with farming, it’s one of those features that makes me want to play every single day. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is full of stuff like that. There are several factions that provide daily quests at level 90, and those quests slowly but surely lead into bigger and better things, and unlock additional factions with even more to do and discover.
Then there are the dungeons, which are notably easier than those from the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. The relative ease is not a problem, as there are also challenge modes for the dungeons to provide entertainment for the masochistic elite.
There are also Scenarios, which are basically short adventures for 3 level 90 players that are even easier than dungeons, and which provide an opportunity for players to begin to earn the gear they will need to become successful in the harder parts of the game. They work in a similar way to dungeons, where you can queue up for the next available Scenario from the Dungeon Finder. Unlike dungeons, which often have 15-30 minute waits before you can get into a group, Scenarios don’t require specific class roles, so any 3 players can be grouped together, making wait times nearly instantaneous. Once inside the Scenario, players are given a brief story introduction and a couple of objectives, and must work together to complete them.
Everywhere you look in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, there is more to do than ever before. The most surprising new feature is probably the Pet Battle system, which allows players the opportunity to raise all of the pets they have been collecting since 2004, and battle them against one another Pokémon style (complete with battle music). There are also wild pets all over the world, with low level pets appearing in the early parts of the game and the highest level pets in Pandaria. Battling against these is a great way to level up your pets, and to capture some new ones. It more fun than I ever expected it could be, and I can easily see myself spending as much time on it as a complete Pokémon game! There are quests and NPC trainers to defeat, rare pets that only appear in certain parts of certain zones under specific weather conditions and a level of depth in the battle engine that is really enjoyable. Not to mention that there are over 500 unique pets throughout the world to attempt to collect, many of which have rare or unique abilities, and most of which can be one of four rarities (poor, normal, uncommon, rare) which determines how strong they can become. Since you can have up to 3 pets in a battle party, finding the right combination of pets and abilities is fun and challenging. For example, you might have one pet that causes the enemy to bleed, and a different pet that deals extra damage to bleeding targets. Pet Battles are just one more feature that makes this latest World of Warcraft expansion almost impossible to get away from.
Time has been flying since I started playing World of Warcraft again. I can’t exactly describe it as healthy, but I also can’t deny that I am having a lot of fun! Turns out it really was the time sink that should have caused my reluctance to play, because none of the other problems are really bothering me at all. Oh well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a farm to attend to, some pets to battle, and a baby dragon to take care of.