– Written by Rebecca Taylor –

I sit here – five months since the release of World of Warcraft’s fourth expansion, Mists of Pandaria – trying to rewrite the review as I somehow managed to lose the original. I wonder if I can recapture the excitement, awe and wonder that I wrote into the first one. I struggled a few days ago so I decided to spend some time in game. Levelling my character through the expansion’s content reminded me how I felt when the game was first released: awestruck, excited, wanting to do nothing but play.

As per previous expansions, the graphics received an upgrade. Nothing ground-breaking but it’s still an improvement. I didn’t really notice the difference until I saw it played on a high-end spec PC. The mountains, the grass and the various models in game looked so much more realistic than they were before and the movement was way more fluid. For me, this made the part of me that enjoys role-playing absolutely ecstatic. Your immersion into the game becomes much easier when your characters and the things that they interact with act as they would if they were objects in the real world.

Mists of Pandaria‘s music was, quite frankly, epic. Possibly some of the best in-game yet. The music has an Asian theme, which ties in with the expansion’s style. Each piece adds to the storyline that it is associated with; anger, hatred and fear are conveyed with “Sha (Spirits of Hatred)” while “Stormstout Brew” is a happy, bouncy song, meant to go with the drinking and brewing of beer.

Thankfully the controls of the game have not changed since I knew that I’d initially struggle with any alterations. The basic controls of a game this well-established can’t change without there being mass uproar – though that would be nothing new to the staff at Blizzard; uproar follows everything they do.

Mists of Pandaria brings many new features to the gameplay of World of Warcraft, one of which is the addition of a playable race called the Pandaren. A race that closely resembles a panda, it led many to believe that Blizzard was merely playing a practical joke (especially as they had previously said the Pandaren were going to playable as an April Fool’s joke back in 2002 for the game Warcraft III). They’re an interesting creation, looking both fierce and playful all in one go. The Pandaren are, by nature, a peaceful race; they only fight when absolutely necessary and if they deem the cause worthy of fighting. As a result, they are taken by surprise at the arrival of the Horde and the Alliance and their constant fighting, both with each other and amongst their own ranks. When you make a Pandaren character, you start off on the “Wandering Isle” – an island which is found upon the back of a giant turtle. After progressing through the content and saving the life of the turtle, you must choose which side you will fight for – the Horde or the Alliance. It is at this point that you can begin exploring the continent of Pandaria, which has been separated from The Wandering Isle for millennia. Pandaria is made up of seven new zones for players to explore with each serving a different function in the game.

You start off in Jade Forest, a vast, luscious landscape that introduces the player to Pandaria’s lore and many of its inhabitants. You quest to help your faction gain a foothold, eventually to battle against the opposing forces with tragic consequences. From there you can travel to Valley of the Four Winds or Krasarang Wilds. Valley of the Four Winds introduces the farming community of the Pandaren; you can establish your own farm and grow vegetables and herbs that are needed if you want to level your cooking ability. To be honest, it’s a little like Farmville but it is by no means essential to the main storyline. It’s a fun little secondary option that doesn’t require you to spam out your Facebook newsfeed. Krasarang Wilds, on the other hand, brings in the history of Pandaria. It teaches you of the Mogu, their reign over Pandaria and their eventual overthrow. From either of these places you can choose to go to the region that you haven’t yet explored or to move on to Kun-Lai Summit, Dread Wastes or Townlong Steppes.

Kun-Lai is a mountainous region that holds the Shado-Pan Monastery and the Temple of the White Tiger – both key areas in the lore. The Monastery is the primary training ground of the Shado-Pan monks and the Temple of the White Tiger is an ancient training ground protected by the spirit of the White Tiger, Xuen. Dread Wastes is an area where the damage caused by the Sha is most obvious. It is home to the Mantid, which are a deadly race corrupted by the Sha. Townlong Steppes holds the Temple of the Black Ox, which is under attack by the Mantid from Dread Wastes. You also face the wrath of the Yaungol who are enraged at the Mantid attacks. Finally, when you have reached level 90, you can progress through to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. It is a beautiful area that has been sealed shut for many years and that can be opened by completing quests at the Temple of the White Tiger.

In addition to a new playable race, Mists of Pandaria also brings us the Monk class, which is available to nearly all races except Goblins and Worgen. Monks can be a tank, healer or melee damage dealer. They use martial arts to fight (mainly with bare hands). Watching them in battle is amazing because you can see that the developers paid great attention to even the tiniest of details. For example, if they have a staff equipped, it will be sheathed on their back, upside down, which is a feature not seen in other classes. When they use an ability that uses the staff, they will grab it with their hands, hit the enemy with it and then resheath it. It’s a tiny, hardly seen mechanic but it shows how much effort has gone into designing them. I hope that this can be retroactively added to the current classes.

We also have new dungeons and raids added at various difficulties. The major change here is the addition of Challenge Mode Dungeons. These are versions of the five-main dungeons that you do once you have reached level 90. You race to defeat the bosses in the quickest time you can, potentially earning yourself a medal: bronze, silver or gold. Earning a medal of the same colour across all the dungeons earns you a reward for your character.

The beauty of these challenge modes is that they cannot be outgeared as the expansion progresses. The game will equalize your gear and stats to the same standard (though it will not raise your stats to this standard if you are below it). The other addition that ties in with dungeons is Scenarios. These are short instances for three players that are designed to be shorter than a dungeon but longer than just questing. A role is not needed for this, though three damage dealers work fastest (generally). The first scenario we were introduced to was one that was released before the expansion as a lead up to it. Personally, this one was a massive disappointment as I found it incredibly boring. However, the ones that were released with the expansion were much better. They were a lot more fun and had many more activities for a player to enjoy.

A further new addition to the game was the “Pet Battling System.” Before the expansion, World of Warcraft had a number of non-combat pets that were simply there for aesthetic reasons. With Mists of Pandaria, these pets can now be battled against other players and trainers. Yes, okay, it’s a lot like Pókemon but that’s exactly what made it fun for me. I loved playing Pókemon when I was younger and this rekindled that love.

One of the biggest changes us World of Warcraft players faced on an individual basis was the change to the Talent system. This system had allowed us to pick up new skills or gain improvements to our current skills. However, there was always an optimal set of talents that typically worked better than others. This led players to simply look up the best set and implement them without much thought. The talent overhaul in this expansion removed a lot of this. Personally, I think it was implemented wonderfully. Now, when I select talents, I have to think about my personal play style, what I’m going to be doing in game and what will benefit me the most. I then review my talents on a fight by fight basis, making changes as necessary.

Overall, I have enjoyed Mists of Pandaria. I’ve had a few issues but they were mainly caused by my lack of available time to devote to the game. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the new content that we are getting in patch 5.2 (the new raid looks simply amazing).

Onwards and upwards for this priest!

Review Score : [starreview tpl=16] Title : World Of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (expansion)
Format : PC
Developer : Blizzard
Publisher : Blizzard
Release Date : Out Now

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

About the author:

This review was written by Rebecca Taylor, a longstanding World of Warcraft fan and a freelance contributor to Slimgamer.com. You can find out more about Rebecca by following her on Twitter or by checking out her blog.