Nightdruid's Review of Recent Expansions (Spoilers)

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Nightdruid's Review of Recent Expansions (Spoilers)

Post by night_druid »

Hey all!
I finally got back into Warcraft after the release of Warlords of Dreanor, and I thought I’d share my opinion on both Warlords and the expansion immediately preceding it, Mists of Pandaria. This is an informal review, giving my personal opinion on both expansions. I will be talking about major plot points involved, so spoilers ahead!

Mists of Pandaria
Overall Impression
I get the feeling that Mists began as somebody’s side project. It has the feel of somebody wanted to play pandarens, so they laid down the basic zone layout and overarching quest chains. Later on, when Blizzard needed an expansion, it got offered up and was modified to suit the level 85-90 requirement. I say this because, outside of a few quests, the zones of Panaria do not feel “epic”. Exotic, certainly, but not epic. I would dare to say that the whole continent feels like a 1-70 leveling zone, not 85-90. The zones are way too big, there are empty areas in some zones with no discernable purpose, there are way too many quests, and many quests feel like they were written for low-level characters (the farming quests involving the Tillers, for example). It is certainly too vast a continent for levels 85-90; I managed to hit level 90 after only a little more than two zones. I would even go so far as to say that there probably should have been four playable races, not one: Pandaren, hozen, jinyu, and grummie. Heck, maybe even toss in yaungol, too, if given the right storyline. It seems like this could have been used to create an entirely new neutral faction which some people have clamored for.

But overall, the story is really well done, and I did not feel lost while playing. Quests lead you from one area to the next smoothly and told a really good story. The artistry in many zones is absolutely beautiful. And I loved how, by the end of the main story quest chains for the Pandarian mainland, my character looked like he belonged in Pandaria. He had a full suit of matched armor (although not a “set” in sense of an actual set of armor such as “Dungeon Tier X”) of Chinese inspiration. He looked the part of an ancient Chinese warrior in black armor. Probably the first time my character has not looked like some mishmash of various pieces of armor from three different expansions.

The Story
Lots of things regarding the over-arching plot, however, do not make a lot of sense to me. Namely, Garrosh. What is this guy’s malfunction? He goes from a fairly honorable warrior to a genocidal dictator overnight. Like a light switch. No explanation or quest line explaining his fall into darkness. Was he always a violent, racist nutcase? If so, why would Thrall place him, of all people, in charge of a Horde consisting of a half-dozen desperate races? I can see, perhaps a dislike of Alliance races due to the constant feuding with the Horde, but this guy becomes blatantly racist towards even his closest allies such as tauren and trolls. Why this guy, Thrall? Why not Caine, Baine (had he lived), or Vol’Jin? Was he corrupted by the Old Gods? There seems to be a story missing here of how and why Garrosh took the actions he did; I’m guessing he was corrupted at some point by the Twilight Hammer cult. How else would have known to search Pandaria for the lost bits of Old Gods? Something went terribly wrong with this guy and I’m not sure it has been adequately explained. Nor are the actions of King Varian at the end of Siege of Orgrimmar. Why spare Garrosh? Just let Thrall take Garrosh’s head and be done with it. I could see him not wanting to continue war, fine. But why put his neck out to see Garrosh have a “fair trial”? Heck with it, what that orc did, let Thrall turn Garrosh’s head into pizza.

The other issue is with Jania Proudmore. Poor girl, she gets put through the wringers. I get the feeling they were leaning towards having her ‘go bad’ and become a new raid boss for some future expansion or patch, but pulled that idea at the last minute. The same situation with the Banshee Queen, Sylvannas. Both ladies are flirting with becoming the next faction leader to go bad and the Alliance and Horde have to join forces to stop her. I suspect neither will happen. Simply put, there just aren’t that many prominent females in Warcraft, and killing one off might not be received too well. I don’t blame them. But please, quit putting those girls through one traumatic event after another. There are plenty of other faction leaders in dire need of having their heads messed with, to have more stories told about them.

Jade Forest: Danger Dolan put this zone on his Top Ten Leveling Zones list, and I have to agree. This zone is beautiful. It reminds me a lot of Elwynn Forest; the monastery near the end of the zone is very reminiscent of Northshire Abbey. The story flows smoothly, and I really like how the zone evolves such that there are things to do here once you get to level 90 with raising your own dragon from hatching it as an egg to training it. Very cool. That is the way to get a mount, in my opinion. It takes time and allows you to really bond. The only problem is the undulating dragon gives me a headache, so I still go back to old griffon standby. What I do not like was that the big jade dragon statue was destroyed before I had a chance to get flying so I could inspect it from the air; it looked so awesome and it’s a shame I did not get a chance to go site-seeing around it before its destruction. I also do not like “shia” landscape; the black-and-white contrast gives me a headache. I really wish there was a quest chain or series of daily quests that ‘fixes’ the land and gets rid of the shia. It would be worth whatever the effort.

This zone, outside of the very beginning, strikes me as it should have been level 1-20. The over-arching plot does not even need to change very much; the characters could have started in the monastery, doing training quests to 10th level, and then have Horde and Alliance show up, forcing the player to pick a side to favor and then eventually lead to the battle at the zone’s end.

Valley of the Four Winds: Another very well done zone. I really like the Tillers’ quests line and working on the farm. I liked growing crops, and enlarging the farm as I gained reputation with the Tillers. The “friends” system is very nice as well; I like doing quests just to gain friendship with each individual Tiller so that I can get more quests from them. Pandaren cooking is particularly interesting, as they had split “cooking” into a half-dozen sub-skills (Way of the Wok, Steamer, Oven, Brew, Pot, and Grill). I like how you can grow food to use in the cooking recipes; my only complaint is that growing food can take a while. I would not mind a purchasable miracle grow to half the growing time (or something to that effect). I find myself spending a lot of time at Halfhill, which is a really nice little town. Again, this zone has quests for both levelling and level-capped characters.

The stories here were very good, particularly the hunt for the hidden master by the four apprentices of that kung-fu master. Training with the Hidden Master was fun and enjoyable. The Stormstouts were fun; I loved having to ‘babysit’ Li Li, if only because she always had great comments for things I encounter in the zone. Loved her sense of wonder and the voice actress was great.

Again, the quests in this zone appear to have been originally designed not for 86th level characters, but 10-30-ish characters. Everything is very ‘mundane’ except for the battle at the very end. Regardless, this was a very fun zone.

Krasarang Wilds: This zone really reminds me of Stranglethorn, except a little more dense foliage. My only real complaint is that it was on the small side. The zone should have been much bigger to make it easier for players to get lost in. I found it to be a little light on quests. Again, this zone has quests for levelling and end-game content, this time with the establishment of Alliance and Horde-specific towns. This is the “PvP” zone of Pandaria, allowing players to fight other players if they so choose, but also presents options for us non-PvP players as well. I did enjoy, immeasurably, running around with the King of Stormwind, kicking (non-PvP) horde butt.

In the ‘Pandaria as a 1-70 leveling continent’, this would fit easily into the 30-40 slot without having to change much of the storyline.

Veiled Stair: This zone is pretty small, so there is not a lot to really say about it. There is nothing really memorable about this zone other than being where the Black Prince hangs out. I was hoping for quests for gaining reputation with the Black Prince, but alas, not yet. As I am still going through the end-game content of Mists, there might be some later on, but thus far very few quests here.

Kun-Lai Summit: Tibet in Warcraft! At this point, the story of Pandaria starts to meander a bit. I think there is really two “paths” to this zone, winding around Mount Everest, er, Neverest. I took one path that lead me around the eastern side of the zone, and then had to back-track to cover the western side. Overall, this zone was more “meh” to me. The mountains were beautifully rendered, but the story just did not grab me the way the other zones did. Lots of empty spaces here; I wonder if they had other things planned but did not have the time to properly develop them. The end-game content of this zone is the Temple of the White Tiger, where your dungeon raiding skills are tested. Unfortunately I am a terrible raider, so I did not do so well here. The quest chain involving the Shado-Pan monastery is intriguing, and leaves me wanting more, one real bright side to the quests here. I also liked the Defense of the Wall of Panderia quest chain; that was pretty fun with interesting mechanics and fun activities like rolling barrels of explosives right into invading yaungol lines.

In my personal theory about Panderia as 1-70, the quests fit right into a level 40-50 leveling zone without really having to change much, beyond the levels of the monsters you fight.

Townlong Steppes: This zone was a downer for me. It largely centered on the tragic story of a Shado-Pan who becomes a widow due to yaungol cruelty and her thirst for revenge for the torture and murder of her husband. It is a pretty sad story all around. As far as the zone itself, it hardly feels like a steppe at all. More like a forest. I wish it was much larger, to give at least the illusion to a vast, open steppe. It should have been as large as Jade Forest, possibly bigger. I think the developers were running out of steam by this point, because the quests became a bit sparse. The plot, beyond the widow’s revenge, involved the yaungol being driven out of their homes by the mantids, but that plot line really goes nowhere. It has no particular conclusion that I could see. The end-game content revolves around the Temple of the Ox and quests in that area.

Again, as a levelling zone, it fits nicely as a 50-60 leveling zone. But again, it needed to be bigger with more yaungol tribes and more quests. Ironically, that makes the Townlong Steppes similar to the vanilla WoW experience of zones for that level range.

Dread Wastes: Probably my least favorite zone in Pandaria. The black-and-white, high contrast color pallet gives me a headache. The zone features heavily the Mantids, a race of humanoid insects. To date, Warcraft has NEVER had luck with insect-heavy zones. They try for a swarm-like feel to them, but this rarely works out. Of their attempts, though, I would say that the Dread Wastes is probably the best thus far. The Shia-heavy areas were too distracting and the zone was too annoying. I did like the general “awakener” quest chain; it did give us a group of mantids to interact with that was not just ‘kill bugs!’. The mantids do have a somewhat interesting storyline, although it might have benefitted from more quest chains around their history and culture. Again, this zone feels smaller than it should be, but I rarely make an argument that a zone is too big.
As a leveling zone, I would have pegged this as the 60-70 level zone. Made bigger, given more quests, and scaling back the Shia-landscape areas would have made this zone more enjoyable.

Vale of Eternal Blossoms: What a waste of a zone. There are hardly any quests; it seems that the only real purpose is to have the faction “cities” and the big palace, all at the far end of the zone. Personally I would have put a big neutral city here. There is no reason to have two identical faction ‘temples’ (they hardly qualify as cities). I would have instead had just one really big neutral Chinese-inspired city. After all, a city was mentioned all the way back in the Valley of the Four Winds (“city-paw”), but nowhere on the continent is there a settlement larger than a fair-sized town (by Warcraft standards). I would have the city sprawled in the same area occupied by both faction temples and that large palace. It would probably be something close to Stormwind in overall size, with lots of Chinese-inspired buildings, monuments, and the like. Stuff it with city-quests, NPCs, and other stuff for players to do.

Isle of the Thunder King: I have not yet completed the Isle of the Thunder King, and have only completed a few quests here. The main introduction quest chain for the Isle is suitably epic for a level 90 character. The story is fits with the overall Alliance/Horde involvement in Pandaria, but again the overall Alliance/Horde storyline is weird.

Timeless Isle: Free Epic Items! I’ve done perhaps half of the overall list of things to do here. I was over-level when I first visited the Timeless Isle (about 95th or so), so most of the monsters here were reasonable challenges to me. All creatures here are Elites, so there is little chance a level 90 character in high-end quest gear (which is what I typically run around in) would survive long. Epic quality items are practically given away here; I spent one weekend running around and in that time managed to just about replace all of my green/blue quality gear with purple epic gear. It was incredible. By my second weekend, however, I became increasingly frustrated at the grind and moved on to Draenor. Of course, I thought my epic gear would last at least a little while on Draenor. How wrong I was; even the first pieces of gear I earned were all far superior to all the epic gear from Timeless Isle. Now I know how people who grinded end-game content for months in Vanilla for epic quality gear felt when the Dark Portal opened to Outland. At least for me, it was just two weekends, tops, that I wasted grinding for gear, instead of months in the Plaguelands/Silithus.

Final Verdict: Overall, I enjoyed Mists of Pandaria. For me personally, I give it a good eight out of ten. For people who enjoy more challenge and love to raid, it rates much lower, but those are things that are not as important to me. The story is excellent, and the zones are beautiful.
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Re: Nightdruid's Review of Recent Expansions (Spoilers)

Post by Big Mac »

Have you got any thoughts on how these new Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Dreanor elements could be raided for tabletop play?

You say that Pandaria seems exotic, but not epic...and you say that it is "too big" and that it has too many quests. But how well do you think it would suit being combined with the rules of Oriental Adventures? Would it work as a normal subsetting, if it does not feel epic? Would it be hard to convert pandaren, hozen, jinyu, and grummie (and yaungol) to D&D races?

The background story (I think you are only talking about Dreanor there) seems very raidable. What about the story about Pandaria? They do not seem to have been involved in the entire "warcrafting" thing before. They have just got added in, so they kind of feel like they were previously neutral to the Horde and Alliance.

What is the angle there? Assuming you could take the crunchy stuff from Oriental Adventures and apply this to Pandaria, how do you get it to feel like something associated with Warcraft (and not just a generic Asian-ified kung-fu environment)? Does the MMO give players common themes, as well as new ones?

Which expansion do Jade Forest and Valley of the Four Winds come from? Are they both in Mists of Pandaria?

Kun-Lai Summit sounds like it could be pretty good in a tabletop game.

Most of the rest of the zones, sound like they are from Mists of Pandaria. Did you review any zones from Mists of Draenor? (Or is it not actually out yet?)
David "Big Mac" Shepheard
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