What with all the things I’ve had to do in WoW, and real life work I’ve had to do, I’ve not had time to write about the new expansion. Remiss! So here it is.

Mists of Pandaria has lived up to my expectations and more. It is a far more polished expansion than Cataclysm was, with a ton of activities for top level. There are one or two things I’m not so happy about, but much of that might be down to personal likes and dislikes. I don’t expect any MMO to be absolutely perfect, tailored to my desires alone.

I was somewhat astonished that some players somehow zoomed to level 90 in a day and then started to complain they were bored. For those of us who raid, there was some incentive in getting our main characters to top level fairly quickly, simply because once they’re 90 we need to gear them up for raids. But in our guild, most of the team only started hitting 90 around 2nd Oct, and the remainder and other guildies continue to do so on a daily basis. Many people just wanted to take things easy and progress slowly through the zones, experiencing everything to the full. I and a few others got our main characters to 90 over the first weekend, but then I’d given myself a week off work to do this. After I’d hit the top level, I spent the rest of that weekend looking at all the things to do. I devoted a couple of hours to doing the Lorewalkers achievements to get to exalted with them and therefore able to purchase the Red Cloud flying disc mount. I started on Tillers rep to be able to cook decent buff food, and worked on my new farm for eventual self-sufficiency. I also started Order of the Cloud Serpent rep with an aim to secure myself a beautiful Cloud Serpent mount, but am not too stressed about any of these rather relaxing rep grinds. I’ll take them as they come and just enjoy the new content. There are quite a lot of reps to work on. I will talk about the Golden Lotus rep grind later; that is a different matter.

I really loved levelling, even though it was over fairly quickly. But this was my choice, simply because I wanted to start getting my main character raid ready as soon as possible. That said, most of the process was fantastic. The landscape is gorgeous, the majority of quests are interesting and fun to do, and I had a lot of fun exploring. I’ve enjoyed the dungeons I’ve done so far, normal and heroic. They are easier than Cataclysm dungeons certainly, but there is a fun factor that was missing in the Cataclysm instances. Mists ones are more enjoyable to do, with quirky little mechanics here and there. The ‘normal’ modes are levelling dungeons. That means they are able to be tackled by players of all levels of skill without too much trouble as they rise from 85 to 90. They are not supposed to be cutting edge, hard content. Neither are the heroic versions that come at 90. There is a new aspect of dungeons in the Challenge Modes. These are for people who like their instances punishing and taxing. So in my opinion there is absolutely no reason for such types to moan about the lesser difficulties being available for other people.

A few in the guild have had one quick bash at doing a Challenge Mode dungeon so far, but we are not quite well geared enough for that activity yet. We were slightly below the iLevel of 463 recommended for them. If anyone’s gear goes above that level, it is brought down if they enter a Challenge Mode dungeon. They are designed to stay difficult and people won’t be able to outgear them. Still, despite not being ready for the Challenge yet, what we managed was great fun and, as was announced before launch, much more like the old-fashioned Burning Crusade heroic level of difficulty. I can see that it will be of benefit for the same teams to work on them, devising the quickest routes and pulls, and how best to work together for success. I expect there are already comprehensive walk-through guides on the internet, but we didn’t look for them before we went. We decided just to have a look and see what a Challenge Mode will be like. We really enjoyed it, even though were unable to complete the challenge on a first try.

I can’t say I was overjoyed on the journey to 90 for being on the ground, i.e. having to use ground mounts not flying mounts. It was a great relief to be able to fly again at top level. This is because I’m not the most patient of people and it began to get on my nerves having to fight my way through a load of mobs to get to an objective and then back again because they’d all respawned in my path. It’s just a personal thing; I prefer to fly over irritating mobs that often only drop useless loot like a couple of fangs. Another downside was player over-crowding, but you have to expect that at the beginning of an expansion. Player behaviour wasn’t as bad as I saw it at the beginning of Cataclysm but that might be because Horde and Alliance were separated at the beginning, so less PvP shenanigans, and Blizzard seems to have learned from the past and implemented some player-friendly systems from the start. Remember how eventually named mob kills for dailies in Tol Barad completed for anyone who managed to get a hit in on them? Most named mobs/mini bosses needed for quests in Mists are the same. That is a wonderful improvement.  Mobs and quest items are usually plentiful enough – although there are unaccountably some quests/areas where this is not the case – so there is less griefing and selfish behaviour.  There is still *some*, but that’s inevitable in an MMO. I did find myself getting progressively angrier as I neared 90 simply because of the competition with other players who, to be fair to them, were probably equally as eager to get that last level as I was. People were more cut throat and selfish in the last two zones.  But before that, it was all pretty blissful. I’m going back to finish a couple of zones now for the Pandaria Loremaster achievement, and they do seem less fraught and busy than they were in the first week of playing in them.

The atmosphere of Pandaria is equal to Northrend, if not superior. I adored the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, simply because I felt immersed in that world, became part of it. Mists is the same. We can look upon Cataclysm as a hiccup, perhaps a needed one to belch up some wind, as it were, because the old world *did* need that massive overhaul. There was a lot I enjoyed about Cata, but for the first time ever in my history of playing WoW since Vanilla, I got bored and ran out of things to do. This is with a host of alts as well. With Mists I want to take things easy with the alts, so that never happens again. Looking at the expansion from where I stand now I’m fairly confident it will last two years as Burning Crusade and Wrath did – if we don’t rush through everything with all our alts. I confess to a slight prickle of urgency over professions on some of my alts, since I like to be self-sufficient in terms of enchantments and gems, but as we’re not raiding yet, and a couple of other guildies have maxed out on these professions, I will accept their generosity. It’s a part of my nature that I
like to do things myself, or at least be able to offer things in return to people, but my main is a Leatherworker, so I will at least have leg armor to hand out and can make a couple of half decent cloaks for the newly-dinged 90s. Plus there is the inevitable PvP leather-working gear that will help guildies flesh out a sagging iLevel to be able to get into heroic dungeons.

Now to what I don’t like. There isn’t much, but what there is, is annoying. As I said above unaccountably some quests are far more difficult than others simply because there are no mobs around. One or two players might come along and decimate the desired creature, then the mobs don’t reappear for ages, or else there are too few of them to start with. Same goes for a couple of quest items. Most quest objectives are quite the opposite, in that there are often too many mobs for a comfortable experience, (which is how they tend to be tuned at the beginning of an expansion, to accommodate player load), so it’s strange some are utterly different. Also, on a few of these quests, which are for dropped items, the drop rate is appalling, so you have a) few or no mobs around, b) a lot of player competition, and c) a dreadful drop rate. This has resulted in me spending half an hour in one case completing what should have been a quick and easy quest. If it was just the odd one or two like this, it wouldn’t be so bad, but I’ve been held up on several occasions, which is just frustrating for everyone there and incites bad feeling among the players trying to complete their objectives. We have enough grrs between players in WoW as it is, so Blizzard, please fix these quests.

The next thing that I have issues with is certain aspects of the reputation grind. I don’t mind working for things, and seeing steady progress. It’s always great when you hit the longed-for exalted and can then get whatever reward it is from that faction for getting there, and I was delighted to get my cloud serpent mount tonight after working on the rep to acquire it. Blizzard has done a lot to make the grinds less tedious, with a lot of variety among the quests so you don’t get the same ones every day. On the whole I’m enjoying The Cloud Serpents, Tillers and Anglers dailies. Klaxxi aren’t too bad either. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Golden Lotus dailies. You need to get to revered with this faction to open up two other important factions, The August Celestials and The Shado-Pan. All of these supply gear that will help enormously with the start of Pandarian raiding, if not be essential.

The Golden Lotus dailies remind me greatly of the Tol Barad ones when they first became available in Cataclysm. The mobs hits like trucks, there are thousands of them constantly respawning and they take a long time to kill with average gear. There is also a baying mob of players at the quest locations at peak times, adding to the chaos and difficulty. With some of the dailies you really want others around to help keep the mobs off your back, while some quests make other players massive impediments to your own success, such as when you need to collect a particular item, or the quests where the mobs seem slow to respawn (not many in this case).  There are quite a few quests needing drops from mobs, and again the drop rate often isn’t good. For packed daily quest hubs, with so many players competing, this just seems like needless torment. The drops should be 100% guaranteed, or if that is really so dreadful a thought to contemplate for the developers, at least a 33% drop rate. There would be more mobs to go round, and players would finish their quests quicker leaving room for others to do theirs. As it stands, tempers fray and behaviour isn’t always exemplary. Out of sheer frustration perhaps, other players will steal your kills or your quest items as you’re fighting towards them. That’s not an uncommon situation with dailies, of course. But to add insult to injury, the amount of rep given for each of these annoying quests is 110 reputation.  On average, although I haven’t totted it up exactly, you get between 1000-1500 rep a day, once you get a few more dailies to do at Honored. You can imagine how long it’s going to take to get to revered, never mind exalted if you want the rewards that come from that. It’s 42,000 rep points to get from neutral to exalted. And many people can’t do daily quests every day.

I know from experience that daily quests that seem difficult in starter dungeon gear at the beginning of an expansion become a lot more forgiving when your character has been kitted out better. So despite the frustration I feel at times, I’m aware things will improve as I work through the different factions. But the sheer length of time it will take, given the paltry amount of rep you get, is more difficult to swallow. After an exhausting time clawing my way through the Golden Lotus dailies, I only see a hideously slow accumulation of rep points.  Luckily I’m doing them at the moment with a friend, and two people do have a much easier time of it than a solo player.

I’m aware Blizzard wants to make the content last, and if the Golden Lotus dailies were actually enjoyable I wouldn’t mind so much. But gritting my teeth to get through up to an hour of play I don’t even enjoy isn’t what I want to be feeling when I log on in an evening. You could have difficult mobs with good drop rates, or easier mobs with rarer drop rates, but for the gods’ sake, difficult mobs *and* bad drop rates is rather cruel. I don’t think the idea of ‘gating’ reputation factions is that good. Everyone is obliged to do the Golden Lotus quests if they want to progress to the other factions that might be more useful to them. And there is the risk that by the time they get to revered with the later factions, the gear they were striving for to help with raiding will already have been superseded by what they might have picked up in raids. Spreading the players out between all of the important rep factions would have been better I think; less crowding and hostility.

But aside from my grumbles about dailies and drop rates, I am loving the game at the moment. The pet battles are great fun, and hopelessly addictive, and there are a lot of sleek new mounts to collect that non-raiders will be delighted to know you can get from just playing the game and gaining reputation points with the various factions. There are tons of cool new mounts to get outside of raids. While I am a raider myself, I’ve never liked the way that raiders are given lots of stuff that others can’t get. I know the special snowflake types get their panties in a knot over ‘lesser players’ getting the same toys as them, but frankly I don’t care about it. I’ll ride a mount for as long as I care to, regardless of who else might, or might not, have it.

If I were to give Mists a mark out of ten, it’s 9 and a half. Only the level 90 rep grind has knocked off that half a point. I have a feeling that player comment will have some bearing on this and we will see beneficial nerfs to the grind, as we did in Tol Barad. But my minor gripes aside, I can recommend this addition to WoW whole-heartedly. I find it hard to tear myself away from Pandaria. Raiding will be coming soon for us, and then I’ll have more to say!