Mists of Pandaria: First Week Impressions

Launch

I took Tuesday off work, as well as the following week.  I had a nice brunch in town, and did some book shopping.  By 5pm I was home and logged in, mucking around.  There were frivolous shenanigans going on outside the Warchief’s Hall, and I took part in an impromptu display of Azure Netherwing Drake mounts, while someone mounted on a scorpion rode back and forth making inspirational speeches.

Eight minutes to the hour of seven, Mists went live, the quest popping up earlier than expected.  I quickly trained my professions, handed in 20 daily quests, then took the zeppelin to Pandaria.

The next few hours was like a D-Day movie.  Intense action based quests, zeppelin crashes, wiping out an Alliance stronghold, then the breakthrough and penetration into the Jade Forest … where all the locals were nice and friendly.  Quite a change in tone from the starter zones of Cataclysm and The Burning Crusade, more like the Wrath of the Lich King zones.

Skipping the instances, I relentlessly ground through the quests and harvested as much Ghost iron ore as I could grab.  then I pushed on into the Valley of Four Winds (Level 86), where quests and following the lure of yellow gold dots on the mini-map took me over a cliff edge and into a jungle.  Then I headed north into the mountains of Kun-Lai Summit (Level 87), which was an endless wasteland of quest hub after quest hub, going ever higher into the mountains as the sun rose outside my bedroom window.

From the top of the mountains I headed down into the Townlong Steppes (Level 88), which ends up in a peninsula island chain (the islands will probably end up as content hubs in future content patches).  I hit Level 89 here, managed to solo one of the rare elite mobs that drop useful loot, and found one of the random grey vendor relics that is worth 100g (and 300k xp) while exploring some caves.  That’s when it really struck me how different Mists was from Cataclysm.  While the quests provided direction, it was not the linear freight train of most of the Cataclysm zones, and there was just so many interesting caves and pathways to explore.

Ding

A bit before midnight on Wednesday I hit Level 90 in the Dread Wastes, as I was freeing one of the insectoid Klaxxi Paragons from being trapped in Amber.  My flatmate with his Warlock beat me by about four hours. I chatted with my flatmates for 20 minutes, then fell asleep after 30 hours of gameplay, and 41 hours up in the waking world.

Graphics

I was amazed at what Blizzard have pulled off here.  While WOW is starting to look dated compared to new games (e.g. SWTOR) in terms of graphics, they have built a beuatiful landscape that is recognisably oriental in themes and still a continuation of WoW.  The zones are nicely different, with the established motif of corruption being veiwable in the landscape as elements of Sha corruption turn the ground soil black.  Perhpas the only tiring zone is Kun-Lai summit, which has a lot of dreary brown landscape before you hit the snow white mountain peaks.

Some of the monsters look like liquid smoke, very cool, and some monsters have spray attacks which look very liquid as well, and a side effect of the changes is that “force” can be exerted on characters , e.g. wind/water currents, pushing the character around.

There is a lot of audio in the game too, the audio team has expanded from 3 to 40 people, and it shows. The insectoid Klaxxi sound a lot like the insect race in the prequel Star Wars movies, full of clicks and humms in their speech.

Cut scenes are much improved over Uldum.  They are used sparingly, and to great effect.

The Pandaren character models are beautiful, and make the vanilla models look crude.  I hope the pull off a revamp of the older model skins someday.  Monks in action are also very cool, lots of soothing green animations.

Story

Both Horde and Alliance tell the story of “The other side got here first, we got here accidentally, then pushed them back and established a defensive position”.  Sounds a lot like the propaganda element of a casus bellum.  After the Jade Forest entry zone the Horde/Alliance conflict takes a back seat to learning more about Pandaria.  You meet the various peoples and learn about their history and culture.  Some of the quests and dialogue are laugh out loud funny, others are heartbreaking – one quest chain dealing with a death in childbirth brought tears to my eyes.  Anyhow, current bad guys appear to be the Sha, the Klaxxi, and ourselves.

To start getting a handle on the Sha menace, the dungeons help bring it out.  Its a focus on inner feelings of a negative nature: fear, hatred, anger, violence, and these show up in the fights.  One fight in ShadoPan Monastery has a Hatred meter, the more you do in the fight the more Hatred you build up, until you take a time out ad chill down options (or go crazy, I decided not to let the Hatred bar max out…)

As a bonus for finding a lot of lore objects, you can buy the nifty flying disc (see picture above). It makes a windy swish swish sound as you fly around.

The Monk starting island was good, but very linear.  Just follow the story to its end, then wave goodbye to the island forever.

Gameplay

On the whole, I am a huge fan of the “less is more” approach to the new Talent system.  A lot of bloat and useless decision-making has been eliminated, and I expect future iterations of the talent system to make it stronger.

Hardest boss is still the Elevator Boss, every freaking time!

Paladin DPS: having more holy power generation made leveling much easier, as self-healing was stronger.

Holy Paladin: healing has changed, and damage in dungeons has changed.  People either take almost no damage (say a 20k hit off a 300-400k healthbar) or they get hit like trucks (usually on trash pulls gone wrong). Debuffs that need cleansing also suck the mana bar dry.  I have healed all the “heroic” 5 mans, and the difficulty bar is much, much lower than in Cataclysm.  A few wipes here and there, but a few instances I managed without the mana bar going below 75%. Absolutely nothing is like the hell that was Heroic Stonecore.  That said, Blizzard has given us the tools for the job, but its built around our free heals.  Because the free heals are free, the heals that cost mana really hurt to cast.   Today I got asked if I wanted to raid with another guild, based on my healing with a pug group I chain ran three instances with.  A nice compliment!

Blood DK: I started with Unholy spec for leveling (perma pet has its uses in grabbing herb nodes) but switched to Blood spec – its just so much more stronger a solo spec in terms of its self-heal ability (I can self-heal about 80% of my 200k health at level 87 using two DK powers and the 60k heal of the Life Spirit that drops from Herb nodes).  Tanked the first two normal dungeons easily enough.

Warlock: I found Affliction too complicated for me, Destruction was better, I like the Ember resource system. Load up on trash, drop four nukes at thet start of the boss fight, rebuilt during the fight, drop four nukes at the end of the fight.  My flatmate in 463 gear and glyphed for +20% health runs around with 500k health in 5 mans, often 100k more than the tanks…

Gearing for dungeons: completing the quest chains in Dread Wastes should reward in three iLevel 450 blues, then do the Arena quest from Monastery of the White Toger for a 450 weapon, and you should be in dungeons a few minutes later.  A hotfix has also made Justice Point gear much more reasonable to obtain (seriously, Exalted rep for JP gear, what was with that!?!)

Note the Dalek on the shoulders… I’m liking the look of this armour set very much.

Reputation Grind

Hoo boy.  There are a lot of reputations, and some have to be completed to exalted before the next one in the chain starts. Very gated … but as there is no longer a limit on daily quests, I think it will help stop people over exterting themselves in the game.  Still, the quests are new, and many of them are fun.  I like the fact it won’t all be done in three months. A lot of opportunity cost decisions, so I’m sorry Tillers, but Farmville in WOW will have to wait a few months.

Crafting Professions

Getting your skill to 600 is easy.  The hard part is that a lot of the good patterns require exalted reputation, sometimes with two factions.  Its going to be harder to make gold from Alts.  Blacksmithing is an exception here, most of the patterns are obtainable after you complete Dreadwastes in exchange for Kyparite ore (easily mined). Possibly this was done to make it easier to gear tanks.   The primary block to mass crafting is all the good stuff requires Spirits of Harmony, which are bind-on-pickup and mainly drop from mobs.  When doing a full round of dailies you might get one.  Most of the crafted epics requires 5-8 of them.  So I managed to finish some epic gloves for my Paladin yesterday, but its likely to be another week before I make another.

I was worried that the JC metagem cuts, which are BOP world drops, would be hard to get, but they are dropping like hot cakes, my Level 86 Warlock already has half-a-dozen cuts.  JC used to require a huge time commitment to daily quests to learn cuts.  The new research model speeds up cut acquisition by a factor of three to five times, so I’m expecting medium term gem prices to be low (just as soon as the price of Golden Lotus drops to allow cheap rare gem transmutation).

Archaeology was surprisingly useful: its pulled up three 463 BOA items (Healer off-hand, Agility Polearm, and Mastery trinket) which I have put to immediate good use.

A big change is that Darkmoon Faire cards require a Scroll of Wisdom, which has a 24 hour cooldown.  This means by the end of the first Faire, most scribes will have made less than 20 cards.  So the old technique of make 60 cards and hope to get the eight card deck you were after is not going to work.  people are going to trade, haggle, and then finally scream and pay thousands of gold for the cards they need to complete their sets on time.  Wish me luck!

Auction House

The Black Market – boring.  So far it only has 2-3 items listed, and they are pets or PVP gear.

AH prices are all over the place. Green gems selling for 3-300g, blue gems for 100-500g, metagems for 1000-3000g.  I’m selling healer/tank shields at a steady rate and a few metagems, and a bit of spare change from the new glyphs.  My flatmate has done well selling cloth PVP gear.  Mats are cheap as cloth is dropping at a much greater rate than in Cataclysm or Wrath, and a lot of people are buying the PVP gear.  I just don’t feel like parting with the Spirits of Harmony required to learn the PVP patterns.

I blew 120k on mounts (see picture below), but have made around 70k from questing and the AH.  Totally worth spending the big bucks on the vanity mount as it is now  account bound.  The Reforger on the Yak is a nice quality of life feature. Finish a 5 man, hop on the mount, and reforge your new gear on the spot!

Well, that is enough for now.  Back to work tomorrow, but its been a fun week.

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