Archive for the ‘Expansion’ Category

Where I rank MoP… And why

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

5.2 is coming Soon(tm) and so it’s seems as good a time as any to talk about Mists of Pandaria and where it ranks in the WoW library.

Before I begin, I see an MMO as a collection of three things: 1) Story; 2) Dungeons/Questing; and 3) End-game. So, I’ll discuss each and how it fits in with the rest of the expansions. Now, I didn’t play Vanilla so I have no basis to judge the questing other than reports from other sites. I’ll use those and interpret them the way I see fit. If you don’t agree, leave a comment.

Story

The story of Mists is a simple story. We (the Horde and the Alliance) were engaged in a naval battle. During that battle a few ships run aground on an uncharted island. Now, Garrosh wants to exploit that island for its resources and Varian wants to stop Garrosh. Simple.

The Jade Forest

Our time in the Jade Forest is two-fold. One, to set up a base of operations on this new island and two, to persuade the denizens of the island to aid “our” cause. For the Horde this means gaining the trust of the Hozen, and for the Alliance the Jinyu. Again, this is a fairly basic story. During our travels we’ll also encounter the Pandarens who are dead-set on remaining neutral in this conflict and give us our first warning of the Sha.

With our help a new Jade Serpent statue is erected, but at that same time the Alliance and Horde clash on the island. Immediately a Sha is released, a Sha that we must defeat.

After defeating the Sha it’s off to Valley of the Four Winds.

Valley of the Four Winds

In Valley we are greeted by Chen Stormstout and his young niece, Li-li. Our time in the Valley is spent helping farmers try to protect their crops from vermin, hozen, mogu, and culminates by visiting an old friend: Hemit Nesingwary. In Valley we also find Halfhill – the “farm” for players. Halfhill is full of merchants and farmers and we’ll eventually be asked to help them through a series of daily quests. We are also led to an area in the west of Valley that is being overrun by Mantid, an ancient race that have aligned themselves with an Old God. A series of quests will take you into the very heart of their invasion.

After helping Hemit, we’re headed south to Krasarang Wilds.

Krasarang Wilds

If you got a taste of the Sha in Jade Forest and Valley, you’ll get a nice helping of it in Krasarang. The Sha of Despair has been released from his prison in the Temple of the Red Crane and a grand lethargy has overtaken most of those living in Krasarang. Your first set of tasks will be helping them by releasing them from this despair.

After spending time at Zhu’s Watch the player will then head further into the Wilds to their respective quest lines: Incursion for the Alliance and Thunder Cleft for the Horde. There the player will aid the Pandaren in finding out what is going on in Krasarang, and what, if anything, can be done about it.

From their the two story-lines again meet at the Temple of the Red Crane where the player will take on a Sha. From there, it’s off to fight the Mogu, again in a split story.

Kun-Lai Summit

Almost all of Kun-Lai is spent fighting one group, the Yangoul. This nomadic race was driven from their homes in Townlong Steppes and are now reeking havoc all across the Summit. But, along the way you’ll also help the Jinyu at Inkgill Mere, you’ll fight the Zandalari, and of course, the Mogu and Sha.

Following the model of Krasarang, this story diverges from one story to two stories and back again several times.

During your time in Kun-Lai you’ll be told to go to the Temple of the White Tiger. There you must face a trial to prove that you are “worthy” to be given a great gift: The opening of the gates to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. If you pass the test you are rewarded with a nice cut-scene showing the gates being opened by the August Celestials of Pandaria.

You’ll also run across the funniest group in the entire game: The Grummles. They have a lot of problems and you’ll spend a considerable amount of time helping them deliver their goods, find their “luckydos” and rescuing them from Yangoul.

The zone culminates with a battle against the Yangoul at the opening of the Serpent’s Spine that leads into the next zone: Townlong Steppes.

Townlong Steppes

Townlong Steppes is a very large zone with one theme: Help the Shado Pan fight off various groups. In this zone you’ll fight against the Yangoul, you’ll infiltrate Mantid areas, and you’ll do battle with another Sha.

The first area of Townlong Steppes is by far the most difficult. The Yangoul are trying their best to hold one last piece of land in Townlong and you’ll have to help the Shado Pan and their efforts to drive the Yangoul back into the zone.

After the first series is complete you’ll find a minor character group in the Mistlurkers. A short series of quests that have you fighting against the Yangoul even more before you’re sent on your way On Hatred’s Path.

On Hatred’s Path is a series of quests that will have the player fight directly against the Mantid (for the first time, but it will not be the last!) who have aligned themselves with the Sha of Hatred. A long series of quests in the Gao-Ran Battlefront await the player. From here the player will be introduced (briefly) to the next zone, the Dread Wastes. A small battle must be fought to keep the Mantid in the Dread Wastes and way from Townlong. From here the player will further aid the Shado Pan and take on the Sha of Hatred directly.

The final area for the player will be around the Shado Pan Garrison and the Temple of Nizao. A series of quests here will take the player under the Townlong Steppes and in the tunnels they will have to rescue Shado Pan and kill lesser sha.

Dread Wastes

The Dread Wastes is a long and tedious zone. The main story focuses on helping the Klaxxi, a group of Mantid that believe that their Empress has been corrupted by Sha. I’ll save you the details but the zone involves a lot of “awakening” the other Klaxxi and then helping them in their fight.

If you don’t like the Mantid, avoid this zone. Here, it’s all Mantid, all the time, except for a short series of quests in The Briny Muck, which involves Jinyu and Saurok, a lizard-like race created by the Mogu.

Vale of Eternal Blossoms

The quests in this area are restricted to level 90 players and take the form of dailies (with an occasional quest thrown in to introduce certain story lines). Your primary focus will be on helping the Shado Pan remove the Mogu from the Vale.

Conclusion

The story of the zones of Pandaria feel “disjointed”, almost as if they were thrown together. There is no “big bad” in MoP, but in 5.0 it was clear that Blizzard wanted to introduce the Sha as the “big bad” of the tier. However, because they have already said that Garrosh is the final boss in Mists, there was no way they could really make this expansion about the Sha, and making it about Garrosh would anger both sides, Horde and Alliance.

This leaves the entire story a mess. From one zone to the next you have no idea what you’re doing, nor why you’re really doing it. Sure, you might get a story about the Sha of Despair in Krasarang, but how menacing can the Sha really be when we kill one in Jade Forest, another in Krasarang, another in Townlong, and beat back the Sha of Fear’s army (the Mantid) in Dread Wastes?

Other expansions have done a better, or worse job at explaining their villain through the zone(s). The “big bad” of The Burning Crusade was Illidan (yes, I know there were two more tiers after him, but he was on the box, he’s the “big bad”), and yet only one zone really deals with him, Shadowmoon Valley. Hellfire Peninsula is all about the fel orcs and the Burning Legion, not really about Illidan. Zangarmarsh is about Lady Vashj. Terrokar Forest is about the arakkoa and the ethereals. Netherstorm is about Kael’thas… But at least each zone focused on one theme.

Wrath was all about Arthas. We knew it Day 1. We knew it the day Cataclysm was released. Each zone spoke to that fact. No matter where you went (MAYBE Storm Peaks, been a while) the touch of the Lich King was there. The two starting zones: yeah, his influence was there. Dragonblight, it was there. Grizzly Hills, it was there (though you didn’t know it at the time). Sholazar Basin’s entire “3rd act” was all about helping Freya against the Scourge. And Icecown…. Yeah. Granted, each zone also had side stories, but that’s what they were, SIDE STORIES. They were little things so that the entire game wasn’t about one guy.

Cataclysm seemed to miss that last point. EVERY ZONE was about the effect of Deathwing. Mount Hyjal was all about Deathwing and how he brought back Ragnaros to destroy the World Tree. Vashj’ir was all about Deathwing and his servants capturing Neptulon. Deepholm was all about putting the World Pillar back together, which was smashed by…. DEATHWING. Uldum was about helping the Ramkahen fight their brothers who had joined Al’Akir, who was brought into this conversation because of Deathwing. In Twilight Highlands we see a magnificent cut scene of a fight between Alexstrasza and Deathwing. No matter where you went Deathwing was present. He didn’t have to show up all the time (a problem with the Lich King), his presence was all over the game.

In each of these instances the story of a zone was consistent. It was fighting against a single force, and that gave you presence of mind to know what you were doing and why you were doing it. At one point on my trek to 90 I was in a zone and I was asked to help some Pandaren. I was so confused about who he was or why I needed to help him that I let him die. And it was satisfying. I didn’t know who he was, so what did I care?

Overall, I give the story of Mists a C-. Good at times, but for the most part it bordered on “bad” and “really bad”.

Dungeons/Questing

The quests in Mists of Pandaria are varied, greatly. Some of them are interesting, some of them are fun, but all-in-all, they were simply tedious. One problem the quests designers admitted to in Cataclysm was the quests were too linear in design. You were supposed to start at Point A which would lead you to Point B, and so on. So, they said that Mists would be different. You could pick up and quest just about anywhere in the zone.

That simply was not true. You’re forced to start questing in a single location in The Jade Forest. From there you’re given a breadcrumb to visit someone else. From there, another breadcrumb. Sure, you might be given two breadcrumbs at the same time, but that’s not “non-linear” design, that’s a poor attempt at non-linear design.

This has been a problem that has plagued WoW for a very long time. The Burning Crusade had this problem. Wrath had a bit of this problem (there were zones that were linear, there were others that weren’t). Cataclysm had this problem in a big way. But it didn’t get any better in Mists.

The one great thing about the quest design in Mists was the introduction of dungeons. Let’s say that you didn’t run a single dungeon on your way to 90. You would have at least seen Temple of the Jade Serpent, Stormstout Brewery, Shado-pan Monastery, and Gate of the Setting Sun. If you went to Vale a bit early, you would have seen Mogu’shan Vaults. Not only were you introduced to these dungeons, you did quests in and around them.

Honestly, without the LFD, would you have thought to go back to Blackrock Mountain to see if there was a dungeon in there? Probably not. Yes, in Lich King you quested around the dungeons, but you didn’t get to quest IN THEM. Again, in The Burning Crusade, you saw the dungeons, but you were never allowed in them, unless you were going to try to complete them.

This was a massive plus for the questing in MoP.

Let’s continue talking about dungeons. For the first time Blizzard had “non-normal-mode” dungeons, dungeons that you couldn’t enter until you hit 90 and had a sufficient item level. Was this a good thing? I don’t really think it mattered. The BAD thing, at level 89 you had FOUR dungeons that you could run. That’s it. No matter how much you may like a dungeon, if you queued for a dungeon, you had a 25% chance of getting the dungeon you liked, which means you probably weren’t going to get that one. And since two dungeons are considered “85″ dungeons, two considered “87″ dungeons, if you got one of the two 85 dungeons, any loot you win is useless since you’ve received better gear from quests.

Dungeon difficulty is another big problem. The normal modes are, well, easy. Fine. But the heroic modes are just as easy. Now, they have “challenge mode” for a “challenge”, but why go back to the Wrath model of “AOE pull” the entire place? In comparison, the dungeons in TBC were difficult, but not impossibly so. Wrath dungeons were a joke. Really, they were. And Cata dungeons were challenging as hell! Why not go back to the TBC days? No, instead we got somewhere between TBC and Wrath.

Overall – C (the dungeon introduction quests simply aren’t enough to make up for the god-awful quests that surround them)

End Game

Again, heroic dungeons (a part of end-game content) are too easy, and thus are very boring. As such, they are a difficult way to get your Valor for the week. At the start of Cata a dungeon would award you 140 (?) Valor Points, but only the first one every day. Blizzard realized this “forced” people to log in and do a dungeon every day, so they changed this model in 4.1 (I think) so that you could log in, do as many dungeons as you want, and each would give you 140 points until you hit the weekly cap.

Now? Now we’re almost back to the “one dungeon a day” rule, because the first dungeon grants 80 Valor, each subsequent dungeon awards 40. At first, the raid bosses were awarding 20 points per kill (maybe 25), so that even if you killed all 16 bosses (which was impossible in the beginning) you’d only have 320 of your 1000 points. This would force players to continue to run dungeons, even if they were killing the entire tier.

This was done to force players to do one thing…. DAILIES! No matter how you want to say it, let me be clear: If you are serious about raiding you will do whatever you have to do to get any advantage you can get. If that means buying Valor gear, that’s what you’re going to do. If that means running LFR, that’s what you’re going to do. If that means grinding dungeons, you’ll do just that. It’s what raiders do. And we were told that dailies would be how we gained a majority of our valor points. There are some of you reading this and you’re thinking, “You don’t have to dailies to get valor,” and you’re correct. YOU HAVE TO DO DAILIES TO USE VALOR. So, dailies were mandatory for raiders at the start of Mists. This was considered “end-game” content, because you had to be 90 to do them.

This is simply NOT end-game content. This is filler content because designing other content wasn’t financially viable.

The other source of end-game content are scenarios. These are just like dungeons with two exceptions: 1) they take 3 people, not 5; and 2) you don’t need the “holy trinity” to complete them (that is, you don’t need a tank or a healer). There are several problems though:

  1. They didn’t give any gear, except for the Arena of Annihilation, and that was only after the first time
  2. While they don’t require a healer/tank, your group benefits greatly from having one or the other
  3. Their valor gain is abysmal (40 for the first of the day, 20 after)
  4. They are often just boring AOE fights and take too long to complete

This was a great attempt by Blizzard to try something new, and they should keep trying, but I don’t know a lot of raiders that really work on scenarios.

Challenge mode dungeons are another new idea that Blizzard released with MoP. When you enter a dungeon with a group you’re given an orb to click. If you click that orb you start the challenge mode. At this time your gear will be scaled DOWN (never up) to a certain gear level. Every pull is more difficult, every boss is more difficult, AND YOU HAVE A TIMER. These are not meant to be puggable (unless you have a really skilled server) because they will create tension quickly. I’ve not done any of these, but from what I understand, they are exactly what they are supposed to be: DIFFICULT!

When Mists launched we were given one raid: Mogu’shan Vaults. This first raid instance was set up so that raid groups could work on coordination, because it takes a lot to get through this raid. The first two bosses are “tank-centric” bosses, meaning if a tank messes up, it’s a wipe. The third boss is the first DPS check. The fourth boss is the first coordination check. And Elegon… How I hate you! Elegon is a dps check from HELL! But it also requires a great deal of tank coordination and raid awareness! The final boss, Will of the Emperor is a pretty simple fight, compared with the other bosses.

Heart of Fear and Terrace of Endless Spring were both released one month later and they are meant to truly challenge the raid team. One of the over arcing themes in these raids is this: You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Several times raid groups I was in were close to getting a kill but a single mistake threw the wheels of the bus and we crashed with less than 10% to go.

All in all, this tier has just about everything you could want. Tank checks? Yes. DPS checks? A LOT of them. Healer checks? Absolutely. Coordination checks? Yes. Awareness checks? Just about every fight!

Though I think the dungeons in Mists are bad (and the story of most dungeons is bad, there are a few that interest me), heroics are crap, I hate dailies, and I’ve not been in a challenge mode dungeon, Tier 14 has made up for a lot of other faults. I am really enjoying this tier of content. It is what it should be, a great introduction to the themes of raiding.

Overall score – A

Overall

Overall, looking at story, questing, dungeons and end-game content (I skipped Farmville and Pokemon, they’re both dumb!), this expansion is only “decent” at best. I’d given it a solid C+. The story is just horrible, the questing is awful (except for the dungeon introduction quests, I cannot say enough good about them!), the dungeons are too “Wrath-esque”, and non-raiding end-game boils down to “log in every day and run a dungeon, then do a lot of dailies!”. From a ranking standpoint, this expansion is last, in my opinion.

The dungeons and raids help TBC, the story helps Wrath and Cata. Wrath raids are iconic, Black Temple still brings chills to a lot of players, and the overall story design of Cata is amazing. While the raids in MoP are fun, I don’t see any of them being “iconic.” I don’t see us sitting around talking about how much fun we had going into MSV or Terrace. Not the way we still talk about Molten Core or Onyxia.

Some might be thinking I’m leaving Vanilla out of the mix. So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take my three criteria and rate the games based on those.

Story

1) Cata
2) Wrath
3) TBC
4) Vanilla
5) MoP

Cata and Wrath are very very close, as are TBC and Vanilla. Vanilla is hard to talk about, though, because each zone was supposed to be a story unto itself. There was no “over arcing” story design yet. But Cata wins this because we had so many great lore personas involved in this expansion.

Questing/Dungeons

1) Vanilla
2) Cata
3) Wrath
4) TBC
5) MoP

Vanilla quests are still talked about today. There were simply some great quests. Yeah, it was a bit grindy back then, but MoP is VERY grindy today! Again, Cata and Wrath are close, because each zone flowed so well with the story. TBC gets a hit because each zone is somewhat disjointed from the others, but there were still some magnificent areas to quest in. Again, MoP fails the others…

End Game (dungeons)

1) Vanilla
2) Cata
3) TBC
4) Wrath
5) MoP

Vanilla simply had the best “end game” dungeons. You had Stratholme, UBRS, LBRS, and BRD. All these dungeons were meant to get you ready for Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. Though Cata heroics were hard, they were rewarding when you completed the dungeon. It was the closest a return to “vanilla hard” we’ve seen. And that’s says a lot.

End Game (non raiding)

1) Wrath
2) Cata
3) TBC
4) MoP
5) Vanilla

Wrath had a lot for people who didn’t raid to do. Wintergrasp was released, giving them an entire zone dedicated to PVP. If that wasn’t your cup of tea, you could do rep grinds to get mounts with various factions. Cata continued this model but took away the idea of heroic instances, since those were geared towards serious players. TBC had very little to do, but it was still better than MoP with their FORCED dailies. And Vanilla? Yeah, there was no “non-raiding” end-game…

End Game (Raids)

1) TBC
2) Wrath
3) Vanilla
4) MoP
5) Cata

The difference between Wrath and TBC is small, but while Wrath has two iconic raids, Ulduar and ICC, TBC has several! Kara, Black Temple, ZA, and Sunwell are all still in the hearts and minds of players from that era. Vanilla is a close third to Wrath, each raid being an icon of old-style raiding. However, from a point of view of story, atmosphere, and bosses, Wrath wins. Ulduar is just fucking creepy! Seeing Sindragosa or Arthas for the first time… DAMN! I’m sure there were those moments in Vanilla as well, and it was close, but again, this is my list, not yours.

Honestly, Cata would have overtaken MoP, but Dragon Soul was just so bad. From a story telling point of view, it was horrible. From a mechanics point of view it was interesting at times, but players quickly started to outgear the fights and the nerfs came a bit too quick, and so the mechanics started to get ignored. And last, the bosses WERE NOT MEMORABLE, at all. I thought Tier 11 was great, and Tier 12, while very short, was very good. But Tier 13 just brings it down too far.

Overall Rating

1) Cata
2) Vanilla
3) Wrath
4) TBC
5) MoP

Cata’s story, it’s end game, and dungeons were all there. Their raiding wasn’t, but it wasn’t enough to pull it from the top of my list. Vanilla is the standard bearer. It was the first time we stepped foot in Azeroth, but that doesn’t diminish the fact the questing was good, the story was good, the raids were great, and there are aspects that are better than we’ll ever see again (server wide events!?)

Wrath suffers a bit because the dungeons were simply too easy. The stories in the dungeons were great, fantastic raids (well, two, at least), and a very popular story aren’t enough to overcome my opinions.

TBC gets hurt because it’s lack of an over arcing story. That, and the dungeons are a bit bland. Sure, we got heroics, but those aren’t enough to look past the fact that some of the story lines are just not interesting at all. From a raiding perspective, it doesn’t get any better. But you can only raid after you get to max level, and getting there was the problem.

MoP is just over matched at every point in this contest. Bad story, bad questing, bad dungeons, not even great raids can help. Sorry guys, but it’s last on my list.