Firstly I'll apologize that this review has taken so long (there's been a lot to do) and secondly the review will be split into two parts as I've still not finished Pandaria yet.
Mists of Pandaria is the fourth World of Warcraft expansion and as with all the expansions the level cap has been raised as have the profession caps, a new continent for leveling has been introduced as have a new class and a new race as well as various other improvements.
Once I've added Mists onto my Battle.net account and logged in to my main I'm greeted by a quest telling me to head to the Orgrimmar throne room and talk to Garrosh Hellscream, as I enter the screen fades to black and a cutscene of Garrosh shouting at his general is played, Garrosh is telling his general to conquer a newly discovered continent (Pandaria) so the Alliance can't have it, this sets Garrosh up to be even more of a crazed warmonger who only cares about destroying the Alliance even more than the previous expansions (I'll get into why this is important later on). Once the cutscene is over I'm told to meet general Nazgrim aboard a flying warship, but before you do this I strongly suggest you train your professions to the new Zen master level, empty your bags of everything that isn't essential so potions (except maybe water walking ones) and food, as they instantly become useless once you reach Pandaria, should go (all you'll really need is your hearthstone and profession items) and lastly sort out anything you can only do in main cities as once you're in Pandaria you won't be able to come back for at least the first three zones (I'm level 88 and have not found a way out). Anyway once you talk to Nazgrim you're transported to The Jade Forest in Pandaria where another cutscene greets you, this time rich with that age old Warcraft trait of Horde Vs. Alliance battles, once the cutscene stops you're ordered to kill Alliance (no surprise there), with most of the Alliance dead you seek out the Alliance captain who manages to escape, with this Nazgrim starts to worry about what Garrosh will do to him and sprouts bony black and white limbs, a Pandaren quickly runs in and exorcizes Nazgrim of his doubt and explains Pandaria is alive and emotion physically manifests itself as Sha energy, this is essentially the set up for the story of Mists.
The new areas in Mists sport amazing environments, the Pandaren buildings are based on ancient Chinese architecture as the Pandaren themselves and their history is based on Chinese/Asian cultures and various kung fu and Asian inspired films, the areas around the settlements are also Chinese/Asian inspired with sprawling fields, bamboo forests and simple farms which looks incredible and suits the theme of the expansion wonderfully and yet the new zones stay true to that World of Warcraft feeling. The soundtrack to the game is also wonderfully well done with again Chinese/Asian inspirations which sets the feel and theme of the game with a great sound.
The lore of World of Warcraft has always been rich and fantastical and this expansion shows Blizzard can still keep true to to the history, but also refresh it, as in this expansion the the history of the Pandaren (who previously had little background has been meated out and is wonderfully cheesy and cool at the same time. You first delve properly into the new aspects of the lore when you meet Lorewalker Cho in The jade forest (the first of the new zones in which you will be leveling) who is a big character in the new expansion. Your first meeting with Cho has your character and him discussing your two peoples and their similarities. My favorite story in the added lore so far is the history of the Monk class, originally the Pandaren were ruled and enslaved by a monstrous race called the Mogu who would wield large cumbersome weapons built to induce fear in their enemies. The Pandaren themselves had little to no weaponry so they would mainly use their fists or occasionally simple staffs to attack and utilized their superior mobility to dodge attacks and weave under the enemies defenses and with this new fighting style which would go on to become the Monk fighting style, the Pandaren managed to defeat the Mogu. The main story of Mists revolves around the war between the Horde and the Alliance and how it affects the Pandaren society, the other inhabitants of Pandaria and Pandaria itself.
A lot of new creatures have been added in Mists, first there is of course the Pandaren, a new playable race of anthropomorphic pandas but there are many others, in The jade forest the Horde ally with intelligent (that may be slightly exaggerated) monkeys called the Hozen which are spread throughout Pandaria but after The jade forest the Hozen are usually aggressive to everyone, where as the Alliance ally with the Jinyu a race of fish men that are bitter enemies of the Hozen and have managed to actually commune with water. New wildlife includes, Yaks, Porcupines and Mushan (dinosaur like herd animals that look very similar to Thunder lizards). The common aggressive creatures you'll be fighting include Viermin, a race (that looks like a mix between Gorlocs and rabbits) that love vegetables but hate turnips, Sha beasts which are negative emotions in physical manifestations, the Saurok, a race of dinosaur men, Sprites, mischievous elemental creatures that are often stealing items that you have to retrieve and the Mogu, the age long enemies of the Pandaren. A race of NPCs called the Grummle are also included but are mostly present in Kun-Lai summit which I'll talk about in the second part of the review. Some of the new mounts I've encountered include Cloud serpents, Yaks and Dragon turtles (the racial mount of the Pandaren). Pandaria's elementals also have their own new look.
This expansion also featured a lot of improvements to the interface and gameplay, some like account wide features and battle pets I'll talk about in part 2 but theres still a lot to talk about. Some of the biggest (and best) improvements are: mass looting so you no longer have to loot every single corpse, abilities are no longer brought from trainers they are instead given automatically once you reach the required level and there are no longer prime glyphs this one annoyed me at first because minor glyphs have been changed so their more fun or convenient so I thought I could only have three useful glyphs, however it turns out a lot of the important glyphs have been added into the spellbook as passive effects so it doesn't really matter. Theres also a lot of minor changes, that whilst small, greatly improve the game, one is items you need to use for a quest that are part of the environment like cannons and rappelling ropes now have obvious turning gear icons above them, another nice little touch is quest rewards are chosen for you depending on your class and spec so you don't have to sift through all the quest items offered anymore. Another "improvement" which I find pointless is starting zones from different servers are now grouped together, but this just creates competition for kills and the only real benefit I can think of is group quests which you don't get in starting areas.
So far I have completed the first three zones of Pandaria, so I'll give some brief descriptions of what you can expect, the first zone The jade forest sets up the story and themes of the game and introduces the Pandaren. The second zone, The Valley of the Four winds concentrates mostly on Brewmater Shen's story and helping the people of the valley, this zone is also the location for Hemet Nesingwary's safari. The third zone is the Karasang wilds which is kind of joint with The Valley of the Four winds and so follows on from the same storys and themes.
World of Warcraft is known for it's references and so far I've seen quite a few and they have been painfully obvious, here are some of the ones I found in the first three zones of Pandaria, the Saurok could be a reference to Tourok, "Dook Ookem" clearly Duke Nukem, "Jack Arrow" any guess'?, "Boom bait" could be a reference to the weapon in Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare, "Thunderbirds" hmmm wonder what thats referencing, "Arrow in the knee" you know they just had to, Maizerly thief- masterly thief, "Hozen throwing barrels" what kind of sick demented ape would throw a barrel, "Evil monkey idol" gotta' love Family guy, "Cornan the barley barbarian" you have got to wonder if they're even trying anymore, "Like Jinyu in a barrel" referencing the common saying like fish in a barrel and lastly freeing Pandaren from barrels could be a reference to your first encounter with Shen the jeweler from Diablo 3.
As a last note to the first three zones of Pandaria there are two quests that stick out as particularly fun and badass, the first is in The jade forest and involves you clicking on enemies to shoot them with a sniper rifle,
really easy but really fun and my favorite so far is in The Valley of the Four winds and involves cheesy Kung fu training montages and using this monk training to kill a level 90 elite from the inside out!
Two things I had to try for this review were the new race the Pandaren and the new class the Monk, so I did both at the same time. The Pandaren starting area is set on The wandering isle an island on the back of a giant turtle named Shen-zin su. Your character starts as a trainee in the Monk monastery on the island and is set to training, along the way you'll meet the future race leaders of the Pandaren Ji Firepaw of the Houjin and Aysa Cloudsinger of the Tushui as well as your master Shang xi and Jojo Ironbrow a Pandaren with an incredibly strong head. The story of The wandering isle revolves around you finding the four elementals of the island (Huo the spirit of fire, Shu the spirit of water, Wugou the spirit of earth and Dafeng the spirit of air) so they can help you talk to Shen-zin su as he has been swerving wildly recently. Once you've talked to Shen-zin su you find out a thorn has been causing him great pain, you investigate and it turns out to be a crashed Alliance airship, this is how the two factions are introduced to your character, you first meet Horde prisoners who escaped after the crash and are trying to defend themselves from the wildlife, while you are helping the Horde Aysa goes to help the Alliance while Ji stays with the Horde it is here he concocts a plan to blow the airship off the island with explosives, Ji tells you to go warn Aysa to evacuate, it is here you meet the Alliance that were in control of the airship and help them to evacuate and then you help Aysa to defeat an elite. After this a cutscene is shown in which the ship is blown off but severely wounds Shen-zin su, in the final battle you must rescue and defend healers so they can heal Shen-zin su's wounds. With this done you are sent to The Temple of the Five dawns to choose your faction, a pane opens giving you brief history and ideologies of the two factions with two buttons at the bottom headed choose your destiny For the Alliance For the Horde. A cutscene plays as you leave with master Shang xi waving goodbye as you leave by hot air balloon (at least for the Horde) with large panning shots of Shen-zin su and the island. It is here I want to talk more about Garrosh Hellscream, as once you enter Orgrimmar and meet with him his growing mental instability becomes horribly evident, for those who don't know, it was announced that Garrosh would be the final boss of the expansion and for that I'm relieved as with him as Warchief the Horde have become the "bad guys" where as in previous expansions with Thrall as Warchief neither faction was inherently good or evil. Anyway once you meet Garrosh with Ji Firepaw Garrosh shouts at Ji for the simple mistake of giving him the title Emperor instead of Warchief and tells of you that any friends or family you had that joined the Alliance are now dead to you and bitter enemies and contact with them would be treasonous, so from this Garrosh' hatred of the Alliance is evident but worse yet he segregates and splinters the races in his Horde. To prove your worth to Garrosh you and Ji must face off against three elite creatures in the Ring of Valor, to me it is clear that either Garrosh will fall or the Horde will.
Some of the references I found on The wandering isle include: Drunken Hozen - drunken monkey fighting style, Monkey on your back, Liu Lang maybe a reference to Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat, Balance poles with trainees on them doing the Karate kid kick, Mandori village - Mandarin is a Chinese language and a mandolin is a Chinese instrument, Paint it red - Paint it black, Monkey advisory warning, This monkey about to be slapped and finally Makael Bay - Michal Bay. Some of the coolest moments on The wandering isle include Jojo Ironbrow breaking bamboo, wood and stone with his head and attempting to do the same on a jade pillar but failing, having to cross a balance rope to reach a quest giver and finally a fight with the Onyx serpent where you use fireworks as anti-air cannons.
The new Monk class is great to play and generally very cool, the Monk uses energy (like rouges) to use "jab" an attack that generates chi, chi is then used to power stronger moves like blackout kick or tiger strike. The Monks jab attack and fighting style will also change depending on what weapon you use which is a very fun touch, the battle effects for the Monk's abilities are also just really cool and spectacular to watch.
So far the game has been incredible and this is only the first half of the extended leveling I've barely scratched the surface. With lots of cutscenes that set the story and provide entertainment and a very real sense that you are the hero of the story and everything depends on you. This expansion is just awesome, admittedly there are some problems, but you'll be having too much fun and laughing too much of the time to care.
FOR THE HORDE!