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In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms


In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms

We’re all aware of Mists of Pandaria, the next expansion for World of Warcraft. We all no-showed work, wore nothing but adult feetie pajamas and survived off carefully rationed portions of Wheat Thins and Cheez-Whiz, makeshift bedpan in tow, while remaining glued to our computer screens for three days straight watching the live stream (No? That was just me? Umm… just kidding). So we know all about the lush new Asian-inspired zones, the Panda bear playable race, the new talent tree setup, and the holy s--t you can really be a panda bear?!

I understand that a lot of you are upset about the direction Mists of Pandaria takes the World of Warcraft franchise. What I don’t understand is why. Whenever someone bashes MoP, their lines of reasoning typically fall under the following five arguments, which I’ve found while nicely perusing the MMO-Champion forums and the other WoW-related websites I frequent daily. I hope to show you why these skepticisms and preconceived notions are unwarranted and why MoP is actually shaping up to be pretty damn awesome.

“Panda bears?! Warcraft is a serious franchise.”

I’m sorry but are you playing the same game I’m playing? Warcraft’s story is great, involved, and serious at times, but they also incorporate some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in a video game, oftentimes just to get a mere chuckle out of the player base. This is a game where three-foot-tall Gnomes with a penchant for shoddy craftsmanship are some of the most venerated heroes in the known universe, and anthropomorphic, bipedal bovines are some of the most wise bastions of peace on the planet, and you’re worried about drunken panda kung-fu masters?

I think this image that’s been circling the Internet sums up nicely why anyone who uses Pandaren not being serious enough as a qualm justifying not playing Mists of Pandaria is just using a baffling, invalid argument:

In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms
“KEEP PANDAS OUT OF MY GAME! Anthropomorphic regular bears, oxen, cows, werewolves who can transform into human beings on a mere whim, walruses, space goats, unnatural horse-elephant hybrids, strange amphibious fish-men, avian aberrations, and rat-miner candle addicts are fine.”

All I’m saying is if you’re looking for unabashed realism and zero sense of self-awareness or humor, WoW was probably really never your game to begin with. It’s not even like Blizzard created Pandaren on a mere whim to cash in on some strange panda bear frenzy that doesn’t exist (apologies to Jack Black); Pandaren have existed in WoW lore for a long, long time. Like, before WoW long. Players could control Pandaren Brewmasters in Warcraft III, which officially makes Pandaren a more logical choice for playable WoW race than as of yet undiscovered, untainted, intelligent and pious aliens from another dimension (who for some reason speak with a Russian accent). There’s even no discussion of if they joined the wrong faction, like we had with Blood Elves and Worgen; Pandaren can play on either faction. And any way you look at it, that’s pretty awesome.

“No main villain? Blizzard is lazy, and this proves it.”

This to me is a strange argument. Remember vanilla WoW? You know, the one that started everything, changed gaming forever, and laid the groundwork for not only each new game in its own series, but basically laid the groundwork for how all MMORPGs are now designed? Remember how there was no main villain in that version of the game? It seemed to do just fine for itself, and it certainly wasn’t out of laziness; quite the contrary, WoW‘s first installment aspired to fit just about everything they could think of into the game. There were lore-significant 5 man dungeons, awe-inspiring 40 man raids, and a PVP ladder system, whose completion required unparalleled levels of soul-crushing emotional investment and homewrecking commitment (Totally worth it though. Seven years later, I can Transmogrify my current gear to look like my Grand Marshal gear of yore thanks to my feat of strength. Baller status. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. Kind of. Not really).

I just don’t understand how people can call Blizzard lazy when they consistently pump out genre-defining masterpieces every time they release a game. You’d have to look back to 1995, their second year as “Blizzard Entertainment” to find a game that wasn’t a top-seller or credited with either defining or redefining a gaming experience. That game, by the way? A Super Nintendo port of Justice League Task Force, a fighter based on the DC Universe.

In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms
How come no one writes multi-page dissertations on this game?

In Vanilla WoW, we had no main villain whatsoever, and every content patch was a mystery in terms of which direction they would take. Personally, I found that model to be more exciting. We were taken all across the spectrum for possible raid bosses and themes to the point where every content patch felt almost like a mini-expansion. We went from the fiery Blackrock Mountain to the barren desert of Silithus/Ahn’Qiraj, to a floating necropolis in Naxxramas, and it was great. In my naive days as a mere level 60 rogue, I didn’t see a reason for them to ever release a full-fledged expansion, and nowadays that carrot on a stick of a new continent and new races/classes is one of the only things keeping me going.

We followed up vanilla with The Burning Crusade, which was built around two things: Kael’Thas’ descent into insanity, and Illidan’s exile to Outland. …Neither of which ended up being the final boss of the expansion. To be fair, Illidan was supposed to be the final boss of TBC, but somewhere along the line in development they came up with a little thing called Sunwell Plateau, which was the best dungeon in TBC and arguably the best raid in the entire series, right up there with the original Naxxramas. Is forgoing that great achievement worth keeping up with some meaningless notion of a “final boss”?

“The new talent system will be more cookie-cutter than ever before.”

In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms

This is a strong point of contention for WoW players regarding Mists of Pandaria, and while I was once in the same camp, after some thought I just can’t really see their point.

For those of you who live under a rock, or don’t play WoW but are for some reason reading an article dissecting an upcoming expansion of it, they basically took the old talent trees and removed the illusion of choice. I mean, sure, in Cataclysm we currently have 41 points to play around with, but how many of them are really a ‘choice’? The fact remains that some talents exist simply as a roadblock to other, more desirable talents, and a good deal of talents are so essential to the role you’ve chosen that you’d have to be brain-dead to overlook them. So while the choice is technically there, anybody who wants to be even remotely competitive is just going to nicely peruse Elitist Jerks or Noxxic, find out what the “best” spec is, and literally copy and paste it into the game.

In Mists, you still choose your spec at level 10, just like you do now. Instead of going to the trainer and learning new abilities every two levels, and also choosing one talent point roughly every two levels, you just automatically gain the passive, no-brainer or otherwise essential talents as you level. Say you’re a mage. You choose Frost spec at level 10. Right there, you’ll gain access to Frostbolt and the Water Elemental. At level 12 you might learn Ice Lance, right when you level. At 14 you might learn Brain Freeze (I don’t know exactly when you’re going to learn what at this point, but you get the idea), and so on and so forth. When leveling a character, you often think “I can’t wait for level X so I can learn ability Y”. It’s still going to be exactly the same, only that illusion of choice is gone. Because it’s totally unnecessary.

“But AiPT,” you might be saying if you’re someone who regularly questions aloud your computer monitor, or a fan of hypothetical soliloquy. “One choice every 15 levels? Only 6 choices? There are going to be more people with a cookie cutter spec than ever before!”

Ahh, young apprentice, here is where you’re wrong. The way it’s set up now, with three possible talent specs, three choices every 15 levels, and a level 90 cap, you end up with 729 possible specs. Granted I’m no mathematician and I just nicely appropriated that from the official WoW forums, and I don’t know how many mathematical possibilities there are in Cata, but 729 choices?! You think there are going to be that many cookie cutter builds? Definitely not, especially since most of the talents you choose from the tree are utility talents. The problem with today’s trees is that there is usually mathematically-sound proof that one talent is superior to another. Under MoP‘s system, that won’t be. Take this scenario. You’re a mage who is also a raider. Is there a clear-cut DPS advantage between Greater Invisibility, Cauterize, and Cold Snap? Nope. Some situations may favor being able to essentially vanish, some will favor the Cheat Death-like quality of a nice Cauterize/Ice Block combo, and there will be some fights where being able to rapidly Ice Block back-to-back with Cold Snap will shine.

Believe me, I was skeptical when I first saw these trees as well. But upon further inspection, I think it’s a great thing for the game. WoW is so streamlined and so geared towards the endgame now that the “choices” that weren’t really choices at all were simply superfluous. Also, in MoP changing talent points is going to be, according to Blizzard, “as easy as changing out glyphs”. So if you don’t like what you chose, you apparently don’t even have to go back to town to change it. This will make changing it up for that fight that WILL benefit Cauterize more a hell of a lot easier.

“Monks will imbalance the game, and do we need another tank/healing class?”

In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms

Introducing a new class to an already well-established game is a difficult and oftentimes rocky road, as proven handily by the introduction of Death Knights to the Warcraft universe with the debut of Wrath of the Lich King in 2008. And I’m not gonna lie: I f-----g HATED Death Knights. I wished every time I logged in they had never been implemented. If there was ever a time in my life where I was mere moments away from totally losing my mind and serially murdering innocent people in a complete blind rage, it would be the arena season that Death Knights were introduced and every team under the red sun was a Paladin and a Shadowfrost Death Knight. For some reason, they were MASSIVELY overtuned, and in the grand scheme of Warcraft nothing less than gods among men. I don’t care if you played a Death Knight or not, if you played at the beginning of WotLK, you have to admit Death Knights were absolutely ridiculous. 50% damage reduction on a one minute cooldown? Check. 40% damage reduction on a SEPARATE one minute cooldown? Check. Immunity to all magic cooldown? Check. Ability to desecrate a gigantic radius of the ground with writhing corpses and the blood of innocents causing their opponents to cower in fear at its very presence? Check. Ability to COME BACK TO LIFE AFTER YOU KILL HIM AS A F-----G GHOUL WITH ALMOST THE SAME STATS AND YOU HAD TO KILL HIM AGAIN AND…I’m sorry. I honestly can’t even think about Season 5 Arena anymore, or I am just gonna lose it.

That aside, you have to take into consideration that Death Knights started at level 55, and the level cap was 80. So they were introduced into the endgame pretty quickly. Monks will start at level 1 like everybody else, and have to get up to a newly raised level cap of 90. Hopefully any glaring balance issues will be caught a lot faster, and since the whole Death Knight debacle, Blizz has a new policy of quickly hotfixing balance problems rather than waiting until major content patches. So hopefully things won’t get out of hand in terms of balance, and we won’t have drunken, cuddly demigods running around one-shotting everyone.


Oh, and on the subject of “do we need another tank/healing class”: My 25 minute DPS queue says yes. Yes we do.

“It doesn’t matter anyway. WoW is over. Everyone’s gonna be playing Old Republic/FFXIV (lol)/Aion/whatever.”

I talked about these doomsday theorists in my compendium of the most annoying online gamers. “This game is stupid and boring and anyone who pays money for this is retarded. Except me. Because I don’t play it to have fun, but rather to fulfill some sick masochistic fantasy.” They are always claiming that the next MMORPG to come out is going to be the final nail in the coffin of WoW. As if after seven years and still going 10 million people strong, WoW is anywhere near being in a coffin. Well, let’s take a look at some of the past contenders for the ever-elusive designation of “WoW Killer”:


In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms


In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms


In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms


In Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main CriticismsIn Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main CriticismsIn Defense of Pandas: Dispelling Mists of Pandaria’s Main Criticisms

Will Star Wars: The Old Republic break the mold and become a serious contender to Warcraft, or will it be just another disembodied scoffing Yao Ming? Only time will tell, but history is not on its side.

TL;DR WoW is fine, and MoP will be even fine…er.

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