Blizzard struggles to hold the MMO throne with Mists of Pandaria beta

World of Warcraft logo"I hold a flame in my hand," says Master Shang Xi, a bipedal, anthropomorphic panda in a blue ceremonial dress and sedge hat, surrounded by dozens of sparring pandas practicing their martial art. "Gather your wits, and when you think you are ready, attempt to snatch the flame." It's a scene that seems ripped straight out of an obscure 1970s Bruce Lee film (minus the pandas) and it typifies the type of Kung Fu melodrama that is rife in World of Warcraft's new land of Pandaria, which I sampled as part of a beta test this weekend.

The subject matter of World of Warcraft's Mists of Pandaria expansion pack is a departure, to say the least. The adorable yet ferocious Pandaren have a history in the Warcraft universe, but few had expected the race to ever become a major player, mainly because the Pandaren don't outwardly seem to fit the game's motif as well as traditional high fantasy tropes like elves, orcs, and dwarves.

Many an angry forum poster has compared MoP expansion to children's movie and Jack Black vehicle Kung Fu Panda, and the comparison is not altogether unfair. The two share some of the same tone, much of the same vibrantly cartoonish "Chinese" aesthetic, and, of course, the walking, talking, fighting pandas. But these similarities aren't altogether terrible things. The setting allows for some wonderful art direction and beautiful new lands to explore, and while anthropomorphic pandas may seem weird, they actually fit into the World of Warcraft mold fairly well—at least as well as 7-foot tall owl-bears, aliens, and cow people have in the past.

World of Warcraft: Mist of Pandaria. Pic. 1

As with those other WoW staples, this kung-fu exploitation story may seem overly adorable and even cliched at the outset, but only if you're not paying attention. After I snatch the flame from Master Xi, he instructs me to head to the top of their temple and use the flame to burn the "Edict of Temperance," an ancient Pandaren scroll mandating non-aggression.

The pandas are going to war.

Peace, for a time

For this stage of the beta test, Blizzard has left the lands of Pandaria at relative peace, giving players some time to explore the Pandaren origin story and the race's entry into the coming global conflict. It also gave me the chance to try out the brand new Monk class with my adorable-yet-fierce avatar, "Pandrew" ("Pandarstechnica" wouldn't fit the length restriction.)

There's very little to get truly excited about when it comes to the Monk. Whereas the introduction of the Death Knight added cool new concepts like poison and reanimation, the Monk is more like a re-tooled Rogue. You spend energy to build up combo points (Chi) to unleash powerful finishing moves, though at least the Monk uses some acrobatic Kung Fu during these moves. There's even a later ability called Touch of Death (reinforcing the '70s martial arts flick motif) which allows you to instantly kill minor enemies with less health than you.

The real star of the show, at least in the early levels that we had access to, is the incredible level of polish Blizzard has brought to the island of Pandaria, and to the Pandaren themselves. Even in the starting zone—far from any major cities—the architecture and natural beauty are astounding. Ornate blue, gold, and red temples rise up out of the valleys and adorn the misty tops of mountains, and colorful Chinese kites gently hover in the wind. The avatars are also remarkably well-animated, with far more character and subtlety to their motions than any other previous World of Warcraft race. Even their faces are full of life, exuding a sort of joie de vivre that one would expect from a big, fluffy, beer-swilling panda.

It's truly incredible that Blizzard has managed to keep its game looking new and impressive after almost eight years. The company's incredible art direction is constantly capitalizing on new opportunities to sidestep the need for high-end graphics, focusing instead on unique style and vibrant colors. It's one of the things that has kept World of Warcraft so popular for so many years: just about anyone with a modern computer will be able to run this game well.

World of Warcraft: Mist of Pandaria. Pic. 2

Masters of fantasy

The opening tale of the Pandaren is a far cry from the origin story of the werewolf-like Worgen in Cataclysm, which took the form of gothic 19th century English horror. Whereas the Worgen story was filled with a sense of urgency and desperation, the Pandaren story is a far more serene and magical tale. It's a story that sees your character developing from a neophyte of the order into a promising warrior who must puzzle out the mysteriously erratic behavior of Shen-zin Su, a city-sized god-turtle whose back serves as the support for this particular village. The story will culminate in your character joining the faction of your choice (Alliance or Horde) and leaving the island to take up arms in a wider conflict.

In the wake of the events of Cataclysm, an unpredictable warmonger, Garrosh Hellscream, has seized control of the Warchief's throne in the Orc city of Orgrimmar. Mists of Pandaria will deal heavily with the ousting of Hellscream, in what might be a nod to the fate of some of the brutal dictatorships of our own time. In the final raid dungeon of the expansion, in fact, a 25-player cooperative challenge will even see the sacking of the Horde city of Orgrimmar by Alliance and Horde alike.

In many ways, Mists of Pandaria is a return to the roots of World of Warcraft. Rather than having the disparate races of Azeroth confront a global threat as was the case in 2008's Wrath of the Lich King and 2010's Cataclysm, this time the story is more centered around internal politics, the drama of alliances, and the reignition of the war between the Alliance and the Horde that first made World of Warcraft famous over seven years ago.

A new journey

Mists of Pandaria has a larger burden on its shoulders than any WoW expansion to date. It has to hold the line against a wave of challengers that seem more than adequate to oust WoW from its throne of dominance atop the MMO genre. Star Wars: The Old Republic has already proven itself a worthy contender (one that is slowly chipping away at WoW's subscriber base,) and Guild Wars 2 is looking fantastic, though it won't see release until later this year.

Pandaria has to excite the millions-strong base of WoW players long enough to fend off the advances of an MMO business that is swiftly moving beyond what World of Warcraft currently offers. So far the Mists of Pandaria content I've seen is beautiful, fun, and engaging, but it's also more of the same. I remain seriously doubtful that business-as-usual will keep World of Warcraft in the lead for anything past a couple more years. By that time, it may finally be time for the king to move aside, especially if Blizzard is finally ready to unveil its currently unnamed next-gen MMO, Project Titan.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Blizzard, computer games

Add comment

Your name:
Sign in with:
Your comment:

Enter code:

E-mail (not required)
E-mail will not be disclosed to the third party

Last news

Galaxy Note10 really is built around a 6.7-inch display
You may still be able to download your content
Facebook, Messenger and Instagram are all going away
Minimize apps to a floating, always-on-top bubble
Japan Display has been providing LCDs for the iPhone XR, the only LCD model in Apple’s 2018 line-up
The 2001 operating system has reached its lowest share level
The entire TSMC 5nm design infrastructure is available now from TSMC
The smartphone uses a Snapdragon 660 processor running Android 9 Pie
The Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) Review
The evolution of the successful smartphone, now with a waterproof body and USB Type-C
February 7, 2017 / 2
Samsung Galaxy TabPro S - a tablet with the Windows-keyboard
The first Windows-tablet with the 12-inch display Super AMOLED
June 7, 2016 /
Keyboards for iOS
Ten iOS keyboards review
July 18, 2015 /
Samsung E1200 Mobile Phone Review
A cheap phone with a good screen
March 8, 2015 / 4
Creative Sound Blaster Z sound card review
Good sound for those who are not satisfied with the onboard solution
September 25, 2014 / 2
Samsung Galaxy Gear: Smartwatch at High Price
The first smartwatch from Samsung - almost a smartphone with a small body
December 19, 2013 /

News Archive



Do you use microSD card with your phone?
or leave your own version in comments (16)