World of Warcraft has been the biggest MMORPG ever to grace this tiny planet of ours, with a active user group numbering almost 10 million users, if you don't know what the game is or haven't got a clue then you've probably been stuck on a desert island for the past 10 years.
All joking aside, I've played WoW since around 2008 and the release of "The Burning Crusade" and have seen and played the other expansions religiously, so when I was asked to review "Mists of Pandaria" I jumped at the chance.
Mists of Pandaria takes level 85 characters to the near mythical island of Pandaria where you meet its indigenous population of Pandarens; a race of bipedal Panda Bears who live in an oriental style landscape, and it is a luscious landscape.
Graphically the game has always been beautiful with its well rendered landscapes and excellently animated monsters, for me Mists adds more. Not only do you get all new monster types, but these monsters have all new animations which means they are not simple reskins. For example the new (and very creepy) Mist Lurkers from the Valley of the Four Winds have a shambling movement and attack style I have not encountered before.
The landscapes are sumptuous in design with areas of rolling hills and mountain temples, all designed to make you feel like you are in part of a Chinese legend. My particular favourite area in design is the Jade Forest, its winding paths and cliffs really immerse you into the beauty of Pandaria.
Now while I just seem to be talking about the level 85+ zones I haven't forgotten the Pandaren starting zone; The Wandering Isle. If you start as a level 1 Pandaren you find yourself on a moving island travelling the oceans of Azeroth, but something has gone astray... Well I'm not going to spoil it for you and tell you what the trouble is am I!?!
The Wandering Isle is much the same as Pandaria with its Oriental temples and monsters and if you haven't a character high enough level to experience Pandaria itself I would recommend creating a Pandaren to get a feel for the expansions look. The Pandarian animations are smooth and look great, they really ooze character and make you connect with your inner Panda...I joke of course!
So graphically we have a top notch job done by Blizzard game-play wise how does it fare?
If you've played WoW before you know what to expect from the user interface and skills, not much has changed since Cataclysm and control-wise the game is nicer for it.
Mission wise however it is more of the same, with missions to kill so many of these monsters or collect so many of this monsters body parts, not much has changed there. There are some new quick time style missions which add flavour to the pot such as a mission for a lost Master who teaches you to break wood stacks. Others include killing a giant bird while trying to stay on its back, which unlike a similar mission in Wrath of the Lich King you do with your own powers and only using the quick time event to stay on.
My one gripe with some of the missions is that when you are accompanied by a Non Player Character who is there to help you kill enemies, they sometimes don't attack them leaving you stuck if you are fighting elite enemies as I found out on an early mission in the Jade Forest. However I'm not sure if that is deliberate or an accident, we will probably find out in a future patch.
The missions in Pandaria give you appropriate gear rewards for your class which as any WoW player will tell you is a godsend, especially as in the past most rewards haven't given your class anything they need. By level 88 if you haven't been able to buy any decent items for your character you can be sure that you will have them rewarded to you.
Respawn rates are higher than previous expansions and Blizzard seem to have gotten that right what with thousands of players vying for the same boss kills or monsters to kill for missions, it makes completing the missions a lot easier for the players, but don't be fooled it can also cause trouble when that cave you only cleared out 3-4 minutes ago and want to leave has just repopulated, but experience is experience after all.
As for the new class; the monk, I've only had a tiny bit of time to play him (mine's a him you know?!) and haven't fully got used to the mechanics yet. They play a little like the Rogue in the way that you build up points to spend on more focused attacks yet use a stave rather than knives. They seem a nice class if you can get used to it, I myself prefer the Warlock but will try to level my Monk soon. Another new touch to gameplay is the Halfhill farm where you grow crops to use in cooking, everyday you can plant up to 4 crops after you have tilled the soil. The fun starts then as you try to stop hungry birds, weeds and even water thirsty crops. All in all it is a nice little subgame that enables you to gain reputation with a faction called the "Tillers" who seem to be a faction that are primarily there for cooking skills.
Spread across the landscape are hidden pickups like ancient Pandarian treasures that will sell for hundreds of gold or scrolls that when you have read them all give you a red flying disk which floats on clouds in the style of Monkey from the ancient tales.
So gameplay isn't too shabby but is the expansion worth its asking price?
In short if you are a fan of WoW, yes. Not only do you get all new missions, monsters, mounts, dungeons and equipment, you also get a higher level capacity (up to level 90) and a new race to play with a new class. Mists of Pandaria adds more miles to WoW's incredible milometer and in my opinion seals the game as the strongest MMORPG out there.