We're a week into the latest expansion, and everyone around me appears to be either farming or fighting with minipets... and that's perfectly fine. Blizzard created Mists of Pandaria to allow people more choice than ever before in how they play, and the gambit appears to be paying off. I'll freely admit I'm not immune to the lure of the new features: I've spent some time harvesting vegetables (essential for the production of end-game food bonuses) and battling cute wee creatures who have a disconcerting knack of owning my behind with frightening regularity. I shudder to think how badly I'm going to get massacred when I end up going against live opposition... I'm two levels away from the new cap of 90 and frankly, there's absolutely no rush to get there right now. There's just so much fun stuff to get distracted by on the way.
If you believe the online media pundits the game has shown disappointing retail sales, but this original report (now amended accordingly) failed to factor in what has been purchased via Blizzard's own digital download system on Battle.net (which included a Special Edition version of the normal game plus a mount and minipet). While we still don't know how many copies were shifted during the last seven days, we do know that no-one's currently involved in the high-end 10 and 25 man raiding content: Blizzard are deliberately holding the doors closed on that in the short term. Instead, the 'hardcore' gaming community has a new minigame of their own: the Challenge Mode. They're 5 Man Dungeons on steroids. Its not just about killing all the bosses any more, its about doing so in the quickest time possible. If your time is the best in your region, you can expect to see your name all over Blizzard's own website leader-boards.
I'd expect this to be a hugely popular addition to the end-game stable as a result. The race to be the 'World First' in Warcraft has always generated a major amount of interest, with raiding teams going to extreme lengths in the race to complete the more complex raiding content. Many have resorted to exploiting game mechanics to grasp their moments of fame, and have seen their efforts effectively disqualified via in-game bans. It is undoubtedly great theatre and doesn't do the game's profile any harm to boot. Adding another tier to this more casual content may yet turn out to be the expansion's masterstroke.
The 'hardcore' gaming community has a new minigame of their own: the Challenge Mode. They're 5 Man Dungeons on steroids.
There is a distinct sea change amongst the players you meet whilst playing whatever version of the game you've decided to adopt: people are more polite and willing to help. Maybe it's the fluffy new protagonists that are the cause, or perhaps it's the fact that after eleven months of no new content from Blizzard people are just genuinely relieved to have such an embarrassment of riches to choose from. You really are spoilt for choice even before you reach the level cap, and once you reach it a massive selection of possible paths open up. There are some mutterings however, that too much content once you hit 90 is locked behind the often reviled 'daily' quest, but Blizzard have an answer for that too. The 25 quests per day limit was removed before Pandaria launched: the only restriction to you getting what you want from the solo content is your own time, perhaps the most precious resource any gamer needs in this game to begin with.
After a week I know where I stand: this is the best expansion since Blizzard moved the level cap from 60-70 (The Burning Crusade, back in January of 2007) There is genuinely something for everyone, and the only restriction is the individual's ability to pick and choose. There has never been only one way to play this game, after all, and that has probably been the major contributor to the MMO's continued stranglehold on the market it dominates. With even more possibilities, and the prospect of several major content patches to come, I think Pandaria is a place a great many people will be inhabiting for quite some time to come.
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