Behind the Mists: Wandering Isle
I wasn’t among those Annual Pass subscribers that were up in arms about the lack of an immediate Beta invite. It was an unrealistic expectation that 1 million people could suddenly log onto a small set of beta servers. I completely understand Blizzard’s situation, and they’ve handled it all quite well in my opinion. With that said, I’m certainly not going to lie about how discouraged I’ve felt watching wave after wave of invites go out, with no sign of an invite for me. A beta invite has always been rather an exclusive thing, and as I began to see that I wouldn’t be even close to first at the party, my excitement began to wane.
Thursday, my Battle.net account finally showed that lovely second box entitled “World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Beta”. I didn’t end up getting to play yesterday due to the hordes of people slamming the login servers, but I was relieved to finally have the chance.
Today, like so many others, I tackled the Wandering Isle on a newly minted Pandaren Monk. Spoilers lie ahead, so anyone wishing to approach the Pandaren starting area with virgin eyes may want to skip this post.
I took things slow (and not just because of the lag), and really tried to pay attention to detail, and soak it all in. I found a few minor bugs along the way, but I nothing that wasn’t already mentioned on the forums.
There are a few things that stand out from my experiences that I’d like to highlight, and I encourage you to chime in with your own beta experiences, (or lack thereof if you’re still among the unlucky set of Annual Pass subscribers waiting).
Memorable Mobs and NPCs
It’s been awhile since we’ve fought mobs that felt outside of the box, and unique. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Kobolds, “You No Take Candle”, and Murlocs, “Mrggglglgl”. The mobs on Wandering Isles felt a little more like those classic, quirky creatures. The Hozen jumping on one’s head is hard to forget – it’s startling and rather annoying, but it adds a certain element of interest. The Vermin have an ability called “Carrot Breath”, which is quite amusing, and their monstrous rabbit-like appearance made me want to see more of them.
As with the Worgen and Goblin starting zones, the Pandaren starting area has NPCs that actually have personalities and names, and most importantly – a story. Aysa Cloudsinger and Ji Firepaw make frequent appearances and continue to reaffirm their personalities and outlooks on life. JoJo Ironbrow also reappears several times (that darn cheater) with his martial art breaking stunts. Master Shang Xi is a rather stereotypically wise master, but much more interesting than some random NPC in the Human starting area.
The scenery on the Wandering Isle is absolutely breathtaking, and I hope that the rest of Pandaria shares the same magic and beauty. I noticed so many little details that astounded me. The Pandaren themselves of course are incredibly expressive, with faces and eyes that actually move, and graceful animations even when standing in place. What really amazed me, though were the background details.
The flowers were very 3d and delicate, and I had to stop and stare at them for awhile, admiring the artistry.
This smoke around the Wind Spirits was exquisite.
A kite was waving in the breeze, and even its shadow had motion.
A Hozen hung on a tree off in the distance, swinging on a branch.
I really enjoyed the Pandaren Monk questing experience. It’s not really any more innovative than the Goblin or Worgen experience, but I think I almost enjoy it more. I felt like it flew by a bit faster. It was all very user-friendly, with NPCs urging you on in the right direction, and a nice wagon ride to travel larger distances. The quest rewards were very simple thanks to the new class filter. I loved the zen-like phrases that filled the Pandaren quest text.
My favorite quest was probably was the one where you walked into water spouts and got catapulted into the air. My least favorite is probably a tossup between gathering fireworks in the Hozen village (due to the spawn rate), and trying to reach Aysa on those awful tight ropes.
A Neutral Race
The Pandaren are of course the first neutral race in WOW, and I was very curious to see how Blizzard implemented it. Unfortunately, the choice to become Alliance or Horde felt a bit forced – like there was a bit of story missing. My biggest question is – why would I choose either? Why would I even want to leave the Isle to deal with these strange races that brought evil to our beloved turtle island?
I think that other choices in the history of WOW (Aldor vs. Scryer, or Frenzyheart vs. Oracles) felt a bit more natural. I understand that Aysa was meant to represent the Alliance point of view, and Ji to represent the Horde point of view, with their two different Pandaren philosophies, but that wasn’t really ever spelled out. Maybe we just need a bit more dialog with the two characters, trying to convince the player of why they should join the Alliance/Horde. I appreciate that the faction choice was shown in an incredibly obvious pop-up window, rather than an ambiguous quest, but it felt like it came out of nowhere.
Wandering Isle Wrap-up
Overall I’m quite pleased with my experience. I know there is still a bit more polishing to do, and that the starting experience has already improved from the very early weeks of the beta. Does anyone out there have any thoughts they are dying to share about their experiences? Anything that really bugged you? A small detail that really impressed you? I’d love to hear about it!