Mists of Pandaria: Pandaren Starting Zone Review

[WARNING] The following review contains several storyline spoilers.

World of Warcraft recently launched its fourth expansion pack, Mists of Pandaria. Set just after the events of the Cataclysm and Deathwing, the latest expansion pack increased the level-cap to 90, introduces a new race – the Pandaren, a new Monk class, and more.

With a new expansion and a new race comes a new starting zone. Pandaren will find themselves beginning their adventure on the Wandering Isle, a giant turtle named Shen-zin Su that swims through the ocean. Yes, the entire starting zone is on the back of a huge turtle, feels somewhat cliche but very well crafted to say the least – the island is gorgeous.

After the Pandaren Explorer Lui Lang first set off with Shen-zin Su 10,000 years ago, the turtle has grown in to the massive island it is today – providing a wandering home for the Pandaren who live upon its back. The Pandaren had managed to live in harmony and peace, until one day an Alliance Airship holding Horde prisoners crashed in to the side of Shen-zin.

Injuring the giant turtle, Shen-zin Su began to fall ill – this is where the player begins their adventure, and where the journey to level 90 begins. I’m going to go right out and say it, playing as a Pandaren Monk and following the storyline of this new races starting zone – it has Kung Fu Panda written all over it. I grew tired of those jokes pretty quickly, but it’s really hard not to see it in this cartoon karate panda world.

The storyline focuses on the individual elements of the island, and how you are the only one (of millions) who has the ability to awaken them. As a martial arts student, you quickly rise through the ranks and assist the elder of the island and other fellow pandaren in their mission to heal the wound caused by the airship. Taking players across the island, they will be faced with a series of quests that should land them at around level 12.

The island has a strong Eastern theme, and is filled with thick bamboo jungles and buildings with an Ancient Chinese aesthetic. Exploring Shen-zin Su’s back, it’s easy to see how much attention to detail went in to crafting this island. The Wandering Isle is truly a stunning place to explore, and it’s the first time in a while that I have truly enjoyed exploring a new starting zone. With a brightly-colored vista, players won’t feel too far away from home – even with all the Pandas.

If you can get past the use of Pandas, which seems to have upset so many, the island does hold a lot of charm. There are a few memorable moments, like the first time you realize the scale of the turtle in which you are riding on – and coming across new and strange monsters littered across the island. Everything still features a bright pallet, and those who much preferred the ‘greener’ areas of the world will love what Mists of Pandaria brings to the table.

The storyline quest chain was interesting enough, but as you might expect it definitely feels a little predictable and cliche. I mean there are are only so many things you can do with martial-arts obsessed Pandas, but I really expected something a bit more unique from Blizzard – it really feels like they played it safe when writing the story, rather than going for something fresh and ambitious.

Pandaren was the perfect chance for Blizzard to show that they can make even the most rediculous sounding race a solid addition to the MMORPG – they could have done what Red Dead Redemption did for Western Games, instead they added another generic story on the “safe bet” shelf. Missed opportunity. There are quite a few mini-game style quests, or quests that just stray from the normal format – however most are so simple in mechanics that they feel rather pointless, and more like time-fillers.

Amongst these quests are your generic kill x of y and collect x of y for said person, really only offering what you would expect from any other zone in the game. It’s incredibly unfortunate to see this beautifully crafted island suffering from the quests and storyline that make it nothing more than a mediocre experience. There’s definitely a mismatch in quality, but if you’re comfortable with the generic questing experience and don’t want them to stray too far from the formula then you will be happy enough.

One of the features that was most exciting about the Pandaren was the fact that they are the first neutral race, able to choose either Horde or Alliance as their faction. Sadly this wasn’t capitalized on as well as it could have been, the storyline feels biased towards joining one side and the moment where the decision is made is so anti-climatic that the entire story you have been following becomes completely irrelevant.

Overall, it really feels like more attention went in to creating the world than filling it with interesting content that pushed the MMORPG forward. New expansions for World of Warcraft are generally a big deal, and the starting zones are where you capture the hearts of your new players – so they need to be extra special. The zone looks fantastic, however the rest is a mediocre experience that I could have received with any of the other three expansions that preceded it. Even if the good content is at the later levels (here’s hoping), it’s still a poor start for the expansion.

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