Blizzcon, Blizzard Entertainment’s yearly convention, took place last weekend. Many announcements were made, but I’d like to focus on those relating to upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria, and why I wish pandas weren’t on the endangered species list.
Miss of Pandaria
To no one’s surprise, Blizzard revealed that the game would center on Pandarians, a race of humanoid pandas living in an island nation reminiscent of Ancient China. Insert Kung Fu Panda (2008) joke here. Here’s what bugs me about this. Past expansions have expanded (hint, hint) on established villains with well known motivations like Kael’Thas, Illidan, Malygos, and the Lich King. We’re coming in cold with Mists of Pandaria, having no prior knowledge of what we might be fighting for.
I understand this gives the lore department an opportunity to develop new storylines, but I have no faith in these writers. Consider the main storyline for the previous expansion, Cataclysm. Deathwing wants to destroy the world. That’s simple enough. How could they mess it up? By completely removing Deathwing from the game. As we have no attachment to these new characters or their history, what will keep us interested in Pandaria if the lore department blunders again?
A new class is to be added: the monk. Insert another Kung Fu Panda joke here. Actually, the class looks pretty interesting, and I look forward to exploring it. However, I remember the problems associated with the last class Blizzard introduced, the death knight. It was made way too powerful at first, so, after a year, Blizzard swung the pendulum in the other direction and made it one of the weakest. I hope the developers have learnt from their mistake and will be able to fix any problem related to the monk class much faster.
It seems we can expect another overhaul of the talent system, which allows players to choose an extra power every few levels. The first time Blizzard changed this system was to give gamers more flexibility, or so the company claims. Certain talents were better than others, which meant there was an optimal way of picking them. The number of talents was reduced in Cataclysm, but that did not solve the problem. In fact, players had even less flexibility, making it easier to choose talents in the optimal way.
In Mists of Pandaria, players will choose one of three talents every fifteen levels. I can see this bringing variety to player-versus-player combat. However, the problem of optimisation remains in end-game raiding. Even worse, with so few talents to choose from, I foresee a different optimal combination for each boss, which will lead to huge headaches as players keep having to go back to town to change talents in between boss fights.
Mists of Pandaria will also introduce a pet battle system. Seriously, players will have to go around catching pets and having them fight each other:
I want to be the very best
Like no one ever was
To catch them is my real test
To train them is my cause
I will travel across the land
Searching far and wide
Teach Blizzard pets to understand
The power that’s inside
Blizzard pets, gotta catch ‘em all!
The Diablo in the Details
The good news is Diablo III will be free! That is, if you commit to paying World of Warcraft for one year. If Blizzard had made the same offer three years ago, I would have jumped of joy, screaming, “I’m getting a free game if I promise to keep playing this awesome MMORPG? Sign me up!” Now, I’m not so sure. Mists of Pandaria seems kind of “meh”; Star Wars: The Old Republic is coming out; and I’m still mad about the real money auctions in Diablo III.
What is Blizzard’s angle here? Why is the company giving away one of next year’s most anticipated games? To break records by inflating its number of subscribers? To facilitate the Diablo franchise’s transition to battle.net? There are many theories floating around, but I believe it’s an attempt to stop World of Warcraft from haemorrhaging customers. For the first time since its release, the game has had a net loss of subscribers for two trimesters in a row. The way I see it, this offer will slow the bleeding for about a year.