Since there are little to no changes to the Shadowpriest on the beta of note (just continuous shuffling of abilities) it’s about time to look beyond the Shadowpriest itself, and look at the expansion as a whole. From what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told, Mists of Pandaria is going to be quite a different expansion to what we’re used to, as attested to by what the Devs claimed were their intentions and what’s on the Beta right now.
There will be more exploration in Mists
One of the key things here is that the vistas are grand, and areas are huge. There is so much to see, and a lot of detail in the terrain. There are also things scattered around the area from carts to boxes to tea sets still giving off steam. The visual experience is powerful, colors are bold and models are well-made and animated. Where once WoW’s cartoony graphics may have been an anti-aging method, here they actually look like they’re “in place” and meaningful.
Exploration also comes into play with the quests. Where Cataclysm led you by the nose, some quests and events in Mists you won’t find unless you go off the beaten path and beyond the area you are questing in. If you follow the quest lines alone you will level just fine, but to see all that Pandaria has to offer you will have to go down unused paths into the jungle or find long-lost caves and ruins.
Another nice touch is how the quests involving a dungeon actually take place in and around that area, instead of just leading up to it and then stopping cold of the instance portal. It makes the world feel that much more real, thought-out and immersive.
Mists of Pandaria will be more Casual-friendly
Unless the raiding model will be much improved from Cataclysm, and Blizzard gets their raid buffs sorted, it’s likely you will find the number of hard-mode raiders dropping severely (again). With the raid finder, the complexity of 25mans without the additional reward and the heavy focus put on 10man raiding, you will see that Hard Modes are going to be for an ever shrinking group of players.
On the flip side, WoW will be very inviting to more casual play. Pet battles and exploration for those who like them, the ability to farm your own plot of land (like done so beautifully in Lotro before – expect the pipeweed is missing) and the removal of the daily quests cap means that there is plenty to do even if you are not a raider. And if you fancy yourself a good player, you can always test yourself in the 5man challenge modes.
Blizzard seems to head for a Dynamic Server Model
There seems to be a lot of pressure on cross-realm interaction, especially in leveling zones. This seems great for people who want to do that Elite quests (which will make a comeback in Mists) but it does introduce one problem: cross-realm asshattery. Since there is zero responsibility or capacity for punishing people who misbehave on cross-realm areas, we can only hope that the improved reporting system (made quicker and more efficient) will actually curb leechers, trainers, kill-stealers, ninjas and pottymouths.
This is of course nice for people who are leveling, but do not discount the economic effects. Servers that are hardly used because no one was leveling in their zones (I am talking about the physical/virtual servers now, and not realms) can now be merged onto a single virtual server (the crossrealm leveling zone) meaning greater efficiency. This will cut costs and makes sure there’s a lot of backup capacity. This might also help with calamities and stability issues, not to mention look good on the next annual report.
Crossrealm leveling zones will still have their normal trading restrictions (like in random dungeons and raids today) but this might change in the future. And from there it’s only a step up to a truly dynamic server model, where your choice of realm is a choice when logging in, or even a click away (like in Champions Online). This would make the debate about merging realms and dying realms obsolete, as people could be dynamically redistributed. The only stable location would have to be the capital cities, where your guild and friend would be able to meet you when needed and you could organize your 5mans, raids and PvP.
If Fun>Profit run Game else Quit
Yes, an equation. Not very elegant but it proves a point: while some people play for challenge, most just play for fun. Where WoW was once a game where the elite few raided or PvP’d while the rest just stuck to 5mans, it’s now is a game where the casual player is the audience. Those people who want challenging raid mechanics, gear and titles as actual status symbols and truly diabolocial achievements to gain will probably need to look for another game. And let’s face it, it makes sense.
The top raiders once were teenagers, but they are now adults with responsibilities and jobs (for the most part), with the influx into the game being modern-day teenagers who (thanks to the Facebook era) don’t want to spend that amount of time on a game – especially if the same is offered by the free online and FB games of today.
But if you can adapt to the more casual mind-set, where maths are much simpler and gameplay is more set in stone, then Mists of Pandaria still has a lot to offer. I may not personally like how much the game has been made more simple, but it does allow for more expansions to follow and balance to be maintained more easily. And a game that can be upgraded and maintained more easily, and attracts a greater audience, will have a longer lifespan. It also will have more subscribers, which feed into R&D and Design, making the game more shiny. And I cannot find fault in that.
What I intend to do
My personal look at Mists is that I will definitely play. Question is whether it will be as a Hard Mode Raider, and whether it will be as Shadowpriest. So far Shadowpriests are solid in terms of rotations (since we don’t really get anything new anyway) but severely lack in fun (latest addition: a glyph to give your noncombat pet Shadowform – yeah, pass). Warlocks and Death Knights get a lot of shinies and look equally solid. So it may be that I decide to switch mains, or go Casual.
But I do know that I will be playing in the next expansion, and that’s a better outlook than I had a month ago.