Musings on WoW’s Upcoming Expansion

Thoughts on World of Warcraft’s upcoming fourth expansion, Mists of Pandaria.

Mike Whiteby Mike White


There are some things that never cease to amaze me. One of which is how often World of Warcraft gets mentioned in the general chat channel of other MMOs. I can honestly say that no matter what game in the genre I’m playing, even in betas, someone is talking about WoW. It happened all throughout Rift’s beta, but I could understand that. Rift deliberately went after Blizzard’s money-making behemoth throughout their entire ad campaign. Recently, I spent a weekend testing Star Wars: The Old Republic. Mere moments after creating my character and entering the game world, I saw WoW mentioned. For a solid five minutes, players announced the faction and server they came from in WoW. The list grew and grew in my chat window.

Sure, that may seem like harmless chatter. Players expressing their curiosities about what other games people are playing shouldn’t be uncommon. The discussion veered off course quickly, however. First, the abundance of Horde players in comparison to Alliance was observed. Then the homophobic obscenities were fired off at Alliance players. Someone tried to argue, “But Humans have the best racial for PvP,” but that just stirred up more obscenities.

The comparison’s between Warcraft and SWTOR eventually started popping up, followed by the usual claims that WoW is dying and that most of their player-base will be switching to SWTOR or Guild Wars 2 when they come out. We’ve heard this all before. It’s true that Warcraft’s subscription numbers have been going down at a steady pace. If you look at subscription trends for the game, this actually should be expected. Patch 4.3 will be the last for Cataclysm. Typically, the game’s player base drops off significantly towards the end of an expansion then bounces back when the next one releases.


What makes Mists of Pandaria different from past expansions is the number of players who attribute the next expansion directly to the loss of subscribers. In the same general chat I was talking about earlier, I actually saw someone say “Mists of Pandaria will be the WoW killer,” not another AAA MMO. I’ll be the first to say that I enjoyed Cataclysm. It may not be my favorite WoW expansion, but I witnessed the development team take some bold steps in their design philosophy.

Mists of Pandaria continues this trend. My subscription ran out a little while ago and I didn’t mind letting it do so. I don’t have the schedule to raid anymore and the people I enjoyed PvPing with don’t play anymore. Contrary to the feelings I’ve seen expressed on fan site forums, WoW’s official forums and in various chat channels in Rift or SWTOR, Mists of Pandaria makes me consider playing the game again.

Of all the changes I’m excited for, Pet Battles isn’t really one of them, but to each their own. I know plenty of people who play that enjoy collecting. Whether that means armor sets, mounts or pets, they all appreciate that extra aspect of the game. Blizzard recognizes a problem that players run into after they’ve reached max level. I’ve seen it, too. Eventually, the game world feels empty. Wouldn’t it be nice if after a month’s time following an expansion or patch, you didn’t find the majority of players AFK in Stormwind or Orgrimmar, but continuing to enjoy the expansive world outside the city walls?

The developers are well aware that simply introducing new dailies or instances can only keep players occupied for a finite amount of time. If there is one theme I’ve noticed from all of the announcements made at BlizzCon, it’s options. Giving players more ways to progress their character the way they want to is always a good idea.


I ran my druid through the remade 5-man Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub instances so many times in search for valor points, that I couldn’t stand to play the character anymore. With Mists of Pandaria, players can earn valor from dailies as well as heroics. I’m usually never a fan of dailies, especially when they’re tied to factions who provide best in slot enchants that aren’t account bound. It’s also a pain to wait in queues all day as a DPS just to get your valor. The incentives for tanks and healers to queue up were nice in theory, but in practice didn’t make all that much of a difference. With Mists of Pandaria, players don’t have to rely on others to get their weekly valor points.

Challenge mode dungeons are another interesting take on PvE content. I would venture to say that unless the rewards are right, we won’t see people utilizing this content over traditional dungeons for the long haul. The same goes for Scenarios, which are WoW’s combination of Rift’s Instant Adventures and a scaled down Rift Zone Invasion that is instanced instead of open world.

The changes to talent trees aren’t something I was really expecting, at least not in the way they’ve proposed it. That being said, I really can’t thank them enough for doing this. In all certainty, players will quickly establish cookie-cutter specs for individual fights, but at least the system is finally flexible. Variety and utility are the spice of life. If between a choice of three talents, one can’t come across as a clear cut DPS increase, but each offers the player a unique or interesting crowd control or movement ability, then everyone is a winner. Way to go, Blizzard.

As soon as I scanned through the new trees, I thought of PvP implications. Looking through the new spells, I imagined players lining up their abilities in new exciting ways other than CC chain the healer and burn down the DPS. These changes and the introduction of the Monk class are why I’ll be signing up for the beta.

Finally there is a class without an auto attack. I recall playing a Paladin some years ago and dreading the first hours of leveling. The cooldown on Judgment could not come fast enough. For so long it felt like I was hitting an ability then staring at white swings for an eternity before I used another ability. Monks, on the other hand, only attack when you use an ability. Hopefully, this will make combat feel more active, especially at lower levels.

I’m also excited to see how healing works for end-game content. According to Blizzard, Monks will have the option to heal through melee attacks similar to how Disc Priests currently can heal by attacking with Smite. If you prefer the traditional model of healing, you can do that too.

The only thing left for Blizzard is to design PvE content that embraces all of these changes. What good is a spell book full of abilities that aren’t used in tank and spank fights if that’s how every encounter plays out. Firelands had some really creative mechanics for fights. In fact, Cataclysm compared to Wrath of the Lich King dominated in encounter design. If they can keep tweaking boss fights to not feel like the same old mechanics, they’ll keep raiders interested.


I can understand players leaving a game that gets stale after years of the same old experience. So why are so many players claiming that Mists of Pandaria is the reason for them to jump ship? If you’re just tired of playing WoW, say so. Don’t blame it on the new race. I don’t see Blizzard taking away anything that players loved. Instead, I see them building upon the aspects of the game that made them so successful in the first place, all the while evolving as a company.

The MMORPG player base is much more experienced now than when WoW first came out. I would love to use the words sophisticated and matured, but there are glaring contradictions to both of those in the gaming community. The expectations are just so high at this point.

The success of Warcraft can’t be played down. Even as hordes of people claim the game is dead or dying, the number of subscribers still hasn’t dipped below the double-digit millions. I consider that very much alive.

I wouldn’t presume to know how many players would have to stop logging in for the game to no longer be profitable. I honestly don’t see that happening until Blizzard focuses their attention elsewhere and decides the game has run its course. Until that time, Warcraft remains a dominant force in the gaming community and proves itself time and time again as the worthy king of the MMO hill.