On September 24, 2012, I was sitting in my bedroom, laptop pressed to my chest, impatiently waiting for Blizzard Entertainment to release the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria onto the game’s live servers.
That night, I had just celebrated my 14th birthday just hours earlier. And now, as I celebrate my 20th birthday, it’s definitive to me that Mists of Pandaria is not only my favorite WoW expansion, but arguably the best one, as well. It’s held up throughout the years, as the expansion’s quests, zones, instances, and content as a whole have all left a serious mark on World of Warcraft even today.
At its core, Mists of Pandaria is one of WoW’s strongest iterations, as the game’s two-plus-year lifespan was jam-packed with content at every turn. The launch of the expansion introduced some of the most iconic quests in the game and a few of the most well-designed zones on Azeroth, while the later patches gave us some seriously great raids and an incredibly fleshed-out story.
Whether it be the beautiful architecture of the Jade Forest and Vale of Eternal Blossoms, or the countless hours of content on the Isle of Thunder and the Timeless Isle, it’s safe to say that the beauty of Pandaria, both stylistic, and gameplay-centric, played host to some of the greatest features in World of Warcraft history. Still, to this day, some of the zones offered up in Mists contain gorgeous landscapes and experiences that are unrivaled in any other version of the game. I still go back a few times each year and level alts through Pandaria, simply because any character journeying up to max level has to go through the Mists content, in my opinion. It’s seriously unmissable.
I feel this way mainly because the launch of the expansion left a mesmerizing impression upon not only myself but plenty of other players, as well. The expansion’s initial content was so well-designed and well-implemented, that I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the story and its setting. From meeting Taran Zhu in the Jade Forest, to hunting the Sha with him over the course of the next few months, it truly felt like an adventure right from the get-go.
I distinctly remember dropping from the Skyfire and landing in a lush, green landscape, surrounding by familiar foes, and unfamiliar allies. The Jade Forest served as the perfect backdrop to the expansion, and, for me, is still the greatest introductory zone to any expansion. Blizzard did a fantastic job of balancing out the story between the Alliance-Horde conflict and the introduction of the Pandaren, as the two stories intertwined throughout the course of not only our time in the stunning Jade Forest, but throughout the entire Mists of Pandaria experience. I can recall discovering the mysteries of the Pandaren race, and unlocking more knowledge regarding their intimate and beautiful homeland as a campaign of war tore Pandaria in half.
There’s a certain beauty and horror to Mists of Pandaria, as we discovered more and more precious life across the continent, only to rip it to pieces with an ancient, bloody conflict. And for me, that’s the ultimate juxtaposition found within the expansion. Over the course of its lifespan, we were able to uncover new beauty around every corner of Pandaria, only to see our violent and grevious ways destroy it before we even had the chance to appreciate it.
This case laid true for nearly everything we encountered on the distant continent. Whether it was building dueling fortresses of war upon the shores of the Krasarang Wilds, or dooming the Vale to the curse of an Old God, everywhere we stepped, we bought our war with us. That is exactly where the tragedy of Mists of Pandaria lies. The fact that we were able to finally discover so much beauty after years of war and destruction, only to subject an entire continent and its people to our evil ways is truly the most defining aspect of what World of Warcraft is all about.
Think of every WoW expansion. Not once has the backdrop or setting been one as peaceful or serene as Pandaria. Outland, Northrend, Draenor, Kul’Tiras, Zandalar, all broken by war, and yet, when we found a landscape untouched by our grizzly ways, we couldn’t help but tear it to shreds.
However, beyond the story of Mists, the gameplay-focused pieces of content like instances, battlegrounds, and the raids within were certainly some of the strongest that WoW had offered up to that point, and still hold up today. Dungeons like the Temple of the Jade Serpent and the Shado-Pan Monastery are still some of the best 5-man experiences in the game. The design of the dungeons in Mists are unrivaled, and the encounters started to include seriously difficult mechanics that engaged the playerbase more so than ever before. The dungeons of Mists set the stage for a booming development in regards to 5-man content and helped lay a foundation for the competitive Mythic+ scene we’re seeing today. Additionally, the fourteen-boss mega-raids that the expansion gave us like the Throne of Thunder and the Siege of Orgrimmar set a precedent for raiding, as the game’s most intense pieces of content gave raiders reasons to return every single night.
When I look back at Mists of Pandaria, I see a complete product; one that had all the makings of a classic game, let alone WoW expansion. The beauty of the game, combined with the incredible story that played an ever-present role throughout the expansion’s lifetime made for one of the strongest, if not the strongest iteration of World of Warcraft we’ve ever seen. When you boil it down and look back at it, Mists was the strongest point of WoW’s history. Although initially greeted with distaste, the expansion aged incredibly well, and to this day, many of the features from MoP are still present in the game and have most definitely left an impact on the WoW community.
However, if there’s one moment from Mists of Pandaria that has left a mark on not only myself, but a majority of the WoW community, it’s these words of Chen Stormstout that remain ever-present in this age of war in Battle for Azeroth. “Why do we fight?”, he asks. “To protect home, and family, to preserve balance, and bring harmony. For my kind, the true question is ‘What is worth fighting for?’”
For those words are the true legacy of Mists of Pandaria, and as we continue our journeys on Azeroth from expansion to expansion, it’s important to remember Chen and the Pandaren, as we are forced every day to find out exactly why we engage in the conflicts that we do.
And now, as we find ourself six years and three expansions removed from one of WoW’s highest points, and as I sit here as a nearly fully-grown man compared to my 14-year-old self, I can firmly say that Mists of Pandaria gave me some of the best memories my childhood had to offer. The game impacted me in more ways than I’ll realize, and I can’t help but associate each passing birthday with what could honestly pass for one of my favorite games of all time.
Photo Credit: World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment