Mists of Pandaria is my favorite WoW expansion. And honestly, it’s not even close. Hell, it might even be one of my favorite games of all time. And its impact on WoW as a whole is still felt to this day.
I rarely get the chance to talk about my favorite WoW expansion, but every year on September 25, I feel almost obligated to mention that another year has gone by since the game’s release, and talk about how the world (of Warcraft) has changed since then.
And with so much hype surrounding the recent release of WoW Classic, it’s easy to look back at ages of WoW past with rose-tinted glasses.
It’s hard finding time for Pandaria in the game’s 15-year-long history, as much of the community likes to look back at the game’s earlier expansions such as The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King with a sense of longing nostalgia. But, for me, there hasn’t been a better expansion than MoP in the past decade and a half.
For starters, the expansion came at the perfect time. After spending the previous five years fighting major threats such as the Burning Legion, the Scourge, and Deathwing himself, the core concept of fighting against one another again – Alliance v. Horde – was incredibly refreshing. With the game’s first three expansion packs, it felt as if the two factions were becoming closer and closer with each passing big bad monster. To return to what World of Warcraft was all about was a much needed change of direction for the game as a whole.
And now, in 2019, in an age where Battle for Azeroth and WoW Classic can exist simultaneously, it’s amazing to see that idea of Alliance v. Horde is still alive and well – a proven extension of MoP’s influence.
For what it’s worth, Mists of Pandaria is an expansion that isn’t celebrated enough by the WoW community. At the time of its release, World of Warcraft was in an incredibly odd position where the game was transitioning from the age of “old WoW” to “modern WoW”. If anything, Mists can be looked at as the bridge between two eras of World of Warcraft. If one era of WoW died with Deathwing, then another was born on Pandaria.
Mists marked another heel-turn for WoW players as the franchise began to move away from holding a stance of recognizable figures serving as the faces of expansions and into an age where the players became the main characters of World of Warcraft. Gone were the days of characters such as Illidan Stormrage, Arthas, and Thrall directing the narrative. In Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard put an emphasis on the players serving as the central focus of the world. No longer were we lowly adventures, but instead, the Champions of Azeroth.
It’s with these concepts in mind that we can look at Mists of Pandaria and recognize that the product Blizzard put on the table there might just be one of the strongest expansions altogether. In a tumultuous time where WoW was on the decline for the first time in its history, Mists came out of nowhere and bashed the playerbase over the head with something no one had ever seen before, or even expected out of a WoW expansion.
Immediately, a strong portion of that playerbase wrote the expansion off due to its drastic change in art style, tone, and direction, but those who stuck around were treated to one of the best expansions the game would ever go on to see.
The game treated us to some of the most beautiful storytelling that WoW had to offer over the course of its two-and-a-half-year lifespan, as the juxtapositions between beauty and terror, the demonstrations of the horrors of war, and the eventual discovery of the mysteries of an untapped continent all played in to what made Mists so fascinating. How was it that a continent shrouded in mist had been undiscovered under our noses for so many years? How could we have found a world within our own, somehow unaffected by the war and destruction surrounding it? And, how will that world be changed by our influence?
All of these questions and more were provoked and eventually answered throughout the course of Mists’ story – one that delved into topics surrounding fear, guilt, doubt, and pure evil, an incredibly dark (but welcomed) change of pace for WoW.
Since the release of Mists of Pandaria, WoW has grown immensely. And despite the fact that much has changed since the franchises 4th expansion, many common threads remain intact. Those ideas of fighting for resources on pieces of undiscovered land against bitter rivals were certainly applicable in 2012, and are most definitely applicable in 2019.
However, if there’s something from Mists that I want to see come back to WoW in the near future, it’s the concept of beauty being destroyed by the dueling factions of Azeroth. What Blizzard did exceptionally well with MoP was set up a world where beauty and wonder were set at the forefront, and when the Alliance and Horde arrived, that beauty was stripped away and replaced by sheer destruction and horror. That sense of false hope and the unpredictable nature of the world around you is what made Mists of Pandaria so great and I hope to see it make its way back into WoW very soon.
And now, seven years later, as World of Warcraft is more popular than its been in quite some time, it’s necessary to look back at what made Mists of Pandaria so uniquely great and how modern WoW can take a page out of its book.
Photo Credit: Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft