Mists of Pandaria: My first beta impressions!

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(Note:  screenshot is a really old one I don’t remember taking on my laptop way back in the good ol’ days of Wrath.  I chose it because ZG’s the closest thing visually to Pandaria until I get back to my desktop!)

So, as my cliffhanger ending yesterday said, I at last received my beta invite to the wonders of Pandaria.  I was part of the unlucky third of the annual pass holders who got in at the very end, but that’s alright.  I’m actually kind of glad I didn’t get in until now; I might have focused more on the game than on my schoolwork, and I needed all the time I could spare on that!

Now, of course, I’ve only been playing for the better part of one evening, so I can’t tell you EVERYTHING because I haven’t seen it all yet!  But I figured that a first impressions post would be a good idea, help record my initial thoughts on the expansion so far.

The pandaren starting experience:  Turtles all the way down

Do I look excited enough to be in the beta yet?  Do I?  HOW MUCH WIDER DOES MY SMILE HAVE TO BE

First thing I did, like many others, was roll a pandaren and test the Wandering Isle, the pandaren starting experience.  And naturally, I chose to play a monk, because c’mon, what else was I going to take?

First, the pandaren.  People weren’t exaggerating when they said that the pandaren are by far the most detailed player models ever.  Their range of expression is amazing, and there’s a lot of joints in their skeletons to allow for some really good poses.  For example, /wave isn’t a simple “raise arm, move back and forth, lower arm” like I’m used to on my tauren.  No, when a pandaren waves, he grins widely and openly, bouncing up and down a little as he excitedly waves a hello, moving his arm, wrist, and shoulders in one fluid motion.  They’re truly amazing, and I recommend even people who hate the thought of pandaren being in their WoW to try one out.

Next, the monk.  Well, I believe that the decision to reintroduce auto-attack to the monk was a smart move by Blizzard, one that I think stems from The Old Republic’s hassles without auto-attack.  For those that don’t know, in TOR, classes don’t have an auto-attack.  You have to use abilities to attack.  I’ve not tried it myself (because that’s 20 gigs I just don’t feel like downloading, even for a free weekend), but I’ve heard it’s rather clunky.  Without auto-attack, I feel the monk would play similarly; that is, not well.

The low levels are predictably like every other class’s low levels (with the exception of DKs, but they don’t have low levels).  You start out with one ability, and as you level, you learn how to use more.  The addition of automatically learning skills helps out quite a bit, as I didn’t have to run back to the trainer every couple levels just to keep up with how I should be performing.  It made leveling smoother with fewer interruptions, and I like that.

The first ability is Jab, which renames itself depending on what weapon you have equipped in the main hand (when I got a mace later in the zone, it renamed to Club).  This is the basic monk melee move, costing energy, and generates 1 Chi.  The dual resource system is a simple one, more in line with a paladin’s Holy Power than a DK’s Runes.  It’s easy to learn, but you’ll find yourself taking a good amount of time learning the best ways to spend your Chi on powerful moves.  I believe it was a good decision to throw out the light/dark Chi system unveiled at Blizzcon last year; it would have added unnecessary complexity.

At level 3, monks gain Tiger Palm, the first move that consumes Chi rather than generates it.  It’s a strong attack that deals additional damage if the target is above half health.  I found that I could usually get out two strong Tiger Palms before my target dipped below half health, then could finish off with Jabs to restore Chi.

Level 5 monks unlock Roll, a movement ability that causes them to ball up and roll forward a short distance.  Roll works off of a charge system, generating one charge every fifteen seconds, up to a maximum of two charges stored.  This can be useful for getting farther away from a pursuer by blowing both charges at once, or you can roll in two different directions, or just use one when you need it.  It’ll definitely be an essential part of any monk toolkit.

Level 7 unlocks Blackout Kick, which is another Chi-consuming move.  This one, however, should be used when the target is below half health, as it will apply a DoT if used then.  Thus, the monk’s priorities become Tiger Palm when the enemy is above half health, Blackout Kick if below and the DoT hasn’t been applied, Jab otherwise.  A pretty simple rotation for new monks, and one that isn’t hard to master.

Then comes level 10 and specialization choice!  Monks, of course, have three specs, one for each combat role:  Windwalker (melee DPS), Mistweaver (healer), and Brewmaster (tank).  I chose to level as Windwalker, which gave me the ability Fists of Fury, a frontal cone AoE melee ability that consumes 3 Chi.  It’s a funny animation to watch, as you just wail on everything in front of you much faster than you’d expect.  Windwalkers also gain Muscle Memory, making Jab generate two Chi per use rather than 1.  Definitely helps with Chi recovery, so you’re more free to use Chi-consuming moves without having to worry about saving up for later.

So, are monks fun?  Well, from what I saw at the low levels, yes, yes they are.  They’re simple to learn, tricky to master.  I imagine they’ll only get more fun as I level one higher.  I intend on leveling that character up to 90, so I can test all the low-level stuff when new abilities and talents are unlocked.

Finally, the experience on the Wandering Isle itself.  The story…well, I felt some parts didn’t quite make sense.  You start off by training as your chosen class in a school-like setting.  Definitely got martial arts movie vibes.  Wonder how that plays out if you play a class that isn’t a monk.

But a lot of stuff that is explained to you through quest text seems out of place to me.  You’re playing a pandaren that has grown up on the Wandering Isle, right?  So why do they have to explain things like you don’t know nothing about nothing?  For example, at one point you help a village that’s being overrun by hozen, monkey-like creatures.  It’s pretty obvious what hozen are just by looking at them, right?  So why in the quest text does Ji Firepaw specifically say that hozen are monkey-like creatures?  Later on at another village, he points out that virming are rabbit-like creatures.  Yeah, that’s pretty obvious given that they’re all over the vegetables and THEY LOOK LIKE RABBITS.  My character grew up here, right?  He should know this stuff.  And you don’t have to tell the player what they are through quest text, they can see for themselves what these various creatures are just by looking at them.

I dunno, maybe it’s nitpicky.  I just couldn’t shake that feeling of “they’re not explaining it to my character, they’re explaining it to me.”

Overall, though, the zone is a fantastic one.  It’s a truly massive starting experience, taking place on the back of an enormous sea turtle.  Pandaren with wanderlust have been living on this “island” for centuries, and everything’s fine and dandy until one day, when you are sent out to find just why the turtle you live on isn’t feeling well.  After helping out in various villages, rescuing some rather cute elementals, and bidding farewell to your master, you end up going straight to the turtle’s head and asking him what’s wrong.  Turns out…he has a thorn in his side?  How could that cause him trouble?

That “thorn” happens to be the wreck of the Skyfire, which you may remember from your jaunt into Dragon Soul as the ship that carried you to the Maelstrom.  Seems to have taken too much damage in the fight, crash landing in the turtle’s side and breaking open his shell.  After rescuing the Horde and Alliance soldiers in the wreck and surrounding jungle, Ji works up a plan to blow the wreckage sky high (goblins would be proud).  Aysa Cloudsinger, another monk you meet who has a much more cautious view of things, urges him not to; he insists it’s the only way and sets off the bomb.  The explosion pays off, and Horde and Alliance healers set to work mending the damage while you defend them.  Once the task is complete, it’s time to choose:  Alliance or Horde?  Naturally, I chose Horde, and so does Ji.  After a hot air balloon ride (which isn’t in the game yet, just a text line that says “insert cutscene here”), you and Ji head into Orgrimmar (stunning all who see you, since pandaren are rare!) where you meet Garrosh Hellscream himself.  After a speech telling you that Alliance pandaren are now your mortal enemies, he instructs you to follow him to the Ring of Valor, where he has a “gift” for you:  a gronn, an ettin, and a magnataur to kill.  He wants to see you fight, and fight you do.  Upon defeating them, he welcomes you into the Horde, and the starting experience is complete.

Overall, the pandaren starting experience should be fun for just about anyone.  The quests are fun and varied, the environments are beautiful, and the whole package is just well done all around.  Like the pandaren themselves, it’s worth it to experience it even if you don’t like the idea.

The part I finally talk about shaman

Always vigilant in my beta testing pursuits, I attempted to see just how comfortable beds were in the beta compared to live.  My findings are inconclusive.  Need more testing.

Well, this being a shaman blog first, I suppose it’s only fair I talk about shaman changes, while also going into what’ll be different for a level 85 upon loading up Mists for the first time.

First, prepare to spend a good while looking through every last talent and glyph, choosing ones you think you’ll like the most.  Don’t worry, you can replace them easily if you find you don’t like them by using Dust of Disappearance if you’re still 85, or Tome of the Clear Mind if you’re 86 or above.  They weren’t kidding when they said talent swapping will be as easy as changing glyphs is now.

So, shaman talents!  I won’t list pros and cons of all of them, you’ve got talent calculators to look at for that!  I’ll just talk about which ones (I believe) are good for enhancement shaman to choose.

  • Level 15 gives you a choice of one of three defensive abilities.  Personally, I went for Stone Bulwark Totem, as it’s nice to be able to fill in our lack of a damage absorbing shield.  Astral Shift was covered by Shamanistic Rage, and Nature’s Guardian felt uninteresting to me.
  • Level 30 is all about crowd control.  For this, I chose Earthgrab Totem.  Free AoE roots!  I don’t use Frost Shock enough to get benefit from Frozen Power, except maybe in PVP.  And Windwalk Totem seems to be suited more for PVP anyway.
  • Level 45 used to be our Level 90 talents, and I’m glad they got moved down here.  They’re much too boring to be the talents you unlock at the very end of the game.  Because they’re about totems.  I chose Call of the Elements for this one.  Totemic Restoration didn’t really seem useful to me, but I could see myself going for Totemic Projection at some point; tossing an Earthgrab Totem at fleeing Alliance in a BG sounds fun.
  • Level 60 is basically a no-brainer tier for enhance, unless they fix haste to not be terrible:  take Echo of the Elements.  Elemental Mastery is just a haste cooldown, and Ancestral Swiftness isn’t worthwhile because Maelstrom Weapon already gives you plenty of instant cast nature spells; the passive effect that gives haste at all times is also not worthwhile.  Besides, Echo gives you your own mini Dragonwrath that can work on heals too.  It’s a good choice.
  • At level 75, you’ve got a healing talent to choose.  I picked Healing Tide Totem, as it’d be useful for soloing content, which is a pastime of mine.  Of course it’d also be good to use in a dungeon or raid.  All three are pretty good talents, of course; Ancestral Guidance I can see as a nice way to spread heals around without actively healing others, and I like that Conductivity rewards you for helping out your healers.  Drop a Maelstrom Healing Rain in melee range, and you’ll be helping to heal your group while downing the boss.  Each is situational, of course.
  • Finally, the level 90 talents I have no access to yet.  But they’re sooooo good.  Honestly I could see myself going for any of these three.  Unleashed Fury adds bonuses to Unleashed Elements; for enhance, this means auto-attacks triggering Static Shock and extra Lightning Bolt damage.  Primal Elementalist makes your elementals 50% stronger, makes them controllable pets, and gives them more abilities.  Each one will buff you offensively or defensively, and having them be controllable is a godsend.  Finally, Elemental Blast would be easy to work into our rotation, an attack that buffs haste, crit, or mastery by 5%.  I assume it chooses the highest of these; if so, it could be a potent damage booster.

So, those are my choices, but they’re far from the best.  That’s the point, really:  none of the choices are objectively better than any other.  Situationally, yes, some might be better.  But chances are good you’ll find talents you like and stick with them.

As for glyphs, well!  That’s almost even harder, despite the removal of prime glyphs.  Minor glyphs add flavor, major glyphs change you around in your own way, allowing you to build your class the way you want to.  For majors, I chose Feral Spirit (for extra wolf healing), Healing Storm (a 5-stack of Maelstrom Weapon doubles your heal, making for one very potent Healing Surge), and Shamanistic Rage (I just love having that self magic debuff removal).  For minors, I picked Arctic Wolf (I’ve wanted to use that for so long, but the reagent glyphs were just too good), Far Sight (looking everywhere indoors too!  yay!), and Lightning Shield (again, I just love it too much).  I’m glad they just got rid of the reagents for the various shaman spells that needed them; having to remove them through glyphs was annoying.

So how does enhance play?  Functionally identical to how it does in Cata.  Once you’ve gotten yourself set up again, you can hop right in.  However, there are some things to be aware of.

First, say goodbye to dropping four totems every time you pull (unless you spring for the Totemic Encirclement glyph).  The Call of the Ancestors/Elements/whatever abilities have been removed, as has the totem bar entirely.  Reason being, there aren’t any buff totems anymore.  Rather, you have a plethora of active totems that provide you with a lot of different abilities, from healing to damage to crowd control.  Many old mainstays are here, along with some new ones; I predict making raids happy with Stormlash Totem.  When you pull, just drop a Searing Totem (or Fire Elemental if you’re in a burn phase; Fire Elemental attacks now stack Searing Flames, so they’re useful again!).  Use other totems as the situation calls for them.

Next, say goodbye to your vast array of healing spells.  Instead, you have three:  Healing Surge, Chain Heal, and Healing Rain.  I mourned the loss of Maelstrom-quickened Greater Healing Waves, but honestly, Healing Surge is still pretty damn powerful.  Coupled with Healing Storm…yeah, Maelstrom healing is far from dead.

With regards to new abilities, Spirit Walk has been split from Feral Spirits, which are no longer controllable pets.  It is nice that you don’t have to blow a damage cooldown to use this ability.  I wish the two-minute cooldown on it was a little shorter, even if it’s similar to how it is now anyway.  Still, it can be shortened to a minute thirty with a glyph.  Wind Shear has gotten a slight buff; longer spell lockout, shorter cooldown.  You can sidegrade it with a glyph to increase the lockout, but you’ll also increase the cooldown.  Two passives unlock as you level, one at 40, one at 80.  Burning Wrath buffs your raid with 10% spell power, and Grace of Air adds 5 mastery to everyone.  Note that that’s mastery, not mastery rating.  Fire Nova has been moved to be an enhance ability only.  Dunno how elemental shaman feel about that.  Capacitor Totem works as an AoE stun, which should come in handy.  And Stormlash Totem buffs your raid with a short period of extra damage on all their attacks.

Finally, Ascendance…mmm.  I can’t wait to hit 87 to try it out.  Ascendance empowers you as an elemental ascendant, granting you additional abilities.  For enhance, you turn into an air ascendant, changing your auto-attack and Stormstrike to deal nature damage (presumably buffed by mastery!) and have a 30-yard range.  Should make for a good way to chase down someone fleeing from your awesome elemental powers.

Otherwise, the game is functionally exactly like how you left it in Cata.  Priorities don’t seem to have changed any, and all the tweaks made to us over Cata have been rolled into the spec proper.  It’s easy to just get back into it.  Most of all, it’s fun!

…so these “first impressions” are apparently more like “first hundred impressions,” so uh.  Yeah, think it’s a good idea to stop here.  My next beta post will probably be on the Jade Forest, if a certain quest has been fixed to let me get past.

Later!

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