World of Warcraft – Seven Years Young

September 27, 2012

A lot can happen in seven years, even when speaking exclusively of the world of gaming. Developers have risen only to fall. Franchises are born, then left to gather dust. Or, to put the time frame into a perspective understandable by all gamers, over the course of seven years we’ve seen at least seven console Call of Duty titles, and six for handhelds. That’s 13+ games of one franchise in seven years.

But Call of Duty isn’t the only series from Activision to have built its muscles over several years, and it’s arguably not even the most impressive. World of Warcraft, one of the biggest MMORPGs on the planet, has been doing the same thing. And not with yearly iterations, but instead building on the original foundations established in 2004.

Building on those foundations has been essential in ensuring World of Warcraft‘s legacy. Blizzard has ensured that after each year or two of play, the world of Warcraft (pun intended) grows a little-to-a lot bigger via sizeable content expansion packs. So far we’ve seen The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm. Each grew World of Warcraft with new playable races for both the Alliance and Horde, classes and their associated abilities, brand new areas to explore and quest in, and a raised level cap, along with an assortment of other features. And in some cases, most notably Cataclysm, entire regions of the existing game world changed dramatically to contextually suit the evolving story.

And even though we near the eighth birthday of World of Warcraft, Blizzard has shown few signs of rest. Earlier this week yet another expansion pack, titled Mists of Pandaria, was released, again raising the level cap and introducing new content, teaching this old dog a healthy dose of new tricks.

See those tricks in motion by checking out the video below.

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First and foremost, Mists of Pandaria brings a new race, the Pandarens (derr), and a new class, the monk, to the usual World of Warcraft formula. I remember when Mists of Pandaria was announced, and there was a bit of gossip from gamers about how strange these anthropomorphic pandas looked in the Warcarft universe. But they’re not an entirely new addition, not technically. Way back in the RTS WarCraft III, specifically The Frozen Throne expansion pack, Blizzard introduced the Pandarens to the game lore. Though they’ve been absent from the series from then until now, Blizzard is bringing them back in a pretty big way.

Pandarens mark the first playable species with neutral faction alignment. No Horde or Alliance for you. Pick a Pandaren and you’ll start without any true allegiance, beginning your adventure in The Wandering Isle, a neutral region of the newly added Pandaria. Neutrality is limited though. After establishing the mythology and lore of Pandaria, and learning a little history of the Pandaren people (people? pandas?), Pandaren players will need to choose between Alliance or Horde allegiance once they hit level ten. A neutral starting is certainly a welcome addition to the World of Warcraft lore, but given Mists of Pandaria boosts the level cap to ninety, the bulk of your Panderan playtime will still be spent aligned to one of the existing factions.

The other major addition is the monk class, further expanding World of Warcraft‘s pretty impressive roster of classes, and available to all races except for the Cataclysm added Worgen and Goblin. Plenty of variety, but I expect a lot of players will double up the monk class with the Pandarens to live out their Kung Fu Panda fantasies. And Kung Fu you will. Heavily inspired by an assortment of Chinese zen martial arts, the monk is all about close quarters melee attacks, best equipped with staffs and one handed weapons, or even just bare hands and feet.

Once you hit level ten, the monk can spec in one of three specialties. The de-buffing Brewmaster tank, boozing up with kegs of homebrew to intoxicate the enemy and themselves. The wise healing Mistweaver, sipping herbal teas to enhance mana and health. Or the martial arts master Windwalker, who maximises DPS through quick melee attacks. The chi is strong with all three classes, drawing upon the zen inspiration with their assorted abilities.

There’s more, of course. Turn based pet battles, the new continent of Pandaria to explore, various new baddies and bosses to bash, and most importantly a whole new set of high level dungeons, including a dungeon challenge mode that pits groups with normalised loot against each other to see who can make their way through the fastest.

It’s interesting to reflect how far this series has come, from its humble World of Warcraft beginnings in 2004, to a fourth expansion pack again adding new characters to play, new battles to win, and new worlds to explore. As they say, supply must meet demand, and I simply cannot imagine Blizzard investing in an expansion pack of this size if there wasn’t a fanbase still standing strong, supporting the series with every new update and change.

There’s always the lingering question of just how long the dream can last. Does the MMORPG behemoth have another expansion pack in it, or will Mists of Pandaria be the last? How long must we wait for a true World of Warcraft successor? Or perhaps more curiously, is a successor even necessary at this point?

Whatever the answers, World of Warcraft is still here, still packed with millions of dedicated players, and thanks to Mists of Pandaria, has grown a little bit bigger, and destined to last a little bit longer.

This is a sponsored post but opinions are my own.