As World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion comes to end, I find myself not as interested in the game as I used to be. It really left a bad taste in mouth, and my continued playing of the game hinges on the enjoyment, if any, I get from the fourth installment, Mists of Pandaria.
While it's possible my lack of interest is because I've played for so many consecutive years and the game has run out of surprises, I think what really has me contemplating quitting, besides linear questing and forced or phased grinds, is the declining story.
For Mists to keep me as a subscriber, I'm going to need a major faction war with racial leaders on the front lines rather than hiding in their capitols. Class changes, talent/glyph revamps, fancy mounts, dailies, and new zones isn't going to cut it this time around. I need more than a few laughs and a handful of cutscenes. Part of the reason Wrathgate is my favorite scene in the game is the betrayal of the Forsaken.
While we've been told the final raid is going to be in Orgrimmar and the expansion is centered around the Horde/Alliance conflict, I haven't really seen it so far in Beta testing. There have been a couple of solid quest chains (scouting Jade forest with SI:7, which included controlling a sniper, setting up command posts in Kun-Lai Summit, and trying to keep an eye on Anduin Wrynn), but most of the questing is about the Pandaren.
I do enjoy what the Horde and Alliance presence has done to Pandaria: Sha and Mantid have returned in force after 10,000 years, Yaungol, a yak-like species of Tauren, as well as the Zandalari Tribe have invaded Kun-Lai. Lots of Pandaren die, some more poignantly than others, and their only defensive force is the Shadow-Pan's ninjas.
However, it's not enough. If Mists is truly centered around the faction war, Blizzard needs to show it from the beginning and throughout. Known characters such as Mekkatorque, Velen, Sylvanas, Vol'Jin and company need to be active. Horde's story could easily start to resemble a Game of Thrones plot as the leaders vie for Warchief, and the unstable, disjointed Alliance could actually get their act together and stand their ground.
Scenarios would be the perfect opportunity to incorporate the faction leaders. They could be used to further the story in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, trying to put an end to the power struggle within their own factions as well as the war, at all costs. There's no reason for Blizzard's writers to keep fan favorites as idle as they have, especially when each character is equally capable of valorous or sinister deeds.
By patch 5.1, if faction leaders aren't in scenarios or landing on the beaches of Pandaria, I will probably, though reluctantly, say goodbye to World of Warcraft.