Late last night I finally hit level 90 on my druid and finished a leveling experience as lengthy as Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King when they were first released. As of this morning, I am only one of three players in my guild to hit 90, which is a fine indicator that Blizzard did in fact go old school-expansion, despite the naysayers.
I'm gleeful to be rid of Cataclysm.
For starters, there are elites wandering around just about every zone. Their numbers increase with each zone. Yesterday in the Dread Wastes (this place is packed with elites) my leveling friend, a mage, was squashed by a stone elemental he didn't see PAT, and later, he was slaughtered by a silithid-looking mantid he attacked before realizing it wasn't part of our quest.
Then, of course, was the twenty minutes that four of us (one was level 90) spent trying to kill a rare elite Pandaren monk after we fought for half an hour with a group of Horde that had the same idea; they eventually acquiesced when I used typhoon on their healer and popped him off a cliff. If you're wondering, all rares in Pandaria are elite. At this stage in the expansion, they can't be solo'd either, and I've laughed at plenty of players that tried. I tried at first too and took a 200k hit to the face--instant death.
The zones are put together brilliantly. Having leveled in beta, I knew some of what to do and where to go, picking and choosing quest hubs, plotting my course through areas. Other than the start of Jade Forest, players aren't required to go from point A to point B then C. A player can now choose B, C, then A or just skip to D. The scenery isn't too shabby either.
As an explorer, there is a lot to discover along the way. Blizzard tucked relics in the ground, in houses, and in caves, along with lore to read on statues, scrolls, and books. I don't think I found 25% of what is on Pandaria from glimpsing my unfinished achievements.
There's no flying until max level, so there's a lot of ground skirmishes with the opposite faction (it was incessant for me as my Alliance is outnumbered by Horde on my server) and competition for nodes.
The music is on par with Grizzly Hills; the tracks surrounding the Shado-Pan are my favorite.
Yes, there are Pandaren. Yes, they are a humanoid race of pandas that like to get drunk and know martial arts. However, as NPCS they are sprinkled through the zones. Some zones, like Dread Wastes, they're few and far between. The entire expansion does not revolve around them; as players, we happen to be in their lands causing upheaval with our war.
As usual there are references to pop culture and easter eggs. One of my favorites was an homage to Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Basically, a leviathan showed up at a fishing town, and I had to hop into a boat, shooting harpoons from a cannon as it circled a massive, seagull-covered octopus. Anyone that has sailed the high seas with Link on Gamecube gets the reference. This time around there is an abundance of vanity items to be had from quests as well, everything from kegs to golden bananas that emit a beam of light.
While the new farm system bores me and the pet battle system is just something for me to pass the time in between dungeons (I admit, I hated the idea of pet battles but they have kind of won me over when I realized there were strategies to it), professions like cooking are a bit more dynamic. It's not the normal grind of killing stuff, harvesting meats and veggies, and cooking. I have some dailies and six different cooking specialties to level.
As far as the leveling aspect, zones, and professions are concerned, MoP meets and maybe surpasses the standard of old. My biggest complaint is that there are only four dungeons along the way; most were designed as heroics for max level, and I haven't even seen them yet.
At the end of the day, as exhausted as I am from grinding all week, Mists of Pandaria renewed my interest in WoW, when I was at the breaking point and on the verge of quitting forever. I don't know how long the joy of something new will last, but I know it's a good expansion when the biggest complaints I see on the forums are when servers go down, gear/profs are too hard/time-consuming to complete, or leveling takes too long.