Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.4 Review

Earlier this week, the last major patch for Mists of Pandaria released. A slew of changes and additions came with the final raid in Ogrimmar to bring down Garrosh Hellscream. Since the first section of LFR doesn't come out until this Tuesday, Connected Realms are still in a test phase and not yet implemented on dying servers such as mine, and my friends on another server went ahead and did a Flex Raid without me, I haven't had the chance to see the Siege of Orgrimmar raid yet, but there's plenty to do and see this patch in the meantime, unlike 5.3.

First and foremost, there's the Timeless Isle. It's a sandbox loaded with hidden treasure chests, mini-events, rares and elites that are sure to challenge even the most skilled and seasoned players,  five world bosses, and a pet battle tournament. In this modest-sized area, item level (ilvl) 496, bind-on-account gear drops like rain in Seattle. Within a couple of hours of landing on the Isle, I received enough loot to raise the ilvl of my alt Shaman and Lock to get them into Throne of Thunder LFR and raised my Hunter's ilvl enough to get him into the Siege of Orgrimmar LFR (once it releases), all while playing on my Druid and Mage, who are both ilvl 505+. Catch up on alts is easier than it has ever been. I've received so much gear for alts this weekend that I groan when a leather specific item drops, as I have no need for them anymore.

Any piece of gear found on the Isle can also be upgraded into ilvl 535 loot, should you collect 50,000 coins, which is accomplished by hunting down treasure chests, killing rares...well, killing just about anything you see on the Isle, including the opposing faction as well as your own faction. The latter has caused an uproar through the community, and I experienced the griefing firsthand. My server is predominately Horde, so I figured I could travel around unscathed while coin collecting. I was wrong, and I was killed repeatedly by my own faction. Some servers have countered the killing of your own faction via bans, guild kicks, and blacklists, but this isn't the case on all servers, and the forums are ripe with complaints.

The Isle has a reputation faction called Shahao Emperor as well, which I haven't done much with. I have avoided this grind because it requires killing hard-hitting elites. A group is basically required to kill scores of servants of Ordos and slowly, painstakingly grind that rep. It's an old school grind like killing pirates for cartel rep, and I've never been a fan of such endeavors. Maybe next expansion when the level cap is raised I'll return to the Isle to grind the rep, since the faction offers nothing more than vanity items.

And, of course, with a new area comes new battle pets to collect and fight. There are three types of moths found on the island in the wild, as well as eleven drops from rares. I have yet to nab a rare drop, but from what I've seen on Wowhead, they look interesting. There's also a crane found randomly in their nests, and a Hozen with boxing gloves found by opening chests in a cave, where a vendor named Kukuru appears to sell keys for coins. On top of that, four miniature versions of the celestials can be achieved through the tournament.

I dabbled with the Celestial Tournament, giving up quickly. I do not have enough of certain pet families to run through the gambit of battles in this scenario, for players are not allowed to heal their pets. Round One requires defeating three teams of three legendary pets. Round Two, still not being able to heal, requires taking on four legendary elites. To win the tournament, I'll have to level at least three of every family to 25, because the Round One compositions change week to week. Not being able to heal or revive pets against legendaries also means there's a lot of casualties during the course of the tournament, and it's doubtful a pet would be used more than once.

Speaking of casualties, I attempted the daily Lil' Oondasta pet battle and had my ass handed to me. He's legendary, elite, and hits like a truck, dealing chain attacks to the back row. Having only one mechanical pet at level 25, I need two more to even stand a chance against him.

There are other ways to spend time off the Timeless Isle, such as Proving Grounds. I reached gold ranking for DPS and was one wave from unlocking Endless, garnering achievements, and that's as much as one can gain with this scenario. It's a practice mode, which doesn't offer titles or vanity items. For the most part, it was interesting and fun, yet I wish Blizzard had done more with it.

Though the new PVP season doesn't start until next week, I've played a good portion of battlegrounds. There were a lot of class changes for 5.4, and they were evident early on. I've already given up on my Boomie for PVP, deciding to focus on my Mage until Balance's mobility is improved. At this point, I may switch to my Mage full-time, and I'm growing exceedingly tired of the constant changes to classes. Having not played my Lock for months, it was frustrating returning to him and having to relearn my specs. Back and forth, the classes never seem to balance out. They continue to change and some of those changes are head-scratchers, such as making Boomies less of a DoT-spam class and more hard-casting, stationary fodder or putting a Mage's Ice Floes into stacks, making their combat clunky, or removing Destruction's ability to refresh Immolate with Fel Flame, forcing reapplication, as well as nerfing their mobility. Seriously, why is it so difficult for Blizzard to balance classes? They alter the course of every spec every patch with different design philosophies; the developers need to make up their minds about what they want out of every spec, stick to that decision, and solidify the playstyle, then scale damage, healing, etc. from there, not flip-flop with every single iteration of the game--it's infuriating. Oh, and I'd be extremely grateful if they'd ditch hard-casting all together and allowed every spell to be cast on the move the way it is in Guild Wars 2.

In 5.4, a bunch of glyphs were added. Many of them are minor glyphs with cosmetic changes like turning my Mage's Water Elemental to a meaner-looking Unbound Elemental, so scribes should be busy. They won't, however, be as busy as other crafters. Once again, Blizzard introduced a new set of daily cooldowns with scores of recipes learned via grinding and crafting mats. The best additions I have seen are for Engineers, who can craft two unique pets and an amazing mount called a Sky Golem that not only looks similar to a Shredder, it flies and can harvest while mounted. I look forward to owning one, for its mats aren't crazy or expensive but they do take a month of daily cooldowns to obtain.

Overall, I'm moderately pleased with 5.4. I feel as if I will be happier once I start raiding in the near future or can at least get my characters into LFR. Once my server is connected to another and healthier, I may even be ecstatic for a while, but I have to wonder how long the glow of a new patch will last. The upcoming transition into another expansion is going to be crucial to the continued longevity of WoW, because like myself, players tear through content quicker than before, and if we're still raiding Orgrimmar six months to a year from now, as we did in Dragon Soul, few of us will be happy...assuming we're still around.

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