Initially I planned to hold off on reviewing 5.2 until the final stage was complete, but my server is just two stages in and already I’ve got a notebook page full of individual points to discuss, and ain’t nobody got time for that.
So, 5.2! Isle of the Thunder King! Lightning trolls and dinosaurs, every five-year-old and adult nerd’s dream, because let’s get one thing straight: dinosaurs make everything better. No longer is Un’Goro Crater our only chance to run through herds of dinosaurs pretending to be Jeff Goldblum while the Jurassic Park score plays on our iTunes. Now we have BIGGER DINOSAURS. BETTER DINOSAURS. DINOSAURS, MAN.
Players must complete dailies for their specific faction’s presence on the island to further their cause and fulfill participation requirements to move on to the next stage. It sort of reminds me of the rush to open the gates to Ahn’Qiraj during vanilla, something I have surprisingly fond memories of. It gives a real sense of importance, of contribution to a common cause, a pretty sweet reward for your hard work by, you know, unlocking new and awesome content.
Problem is, a huge chunk of the people I’ve talked to have no idea how to get started.
I’ve heard a score of complaints about 5.2 — no flight on Isle of Thunder, more rep grinding, lag issues while on the island itself — all of which I plan to address later, but the most common one I hear is that nobody knows where to go to access the content. Level 90 characters will receive an automatic quest at the Shrine of Two Moons (or the Alliance equivalent whose name I do not know, for I am a dirty Horde, but its name is probably Shrine of Goody Two Shoes… you know what? That’s what I’m going with from now on) to talk to a Sunreaver Onslaught representative at Shado-Pan Garrison and catch a ride from her out to the island. Easy enough, pretty self-explanatory if you take the 30 seconds to read the quest text. From there, you’re pretty much on your own on figuring out how to get back there after your first round of dailies. If you’re not the observant sort, you’re probably going to be confused. The culling of the weak based on situational awareness? Maybe. Even if you do figure out where to go for Day Two, the portal to the island is a bit out of the way. If you’re level 90, by this point in the game there’s a good chance you’ve finished all of your 5.0 reps, so you’re not doing dailies; you’re more likely to either be at your respective Shrine or working the farm in Halfhill. It’s a very minor complaint and one easily remedied by taking the opportunity to alt-tab and check your email while you fly, but still another tick in the “support” column for my proposed fix.
Each side gets its own teleport device — for Horde, it’s the Sunreaver Beacon — that will transport the player from anywhere on the Isle of Thunder back to wherever their base of operations there happens to be. In Stage 1, while fighting to secure the beach head, it was a ship off the coast of the island; now that a push inland has been made and we’re in Stage 2, both the Kirin Tor and the Sunreavers have established bases on terra firma. Whether the location will change again with future stages remains to be seen, but the generality of the end location is rather nice. No upgrades or trade-ins required, no temporary boosts, just a helpful little “hearthstone” of sorts on a 10-minute cooldown that can even be replaced for an extremely modest fee if lost or destroyed. The catch is, you have to already be on the island in order to use it. But why not let it be used from anywhere in Pandaria? This would make travel to the Isle more convenient and alleviate any confusion as to how to return after the initial questline flight. It might even encourage more participation in the event.
The Isle of Giants, a.k.a. BADASS DINOSAUR PARTY LAND, does not have a teleport device attached to it. Hell, as far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s not even a quest or any mention of how to get there. It’s off the coast of Kun Lai and requires flying over Fatigue waters, a fact that I only know because I Googled it. Could I have missed a critical clue in-game? Sure, anything’s possible, but then that would beg the question of just how obvious of a clue it is. This is the only place for hunters to get their Tome of Dinomancy, which will allow them to tame the special Direhorn dinosaurs found on the island. There’s a world boss and four new battle pets that can randomly drop from the Dinomancers on the island, and giant dinosaur bones that can be turned in for mounts, pets, and those ever-so-valuable Spirits of Harmony. The mobs are elite, so it’s definitely not a challenge for the faint of heart (and bad of gear), but the rewards are awesome. And yet there’s no breadcrumb trail to follow there, meaning that a good chunk of players are not experiencing content that the design team worked so hard to implement. Throw in an introductory quest and call it a day.
But let’s talk about these new little mini-dino pets. They’re unbelievably cute baby T-Rexes wearing adorably oversized stone skull masks (anyone else reminded of Cubone?), and each one of the quartet is a different color. Personally, I’m a little disappointed at the lack of variety. There’s at least four dinosaur models already in game that have been there since vanilla, and the Pterrorwing models introduced with 5.2 which are slightly different than the oldschool Pterrordax. Just using one of the Zandalari hatchlings with their current model and then choosing between the other dinosaurs for the other three would have made the rewards for farming the Dinomancers even better, in my opinion.
There is, however, variety in how you choose to earn your new faction’s rep and add towards total stage completion. Blizzard gives players a choice between PvE and PvP daily quests in Stage 2, meaning that no matter what your play style is, there’s something to keep you happy. Unfortunately, PvP dailies appear to be giving about 600 less reputation than a round of their PvE counterparts. Even though I, personally, am not a PvPer, I have my fingers crossed that the devs re-evaluate this disparity soon.
Going back to sources of confusion, there also seems to be a general sense of vagueness on how to read the progression numbers appearing on the world map of the Isle of Thunder. The Stage part is pretty self-explanatory, but what about the actual stage progress and participation percentage? Luckily, Dave Kosak, lead quest designer for World of Warcraft, sprang to the rescue via Twitter:
For those still unsure, according to this tweet, stage advancement is at least partially based on server population. Elementary rules of statistics state that if you’ve got a smaller pool to start with, it takes fewer people to make up a larger percentage of the whole. For example, to get 50% of a server with a population of 1000, you’d need 500 players, but if your base population is 5000, you’d need 2500 to achieve that same percentage. Good on the development team for factoring in the low-population problem and making sure that it doesn’t negatively affect the players’ ability to experience content!
Except, maybe, in the case of the 5-man quests for the Shado-Pan Assault — Setting the Trap and Champions of the Thunder King. My server, as previously mentioned, is pretty low-pop. With heroics and raids, I have the luxury of popping over to Dungeon Finder to find a cross-realm group. Pandaria, including the island, however, does not yet have cross-realm zoning enabled, what with the whole new content thing and all. Even if CRZ was only enabled in these areas with respect to the matchmaking tool, there is no option to look for a group to complete a regular 5-man quest. Trying to find a proper group to complete these quests when there’s just not a lot of people around to start with gives some pretty frustrating flashbacks to finding help for elite quests while leveling in vanilla. I spent an hour just trying to find enough people for Setting the Trap today, and we ended up having to four-man it with off-spec heals using DPS gear and some outside assistance from an Alliance hunter who felt like being nice and helping us out with some pewpew.
To perhaps make things even more frustrating, the Shan’ze Ritual Stones, fairly rare to begin with and certainly not easily farmable, are non-refundable upon death. If you summon one of the champions using your three stones and die in the process, you’ve got to spend another three for a new attempt. The island itself is fairly unforgiving with mob density and difficulty — thankfully Ihgaluk Crag gives you a saurok disguise so that you can move freely throughout the mob-filled area while out of combat — so if your gear isn’t up to snuff, you’re probably going to be grinding your teeth a lot. My shadow priest’s item level is 480 and I’ve still run into some pretty tense situations out there. The Fiance isn’t even in full heroic gear yet and did a grand total of one round of dailies out there before deciding to wait until he gears up a bit more to continue. It is possible to experience the Thunder King dailies without being in full purples, but you’ll definitely need to have some health potions and crafty use of your particular class’s mechanics at your disposal. When in doubt, stick to solo pulls, and be mindful of your positioning in relation to other mobs. S0me of the quest mobs can be a real pain regardless of gear, too; for example, the Zandalari Spiritwalker, one of the loa you’re required to kill for a daily in Za’Tual, has a Shadow Siphon spell that cannot be interrupted short of using an actual stun and does a sizeable chunk of healing to the mob. As a shadowpriest, all I’ve got is Silence, which is ineffective against it, meaning I’m stuck doing the “two steps forward, one step back” dance. It’s not a speedy kill for me unless other people happen to be in the area at the time. The same goes for questing in the main areas, where mobs are so tightly packed in that it sometimes seems you can’t take two steps in any direction without aggroing. When lots of people are around clearing them out, it’s no problem. If you’re on during a non-peak hour, you’ve got to be Secret freakin’ Squirrel to avoid death. Mobs requiring lots of movement, like the Zandalari Colossus and the Mighty Devilsaur, are a nightmare if the majority of your abilities have an actual cast time on them to the point that I usually won’t even attempt them (Devilsaur more than Colossus) unless other people are killing them, too. When the time comes that the Isle of Thunder is old news, the difficulty level will undoubtedly skyrocket for those late to the party just because there’ll be no one around to help thin out the herd or throw in some extra life-saving DPS.
Getting around the Isle of Thunder can also be a bit of a chore due to the lack of flight. It’s time to pull out those trusty ground mounts — I recommend the Azure Waterstrider, available at Exalted reputation from the Anglers quartermaster, since it has innate water-walking abilities. There’s been a lot of grumbling about not being able to fly the friendly skies on the island, as there was about having to wait until level 90 to fly in Pandaria, but it’s a pretty logical design choice. Simply put, the developers want you to fully experience new content. If you’re just flying over the whole thing, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the stuff that they worked hard to create. For the longest time, there was no flight allowed in Kalimdor or Eastern Kingdoms, either; the special flight license to unlock that capability in the “old world” is a fairly recent addition. As content ages, then the decision to either allow flying mounts or keep the kibosh on them in an area can be made, but until then, it’s set pretty firmly in stone, and all we can do is make the best of it, although trying to navigate through the main questing areas (Ihgaluk Crag, Court of Bones, and Za’Tual) can be somewhat aggravating without it due to differing ground levels, inconspicuous roads, and dead ends.
Lag has been an intermittent problem for those questing on the island, possibly due to phasing for each stage. I’ve noticed times when standing on a main road on the Isle of Thunder where my zone map will display 0% completion for Stage 2, but moving off to the side will trigger a correct display for the progress bar. When I first started the Thunder King dailies, I also noticed an annoying issue with capturable battle pets showing up on my mini-map and in the game world, only to disappear as soon as I ran up to them. Since CRZ is, as previously stated, disabled for the 5.2 zones, I assume that this was also related to phasing, but it seems to have been fixed fairly quickly since I’m no longer having to deal with “ghost” pets. Some lag is also undoubtedly linked to the number of players in the area at any given time, with more severe spikes prevalent during peak hours. My hope is that as the crowd dies down a bit and more phases are unlocked, we’ll see some relief from the quirkier among zone behaviors.
Perhaps the most frequent complaint I hear is about Blizzard releasing yet another round of dailies for us to do. Many complain that it’s the only way to get geared up, others claim it’s just the same old content being rehashed, a viewpoint that, as far as I’m concerned, requires completely ignoring everything written in the patch notes except for the word “dailies.” After playing for eight years, I understand the burnout. I really, really do. I have Exalted with the Zandalari Tribe, now a Feat of Strength, that required more runs of Zul’Gurub than I’d care to admit to. I ground out the rep for every single Pandaria faction introduced with 5.0 before commendations were released and recently spent months going back to complete the Argent Tournament. Yes, we have to work for our purples, either by doing raids or kicking it with a good old-fashioned rep-grind (and I use “old-fashioned” loosely since, trust me, dailies have gotten WAY more fun and varied than they were back in the day), but isn’t that what everybody wanted? Didn’t everyone used to complain about “welfare epics” and how easy it was for players to get geared up without putting in much effort? Now that Blizzard’s put a to-do list in front of us with regards to gearing up, everyone’s yearning for the days of effortless gearing, where all you had to worry about farming was gold. It goes to show that you really can’t please everyone. The gear purchasable from the Isle of Thunder is at absolute worst level 496 (same as Dominance Offensive from 5.1) and at best level 522 (requires running heroic raids). Just at Honored level with your faction’s Thunder rep, you can straight up purchase a level 476 epic belt for a couple hundred gold. No valor tokens, no justice points, just a couple of days of questing and a mere pittance. Is it the best epic out there? Hell no, but for someone who’s just coming out of heroic gear, it’s an absolute steal. The release of 5.2 saw valor prices being slashed for “old” gear, with 5.0 epics being cut cleanly in half and 5.1 marked down to 75% of their original price. There was no sacrificing of stats or nerfing of items. It’s the same stuff, but cheaper, and with the new dailies giving 5 valor tokens (and 2 Lesser Charms of Good Fortune) with each turn-in, an average of 10 dailies per 24-hour timer, it’s even easier to cover yourself in shiny purpz. No one is forcing you to do every single daily in the game every day. It’s not a contest, it’s not a rush. If you’re in a raiding guild with an item level requirement, chances are there’s others doing the same dailies and therefore the same amount of work to get themselves up to speed. Tag along with them. Ask for help from the crafters in the guild — at honored with Golden Lotus, leatherworkers and tailors can get some pretty sweet patterns for epic gear. If you log on and absolutely cannot handle the thought of doing a single daily, take a break. Go do some instances, or log out of the game for the evening, pop some popcorn, and kick back with some Netflix. You will get your gear. Regardless of whether you’re in a hardcore guild or not, it is still a game, not a job, and just like with a job, if you overwork yourself, you’re going to burn out in an epic manner, no pun intended.
I’ve talked a lot about issues with 5.2, which may give the impression that I don’t like it. Quite the contrary! I think it’s a remarkable example of the quality content being turned out by World of Warcraft’s design team. I daresay I even prefer it to Dominance Offensive, which, if you remember, I enjoyed quite a bit. Do I really need to start screaming and flailing about how bad-ass dinosaurs are again? Some of my favorite changes, however, took place off the island.
Remember when I wrote about changes I’d like to see to the crafting system? I won’t even pretend that anyone from the design team is reading this, let alone was inspired by my suggestions, but somewhere along the line there was a shared wavelength, and each time a 24-hour crafting cooldown is used in Tailoring or Leatherworking (possibly others as well, which I haven’t yet tested), you will discover a new pattern, a phenomenon no longer reserved for the “newer” professions, Jewelcrafting and Inscription. Season 12 PvP patterns required me to spend precious Spirits of Harmony for purchase, but now all I have to do is burn my daily cooldown for Imperial Silk, which I need to make anyway.
Another thing that made me punch the air was seeing how the factions window now indicates when you’ve purchased a commendation rep. There’s no more need to commit to memory which ones you’ve bought and which ones you still need to pick up. The new “star” system for championing Pandaria reputations now allows you to earn credit for whichever one you choose through dungeons. Mists of Pandaria may have gone back to the old “only Exalted, only vanity” system for tabards, but with this, who needs anything else? I’d like to see the championing tabards replaced completely by this system, and older reputations added into the mix.
If you’re still hurting for rep gains, you can now buy Sunsong Ranch for your own nefarious purposes, and enjoy hours of entertainment by lovingly trolling people who ask “how do I buy the farm?” in General chat with “helpful” suggestions. It’s not so much buying, however, as it is taking 30 seconds to talk to Nana Mudclaw and obtaining the whole damn thing for the low, low price of 0 gold. Much like J-Lo’s love, Sunsong Ranch doesn’t cost a thing. The only requirement is that you be Exalted with the Tillers and have unlocked all 16 plots on the farm. Once the farm is under your control, you can set your hearthstone there and fulfill daily work orders, two at a time, for whatever Pandaria faction you need. The orders are simple: plant eight of the specified crop, then wait till the next day to harvest it and turn it over to the appropriate faction’s representatives who, awesomely enough, will actually show up on your farm upon turn-in to pick it up. The biggest challenge is remembering to pick up your new work order before planting. Patch 5.1 made farming easier by introducing the Master Plow to quickly till your empty plots, but 5.2 put the whole thing on cruise-control with the new seed bags that allow you to plant four plots at once using a targeting circle. At this rate, I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with the farm in 5.3.
Pet battlers can now fight special legendary opponents that appear solo, but allow you to use your whole team against them. Though legendary is technically higher quality than epic, I found my experience with the cricket Lucky Yi to be far easier than my attempt against the Darkmoon Faire pet master. Don’t think it’s a cakewalk, though; there is definitely some strategy required. I was disappointed that these legendary pets themselves are not tamable, but if you’ve defeated all of the other world pet tamers in battle, you will be able to pick up a daily quest from your faction’s Shrine that sends you out to battle these formidable foes and have a chance to reward you with a special battle pet on turn-in. Colorful carp pets, similar in appearance to Fishy, can very occasionally be obtained by fishing from special pools available only during the new Anglers event. El’s Extreme Anglin’ has a comprehensive and frequently-updated guide available for those with enough patience to give them a shot.
For those of us who grew up in the 90s and remember those cheesy game shows where kids like us were given a set amount of time to run through a toy store and grab everything they could before the buzzer, a very rare Key to the Palace of Lei Shen can randomly drop from mobs on the Isle of Thunder, be found in Troves of the Thunder King (if you’re lucky enough to find one), or show up in the reward container from your final quest of the day. Taking one to the Shado-Pan Assault forces in the secret cave near the northern part of the island will be granted access to a special single-player scenario, where they must sneak their way through traps and collect as many treasure chests as they can in five minutes. Once the timer is up, they’ll be taken to a treasure room, where they can use special keys that sometimes drop from the chests in the main room to unlock amazing coffers full of everything from Motes of Harmony to Shan’ze Ritual Stones to Tattered Historical Parchments that can be turned in for special one-time use insignias that give you a boost to your rep with either the Sunreavers or the Kirin Tor. Rarely, you may also be able to find Shado-Pan Assault insignias, as well. There’s no limit to how many times you can run the scenario per week — all that matters is how many keys you have on you — but they can only drop from a mob source once during that timer.
The single-player scenario is a new mechanic being used fairly heavily in 5.2, not only with Lei Shen, but also apparently as an “introduction” of sorts to each new stage in progression on the Isle of Thunder. On my first day questing since Stage 2’s implementation, I was instructed to follow a brave member of the Sunreaver Onslaught as she fought to clear the area of a malicious Zandalari spellcaster and his minions. The end fight was not dissimilar to a dungeon boss, though the difficulty had been tweaked to be an appropriate challenge for solo play — and let me stress that, challenge. It was anything but a face-roll and required dancing in and out of different zones to defeat it. I’m excited to see more solo scenarios like this, as they give a fantastic sense of being a lone, powerful hero and further emphasize the feelings of importance and participation that I mentioned earlier on.
In general, 5.2 seems to be a “meatier” expansion than 5.1 that showcases more innovation than ever before. Mists of Pandaria itself set the bar astronomically high for improvement, and has continued to vault over that bar with each content patch released. Though not perfect (and to be fair, what game is?), it’s an experience that absolutely cannot be missed.