I’m a little delayed, I know, since Escalation, World of Warcraft’s third content patch for Mists of Pandaria, was released about a week ago, but I’ve been a bit distracted by other things. The bright side is that it’s given me a week to really delve into the content and see what the community at large thinks about it.
The first two patches were pretty expansive, introducing new areas, new factions to earn rep with, and taking several days or even weeks to complete. It was almost overwhelming the first time I stepped into the 5.2 content — the mobs were a bit challenging, even with my shadow priest’s excellent gear, and the list of Things To Do was as long as my arm (granted, I’m kind of short and stubby, but you get what I mean). Just when I thought I’d finished it all, I discovered the Isle of Giants and honestly at that point was so winded by everything else I said “screw it, I’ll go back and do it later.” I still haven’t even gone into LFR for Throne of Thunder. I was actually a little nervous once 5.3 was released so quickly, thinking that I was going to be hopelessly behind until at least 6.0.
Yeah. Totally finished 5.3 in a day. Hot damn.
This is where the first grumbles I’ve heard come in — compared to its predecessors, Escalation is really small. Yesterday I heard someone say that she hated it because “there was no climax” to the story. Let’s look at the definition of “escalation”:
v. es·ca·lat·ed, es·ca·lat·ing, es·ca·lates
To increase, enlarge, or intensify: escalated the hostilities in the Persian Gulf.
To increase in intensity or extent: “a deepening long-term impasse that is certain to escalate” (Stewart L. Udall)
And things in the story are definitely increasing in intensity. The Darkspear leader, Vol’jin, has the backing of both Horde and Alliance to take over for Hellscream and his harsh, often irresponsible rule. Voices of dissent are becoming louder. How long will it be before a real move is made against Orgrimmar and Vol’jin is declared Warchief? Is he truly a better option than Hellscream? Are there other players lurking in the wings? The answers, presumably, will be coming in 5.4. With a couple more planned content patches still being worked on, bringing the story to a major pinnacle now would mean that everything to follow would either have to match in epic scope or would be a steady decline back into “blah,” and that’s really not the most engaging way to tell a story, especially in an interactive form of media like a game. Rocketing straight to “ULTIMATE BADASS OF ULTIMATE BADASSERY” without any real build-up is cheap and unfulfilling, especially when there’s so much to look at with regards to lore.
Speaking of lore, complaints have also been rolling in about how it’s dumb that the Alliance would be helping to put Vol’jin on the throne… wait, is it a throne? Big spiky chair? Place where the Warchief sits? Whatever. But Hellscream has already crossed lines that Thrall would have avoided altogether. Remember the fate of Anduin Wrynn at the end of 5.1? Under Thrall’s rule, the Horde and Alliance didn’t exactly have a truce, but Hellscream has proven himself to be a steamroller of destruction not just for his own people, but for the Alliance, as well. It is in everybody’s best interests if the proverbial loose cannon is replaced by a more reasonable leader. Given the Darkspear tribe’s main goal of just trying to rebuild their home post-Cataclysm versus command-and-conquer, a little cooperation from the Alliance (entirely possible, given Anduin’s tendency to seek peace rather than war) could mean that these two factions might even be able to reach a cease-fire.
It’s also been said that Blizzard is showing clear favor to the Horde with 5.3 content and that the Alliance don’t have as immersive or enriching of an experience on their side of the fence. I haven’t brought an Alliance character through, but I will just point out that since the beginning of World of Warcraft, the Horde have been claiming that the devs are favoring the Alliance while the Alliance claim that the devs are favoring the Horde. I played both sides of the same server once and let me tell you, the arguments were exactly the same except for the faction names being switched around. Even if there really was “favoritism” going on in this patch, I can almost guarantee you that 5.4 will shift focus the other way and ultimately balance everything out. Mists of Pandaria is proving to have one of the most intricate and expansive storylines yet, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s that there’s always a method to the madness. I have complete confidence that by the end of the Mists content, everyone will be sitting in there chairs going “OHHH! That’s where they were going with it!”
In addition to drawing out the dramatic tension in the storyline, 5.3 is also serving as a great catch-up for those who don’t have regular access to raids, are trying to gear out alts, or who have just started playing. During the Battlefield: Barrens event, players can complete a weekly quest to gather 100 each of four different materials and turn them in to receive one Radiant Mojo. When combined with a piece of Latent gear, which has a decent chance to drop off of the very mobs being killed to complete the quest or can be purchased in exchange for more materials, the Radiant Mojo will create a piece of item level 489 gear specific to the player’s spec and class (489 is on par with Valor gear). In one week, I ended up with three sets of shoulders, a pair of pants, and a belt. Before combining them with the mojo, the items aren’t soulbound, meaning you can trade with other players for pieces you need, sell them for profit, or send them to alts. It’s an amazing alternative to having to grind out the “oldschool” Pandaria reputations and run heroics ad nauseum to get Valor points — the payout for heroic runs in Mists versus Cataclysm is incredibly small. With each patch, Blizzard has been making it easier for players to get caught up with their rep. In 5.1, we got commendations that would allow all characters on our account to receive a major boost to rep gains as long as one character had received at least Revered status with the faction that the commendation was purchased from. 5.2 gave us work orders on our farm and the ability to “star” reputations while running dungeons for extra reputation towards that faction once per day. Golden Lotus rep is no longer required to serve as a gateway for Shado-Pan and August Celestials quests. The Latent gear offers an alternative to the grind so that new or hopelessly behind players can focus on newer reputations that offer higher item level rewards.
That’s the beauty of 5.3 — it offers multiple ways to achieve a goal. Besides the alternate path to 489 gear, which is easily enough to get players into LFR, there’s also several ways you can get the materials needed to complete the Battlefield: Barrens weekly quest. Mobs in the highlighted areas on the map have a 100% drop rate of the items you need. There’s also physical objects that can be gathered, like barrels of oil or crates of meat, and have a chance to yield more materials than individual mob kills. Occasionally a caravan, laden with the precious materials you require, will start out from one area in The Barrens and require your protection from raiders on the way to its destination. Keep the caravan safe, and you’ll be given a crate of bonus supplies that contains a fair chunk of each of the kind required to complete your quest objectives. If a caravan is overturned, those who get to the site quickly enough will find its contents strewn through the wreckage for yet another quick burst towards completion.
Arguments are, of course, being made that Blizzard is rewarding players who are one or all of the following:
- (insert colorful accusation of homosexuality here)
Still others are sitting around in their gear from heroic Throne of Thunder and complaining that it isn’t fair because none of the gear offered in Escalation is an upgrade for them. So essentially, those ranting about the Latent gear are either elitist or greedy, and definitely selfish. These are the kids on the playground who want first pick of the swings and don’t mind pushing the smaller kids down into the dirt to get to them. If they’re not having fun, then why should anyone else be allowed to have fun? I imagine they’re also the type who, when losing at a board game, scream “I WIN” and knock all the pieces onto the floor. As a funny sidenote, I’ve also noticed that most of these same kids claiming to be “oldschool” players who remember what the game was like “before easy mode” started playing World of Warcraft a full two or three years after I did. If I really wanted to be a jerk, I could give these bullies a taste of their own medicine, but I’m more concerned with watching the player base grow rather than trying to impose some sort of social restriction that if you started playing after x date, you’re not allowed to do anything. Oh noes, the purples are accessible to everyone! The Legendary questline still isn’t. Hell, I still need like 15 of the Sigils from the first part; I just don’t have the time or the patience to get them, and I’m fine with that. So is every other casual player I know. The hardcore and progression-based raiders are going to make up the majority of the I Haz Orange Weapons club. The devs are not vomiting max-level gear all over everyone quite as freely as the vocal naysayers would have us believe. It’s going to be okay, guys. I promise.
Beyond the gear and the inevitable controversy surrounding it, we also get six heroic scenarios! Hurray! They are definitely more of a challenge than the original batch — bring your best game and halfway-decent gear if you want to succeed — but they’re still a quick and enjoyable way to get Valor points. Even with the alternate path to Valor-quality gear, the Upgrade ethereals are back, and with reduced Valor and Justice costs. Pet battles have been retooled a bit with regards to hit chance, and tooltips will now reflect this as a way to help battlers decide which attacks to use. A new chapter of Raiding With Leashes has opened up with the obtainable pets dropping off of Burning Crusade-era raid bosses; finally, an excuse to go back to Karazhan! There’s also one obtainable from turning in a Radiant Mojo to the Darkspear quartermaster at Razor Hill, a handful now available off of Throne of Thunder bosses, some Isle of Thunder and Isle of Giants drops, and a new wild pet for Northrend, which has the misfortune of being called an Unborn Val’kyr and looking like a baby angel.
There’s still a lot of value to Escalation, even if it doesn’t have the same epic scope to it as the other content patches. The Battlefield: Barrens quest, however, is being treated as a world event, which means that it’s quite likely to disappear at some point, so get it done while you can! My recommendation to avoid burnout (400 total materials is a pretty steep order to grind out, even if it is only once a week) is to split it up over 4 days. With no new batches of dailies or factions to grind to Exalted, the general theme seems to fit right in with Vol’jin and his Darkspear trolls: “Take it easy, mon.”