MISTS OF PANDARIA

Last tuesday, Blizzard released World of Warcraft’s latest expansion: Mists of Pandaria. Featuring a new race (Pandaren), a level 90 cap, new dungeons, raids and battleground, this new expansion had me hooked ever since it was announced.

I’ll try to keep this as (major) spoiler free as possible, but read at your own discretion. Also, keep in mind that this is a lot of content to go through, so it’ll take me a while before I finish  the other parts of this review. Make sure to check back every day to see the new updates. Beware, really long review incoming.

New Race: Pandaren:

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Let me just start off by saying that the new starting zone is amazing. Set on the Wandering Isle, which is literally an enormous tortoise, the player is tasked with finding out what’s wrong, since the Isle has been moving erratically lately, causing some problems for the inhabitants. Pandaren players have seven classes to choose from: Monk, Warrior, Hunter, Rogue, Priest, Shaman and Mage. It’s too bad they can’t be Death Knight, but I guess it would be against canon if they could. They start out as a Neutral race, and don’t get to choose a faction until they’re level 11. What is most important is that it’s not a dull zone. The lore of the place keeps you interested for the time you’re there, as well as the beautiful environments surrounding you. Although it’s certainly a fun starting zone, it’s definitely not the best, but it’s up there.

New Zones and Quests:

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I still remember my first couple of days playing WoW, some years back. When I created my first character, a Night Elf hunter, I was immediately blown away by my surroundings. The vibrant colors astonished and enticed me. Blizzard has managed to recreate this feeling. As soon as I stepped into Pandaria, I was amazed by the style of the place. And to top it off, the game’s soundtrack fits perfectly into the theme. So if you’re going to play, crank up the volume and listen carefully, it’s well worth it.

What really surprised me was the amount of in-engine cutscenes included in this expansion. Wrath had a couple, Wrathgate and Fall of the Lich King for example, but Mists has tons of them. About a third of the quest chains end in a Cinematic, and so far, I have counted at least 10 different ones. And let’s be honest, Wrath Gate didn’t look all that good, but these ones blew my mind and gave me shivers.

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Blizzard has introduced a new type of quests that I loved. They’re basically flashback quests, telling you the story of something that’s happened within the story whilst you weren’t there (instead of one character missing and only a couple of text lines to explain what happened). You are given control of a different character, and the person in question usually narrates what happens while you’re playing it. It’s pretty fun and innovative.

Overall, Blizzard has stepped up their quests. Back in the old days of WoW, 40 out 50 quests would be “Kill X of Y” or “Collect X of Y by killing Z” but now there are many different types of quests. Sure, you still get some of those quests, but there are many quests with fun objectives such as: Help a pandaren farm, kick some critters (literally), the aforementioned flashback quests, and much more. Levelling doesn’t feel like much of a grind now.

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Another neat touch on Blizzard’s part is that when you have a quest that asks you to kill a semi-boss enemy, it doesn’t matter if there is someone else already fighting it, you can still jump in mid-fight and get the recognition of killing it. This way, you don’t have to wait for the other player to kill it for respawns, and you can work in a team without being in a party. For instance, I was once tasked with killing an evil witch, so I ran up to her and saw a fellow Druid already fighting her, and he was obviously struggling. So I joined the fight, healed him and suddenly two Hordes come up, and they start helping us out too. Of course, once we killed the witch we started fighting between us, but still, the brief alliance was a fun thing to watch.

Some of the zones are more light hearted than others, and some don’t even affect the main story. For example, within Jade Forest most of the story is set, but once you go into Valley of the Four Winds, you have a moment to take your mind off the main conflict. Still, all of the new zones are gorgeous and worthwhile.

What made the original World of Warcraft great was the ever existing threat of war: Horde vs Alliance. Yet in previous expansions, this was lost, because for the most part of them, heroes of the factions were basically banded together for their mutual benefit, for example, killing the Lich King or Deathwing. But in Mists of Pandaria this is completely different. The expansion itself starts with conflict, and the discovery of this new continent is also a consequence of the war. Throughout the whole expansion you’re reminded that not only you’re exploring a new continent, but also fighting a war against the opposing faction.

 

WORLD OF WARCRAFT’S SUCCESS AND ITS KILLER

Legend speaks of a so called “WoW-Killer”, an MMO so good and well built that it drains Blizzard’s subscription number down to a low amount. Games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and RIFT have been called this, wrongly. After a couple of months, they all fall, and Warcraft remains strong.

 Why?

It’s simple: WoW is a game that has years of content within it. Spanning the original and its three expansions, that’s nearly seven years of constant development and work. So when a new player comes in, he/she has a gargantuan amount of quests, arenas, dungeons and raids to go through. Therein lies the problem. Picture this: The Old Republic comes out, and offers players 50 levels plus a mediocre endgame, which BioWare promises to improve later. Gamers go, grind through the 50 levels, defeat all the bosses in raids, get the gear. And all in less than two months. Then what? The developer is having problems fixing the bugs, and isn’t able to release more than a mere dungeon in the next update. The patch releases, and the players chew it and swallow it. Yet they need more, and there isn’t enough in the game to keep them satisfied. That’s why they go back to Warcraft, because in there, they have at least 100+ hours of game time guaranteed.

The new game that BioWare had just released, is basically the same that Blizzard released 7 years ago. But why play that, when you can play an updated and improved version of it: Warcraft?

Also, Warcraft gives both unexperienced players and hardcore gamers an immersive experience. The game is layered, and although it might seem simple, many complex formulas and strategies exist for those who like a challenge. Let me be honest, I’m not a hardcore MMO fan, and sometimes when I start in a new game I’m just overwhelmed by the complex features, even though I’ve played my fair share of them. Yet in Warcraft everything has been simple from the start.

Will Guild Wars 2 kill it? Perhaps. Maybe it will suck 2-4 million users. But remember, Blizzard is cunning. They know what to do in moments like these. Once it launches, thousands will go to play it. And Blizzard will just smile, because a month later, their own fourth expansion releases. Those couple thousand people that went running to play Guild Wars? They’re going to run back around. Sadly, I think that Guild Wars is not a franchise that is popular enough to dethrone Warcraft. To hit it hard, a huge fan base will be needed, and it does not have it. Perhaps the Elder Scrolls will, once it launches its own MMO, or maybe Dungeons and Dragons online, who knows?

Their numbers are strong. Credit goes to MMOData.net

It’s the ugly truth. Unless developers start being innovative, instead of just trying to do what WoW did, their games are all going to fail. We have to hope that one day, a developer’s light bulb will light up and a Killer will be born.

But to be honest, I believe that the real WoW-Killer is none other than Warcraft itself. With a stunning number of 9.1 million (as of August) subscribers, it’s going to be hard to topple it. That’s why I believe that the fall will come from within. Maybe Blizzard will commit a huge mistake with an expansion, causing its own demise. It seems to me that the WoW-Killer is just a myth, after all. Let’s wait and see.

MISTS OF PANDARIA: CINEMATIC TRAILER AND OTHER NEWS

Ever since Blizzard announced their fourth expansion, Mists of Pandaria, I felt uneasy. “They’re going to include Pandas? They’re not going to be good characters at all!” Trust me, after watching this, I had no doubts that this will be a good expansion.

This trailer might be what Blizzard needed. It seems like many people have now changed their minds. Have you? I certainly have. I’m leaving later to pre-order this, just so I can have it day one. I’ll be writing more reviews and articles about this expansion, once it comes out this September.

Along with the trailer, Blizzard revealed two things: First, that all races are going to be playable, no matter which expansions you own. If you only have Warcraft and Burning Crusade, don’t worry, you can still play a Worgen. You won’t be able to create a Death Knight, though. Even the Pandaren will be available, but no Monks without Mists. It’s likely that the continent of Pandaria itself won’t be available to people who don’t purchase MoP, but the starting area for our beloved pandas will.

The other news is something that excited me a lot. One of the problems that I felt that this pack was going to suffer was the lack of a major threat. Cataclysm had Deathwing, Wrath had the Lich King and Burning Crusade had Illidan. But now, Blizzard told us who’s the last boss now. Watch out, spoilers. It’s no one else than Garrosh himself. That’s right, we’re finally going to be able to kick some Hellscream ass.

Are you as excited as I am for Mists of Pandaria? You can pre-purchase it here, as I have done already.

PLAGUE INC.

What’s the difference between plagiarism and a tribute to a game? Plague Inc. is a game that was recently released in the iOS store, much to the discontent of some people. Why? Because it is nothing but a rip off from an older flash game, Pandemic 2. However, people might have been too quick to judge… or not.

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 The concept is simple: create and improve a disease, with one goal in mind: Wipe out humanity from the face of earth. By infecting more people, you get “DNA” points which you can then use to purchase new symptoms, transmissions and abilities. The symptoms allow your disease to become deadly, whilst the latter help your disease infect new people.

 Although it adds new features such as DNA “bubbles” that appear on the map every once in a while (giving you the option to pop them for extra point), more types of diseases, a “Cure” meter, different difficulties and the ability to choose the country to start in (which should always be Madagascar) the game feels exactly like Pandemic. With no real innovation in terms of gameplay, it really makes the purchase questionable.

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 The different types of diseases. Pandemic only had three, so this is a plus.

 One thing that goes in favor of this game is that it gives you the ability to play mobile, and since Pandemic is a Flash game you can’t really play it outside of home or work.

Also, while playing the game you really do realize that the developers of Pandemic should just sue them. No real effort was made into changing the game, it seriously is just an illegal port. Sure, renaming the Evolution points into DNA points is a great difference, you geniuses.

The real question is: Should you buy this? No, you shouldn’t. Although it’s $0.99, a very reasonable price, you could just go play Pandemic 2 for free on your computer. And even the original is not that great of a game. There is simply too much waiting around, even with the speeding up function. And while Plague Inc. tries to fix this by introducing these bubbles, the controls are so clunky that it’s really hard to burst them in time. Long story short, save yourself $0.99 and spend it in something else.

DRAGONVALE

Back in 2006, I saw the trailer for Viva Piñata for the first time. The first thing that came to my mind was, what the hell? Three years later, my friend lent me Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise for the DS. And I absolutely loved it! I then proceeded to play both Xbox versions, and 100% one of them.

But now, Backflip Studios has released a game that surprised me in a way that no iOS game has. I first started DragonVale a few weeks back, I played the tutorial and I was done with it. But two days later, while I was bored and had nothing to do (like usually) I whipped out my iPod and loaded the game and damn, I was hooked.

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But what makes it so damn addictive? I believe it is it’s simplicity. The concept of the game is very basic, you have a “garden” and you have some dragons. But then, you can breed those dragons, and you have a ton of different types of them, such as Mountain, Sun, Cold, etc. They will then generate money for you, which you can use to improve your island so you get more visitors, buy new species, harvest food, and more.

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Don’t worry, the dragons won’t stay all cute for ever. They actually do get badass.

Remember the old ninja saying that patience is a virtue? This game will test you on this to the maximum. Sometimes, when you breed your precious pets, you’ll have to wait 12 hours for them to finish breeding, and then another 6 hours for the egg to hatch. Although this might sound discouraging, it’s actually really great, since you can do other things meanwhile. Also, some dragons will generate money so fast that you’ll have to keep checking back constantly. Oh, and I’ll let you in on a little secret. While I was writing this, every time I finished a paragraph I’d go back into the game for a few minutes. Tee hee!

There are 30 levels, and you’re gonna have a fun, yet tough, time getting there (I’ve been playing this game for about 20 hours total and I’m still at 12). There are over 60 variations of dragons, with the developers constantly updating the catalog. Sometimes they’ll even release holiday specials, such as the Love dragon or the Firework dragon!

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Their designs are just awesome.

The bad thing about this game is, you probably won’t be patient enough. For example, right now I have to wait 8 hours for my dragons to finish breeding, and though I have much to do in those 8 hours, I keep going back to the game and expecting them to be done, with no results. Although there are methods of skipping these waits, you basically have to pay for in-game stuff and I don’t really like that.

Another fun thing about the game is going into your friends’ garden, and instantly thinking: “I want my island to be much more badass than this!”. The social aspect of the game really adds some competition.

Do you think the game sounds cool? Then head on over to the App Store and download it, for free!

MARIO TENNIS OPEN

Back in 1995, Nintendo released a game featuring the characters from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario Tennis. It has been an important landmark for Nintendo, especially since Mario Tennis 64 introduced the infamous Waluigi. Now, in 2012, Nintendo have decided to expand their 3DS’s game library by adding a new version called Mario Tennis Open.

The developers made sure that the lone player does not miss out on the fun by adding three types of games: Tournament, Exhibition and Special Games (minigames). These tournaments are pretty entertaining, and when you’re playing a 5 set match against the computer, a point away from winning the championship, the game gets pretty exciting. Exhibition features Singles and Doubles matches, which are always fun to play. And the minigames, although they’re hard, will surely deliver many hours of gameplay.

Also, there is a store which sells tons of items to dress up your Mii with, which is certainly a nice touch.

The game includes a fantastic multiplayer experience. Although the online multiplayer against random people is limited to 1 vs 1 matches, playing with a friend lets you have custom matches which have proven to be very fun. Also, you can play local multiplayer, which lets up to 4 players join the fun. However, if there are more than two people, you can only play Minigames, which honestly sucks. No doubles locally, people.

Mario Tennis Open has 16 playable characters, with different specialties such as Power (Bowser, Wario), Defense (Waluigi), Tricky (Boo, Bowser Jr.), Speed (Diddy Kong & Yoshi), Technique (Peach and Daisy) and All-around (Mario and Luigi). 12 of them are playable as soon as you start the game, but the others require you to play the minigames. Nintendo included a great innovation in this title; QR Code Scan Characters. Using the 3DS’ camera, you scan codes and unlock up to seven characters. The only downside? They’re all Yoshi. Yep, Nintendo decided to go the cheap route and give players 8 different colors of Yoshi. I mean, come on! Yoshi’s cool and all, but what about Dry Bones, Koopas, Shy Guys and other fantastic characters? Hopefully they’ll release more codes in the near future.

Let’s be honest: It’s a game for the 3DS and that means it has to have 3D. That’s one of the few problems this game has, the lack of it. Even though there’s a little, tiny bit of it, you can’t really see it. And, when you activate the gyroscope camera control (where you move the console itself to point where you want the ball to go at) there is none at all.

Now, what many people (including me) loved so much about Mario Tennis games was the powers that each character had. Open clearly lacks this, and tries to make up by adding some shots that will activate once you step on a small circle. This gives the game a new twist, as you’re trying to run towards these spots. Yet, the powers that each characters had were all representative of the franchise, and as a fan of this series, I think that the game just doesn’t feel right without them.

Another big thing that this game has missed was the Story Mode. The GameCube version has a pretty entertaining story, but apparently the developer (Camelot) decided it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps it’s because this is a handheld version, and they’re trying to be more like Mario Kart (which has no story at all).

If you’re a fan of the Mario Bros. Universe, this is a definite must buy. And if you’re not, and you don’t have many good games for your 3DS, this is a game to consider as well.

TWO DAYS UNTIL E3…

In a couple of days, the massive event E3 will kick off, which means we’ll get to hear a ridiculous amount of announcements. In fact, there are so many rumors of what we’ll see that it is staggering. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Nintendo: 

Nintendo’s show is going to be primarily focused on the introduction of the Wii U (and hopefully we’ll see a name change), its features and the games. Until now, we’ve heard that a launch title will be Super Mario Bros. Mii, but thats about it. We know that Valve and EA are competing for providing a network service for Nintendo, so I guess we’ll find out more about that. There has also been a rumor floating around that says a Star Fox – Metroid fusion is on the works, which I believe seems very cool. Oh and a personal favorite: Pikmin 3.

On the other side, we will also see new gamed for the 3DS. Titles such as Luigi’s Mansion 2, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance and Pokémon: Conquest. However, I really hope that they reveal the next Super Smash Bros. (which is rumored to be cross-platformed.)

Playstation:

So far, we’ve heard about Sony’s Super Smash Bros. ripoff: Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, but not many details have arisen. Also, an Assassin’s Creed for the PS Vita has been announced. So far there’s not much Sony exclusives that we know about, but don’t worry: they’re likely to announce many things. Perhaps we’ll get to see a small peek of the PlayStation 4.

 Xbox:

There are only two things worth talking about for the Xbox: Halo and Gears of War. Game Informer released an image teasing the next Gears, which we now know is going to be a prequel to the trilogy, featuring Cole Train and Damn Baird and Kilo Squad as the protagonists. And Halo 4 will start of where we last left it off: wandering in space. So far we have seen a couple of images featuring new Spartans, but not much.

 Non-exclusive games:

Where to begin… We have Assassin’s Creed III, Resident Evil 6, Skyrim: Dawnguard, Dead Space 3, Lara Croft, Black Ops II, Borderlands 2, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Crysis 3, Darksiders II, Metro Last Light and Far Cry 3.

No matter what type of gamer you are, which console you prefer, or which genre you usually play, E3 will surely have something for you.