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World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria review: Levels 1 to 20

Exploring the Wandering Isle and picking sides in Blizzard's huge new expansion

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Let's talk about that new talent system, because it really is quite a fundamental change to the way your character evolves as you level up. When you hit level 10 (which should only take a few hours) you'll be prompted to select one of three specialisations specific to your class. The monk, for example, can be a Brewmaster (tank), Mistweaver (healer) or Windwalker (DPS). Now, pre-Mists of Pandaria you were able to spend talent points manually, but now you're given abilities automatically at periodic intervals. Every 15 levels you'll get to choose from 3 abilities tailored to your specialisation. It's a streamlined and accessible system, but some of the feeling of being in total control of your character's development has been lost.

Pet battles are an interesting addition. Here you enter your vanity pets in turn-based battles that have more than a whiff of Pokémon about them. Trainers can be found in starting zones and capital cities, and you can start as soon as you hit level 5. Once trained, pets you can battle (and catch for your Pet Journal) show up on your map as green paw icons.

Each pet has three abilities, and you can engage other players in PVP battles - although their names don't show up, so it all feels a bit anonymous. Compulsive collectors and achievement hunters will find it hard to resist, ahem, catching them all, but it's more of an entertaining distraction than something you can really sink your teeth into. At least it gives your companions something to do other than just trail pointlessly behind you.

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Mists of Pandaria has added a lot of new content to the game, which should keep level 85 players busy for a while (although, of course, many have hit the level cap already). There are three new raids: Mogu'shan Vaults, Heart of Fear, and Terrace of Endless Spring. The six new dungeons are Temple of the Jade Serpent, Stormstout Brewery, Shado-Pan Monastery, Gate of the Setting Sun, Mogu'shan Palace, and Siege of Niuzao Temple.

Blizzard have also implemented dozens of background tweaks and updates that only hardcore players will care about or understand. If PVP balancing tweaks and spell power adjustments get you hot and sweaty, check out the full patch notes. Just make sure you lock the bathroom door. Many accuse Blizzard of cynically churning these expansions out to make a quick buck, but that's just unfair. Obviously they love money, but a lot of time, care, and effort has been poured into Mists of Pandaria. It's just a shame we have to pay £8 a month for the pleasure.

RIVAL SCHOOLS

It's probably a bit cruel comparing the eight year-old World of Warcraft to the month-old Guild Wars 2, but we're going to do it anyway. Frankly, Blizzard's game feels old-fashioned in comparison. Not just technically, but in the way the quests are structured. Mists of Pandaria adds an element of choice to some quests, as well as loot specific to your class, but they feel so stiff and workmanlike compared to the big, dynamic group events in Guild Wars 2 where everyone gets stuck in and objectives are shared. They're very different games, and WoW has the benefit of years of tweaks and polish, but it is an old game, and it really feels like it in places.

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But as far as MMOs go, it's still one of the best around. The pandaren, and their striking Asian-flavoured homeland, bring a bit of colour to Azeroth after Deathwing tore it in half, and the monk class is a lot of fun. But if you feel like you've already bled World of Warcraft dry, it might not be enough to reel you back in. Even with all the new content and tweaks to the talent system, the foundations of the game are the same as they've always been. The most exciting thing for us is having a whole new continent to explore, and Pandaria is a feast for the eyes.

If you've yet to experience World of Warcraft, the game is currently free to play up to level 20, and that includes the pandaren race (although you can't roll a monk). This is a good way of experiencing Pandaria without forking out for a monthly subscription.

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