(Credit: Blizzard Entertainment)World of Warcraft might be dealing with a subscriber downturn these days, but nothing draws the crowds back like a new expansion.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion for the hit MMO, releases today, bringing with it a higher level cap, a new character class and a new race — pretty much catnip to lapsed WoW players.
The biggest draw, of course, are the Pandarens themselves. The new race of giant Panda-like warriors live on a previously inaccessible island, and unlike other races in the game, they aren't aligned with the Alliance or the Horde right off the bat. Instead, Pandarens remain faction-neutral for their first 10 levels, letting players explore both sides.
While Mists of Pandaria has been in beta for a while, there aren't a lot of reviews out there yet. That's no surprise, as the only way to really test an MMO is when it's out in the wild.
Early impressions have been mixed, though. Tecca is extremely impressed with the game's changes and addition, calling it "a friendly, more open experience" and applauding the look of the new continent.
"Beautifully animated with entertaining, fun quests, Pandaria reimagines the usual online role-playing game fare," they write. "You quest, kill monsters, and collect baubles just like you do in most games, but you do it an incredibly lovely setting."
PC Gamer, on the other hand, isn't in love with the rotund new characters. "It's not ... particularly thrilling so far," they say, adding that the Pandarens may not be "a joke race, but they're definitely very kiddy."
Kotaku's Kate Cox is even less enthusiastic.
"The general feeling I have picked up from my first, brief, newbie foray into Mists of Pandaria this morning is that even in its newest content, World of Warcraft remains a product of its time -- a time that now feels archaic," she writes.
While the critics aren't finding themselves instantly charmed, World of Warcraft enthusiasts are still excited. Over 1,000 people lined up in Orange County Monday night for signed copies of the game.
Still, WarCraft is a notably smaller juggernaut than it was when the last expansion hit shelves, having lost 3 million subscribers since 2010's Cataclysm broke sales records. Part of that loss has come amidst criticisms that new content doesn't arrive quickly enough. Blizzard co-founder and president Mike Morhaime says that could be changing soon.
"One of the things we're doing in MoP … is we've introduced scenarios, which make it easier for us to add content to WoW more frequently," he said in a launch-day interview with the Orange County Register. "I think that's important because we'll be able to add these scenarios more and more frequently than we've added content to the game in the past."