Jade Forest serves as the starting zone and the literal impetus, in terms of story, for what drives you to the rest of Pandaria. Without the events of Jade Forest, the rest of the zones simply would not happen. In fact, without the events in Jade Forest, I suspect the rest of Pandaria would have been largely uneventful. The key lies in our arrival, which is a shift in the direction of the storytelling. We aren't reacting to traumatic events anymore; we're the cause of them.
But it's the endgame that has changed so significantly that it's unlike anything we've ever seen before -- and it's changed for the better.
When you hit level 85 in Cataclysm, there was an immediate course of action to follow. You stepped into heroics to obtain higher-level gear, wearing the tabard of your choice to level reputation with the faction of your choice. Only there wasn't really a choice in the matter -- some reputation vendors offered head enchants for particular classes, which put them high on the priority list of finishing first. Others offered epic-quality gear that you needed, putting them next on the priority list.
As for dailies, if you wanted to raid at endgame, doing the dailies in Deepholm was a requirement because the reputation vendor sold shoulder enchants that were needed for the gear you obtained. Although many of the reputations were near-requirements for various classes, others could be ignored altogether if there was nothing of interest there for you. And while some reputations offered a chain of daily quests, others (such as Ramkahen) only offered a couple to do.
When you sit down and really look at this endgame path, there's not really a whole lot to do once you hit 85, is there? But Cataclysm also revamped the 1-to-60 leveling experience, so leveling alts also offered another option to view a lot of new content. However, once that character hit level 85, it was the same path of choices all over again, with one glaring exception: all of those heroics that were available when Cataclysm launched.
It is entirely possible to now leap from level 85 to the Raid Finder with minimal time spent in any heroics. Between craftable gear and BoE valor gear, there's little need to do more than a handful of the first tier of heroics, just to bump you up enough to do the 4.1 heroics -- or, if you're lucky, the 4.3 heroics. That doesn't leave much to do in endgame, and it's pretty repetitive once you get there, isn't it?
Hitting level 90 in Mists of Pandaria felt like an accomplishment, and it was something I was very much looking forward to doing, simply because I wanted to fly. But once I hit level 90, something very odd happened in comparison with my experience in Cataclysm: I suddenly had about a million different things to do. I could go back and finish the quests in zones I hadn't quite completed yet. I could go run heroic dungeons and see what they were all about. I could work on reputation and leveling professions, or I could go do dailies.
For most players, dailies are something that seems like a chore -- something that you have to do if you want to get the goodies at the end. That feeling has all but disappeared in Mists. Part of it has to do with the fact that there aren't really any reputation vendors enabled yet, with the exception of the Anglers. Because of this, I have no idea what the heck is "important" or what I "should" be focusing on. Instead, I'm just picking what I think is interesting and going that direction.
And unlike Cataclysm, there is no shortage of dailies to be had. There is also no limit to the amount of dailies you can do in a day. There are hundreds to choose from. Does this mean you're going to have to do hundreds of dailies a day to keep up with everyone else? Absolutely not. What it means is that you can do as few or as many as you like. You can do dailies until you're blue in the face, although I wouldn't recommend it. With the removal of that requirement for head and shoulder enchants on reputation vendors, the sense of "I must go do this" at max level is completely gone.
And unlike Deepholm, which was an exercise in obnoxious repetition with no real story as a reward, the dailies in Mists all seem to have a coherent storyline tying them together. As you progress through the chains, you will find repetitive quests. But in between those repetitive quests is a storyline that is slowly playing out. It feels like the Netherwing, in a way. The reason I loved the Netherwing wasn't just the opportunity to get a flying mount; it was the story that tied the whole experience together.
Only this appears to be even better than the Netherwing, because it's not just a new level of reputation that unlocks events. New things are happening all the time. Letters from NPCs arrive in my mailbox on a regular basis. NPCs are going out of their way to keep in touch with me and keep me engaged in what's going on. It is a really weird, new, wonderful experience, and I absolutely love it.
Speaking of choices, all I've mentioned are the dailies. That's not all there is to endgame. There are scenarios to play through -- short vignettes of story that don't really require a group to complete. There are the usual heroic dungeons, with fascinating new mechanics and fun bosses. There are Pet Battles, which aren't even open to play with on the beta yet. There is the Tillers faction, which also isn't open but will apparently let you have your own farm.
There are raids, too -- but the raids no longer seem like the focus of endgame.
And that's the important part. In every other expansion to date, when you hit the endgame, the focus was entirely on getting ready for raiding. If you weren't planning on raiding, there weren't a ton of options in the way of things for you to do. For casual players (of which there are many), there simply wasn't a ton of stuff to keep them amused. Forget that concept, because it has been completely thrown out the window.
If you are a casual player, you can be perfectly happy simply doing dailies, Pet Battles, scenarios, heroic dungeons, challenge modes, building your farm, and hitting up the Raid Finder if you feel the need -- oh, and exploring the world to find all of those lovely lore shrines scattered all over the place for achievements. There is no lack of things for you to do. There is almost too much for you to do. This means that you likely are not going to hit that lull of "What do I do now?" that comes between content patches. It just doesn't seem to exist anymore.
For raiders, there is no longer a direct path of requirements to follow to be ready for raiding. Level your professions, because you'll still want those, and do heroics to get the gear you'd like. But all of this side stuff, the dailies, the farm-building, the Pet Battles, the scenarios, the reputations -- it's all there for you to do if you'd like, but it doesn't feel like an absolute requirement. You don't need any of these things to raid. They're simply there as options when you don't feel like raiding.
But I really hope it doesn't. For now, the endgame seems to be not the end of the game but the beginning of hundreds of things to keep you entertained -- dozens of different stories waiting for you to discover them. Mists of Pandaria is completely changing the face of the endgame as we know it, for the better. I can't wait to see it launch.
It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!