The idea behind that, the objective of giving players more to do at level 90, is a good one. Once you've hit level 90, you no longer have an experience bar. It's instead replaced by reputation bars, and you level your way through the reputation just as you leveled your way through 85-90 content. And for the Golden Lotus, it's going to take a lot of leveling reputation to prove yourself.
After all, these guys are protecting one of the most hallowed places in Pandaria, and they decided to let you in.
Story and layout
The Golden Lotus is an organization of guardians entrusted with protecting the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. Originally the seat of the Mogu Empire, the Vale was closed off when the mogu were overthrown by the pandaren, and the pandaren made their new capital in the Jade Forest. The Golden Lotus was originally a small organization of caretakers that simply watched over the Vale and its secrets, occasionally helped by the Shado-Pan -- but now they need our help. The mogu have begun infiltrating the Vale, and they have a deadly reason for doing so, which you'll discover as you progress through the reputation grind.
Players first have to discover the Vale as they level from 85-90. And the story begins with that moment, because you're going to have to prove yourself to Xuen, the White Tiger, in order to get into the place. It's because the Vale is sacred and dangerous territory -- and as you proved in the Jade Forest, the Horde and Alliance aren't exactly interested in preservation. But your efforts to help the pandaren after leaving the Jade Forest have not gone unnoticed, and the August Celestials are willing to let you in, provided you pass the trial.
But you can't just start out with the Golden Lotus at that point, because as a character, you're simply not strong enough to help yet. By the time you reach level 90, you've proven you're strong enough to handle combat and help out, so the Golden Lotus begin offering you a series of daily quests. There is a natural progression to this reputation grind that is really kind of elegant in theory -- you begin in one area of the Vale.
As your reputation grows with the Golden Lotus, so does their trust, and they send you to more and more areas around the Vale. By the time you hit revered, you'll have several daily hubs to complete. This means that as you complete dailies and gain reputation, you'll unlock more dailies to get more reputation every day. At each level of reputation gain, you'll get a series of story quests to play through that tell more about the mogu and why they are in the Vale to begin with. This culminates at the end of the grind with a truly epic battle that really needs to be seen to be believed.
The overarching story behind this reputation grind is honestly one of the best told, well-written series of quests I've seen out of any daily quests ever in WoW. There are charming little markers of your progress along the way -- when you begin the grind, the only Golden Lotus you'll see around are pandaren. As you gain reputation, they'll slowly be joined by races from both Alliance and Horde, NPCs that are presumably gaining reputation right alongside you.
The interlocking series of dailies is an excellent idea, and it works beautifully, just like with the Tillers and the Klaxxi. The more reputation you have, the more quests you have access to, and the more reputation you can get. So there's a waterfall of reputation that gradually increases as you gain more reputation with the Golden Lotus, and it works really well.
Did I mention the NPCs? These guys have personality. I love the fact that NPCs in Pandaria have all been written with so much life, even in just the few short sentences they give you when you're doing your daily quests. They banter with each other, and they banter with you. They are all interlocked and related to each other, too -- it gives you the feeling that all of these characters have known each other as friends and been working together for a very, very long time.
There's He Softfoot who never speaks, and his not-so-silent brother Lao, who gets caught by the mogu every now and again. There's the wildly outspoken and sassy mage Ren Firetongue. Rook Stonetoe, the less-than-eloquent but fierce protector of Mistfall Village. And the married couple Kun and Anji Autumnlight, whose back-and-forth married couple banter reminds me of my sister and her husband's affectionate verbal sparring.
The end result is a group of characters that you really begin to care about, and that is a really rare thing to find in a video game, much less in a series of daily quests. This whole reputation grind is utterly remarkable in that aspect -- the reputation grind plays out exactly as a zone of quests would, only your progress is limited by how far along in the grind you happen to be. So it's like a leveling zone, but a somewhat gated leveling zone. You aren't limited by being too low of a level to see the content, you're limited by being too low of a reputation. It treats that reputation bar as an experience bar, and lets you see more content as you progress.
In short, it is an elegant system with a compelling story that I was eager to see play out to the end.
And it is precisely that reason why this section is difficult to write. Because the number one issue with this reputation is that it is so riddled with bugs that it is impossible to simply play through it with the elegant flow that should have, by all rights, been perfected by the time this game was released. Phasing bugs that make it impossible to move on from daily hub to daily hub, phasing bugs in the Ruins of Guo-Lai, where major story elements take place. There were quite possibly more bugs in the Golden Lotus reputation grind than there are in the entirety of the Dread Wastes. And for a zone crawling with mantid ... well, you get the idea.
This was one of the most frustrating, irritating reputation grinds to complete. And it wasn't the story. It wasn't the quests. In fact, the very reason that this was so frustrating was that the story was good. You got so wrapped up in the story, how it played out, and you were so eagerly anticipating the next section of story, that when you invariably hit the inevitable bug it was like slamming face first into a brick wall. The daily quests give you an elegant waterfall of reputation -- but when you can't get to the next daily hub due to a bug, that waterfall is abruptly shut off and you're left out to dry as a result.
The Vale of Eternal Blossoms is full of tons and tons of quests to keep you occupied, but those quests don't seem to rotate with any kind of frequency at all. There are achievements associated with the Golden Lotus as well, but the achievements involve quests and NPCs that seem to spawn randomly -- and some are so random that it took well over a full month to finally see them on my server. My coworkers have sections of daily quests that they've yet to see.
There is nothing more frustrating than a sudden halt to progression. And that frustration is only multiplied through the roof when it's not something you've done that has halted that progression, it's something faulty with the game itself. There's nothing you can do to fix what happened, you simply have to sit on your hands and wait for Blizzard to fix it for you.
Why do it?
And despite all of that, I still recommend this reputation to people, particularly if you're interested in the lore of Pandaria. When you hit exalted, the quest chain involved with doing so is utterly epic in scale. It pays off in a big, big way. And the rewards are great, too -- not only do you unlock access to the crane mounts, which are some of the most gorgeous mounts in Mists, but you get a free ilvl 489 necklace out of the process.
Is the story worth muddling your way through the bugs? Absolutely. It's the culmination of why you're in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms to begin with. It's a giant chunk of the story behind Mists of Pandaria, behind the mogu and their obsession with the Vale. And between the NPC characters and the storyline itself, you'll find yourself drawn in to this organization and these pandaren characters in no time at all.
Blizzard has been correcting bugs with every hotfix patch, and my hopes are that eventually we'll see this fixed so it's working just as fluidly as it was designed to. Because that's the real shame behind the Golden Lotus -- it was brilliantly designed and written from beginning to end. It's the execution that faltered here, and what is essentially one of the best reputation grinds the game has to offer suffers from it as a result. It deserves far more than that.
Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.