Please note that this is a review for the Dominance Offensive, which is the Horde side of the 5.1 reputation. At this point in time, I don't have an Alliance character at level 90, so I'm unable to play through the Operation Shieldwall quests. However, I have been assured that not only are the Operation Shieldwall quests just as good, in some ways they are even better than the Dominance Offensive material. I'm not even sure how this is possible, because these dailies are just that good.
But enough gushing. Let's get into the nuts and bolts of what makes this reputation grind so different from everything before it.
Story and layout
Introduced in patch 5.1, the Dominance Offensive is basically the bulk of the Horde fleet that has now arrived on Pandaria's shores. You remember how you were part of a task force sent to claim the land? This is the rest of the army, led by Garrosh Hellscream. And he almost immediately makes it very clear what the Dominance Offensive is here to do -- conquer Pandaria. All of it. Any Alliance in the way will be gleefully crushed underfoot.
To that end, there are representatives from several of the Horde races present at the main base in Krasarang Wilds. Orcs, of course, and a few tauren -- because these are the races that Garrosh has deemed strong enough to protect and conquer. Also present are the goblins, who are incredibly good at gathering resources. And the blood elves have a large contingent present as well -- because Garrosh is interested in digging up the secrets of this continent.
By and large absent are the Forsaken, and the Darkspear. But almost immediately after starting this reputation grind, Vol'jin shows up to make his presence known. Garrosh doesn't want Vol'jin around, but decides the troll chieftain can make himself useful, and sends him off to the saurok caverns in the Veiled Stair. This immediately leads into the Dagger in the Dark scenario, one of three available to Horde players in 5.1.
The reputation grind is made up of five daily quests per day, and one optional quest involving killing one of three animals in an arena at the base for additional reputation. As you complete dailies, you will unlock additional quests that offer nothing but story, gold, and reputation as well. The pacing of the story quests is brisk -- if you're completing all five dailies and killing an animal every day, you'll have a chunk of story to follow every other day.
When you reach revered with the Dominance Offensive, you can purchase a Grand Commendation that will double your reputation gain. This means that instead of getting a chunk of story every other day, every single day will unlock more story content. At the end of the grind, you're presented with a free mount, and you have the additional option of purchasing an armored version of the mount -- wyverns for Horde, and gryphons for Alliance.
Hands down, the best portion of this reputation grind comes in two parts that work closely together -- the pacing, and the storyline. While there was a storyline available with most of the earlier reputation grinds in Pandaria, the 5.1 chains are paced far more efficiently. And that story isn't a story of Pandaria's past, or of any of the myriad native races in Pandaria -- it's a story of your faction.
That storyline ties directly into your character in a way that draws you in much more intimately than any other in Pandaria. You aren't trying to prove yourself to anyone. You are, instead, a hero of the Horde as you should be ... and as the chain progresses you are drawn into a story of political intrigue and power plays that is incredibly well-told. You see what happens to Vol'jin, you see what the blood elves are doing, you see where Thrall has been all this time.
You see what Garrosh is ultimately after in Pandaria, and you either embrace his new ideal for the Horde, or you wonder if your Warchief is pushing your faction off the precipice into utter madness. In between, you get mail from the various faction leaders who eventually show up in Pandaria -- Vol'jin, Lor'themar Theron, and Baine Bloodhoof all make appearances throughout this storyline. Their participation and their feelings on Garrosh are laid out for all to see.
There are repetitive dailies, of course. Five per day, and they rotate through different locations in Krasarang. But the pacing of the story in between the dailies breaks these repetitive dailies up enough that they really don't feel like a chore. There isn't a sense of obligation so much as a sense of eagerness to finish so that you can see what happens next. Ten dailies and you're on to the next part of the tale, which offers you enough reputation that you'll get to the next part of the tale just as efficiently.
The Grand Commendations are easily the best items introduced in patch 5.1. At revered, you can purchase one of these things, which causes every character on your account to earn double reputation with that faction. Grinding out that last gigantic chunk of reputation to get to exalted used to feel like a slog that would never end. With the Commendations, it feels like an absolute breeze. In addition, Alliance NPC's drop other Commendations that can be used to purchase other items, including portal stones that will open portals to other areas in the grind. Don't want to fly all the way to the Alliance base? Buy portal fuel to open a portal to the area. You're there instantly, with no travel time.
To be perfectly honest, there isn't much to nitpick with this reputation grind. The only minor complaint I have are the animal dailies -- the way that they work can be really confusing. What happens is this: There are three different traps sold by the vendor that you can purchase with those tokens you get from Alliance NPCs. Each will allow you to capture a different animal. These do not offer reputation, but they will give you valor, gold, and lesser charms. Once you have captured the animal, you can turn it into Jorn Skyseer, and it will stay in its cage for a period of time, during which anyone can come kill the animal for reputation.
In other words, before you start getting traps, go check the cages by Jorn. If there are animals present, you can kill them for reputation. If there are none present, you can go capture an animal yourself, or you can come back later to check again and see if there are any animals there. You don't need to be in a group to get the completion quest for killing an animal -- if you see someone killing an animal there, hop in and help out, and you'll get the reputation quest as well.
Why do it?
If you are at all interested in the lore of this expansion, you'll want to complete this reputation grind. If you are Alliance, you'll want to complete Operation Shieldwall. The events presented in this series of dailies are by far the most direct delivery of current lore I've ever seen. They work hand in hand with the new scenarios, and they fill the player in on what exactly is going on in Pandaria. This is not a novel or a comic you have to read elsewhere -- this is the story of the game, in the game itself. And if that isn't enough for you, you get a free mount at the end. Who doesn't love free mounts?
The story for this reputation grind is gripping and incredibly well-told. It doesn't calm down, it just ramps up over time. And by the end, you aren't really given a resolution. You're left with a cliffhanger of major proportions. You won't be dreading the next reputation grind or set of dailies, whatever is to come in future patches -- you'll be impatiently awaiting them to see what's going to happen next. To me, that is a mark of instant success.
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