This is perhaps one of the elements of Mists that best qualifies for both best thing and worst thing. A cursory glance at the title of this piece will inform the reader that we are examining the positives today, so let's look at that side for now.
The introduction of cross-realm zones with 5.0.4 was controversial to say the least. But it's paved the way for much greater things. Cross-realm rated battlegrounds have been around for a little while, and more recently, cross-realm arenas, and, of course, flex raiding. Naturally, cross-realm technology pre-dates Mists, but it's in this expansion that it's really taken off.
Flexible Raiding and other cross-realm content
Thanks in no small part to things like oQueue and Openraid, cross-realm raiding, especially in Flex, has been a huge boon to the tail end of Mists of Pandaria, and a great change. Things like the celestial bosses, too, have been widely undertaken via oQueue and Openraid, taking advantage of the cross-realm systems that enable this type of play.
On the PvP side, too, cross-realm technology has been extended from just handling rated battlegrounds into arenas. This is another fantastic change, and, along with the removal of teams, allows people to PvP with way more flexibility. Again, thanks to oQueue and Openraid, this is content that is opening up to more and more people, thanks to cross-realm technology.
Flex deserves a special spot on this list. I asked Twitter what their nomination was for the one best thing about Mists, and the answer was overwhelmingly Flex. Flex does what LFR should have done, it allows groups of friends to raid together, as well as PuGs. It allows for a sufficiently meaningful raid experience thanks to the increased difficulty permitted by the organized groups. It also adds consequences for poor behavior, thanks to how the groups are formed. Certainly a candidate for the single best thing in Mists!
Sub-games and side-games
Mists has brought in a few of these, and the best one by far, in my opinion at least, is pet battles. Pet battles, introduced to some dissent and name calling, have become a hugely popular feature. They took something we already had, something we already collected, and repurposed it. Suddenly our faithful companions would take on other people's and fight to the death.
And it is quite the tactical game, too. It's more than just dumb luck or collecting the one right pet to end all others, and Blizzard have been careful to try to ensure that pet battling remains balanced. There are doubtless some pets still stronger than others, but no gamebreaking outliers. A good measure of the success of a new feature is, in my opinion, the amount of addons and websites and general community interest. And pet battles have plenty. Sites, guides, addons galore. Blizzard has added ever more content, too, with things like the Celestial Tournament, elite quests and battles.
What's great about the pet battle system, too, is that it's account wide. Waiting for a queue on your level 20 alt? No problem, grab your pets from your entire account, and go to war on the dung beetles of Orgrimmar. It's a fantastic addition, and a big part of the appeal, for me at least, is that it's entirely optional. Unlike the farm and the cooking revamp, there is absolutely no pressure on players to do this content. Sure, it's been a decent way to earn XP, and a way to earn lesser charms, but there's still no feeling of requirement. And that, to me, is great.
The Farm deserves a mention too, despite how many raiders feel obliged to work on it. It gave players their first piece of land, the first chunk of the universe that they could call home. There was a great feeling of progress as you learnt the ropes, and finally inherited the farm for yourself. Then more progression followed, and there have been many players quietly worrying about whether they'll get to keep their dog as we move into Draenor and Garrisons. While they haven't been the runaway success that Pet Battles have been, the Farm is still a great addition.
This is a controversial one. It could equally be in the best things column, or the worst things column. But I'm looking on the bright side today, so let's assess what's gone well. The addition of Brian Holinka to the team, although it took place before Mists began, really began to have an effect once the expansion was underway. Mists has been an expansion of huge change for PvP, some for the better and some for the worst, but Brian has been unerring in his support for and belief in PvP as an important part of WoW, and that's a good thing in my book.
And many of the changes have been successful. Cross-realm arenas, for example, and the removal of teams, have both increased the flexibility of play, and increased participation. You're no longer tied to a battlegroup or a server to do your PvP, so again, via things like oQueue, participation has increased to never-before-seen levels.
Another great change, although controversial, has been the addition of base resilience. Base resilience has been a great change, poorly executed. The good side of it, undoubtedly, has been that it's increased participation by making it easier for PvE-focused players to get started in PvP. While burst damage has escalated so much that base resilience now stands at 72%, the idea behind it is good. It's also given the devs an easy adjustment for when damage gets too high, even if the numbers are rather out of hand.
Lastly in PvP changes, let's talk about the three new battlegrounds we've seen this expansion. Deepwind Gorge and Temple of Kotmogu are, in my book at least, great BGs. They're pretty balanced in map design, and generally fun to play. The same applies for the new Tiger's Peak arena, although it's big. You'll notice the absence of Silvershard Mines from this list.
Raids raids raids
Raids come up a lot in this list, but they really have been a shining example of what's been great in Mists. When top guilds like Method are praising the quality of fights like Lei Shen, saying they're some of the best in the game, Blizzard ought to know they're onto something good. And what's more, they've kept up the pace of content they promised early on in the expansion's cycle, with new raids arriving sufficiently fast that players don't get bored. Of course, that being said, we may find ourselves in Siege of Orgrimmar for quite some time.
But that aside, with a few issues and tricky bosses here and there, the quality of raids has been consistently good. Yes, they've been too easy in LFR in places. Yes, there have been boss difficulty curve issues. Yes, there have been issues with purple mazes on the purple floors of greenish-purple rooms, but overall it's been a great expansion for raiding. And with the introduction of Flex leading into a whole new structure of raiding for Warlords, Mists has paved the way for exciting content to come.
This is definitely something that not everyone will agree on, and I'm not even 100% sure I love it in its entirety myself, but I do think it's been a good change overall. The first revamp in Cata didn't go far enough, and while the Mists system has its downsides, and hasn't really succeeded in its goal to remove cookie-cutter builds, it's a good change overall. It's given players more options, more interesting choices. And while it's removed some of the flexibility we've loved in the past, it's added some of its own. I like it, and this is my list of the best of Mists. What's yours?