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A spoiler-free look at the Mists of Pandaria beta

Anne Stickney

Are you in the beta for Mists of Pandaria yet? Are you fastidiously avoiding spoilers about all beta-related content? As a site that covers Warcraft news, you'll find more often than not that we have a lot of content up on the site that could be considered spoilers. And if you're someone who's avoiding all that spoiler content, it can get a little frustrating to have to keep scrolling past all that information -- or even more frustrating, dealing with the temptation that all of the spoiler information you could ever want to indulge, just behind that click.

Well, that's not what this article is about. It's about the beta, but it's a spoiler-free look at the beta. You'll see some screenshots, but mostly what you'll be reading is what the beta is like. No spoilers of cool story information or anything of that nature here -- just information on Mists, how it looks, how it's shaping up, and what to expect in the event that you do get a beta invite and would like to indulge.

Beta game performance

For those wondering if you'll need a video card upgrade, the answer is more than likely no -- not unless you've got a really crummy card and you'd like to update it. If your video card is running Cataclysm just fine, it'll continue to run Mists just fine. There've been some model upgrades here and there and changes to scenery, of course, but nothing that I've seen so far is major enough to warrant a hardware upgrade.

As for the changes to scenery? The tree models are all different because we're on a different continent. And those trees and scenery are absolutely breathtaking.

Despite being crammed with over 300,000 people, the beta servers are holding up quite well. Big Bear Butt wrote up a wonderful and also spoiler-free review of the beta so far, and he's got some good advice for those that get in -- don't roll a pandaren. At least not yet. The starting areas are very, very crowded. Everyone wants to see what the pandaren look like and play through the starting zone, so it's a bit choked at quest points, to say the least. However, despite the choking, the servers are still performing admirably, especially given the number of players crammed on them at any given point in time.

Gameplay is smooth, and the new talent trees are pretty cool. It's a little odd to have so few choices for talents, especially when you're coming from seven years of having a multitude of talents to choose from, but there's really no reason to worry or get worked up about it. Remember the end of Wrath, when everyone suddenly went from a multitude of talents to a much smaller number? It's exactly like that, only a much smoother transition. I remember it took me ages at the end of Wrath to pick which talents I wanted to switch to after the talent trees were cropped. On the beta, it only took me a few seconds, and I was on my way.

Beta quests

The days of linear Cataclysm questing seem to be gone, which should be a relief to those who didn't care for it. The Jade Forest is balanced between a main storyline and several smaller storylines that branch off. You don't have to complete those branching storylines at all to finish the zone -- but they're cool enough that you may want to go find them all. And Blizzard's made it way, way easier to find everything there is to see so you aren't just searching blindly if you don't want to.

Have you ever had to find a tiny green goblin in the middle of a green forest in a random, undisclosed location to speak to as part of a quest? A new feature's been added that will make that green goblin in the green forest a little easier to see. If you're wondering what quest areas you might have missed while wandering around Pandaria, quest hubs are marked with an exclamation point on the world map. There's no obligation to visit those areas, but they're marked just in case you want to seek them out and see what's there.

There are some buggy quests, but this is pretty much to be expected in any beta. We aren't dealing with a completed game here; we're testing out an almost-complete game. That said, this almost-complete game has some really amazing quests that are a lot of fun.

There's not a ton of the phasing you used to see in zones; if there is phasing at all, it's very subtly used. As for cinematics, so far, the one zone we're able to play through isn't really overrun by them. There are a few places that call for cinematics that are not implemented yet, but it's nowhere near the overdone scope of Uldum's endless cutscenes.

The feel of the game so far

If you've been looking for a return to the golden days of The Burning Crusade or Wrath leveling, you are in for a treat. I've played through The Jade Forest from beginning to end, hitting every quest available in the zone, and the overall experience was much like what I experienced in The Burning Crusade. The land feels entirely new. It doesn't have the outer space alien flavor of Outland, but it's still uncharted territory, and you really get a sense of that as you explore and quest throughout the zone.

Did I mention exploring? It's back. Perhaps the single most underrated change from Cataclysm is the fact that we cannot fly until we hit level 90. Rather than being a drawback, this grounds you in the gorgeous scenery and hidden vistas of the continent you happen to be stuck on. I was honestly delighted by this and spent hours simply riding around on my ground mount and soaking in the scenery. I even spent some time swimming around the ocean and trying to find my way onto the surrounding islands. There was never a point where I felt like simply exploring in Cataclysm, and the return of that feeling is a welcome one.

Pandaren don't play quite so much into this expansion as you'd think, to be perfectly honest. I know there were a lot of people worried that Mists was going to be an expansion solely concentrated on the pandaren, but it's really not. You don't get that feeling at all. There are plenty of races in Pandaria other than the pandaren, and you spend equal time with all of them. Whether this holds up in later zones remains to be seen, but it honestly doesn't feel like a "pandaren" expansion; it feels like a Warcraft expansion, which is exactly what it's supposed to be.

If you were holding your breath and hoping that this expansion still feels like the Warcraft that you know and love, you can let your breath out now. There is nothing in the beta so far other than sheer, unadulterated fun -- the kind of fun Blizzard has been giving us for seven years now. The quests are great, the scenery is fantastic, the game plays like a dream -- and to be perfectly honest, a lot of that magic feeling lost with Cataclysm has returned with Mists.

If you do find yourself with a beta invite, I'd recommend that you check it out -- at least to take a peek at the first few areas and see what they're like. Keep in mind, however, that the game is still not 100% in place yet. You aren't playing a sneak peek of the complete expansion; you're playing the not-quite-finished version of the game. Be mindful of that, and if you see a bug that's bugging you, report it on the beta forums so we don't see it when the game is finally ready for release.

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!

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