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How WoW's content offerings progressed in 2012

Matthew Rossi

2012 is nearly over. If you were playing WoW on this date in 2011, you were playing a significantly different game, raiding the ultimate raid of Cataclysm with the Dragon Soul, or... probably not doing much else. One of the biggest changes between then and now is one that's often commented on, namely that there's a much wider variety of content in Mists of Pandaria at the endgame level. Level 90 players can choose to run scenarios, heroic dungeons, use the Looking for Raid tool, engage in pet battles, pursue one of a wide variety of daily quests which allow for the gaining of reputation with various factions, run challenge mode dungeons, or get involved in 10/25 man raiding. One can even step into older raid content with or without a group for the purposes of collecting gear for transmogrification or simply for fun.

I've said before and will say again that quests like Welcome to the Machine demonstrated real mastery on the part of the development team behind Cataclysm. To my mind, the real lesson of the Cataclysm to Mists transition is threefold. Cataclysm was extremely well designed, but the majority of its best content is in those revamped 1 to 60 jones, or to coin a term, is in vertical content, a pillar of content that players ascend. Mists content is horizontal -- while there are several zones to level from 85 to 90 in, the true flowering of the vast majority of Mists content is a plateau, an expanse that blossoms outward. Once you ascend those five levels, you get more to do, not less. However, it must be said that this isn't a trend that Mists invented. Pretty much every innovation in Mists of Pandaria's content delivery is built on the edifice of Cataclysm, which itself built on previous expansions.

2012  a year in content
Perhaps the reason I think about this as much as I do is because, for me, transmogrification is content. I change my look often. I run older raids, dungeons, even craft long forgotten items purely for a look I'll abandon in the next few days. My endgame choices consist of dailies to advance and unlock various stories (I do the ones I'm most interested in seeing, which is why Dominance Offensive is my current grind), raiding because that's where I have the most fun in pure PvE content, and transmogrification. Every week I run every old raid up to ICC, looking for gear for a new outfit idea. This is what I do, while other people are doing their Tillers farms or fishing with the Anglers or doing Challenge Modes, because it's what I enjoy doing. And I cannot ignore that transmogrification was a late-Cataclysm innovation.

Expansion aren't developed in isolation from each other. The people who made Cataclysm made the game you're currently playing -- the hallmarks of daily quest hubs like the Shado-Pan in Townlong or the variety of quest hubs for the August Celestials can be felt in the Molten Front offensive's gradual unlocking and the Argent Crusade both before and then after the Argent Coliseum was introduced. The real change this year was in fact somewhat of a regression combined with what was learned in Cataclysm - Pandaria goes back to the new, continuous place to explore with new zones all physically connected pioneered in Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. Meanwhile, without the burden of an incredibly expansive redesign for the entire world, Pandaria could focus its efforts on enough questing content to get you from 85 to 90 and then blow the doors off with content for 90, instead of spending so much of its time on complete revamps. Some of the questing content in Cata was the best questing content ever designed, but it was content that not many people would see, aimed at levels players do everything in their power to skip over.

In the end, Mists solves this problem by simply not having to solve it. The previous expansion already did all that heavy lifting, updating the game and its world for the next few years. Mists was in effect carried to the top of the hill by Cataclysm and gets to rocket down the slope benefiting from that hard work. But it also definitely puts all of its effort into being expansive, both in terms of how it feels to explore and experience the world (which you can simply do) and in terms of all the new systems there are to experience. Pet battles don't just involve flinging the contents of your pet tab at each other, there's systems to interest you in exploring the world and seeking out new pets, even in old familiar places. Challenge modes remove the gear equation, forcing players to focus on doing their absolute best. Even the positioning of the PvP and PvE vendors forces players to get out and see what they're playing in.

Will this solve the kinds of doldrums we saw as we waited for Cataclysm to end? It could be said that from February to September, players were mostly waiting and waiting for Mists instead of really playing the game they had. If Mists can continue to deliver patches with the speed it did 5.1, it's hard to imagine entering that sort of dead zone again, but 2012 shows the danger. We not only need a wide variety of content, and we not only need it focused at the max level player, but we need it fairly frequently.

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.

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