Mists of Pandaria: Into the Valley

I’VE BEEN TAKING IT SLOW with WoW: Mists of Pandaria, so I’ve only now finished the second high-level zone, Valley of the Four Winds. There’s an extremely familiar feel to it, evoking memories of previous zones like Westfall and Nagrand, but I have a strong suspicion it might end up as my favorite zone of the expansion.

Where The Wind Blows

As soon as you land in the Valley (assuming you took the breadcrumb flight following the Serpent’s Heart hub in Jade Forest), you’re introduced to two panda NPCs who accompany you through a fair amount of the zone: Chen Stormstout and his niece, Li-Li.  Most of the initial quests are spread out across a series of farms owned by the Thunderfoot clan, which will take on increased importance as the zone progresses.

The best thing about the first half of the zone is that you’re immediately given several options in terms of where to go. Rather than a linear progression through the storyline, you’re given a number of quests to visit NPCs scattered throughout the zone, and even a few to start the zone to the south, Krasarang Wilds (more on that shortly). It’s a vast improvement over many of the Catalcysm zones, which offered little freedom within their questing paths.

Now We’re Cooking

At the center of the valley is Halfhill Market, which acts as the nexus to the overhauled cooking profession. Run by the Ironpaw family, cooking has been split into six “Ways,” each focusing on a different stat like strength, agility or intellect. (Technically, the sixth way is just alcohol. Hic!) You can level to 600 in any of these Ways, and there’s even an NPC who sells recipes and goods to help you speed-level cooking if you’ve ignored it to this point, which is cool.

But the biggest novelty is the addition of an actual “farming” mechanic, where you can plant seeds that grow into goods for use in cooking recipes.  You start off with your own plot of land where you can plant four crops, which expands into a much more elaborate system where you’ll literally be “farming” reputation with the faction (which has kind of an ironic ring to it).

Into the Wilds

Towards the end of the zone, there’s a quest hub to the southwest where hunter extraordinaire Hemet Nesingwary makes an obligatory appearance. It’s nowhere near as lengthy as the old Stranglethorn Vale or Nagrand chains, which I have mixed feelings about. The extended length of the classic chains gave them an epic feel by the end that’s missing here, but to be honest, I was happy to not spend forever killing a thousand different beasts and instead just move on after a dozen quick quests or so.

After completing Valley of the Four Winds, I moved south to Krasarang Wilds, a coastal forest zone that almost feels like a jungle extension to the valley (it wouldn’t shock me to find out the two zones started out as one). I didn’t find most of the hubs that memorable, except for the one furthest south, Nayeli Lagoon: rather than force you do a bunch of swimming to get around, you’re given a raft which you can “paddle” faster by jumping up and down. If nothing else, it’s a nice change of pace from most of the questing leading up to it.

As I prepare to shift north to Kun-Lai Summit, I still find myself oddly in no hurry to tour the new zones or get my characters to 90. With past expansions, I’d be chewing through the new content as fast as possible, but this time I’ve only been dipping in and out, although I’m not sure that’s an indictment of the expansion. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played so far, probably more so than Cataclysm, but after 8 years, I think it’s just hard to get as excited as the world once did every time a WoW expansion dropped.