Blizzard has learned a lot with the phasing technology, game mechanics and tools introduced in Wrath of the Lich King. Questing in Valley of the Four Winds is actually a fun experience. Not all of the quests is to kill 15 of every single type of beast.
There are quests where you have to gather stuff from the ground without killing anything, quests in a similar fashion as the Plants vs Zombies (Cataclysm), and a lot of interaction between the player, Chen Stormstout, Li Li Stormstout and other NPCs. It feels very dynamic. (Note: video available in 1080HD and 720HD)
The NPCs come along with you throughout the entire Valley of the Four Winds zone. This makes them more alive, and of course, saves you the waste of time of going back and forth for each quest. Chen and Li Li have never been in Pandaria, and have come to explore like you. They ask you to tag along to explore Valley of the Four Winds. When he hears from another NPC of the Stormstout Brewery, he decides to go to this place alone to investigate about his family in Pandaria.
Chen Stormstout leaves you to care for Li Li, his niece, and departs to the Stormstout Brewery. During this time, you do some quests for Li Li and go to three different locations in Valley of the Four Winds where you unlock new quests from other NPC residents.
When Chen Stormstout comes back, Li Li asks her uncle what he has found at the Stormstout Brewery. Rather than big blocks of boring text, the developers use their tools to tell the story.
In this case, the screen goes to black, and suddenly you are inside the Stormstout Brewery roleplaying as Chen Stormstout. He tells you what happened via onscreen text at the center of your screen, and the player acts according to how the story is told.
Sometimes the player loses control over their character, and Blizzard’s script takes over functionality of the character.
Phase technology and in-game cutscenes are also seen in specific quests where it makes sense. It doesn’t feel too overdone like in Uldum.
When visiting the outdoors of the Stormstout Brewery, you could see Pandaren NPCs. Out of the blue, the Hozu boss we will find in the Stormstout Brewery dungeon shows up, and throws a barrel at you — knocking you out. The screen goes black, and when the player comes back to his senses there is a new phase where the outdoor has been overrun by ale-drunk Hozu monkeys. The Hozu boss runs back and forth patrolling the area. I feared he would kill me if he aggroed considering I’m lvl 86 and he’s level 89 elite.
Instead, he throws a barrel at you immobilizing the character. He doesn’t attack. An icon appears onscreen, like the one in the end fight of Dragon Soul dungeon, or the Ultraxion fight. Clicking the button frees you from the barrel stuck on your upper-body. Why does that feel like Donkey Kong?
Anyway, few quests ahead, there is another phase where the player, Chen Stormstout, Li Li and Mudmug infiltrate the Stormstout Brewery to fight three NPCs. Each boss has its own game mechanic, which feels very much like some sort of safe training as if preparing you for what the dungeon might have in store for you.
Check out the video!
Something I find unique in Mists of Pandaria is that in previous expansions before Cataclysm, entering dungeons felt so alien in terms of questline progression. Sometimes there were quests sending you to dungeons, and sometimes no quests leading you there. At times, NPCs in a far distant zone as far as Kalimdor would send you to go to a dungeon in Eastern Kingdoms or vice versa which felt like time consuming, or confusing. Sometimes you would keep these quests in your log for a long time before going to the dungeon, and sometimes you kept the quest but never got to go to the dungeon at all (coughs, remember Varimathras in Undercity sending you to Razorfen Kraul in Southern Barrens?).
The Cataclysm expansion fixed this by moving the quest NPCs into the dungeons, giving you some lore basics about why you were there, and some background about the bosses or what threat they mean to the Alliance or the Horde.
In Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard added another layer to the lore background of the dungeons. I love this. For example, in the Jade Forest players experience a questline where in order to talk to the Jade Serpent, you have to do some quests [inside] the Temple of the Jade Serpent dungeon.
After finishing the questline, the player is teleported to the outdoor. Let me explain this better … Blizzard is using phase technology to let you do single-player questing inside the dungeon as a way to tell the story of that dungeon before you experience the 5-player, 10-player or 25-player dungeon. Recently, I shared a video of the Temple of the Jade Serpent single-player questline.
Now in Valley of the Four Winds, players once more experience a questline with Chen Stormstout leading the way into the Stormstout Brewery. The Stormstout Brewery is known to be one of the Mists of Pandaria dungeons. It’s becoming a trend, and I’m hoping to see more of this happening in other zones throughout Pandaria.
Dungeons are no longer alien tesseracts or dimensions outside normal Azeroth space. Sometimes you walk into the whirlpool that serves as the zone-in portal to teleport into the dungeon — and that feels like a separate instance not associated with the real-time Azeroth world.
Developing quests where you explore the dungeon prior to experiencing the 5-player, 10-player or 25-player dungeons feels unique and makes the dungeon more enjoyable knowing from your solo-questing experience the story of the place, and the NPCs that later become dungeon bosses.
Blizzplanet will share videos when the zones become available. At the moment of this article, beta testers only have access to the Jade Forest and Valley of the Four Winds.