Back in Cataclysm, the world was a very different place. While the journey from 80 to 85 was certainly a little tiresome, with the obligatory travel through Deepholm bringing many a draenei to their oddly-shaped knees, once that achievement flashed across your screen you were home and dry.
Gearing a character for raiding was a predictable and straightforward task. Get a few bits and jump into the latest 5-mans, which were very easy and certainly achievable with PvP gear, as long as you were one of the classes that didn't do too badly from it. Preferably not a plate tank, then!
If you were adamant that cheaty PvP-based gearing wasn't for you, you could just run a few of the normals and earlier heroics, such as the Zul'roics or even the ones before, to get yourself geared to an acceptable level for the 4.3 heroics. What's more, your main could send your alts decent, current gear with their inevitable glut of valor points, and your justice points bought you the previous tier's gear.
Why the Cataclysm retrospective? As a reminder of how easy it was, in Cataclysm's twilight hours, to level and gear alts to a raid-ready level, or, for that matter, to a competitive PvP level. Quite apart from the ease, it was really the only thing left to do, after months upon months of Dragon Soul.
But Mists of Pandaria is quite a different animal. Mists was specifically designed to counter Cataclysm's complaints. Far from growing bored, a player should have plenty to be getting on with with just one character. The gearing stages, unless you're a PvPer, are far more arduous, with daily quests becoming all but a necessity. Not only that, but recent announcements from Blizzard's Senior Community Rep Zarhym imply that this isn't likely to change, and that, as anticipated, for better or worse, Mists' content will push players through earlier tiers.
My line of thinking here is not so much about Mists' structure. Blizzard have been fairly bullish, despite their open-ness to catch-up assistance, about the current game philosophy. They are adamant that there should always be enough for the player with just one character to do, and that diluting those tasks for alts would be a bad thing. I'm not really wondering, at the moment at least, whether this is a good idea or not.
A seismic shift in WoW Philosophy
Instead, I'm ruminating on the aforementioned shift in game design philosophy from the last expansion to this. The point that I'm trying to make is that the ideas surrounding what you do when you're playing WoW have had to undergo a huge shift since September 25 2012. During Dragon Soul, after finishing with the current content, or even before considering we had it for nine months, there was really little else left for players to do apart from level an alt, and see how the game looked from the perspective of a different class, a different faction, or a different role.
PvP was a little more onerous a task to face, but the gear gulf between beginner and expert was far smaller than it is now, meaning that you could still have fun in an arena with a new character, even without great gear. Arena gearing was both viable and entertaining, which is definitely not so much the case now.
Now, instead, the game's design pushes players towards one particular character. Blizzard's developers and community managers have said again and again that their plan is to make the game so full of things to do that a player can have enough to do with just one character for all their game time. It's an admirable goal, for certain.
But it's a huge move away from Cataclysm's last months, and perhaps too great a shift. Blizzard are beginning to acknowledge this with things like the Grand Commendations to help alts with reputation, but is the problem the move from one mindset to another? And is the Mists model of maintaining interest via just a main really superior to the old method?
For better or for worse
There's no denying that Cataclysm's last tier was tiresome to say the least. There was a substantial subscriber loss, along with general malaise among the player base. So, a change of gear in Mists is welcome. But Cataclysm built up, for me at least, an enjoyment of alt-related play, and for my raid team and arena or RBG teams, the flexibility of having a player who could bring one of a few classes, and do a decent job, rather than just having a shaman.
For smaller guilds, teams, or less active servers, the flexibility this afforded to larger groups was invaluable. And it was fun! I don't want to spend all my game time playing the same character, I want to switch around.
But, on the other hand, no player should be forced to play alts to enjoy the game, that's not something Blizzard wants to convey, and I agree with this attitude. The ideal would be some kind of middle ground, which Blizzard's devs are hopefully striving for with the latest changes. What's more, although as an alt fan the idea of slogging through old raids to get to new ones bothers me, I do wish there had been more opportunity in Cataclysm to revisit the first tier of raids.
The question is, though, are our Cataclysm attitudes ruining Mists? Are players like me, who want to maintain their stable of alts, pushing for quicker catch-up changes and ruining the game for everyone else? Is the Mists model how WoW should be played, and is the Cataclysm play style of everything being fast and easy creating negativity towards the grindier world of Pandaria? I have certainly tried to adjust my attitude, but, so far, to no avail. There's a grumpy child inside me who wants a mage and a hunter and death knight and a paladin and a shaman and a priest geared up to relevant levels, and will scream and scream until she gets them.
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.