I gave my initial thoughts on Mists of Pandaria in my blog the other day, generally opening up how I feel the expansion has gone in its early days (for me, very well – enjoying it a lot in the main). I do want to touch on one of the bigger innovations, however, and it's one that really had me worried going in; professions.
Like many, I love professions.
My gripe with them over the last few years is that they’ve been dumbed-down and streamlined to near pointlessness, with no actual gameplay value in them in lieu of being performance enhancers. In Mists of Pandaria, you can level up to the maximum of 600 with one type of material, no special requirements of any kind and, in general, it’s the easiest it’s ever been.
And it’s awesome.
The thing is, the streamlining has happened in both an intelligent and imaginative way while reintroducing the gameplay value to those who love being diverse crafters. Basically, the performance-related aspect of professions implies that they can never be how they were in previous incarnations. Raiders and other people who simply want to cap ‘em out would never accept a painful (or expensive) grind that became a requirement just for raid bonuses.
Because of that fact, my blacksmithing and jewelcrafting now only require one type of bar/ore in order to level them up, and you can get skill points for the most innocuous of crafts pretty much all the way to the skill cap of 600. In the case of blacksmithing, your raid bonuses are simply upgraded at the appropriate level. For jewelcrafting, every time you prospect you get a chance at finding shards among the gems – once you find ten of these shards, you can create the Serpent’s Eye which is the jeweller’s gem of this expansion and every pattern for the jeweller’s gem comes straight from the trainer.
What’s even easier is that if you’re using an alt as a profession flunky, you needn’t worry about their capability to fly just in order to get out there and gather for you. The southern end of the Jade Forest has materials in abundance, which means a few cycles of the area about a third of the way up the map will see you with a bagful of whatever you’re trying to collect. This will be the only material you need to hit the big ding of 600, and all you’ll need to get your raiding bonuses (with the exception of, I think, alchemy - I know it's a nuisance).
It’s streamlining, to the highest degree.
So, where’s the gameplay value?
Herein lies the magic.
All of the gameplay happens at the cap of 600. This is where collectors and completionists can start to have their fun, and there’s plenty to be had. If you want to get all of the blacksmithing plans, you’re going to need to fix your reputation with the Klaxxi as well as having to mine yourself some Kypparite ore which is rare. Not only that, but PvP plans are held in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and will cost you a Spirit of Harmony each – that’s a lot of spirits if you want ‘em all. What this does is ensure that you can grind them out quickly if you choose to and want to be “the” crafter everyone comes to, but it also implies that you’ll eventually get there simply by playing the game and picking up your motes. In the case of jewelcrafting, you can build up your stock of rare designs by discovering one per day, dictated by the colour of gem you’re seeking.
Here’s how it works:
1. I want the Fractured design.
2. I collect three of the yellow gems.
3. I go for the discovery by consuming the gems, and learn a yellow design.
4. I hope for the Fractured to come up. :P
There’s a bit of RNG in here, but not enough to make it frustrating (even despite the Bold and Fractured plans being THE LAST TO APPEAR FOR ME -.-) and you can speed up the process by using three Spirits of Harmony to get a random design. What’s even better is that if you only have, say, three of a colour that you already know all the designs for, you can still go for the discovery and get a random design you don’t have.
Once more, you can either go for all the designs as quickly as possible or you can essentially let them come to you. Meta gems designs drop from pretty much everywhere, and there’s a vendor in the Jade Forest that can sell you necklace and ring designs for a Spirit of Harmony.
This is flat-out great design. It’s imaginative, it’s fun, it adds legitimate gameplay value to professions that many players like, and it manages to do all of that without ostracizing raiders who merely want to get their performance bonuses. I appreciate some professions are a wee bit more painful than others (I read a lot of “Golden Lotus” talk in /g), but the idea is universal – it’s easy to get to the 600 mark with your profession, but entirely up to you how quickly you want to become that crafting resource you’ve not been able to be since The Burning Crusade.
What’s even better about all this is the way cooking has been designed. For those not in the know, there are now six “ways” of cooking and each has their own skill point bar. You can, for example, get to 600 points in the Way of the Steamer, but still be down at 525 in the Way of the Wok. What’s key here, is that your base cooking skill is taken from whatever’s highest and only the specializations need the extra work. Imagine that level of depth being applied to blacksmithing, tailoring and leatherworking (hinted at by the Crab of Calamity on Twitter) and we’re looking at a bright, bright future for our professions.
Make no mistake, this is a rabbit out of the hat. I was worried that this streamlining was going to kill any actual enjoyment in professions, seeing them essentially become the pointless farce that Justice Points have become as a result of MoP.
Yet, here we are, and the result is literally thrilling. Fishing and archaeology still need touching up in my view, but even they’ve come on thanks to daily quest requirements making a certain amount of their grinding practically passive. Mists of Pandaria has seriously done a great job with our professions, and the developers should be commended for it.
Big ups on this one, Blizzard.
Big, BIG ups.