"Slow down!" the Pandaren tell you whenever you click on them. And you should heed their advice, for Blizzard's latest expansion for World of Warcraft should be savored like a Pandaren savors beer and fine food. The portly Pandas play their appetites and patience for laughs, but their laid back attitude quickly overtakes your playstyle. Blizzard has provided a diverse menu of MMO activities with Mists of Pandaria that's incredibly fun to feast upon again and again.
If epic stories and quests are your favorite parts of playing an MMO, MoP has got you covered. Blizzard raises the stakes for the Alliance, as they investigate the shrouded new continent while tracking down the White Pawn - the young Prince Anduin who started his life in vanilla WoW as a young boy. Meanwhile, the Horde has chased him to Pandaria, and the Warchief orders his forces to "paint this new continent red." Both sides come in contact with the indigenous races, and the land itself responds by releasing what are essentially bad emotions and feelings given physical form - the Sha of Doubt, Despair, Anger, etc. Underneath those broad strokes are touching personal stories in which characters overcome those negative feelings. There's no need to spoil the specifics, but you'll enjoy the quests because of excellent writing showing genuine wit, along with a clever blend of cinematics, a generous helping of in-game voice acting, and unique mechanics pushing the limits of the vehicle quest system introduced in Wrath of the Lich King.
The quests for any given zone continue the excellent design practices Blizzard honed through Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm. The content is skillfully divided into pods that feel like an episode in your character's ongoing story so you might visit one village under attack in the Jade Forest and save its denizens over the course of several quests. When you kill the slaver taking the village folk, you're rewarded with an achievement, the feeling that you've completed that story, and the freedom to pass on to the next pod of content. Each zone has 6-12 of these content pods, and they let you break up playtime like the end of a chapter does for reading a book.
Beyond leveling your character to 90 in Pandaria's zones, the new minipet battle system is a completely separate endeavor which will keep your character running around all the older content to collect 'em all. Minipets have been in WoW since launch, but they are no longer just cosmetic. You can pit them against pets you find in the world, other players or the NPC pet trainers you challenge during quests. The turn-based mechanics aren't any more difficult to figure out than Pokemon, but the battles are just as addictive. You can easily spend hours leveling up the right combination for your battle team to take down the Forsaken battle pet trainer David Kosse, for example, and his team consisting of the rabbit Subject 142, Plop the Magic Green Droplet and a giant maggot called Corpsefeeder.
Hopefully, that motley crew doesn't put you off your lunch, because in contrast playing Pandaria actually made me hungry with how much the characters mention food and drink. It's fitting in the expansion starring the gourmand Pandarens that the secondary trade skill of cooking is highlighted. Cooking has always been a fun diversion in WoW, but recipes have much more varied ingredient list than in previous expansions. Some of these you purchase such as rice, but a great many you collect by killing creatures in the wild such as most large birds dropping wildfowl breasts. You then level up individual specializations, learning the Way of the Oven and the Way of the Wok, for instance, to create dishes like spring rolls and stir fries. If you're a gamer who loves both the collection and crafting systems in MMOs, the cooking in MoP will entice you like a Chinese buffet tempts those with the munchies.