Reading through Bahgpuss's post on Mists of Pandaria had me thinking about when was the last time I truly loved playing World of Warcraft. I had mentioned in an earlier post that while I didn't think Battle for Azeroth was bad, I really felt no need to quantify it as good either. Expansions since MoP have had their ups and their downs (and worse). But only Classic, Burning Crusade, and Mists of Pandaria ever felt "magical" to me.
I've always defined "magic" as when a work feels like more than the sum of its parts. A mediocre expansion hits what I call the "bullet point" features. Raise the level cap, add a new spell to each class, new zones, new dungeons, etc. Battle for Azeroth does all of that. What Battle for Azeroth doesn't do is expand the idea of what World of Warcraft is.
For me, Mists expanded Azeroth in a way I never really though Blizzard would go. Classic was nearly my first foray into a proper MMO world, and carried with it the inherent magic of being a literal new frontier for millions. Burning Crusade felt like an event, a movement even, that created for me a sense of community that online interaction I had only seen shades of previously.
Wrath of the Lich King took steps backwards for me. Raiding got complicated and then eventually disappeared from life. Real life friends who played drifted off. The easier mode of play was welcome as I left college and turned to adulthood, but also took a lot of the mystique off the game for me.
In a hot take that nobody else will ever share, I think Mists of Pandaria was the game I had been wanting Verant/SOE/Daybreak to make with the money (and talent) they never had.
Whereas Wrath of the Lich King felt like a user interface to Dungeon and Raid Finder match making skinned as an overworld, Mists of Pandaria felt like a an actual world to me. Maybe it was the amazing soundtrack that I still listen to once a month. Maybe it was the setting, previously unexplored cannon that Blizzard could create without the worry of any expectations. Some of it was the expansion of side-material such as Fishing quests, Timeless Isle, and other modes of play that weren't collect 15 boar bladders.
It's often commented that Mists was the breather episode in the World of Warcraft. And honestly that's exactly what I want from my MMO. I log in for many reasons, but I don't log in to conquer the next big evil. Mists didn't even really have a big bad until the last patch. In fact, we didn't even finish him off.
A world of constant menace is both fatiguing and desensitizing. I know the Old Gods are coming, but I hope in the next expansion every agrees to take a little vacation first