Hello friends. I was originally going to write about Mass Effect 3 for today since the internet does not have enough ME3 content on it. (Hint: sarcasm) Life threw me a curve though in the form of Blizzard granting me beta access to the next World of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria. So I dropped all of that productive stuff I was doing…..ok yeah I stopped playing video games to play THIS specific video game. I found the servers surprisingly stable, with only a few random disconnects, which let me do what I’ve wanted to do since attending Blizzcon last year; create a panda monk and explore their starting zone, which also happens to be a giant turtle. A GIANT TURTLE. I’m sold already.
The first thing I noticed was the fancy new character creation screen. The interface differs slightly from before, but classes now show up in full armor sets in the previews. Here’s some pandas looking pretty suave.
Logging in is striking in that I could tell instantly that the graphical prowess of World of Warcraft continues to get better despite the fact that the game is about eight years old at this point. At Blizzcon they demonstrated some tech that enabled them to easily create textures by just painting them on the geography instead of doing it by hand and it shows. Everything is detailed and vibrant. Part of this is the starting zone itself. Lush jungle, waterfalls, temples, groups of pandas performing awesome martial arts…it’s a new look for WoW, clearly very influenced by Asian culture.
So actually playing the monk class. A change from when I previewed them at Blizzcon was that now they do indeed have an auto attack. It’s a welcome change. Since every other class in the game does some sort of “free” damage like that, having monks have to constantly be slamming keys felt a little strange. Blizzard’s intention was to make playing one feel like doing a combo in a fighting game, but in reality it felt like any other melee class to me that was just missing some damage. They never said, but I imagine it would have been harder to balance as well. The animations for the attacks are pretty amazing, there is a clear line from the vanilla races and what Pandas look like in motion. The monk specifically will change auto attack AND what skills look like depending on the weapon equipped. At the start I was using fist weapons with my primary “Chi” building ability being a skill called Jab. When I equipped a two-handed staff, Jab became clobber. Same damage, same cost, but different animations. Speaking of the monks resource system, it’s two-fold. The aforementioned Chi works like Holy Power for Paladins or combo points for Rogues does now. Certain skills will build up Chi (up to a max of 4) and others will spend it. Unlike Paladins, the skill doesn’t change based on how many Chi you have at the time, all skills have a set cost. So the skill Blackout Kick costs 2 chi. If you have 4, you could cast it twice in a row, or just once and have 2 chi left over for something else. They also have energy (or mana if they spec Mistwalker, which is the healing spec) much like a Rogue does.
Monks did not feel vastly different from any other melee class I’ve played in WoW, but it is definitely not a carbon copy. Bear in mind (pun intended) also that I only made it to level 11, so the true test of how a monk plays won’t be until level 90 most likely. The leveling experience of the starting zone is exemplary. It has an otherworldly feel that I felt was missing in Cataclysm (save for Vash’ir) right from the get go. It’s obvious that Pandas at this point don’t even know the Alliance or Horde exists. They are facing their own problems living on a giant turtle. Pandaria the actual continent is not yet available in-game and that is where most Pandas are from. However, the playable pandas are all from this Wandering Isle (again…it’s a TURTLE) and sailed away from the mainland generations ago. Spoilers for the storyline of the opening zone ahead, if you care about such things.
The opening quests revolve around getting the various elemental spirits of the island back to The Temple of Five Dawns. Questlines are needed to get the fire, water, air, and earth all to meet together, so that the Pandarian can speak with their giant turtle/homeland, who is sick and in pain. While most of these are your basic fetch or go kill X amount of these quests, they serve as good introductions for various races that we’ll meet in Pandaria. Monkeys called the Hozen are causing mischief, as are rabbit type things called Verming, who bear a resemblance to Kobolds. Seeing as these are just monkeys and rabbits, these quests are not world-changing events, mostly just keeping the piece on the relatively tranquil wandering island. The real fun starts though when you find the “thorn in the side” of your turtle friend….a crashed Alliance airship. That was carrying Horde prisoners. Thus you and a friendly band of NPC’s that you’ve been working with all starting zone set meet the alliance and horde in short order and end up helping both. In an absolutely brilliant move by Blizzard, it’s these quests involving a tense piece between the Alliance, Horde, and the Pandas of the Wandering Isle that leads you as the player to choose one side. Being neutral to start and then making a decision on what side you choose feels natural. It makes me wish some of the other races had the option. For example, I could totally see Tauren in the Alliance and Worgen in the Horde. Better late than never though, and having Pandas be on both sides makes sense from a lore perspective.
My only real complaint about the starting area was that it ended rather quickly. Gaining levels in WoW has gotten easier and easier as time has gone on, especially those first few. As soon as I picked my side (Horde of course, duh) and made my way to Orgrimmar it was back to business as usual. But take nothing away from the starting zone experience for the Pandaren race. It’s a good primer for the kinds of things to expect from the new continent. It really shows off the new art style and technology that has Blizzard pushing the limits of this engine. And it’s gotten me EXCITED about WoW again, which hasn’t happen in a while. If you’re a former or even current player who is down on the entire idea of “The Kung Fu Panda expansion”, don’t be. Check out MMO champion and read about the beta. There’s a host of new features coming in that sound fantastic. If you want a scroll of resurrection, send me a message and I’ll get you one! Gear up for Mists of Pandaria. It’s GIANT TURTLE TIME!