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Beta Preview: World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria – Pandaren Race and Starting Zone

September 24, 2012

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

Hello!

And thus, it is finally here. My beta preview of the Mists of Pandaria Pandaren starting zone! A few hours before release, but better late than never.

The Pandaren are, as most of you will already know, the new race of the upcoming expansion. Now, as something new this time, the Pandaren can choose to join either the Alliance or the Horde, once they are done questing in their home areas. For now, I start as a level 1 monk by the name of Siangsin. She may look a little short, but I’m sure she is going to kick some … whatever-creatures-exist-on-the-back-of-a-giant-turtle butt!

From what I’ve heard, the monk is a class that primarily focuses on bare-handed combat (as something new), only drawing their weapon for special finishing moves. And like the druid, paladin and shaman the monk can function as both DPS, tank and healer. No matter which specialisation you choose, the monk’s second bar is always energy, and underneath this is the new chi. You can build up to four chi by using energy, and then use your chi to do special moves.

I’m probably going to go for DPS. First of all because I’m eager to see the starting zone and want to get through it fast, and second because I normally play a rogue, and I want to see how the monk compares (i.e. will it be a threat to me on the damage meter).

The three specialisation. The Brewmaster (tank), the Mistweaver (healer) and the Windwalker (DPS).

As I enter the world with my little Siangsin, I am yet again stunned by the beauty of scenery that Blizzard can work. The bamboo trees, the architecture of the Pandaren villages, the whole colour scheme is pure bliss on the eyes. And the music is already making me feel welcome and encouraged. It all looks and sounds Asian, but perfectly integrated in the World of Warcraft universe. Again, Blizzard manages to take something new and yet give it a familiar feel. It fits right in.

As I run through the first few quests, I also notice how smooth the expansion runs even in the beta version. There are no bugs or glitches. Even if we are around a hundred level 1 monks, there is not even any issues with getting your kills and quest items without having to wait. We also know what we are doing. The quests follow the same pattern as all other quests in World of Warcraft. Practice some skills on that dummy, run this errand, kill ten of that beast. Gameplay-wise there is little new. What makes it interesting is of course to follow the new story line, which actually proves really good. I am entertained throughout my whole quest line, and you can sense that Blizzard has put down some extra effort this time around (as compared to Cataclysm, which I rage about in this article).

Stunning scenery.

In the quest line, I begin with my initial training as a monk. As I grow stronger, I am entrusted with a special task. The giant turtle, upon which back we all run around, is sick and it disturbs the balance of the eco-system upon it, making the wildlife roam the little villages. Thus, we must set out and unite the spirits of nature within the main temple in order to go talk to Shen-zin Su (the turtle) and somehow help it.

What I notice most about the Pandaren people, as I begin my task, is that they are encouraging in everything they do. They treat each other with respect and strive towards finding balance. At the same time, they remind me a bit of hobbits. They nest in peaceful little houses with round doors, tend to crops and eat good food and drink good home-brewed ale. They care about their homes and community. But at the same time, the Pandaren on the back of Shen-zin Su have a sense of wanderlust. They are the heirs to the Pandaren that first set out on the back of the giant turtle to discover the world away from their home isle of Pandaria.

The edge of the world! Oh look, a turtle leg …

Yes, I do still think it’s weird that nobody ever noticed a giant turtle floating around the world seas. And even more weird that nobody ever seemed to wonder why the entire south part of the world was apparently shrouded in mist for years and years, and never wanted to explore it further before now. It also happened with the Goblins and Worgen in Cataclysm, and I’m not particularly fond of either. But I think this is mainly because of the rushed feeling it had. Even though the Pandaren people has just magically appeared out of almost thin air, the whole universe around it is extremely well executed and quickly makes you forget about the more questionable things. And if the alternative is that Blizzard instead splits up already existing areas, then I far prefer to just get new ones plopped into the sea. And I think it actually makes a bit of sense with the mist anyway! Like, the mysteries of the orient … yes? I’m not going to stop defending this game …

Giant turtle!

Anyway! The scenery is simply breath-taking. The details are countless, the light and colours unquestionably beautiful and the wildlife interesting. Turtles, crickets, blue foxes, the monkey race Hozen, tigers and more. And new voiced quest givers add a nice touch. Blizzard even implements their old, characteristic humour, which I won’t spoil here, but I caught myself laughing several times during questing.

When looking at the Pandaren themselves, I find them both endearing and versatile. They can look like the fluffiest teddy bears or the meanest warmongers, and their animations are amazing to behold. Especially the female looks light-footed and feminine even if the Pandaren are a bit short and round, particular in the middle. They have a horrible dance animation though. There’s simply no way around it. It’s ghastly for both male and female. And the female has a very dark voice with a very poor accent that almost sounds Draenei. But when that is said, the things that actually come out of the Pandaren’s mouths are too funny. Especially for the male Pandaren. Blizzard has done a good job in giving them personality.

Pandaren dancing. I really don’t know …

Taking a closer look at the new class, the monk, I actually find myself a bit disappointed. I know that no class is smashing many teeth in the first few levels, but it feels a bit heavy and less agile than I had hoped for. Spending energy and building up chi is challenging and fun, but the punches seem slow and the animations are not as quick and agile as I had hoped for, and the damage feels low. But maybe it comes later on.

All in all, I am excited. I was hoping that Blizzard would turn the ship around after Cataclysm and come back to their roots, and even with a new race and new lands, it seems like they have. The new content feels both new and like home at the same time. The new music already makes my muscles relax, and even after two play-throughs of the starting area, I keep coming back for more. Whatever doubts I had about the Pandaren as a race, and whether it would make sense that they split and join both Horde and Alliance, are gone. The storyline, as the scenery, animations, quests and general feel, is beautifully executed, and I can’t wait to see what the actual land of Pandaria has in store for our high level characters. As the first expansion without a real villain, the battle between the Horde and the Alliance might take a more central role. I think this is going to be good.

See you in-game.

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