Though at first glance it may seem silly to see panda people roaming the world of Azeroth, it’s actually not that bad once you give it a try in Blizzard’s latest expansion to one of the most popular online games ever, World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. With a more simplistic experience for newcomers, a raised level cap, as well as all new content, there’s plenty of Panda-monium for both newcomers and veterans alike.
It’s hard to believe that Blizzard’s World of Warcraft has been around since 2004, and after all this time it has come to it’s fourth (and zaniest yet) expansion with Mists of Pandaria. Besides introducing the new Pandaren race (insert Kung-fu Panda joke-of-choice here) and monk class, there’s also the new the level cap of 90, a simpler talent system, and Pokémon-like pet battles for those who love to collect those infamous mini-pets. The end result is a more newcomer-friendly, laid back World of Warcraft that’s sure to bring in even more folks to Azeroth.
Upon playing, most are likely to jump right into making a Pandaren character and beginning their quests in the heavily ancient Asia-influenced land of Pandaria. While the Pandaren can choose many classes to be such as a warrior, hunter, rogue, priest, mage, etc, most will choose the new monk class. This new role uses martial art techniques such as spinning crane kicks, tiger strikes and more to dispatch any foe that dares cross your path. To those familiar with it, this class plays a lot like the druid one, in which you can choose to be dps (damage dealer), a tank (one who can take a lot of damage) or a healer. No matter which you decide to play, you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds of Pandaria as you complete your quests there. While you’re doing these tasks, they all build up to you learning that the land you’re on is actually on the back of an ancient turtle (a nod to the classic Discworld series?) who has been hurt and needs your help to heal it before Pandaria is lost forever. And since the Pandaren are the first neutral race in the series, you must choose after helping both the alliance and horde which faction your character will ultimately side with.
Aside from the new race and class, the biggest change in Mists of Pandaria is the streamlined talent system, which allows players who reach level 10 to choose a talent spec for their character. For example, a rogue can pick Assassination which focuses on their poison damage, Combat for straight up fighting, or Subtlety for those who like to strike from the shadows. Most classes have only three specs to choose from, save for the druid who now has four (one added for tanking in bear form), and every 15 levels you’re allowed to pick a helpful talent that serves to make your character unique to how you like to play. Say you might pick a talent that makes your rouge move faster while stealthed, or another for the monk’s roll ability to grant extra speed after performing one. These new changes may upset hardcore veterans at first, but they’ll quickly adapt while seeing how it makes things more accessible for newcomers. Speaking of vets, Blizzard hasn’t forgotten about them as there’s three new raids and six additional dungeons that’s sure to keep them busy as they go from level 85 to 90.
Lastly there’s the new pet battle system in place for those who enjoy collecting mini-pets while making their way through Azeroth. Taking a huge page from Pokémon, those wishing to make these once non-combative pets fight other pets can now do so when they reach level five and visit a pet trainer located in each capital city and in some of the starting area towns. Once you’ve trained in pet fighting, other pets in the wild or belonging to other players will be marked on your mini-map for you to find and do battle with. Each pet has three abilities to use in a fight, which are turned based like the Nintendo classic its ripping from. These battles bring something different and fun to Warcraft when players want to take a break from slogging through dungeons and quests.
Depending on how powerful your PC is, the sights and sounds of Mists of Pandaria can go from good to simply beautiful – it’s incredible how this 8-year gaming engine continues to surprise with these new expansions. The starting area of the Pandarens is hands down one of the most wonderful places to behold on Azeroth. Littered with ancient Asian buildings, lotus and cherry blossom trees, along with mystical-looking clouds and mountains, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty. The Pandarens themselves are also nicely detailed, as the male’s potbellies slosh around as they run while the thick, full-figured females give gamers something cute to look at as they play. The sounds are also impressive, as I caught myself humming along with the sweeping Asian-influenced score that flows through Pandaria while also enjoying the perfect battle sounds and war cries from the characters.
Surprisingly, I didn’t encounter any problems with the launch of the expansion, as most will recall the dreaded launch failure of Diablo 3. But this time Blizzard got it right, as I played some the night before the release and in the morning was able to access the new content without a hitch. Thank you.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria just may be the franchise’s most ambitious expansion yet, as it breathes new life into an aging series by making it more fun and accessible to newcomers while also providing new content for die-hard vets. Even after all these years Blizzard keeps finding ways to keep their venerated MMO fresh and interesting, and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised it took a kung fu-style panda to do it this time. If you’ve been wanting to find out what one of the most popular online games of all time is about, now is the perfect time to do so. With plenty of new things to see and do, most who enter through Pandaria’s gates will enjoy their experience while being tempted to sacrifice their social lives and sleep to kung-fu their way through the world of Azeroth.