World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (Part 1 of 4)
Blizzard continues to give the furry community an online home – as if wolf people and cow people wasn’t enough, bears have joined the party. Kung fu pandas, go!
All jokes aside, Blizzard’s titular pandas have as much of a place in Azeroth as Dwarves and Night Elves – and definitely more of a claim to the game than the Worgen. So with all of that “It’s not really World of Warcraft” crap out of the way, let’s take a look at what Mists of Pandaria – the game’s fourth expansion – brings to the table.
Still warring senselessly since the events of Cataclysm, the Horde/Alliance stumble across a huge, undiscovered landmass shrouded in a strange mist (See where this is going?) inhabited by a peaceful, neutral race of anthropomorphic pandas (Yeah, you get it now). So, obviously, they decide to ruin it in a glaringly obvious comment on the difference between Western and Eastern culture. This is where the Pandaren come in – as Warcraft’s first ‘neutral’ race. The Pandaren, despite looking like they’ve just wandered off of a Disney set, are extremely interesting because they’re so different to anything you’ve seen so far – they’re grizzled but gentle, steeped within the cultural trappings of ancient Asia. Pandaria looks completely different to anywhere else in Azeroth and visually cannot be faulted within the limitations of WoW itself. Okay, so you won’t be destroying apocalyptic dragons, facing down with immortal demon lords or going head to head with the Lich King, but that’s not the point of this expansion: the emphasis is on exploration, and it’s actually a good thing to see that Blizzard have realised Azeroth and its millions of heroes need a break from saving the world, and the focus once more swings around to the core Horde/Alliance conflict.
The Pandaren have been introduced to bridge the gap, as your character gets to see the best and worst of each side before deciding on their allegiance. With this in mind, I took my first furry steps out into the parting mists of Pandaria with my very own Pandaren Monk. This new class is interesting to say the least with a variety of applications in combat – the three specs you can follow allow you to turn your monk into a kung fu master, a hands-on healer or a Brewmaster tank, and the Monk certainly lends itself well to this versatility. The Pandaren starting area is full of visual variety and playing through it will take your character to around level 12, when the time comes to make a choice of faction. It’s yet to be seen how this aspect of the game will affect PvP, or if it’ll cause any minor confusion, but Blizzard’s distinctive character silhouettes have always been a big part of defining whether someone’s about to plant a hammer in your face. Your average WoW player will have gotten very used to getting out of the way when they see a lumbering Tauren or running full tilt towards a tiny gnome mage, and in terms of personality, the Pandaren feel like an Alliance race. They just don’t have the dark, desperate edge that all of the Horde races possess and it’s weird seeing them standing next to a plate-clad Orc or a skinny, smug Blood Elf.
As far as actual content goes at this stage of the game, it’s exactly what you’d expect from World of Warcraft. There have been some minor interface tweaks but there’s nothing new here – which you’re probably going to love if you’re already pretty comfortable with the game. Being dumped in Orgrimmar or Stormwind after you pick your allegiance feels abrupt and though you go through the motions of formally joining the faction with the equally idiotic Warchief/King, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been torn away from what’s really new and interesting in Azeroth – which in a sense, you have. You can return in about 70 levels time but nothing much has changed inbetween. Rolling a Pandaren certainly makes you a stranger in a strange land, as other players roll their eyes at the lovably rotund marsupials literally rolling around the place, but they’re well designed enough to be a part of the game without breaking the casual fantasy/sci-fi setting and their class animations are highly unique.
The new Monk class seems very well rounded in the earlier stages of the game, feeling like a strange hybrid of Rogue and Warrior – you’ve got basic attacks that expend energy and fill up a Chi Gauge which can then be used to deliver more powerful attacks. The Monk is a melee powerhouse, and as soon as you get the Roll ability which allows you to bounce yourself from one area of the battle to another to make either a hasty retreat or a bounding leap into the fight. It’s hard to make a overall judgment on the class within the first 20 levels but it’s fun – which is pretty refreshing, considering the slowly stagnating class formulas. It’s good to see things shaken up a bit, and it spells volumes of promise for the rest of the expansion.
Part 2 – New zones, new dungeons, and we put the Monk through its PvP paces.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.