If you look at the main stage schedule for BlizzCon 2011, attention to World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria isn’t so much dominant as nearly exclusive, getting six and a half hours of discussion and demonstration, compared to two for Diablo 3 and not a minute for Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm. With that in mind, I imagine everything presented in the initial general overview of Mists of Pandaria will be granted much more thorough detail down the road. But, if you’ll allow me to take this one step at a time, here are the key points I took out of the overview.
The first thing you’re going to encounter in WoW 5 is the level grind from 85 to 90, so let’s take a look at that first.
The first thing you might notice is that Pandaria looks pretty small. It’s only five zones, for one thing (ignore the blob on the right for the moment), and I certainly would hope at least one of them, probably the middle, is a world battleground akin to Wintergrasp and Tol Barad. Blizzard did not actually make any mention of server battlegrounds in the introduction, and cryptically listed and dually ignored a third “Azshara Crater” battleground when detailing MoP’s two normal bgs, so perhaps this is not the case, but at any rate, Cataclysm’s five questing zones and one pvp zone felt small to me, and here only five are listed in total.
But there are a number of features to take into consideration. This scale compares Pandaria’s five zones on the left to Twilight Highlands on the right. Twilight might not seem that big, dashing around with master riding skill and the like, but if you expand your in-game map you’re going to realize Pandaria is well over half the size of Eastern Kingdoms. And there is a further catch: You can’t fly there until level 90.
This comment met with a great deal of applause from the audience, and I will gladly join them. Aside from my great distaste for the revamped lower level zones of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, what really made Cataclysm feel so weak quest-wise for me was level 60 flying. No more pick up, fly, kill something, fly, turn in, repeat here. No more complete disregard for terrain, either. Can you imagine hopping on a ground mount and waltzing the whole way across Twilight Highlands five times? Pandaria will feel huge.
Yet there are still only five zones. I loved the diversity of having ten in Wrath of the Lich King, but with only a 5 levels I suppose their options here are a bit more limited. They do try to account for this though, giving at least the second leveling zone, Valley of the Four Winds (bottom zone on the map), two distinct quest lines that will make leveling at least your first alt a more unique experience. In this case there will be both a northern “farmlands” region and a southern “coastal jungle” region, both of which should cover about the same level/exp range independently.
There was not much more information on particular zones available at this point, but names always indicate something. Here is what I know of the map breakdown:
The Jade Forest (level 85 starting zone, to the east)
Valley of the Four Winds (second zone, to the south)
Vale of Eternal Blossoms (central zone)
Townlong Steppes (western zone)
Kun-Lai Summit (northern zone)
As you may have guessed from the preview video I posted earlier, they will all have an Asian flavor about them. Another cool feature, for me at least, is that Blizzard will try to make the dungeons more visible. Valley of the Four Winds’ dungeon, Stormstout Brewery, should be visible to scale within the zone proper, not simply as a portal (though I’m sure you still have to “zone in”), and WoW Lead Content Designer Cory Stockton’s comments lead me to believe the others will generally follow suit. Whether this will amount to something new or will merely reflect a continued effort similar to Lost City of Tol’vir in Uldum remains to be seen, but it was certainly emphasized in the overview.
There will be one final zone of course: the Pandaren starting zone. Worgen and goblin starting zones were something of a complete joke in Cataclysm, in so far as they were completely irrelevant to the game if you weren’t the relevant class. Already having ten toons on my server, I have not caught the slightest glimpse of either. I get the bad feeling the Pandaren starting zone will be equally disappointing, but in the meantime it at least looks pretty cool.
This zone, The Wandering Isle, is a giant turtle. No, really. There will be a giant turtle floating around off the coast of Pandaland with a whole mess of forests and mountains and civilizations thriving on its posterior. The reason I suspect it will be as inaccessible to those of us with 10 toons as the worgen and goblin zones?: Pandaren start off neutral.
As in, they start off neither alliance nor horde. You don’t actually choose your faction until level 10, and that answers another question: MoP will introduce only one race, available to either faction. I’m pretty confident Blizzard will keep them isolated with this in mind, because I could see an unwelcome (on their part–harmless and entertaining on mine) cross-faction black market emerging otherwise.
This starting zone is actually playable at BlizzCon, so expect most of the non-official images of MoP appearing over the next few weeks to be of The Wandering Isle.
While I am on the subject of Pandaren, here’s the information you’re probably most interested in in a nutshell:
Tentative Pandaren Racials:
Epicurean – Increase stat benefits from food by 100%
Gourmand – Cooking skill increased by 15
Inner Peace – Your Rested experience bonus lasts twice as long
Bouncy – You take 50% less falling damage
Quaking Palm – You touch a secret pressure point on an enemy target, putting it to sleep for 3 sec.
Monks are the next order of business. Allow me to start with a video of one in action:
Did that leg spin look cool at the end? WoW Lead Systems Designer Greg Street quoted one of his colleagues as saying “If we don’t do gnome monks, monks aren’t worth doing.” Yes, gnome monks will be an option, kicking in the faces of all enemies willing to get within half an inch of them. … Actually, the class will be available to every single race except worgen and goblins.
As for what exactly a monk consists of, at face value they pan out to be much like druids without a Boomkin option–leather wearers with the following specs:
Brewmaster – Tank
Mistweaver – Healer
Windwalker – Melee DPS
But as far as how they function, I am a bit confused. Street described them using a combination of energy (chi) and a dual point system:
Monks will use two basic abilities, “Jab” and “Roll”, to build up Light Force and Dark Force, with which they can release higher abilities. Ok, ok, fair enough for tanks and dps. But what about healers? Nothing was said directly, but monks were described as “melee healers” and compared to disc priests for their ability to dish out some dps in the process. Does that mean we’re going to have a healing spec without mana? I am lead to believe so. Will this be raid-functional or strictly pvp? That question remains unanswered.
Well, it’s getting late here, and I didn’t get as far in my BlizzCon coverage as I’d hoped, but I’ll try to pick up where I’ve left off tomorrow. So far I’ve only scratched the surface.