BlizzCon 2011: Mists of Pandaria Overview Part 1

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:

Pandaren classes:

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.

BlizzCon 2011: Opening Ceremony Overview

Better late than never, I just picked up my live feed of BlizzCon 2011. The event kicked off at 2pm my time, so I only have seven hours of catching up to do really, and they’ve improved their online feed tremendously this year: No lag whatsoever for the first time I can remember, and an easily accessible archive of past events. I’m hoping to make a number of posts today and tomorrow relaying some of the news. Just to give you an idea of what I’ll be focusing on, World of Warcraft is my primary interest, followed by Starcraft. Diablo I’ll be giving little if any attention to.

As usual, Blizzard threw out a few big surprises in the opening ceremony. Let me just start by detailing a few of the most important points in brief:

The first thing they announced, and really the thing I’m most excited about for the event proper, is a high-profile Starcraft 2 tournament. No more 30 second asides to show a few random segments of tournament between conference coverage–BlizzCon 2011 will feature a tournament broadcast in full. And while I am not as knowledgable in e-sports as I would like to be, it looks like they did a solid job of bringing in the pro commentators rather than using people inside the company. Day[9], whose Starcraft 2 strategies I talked about at length when the game first launched, will be involved in much of the commentary, along with a number of other names I recognized.

But that’s just what I’m looking forward to in the next two days. The long-term announcements are what you’re more likely to take interest in. Here’s a big one. I noted that Diablo 3 does not interest me much. As it turns out, I will be playing it anyway. Why? Because it is free.

Check this out. Blizzard CEO Michael Morhaime announced right off the bat that Diablo 3 will be free for World of Warcraft subscribers (and that the release date is still undetermined). A free trial? A demo version of the game? Not at all. The only catch is that you’ll have to pick up a one year subscription to WoW–not a heavy commitment if you’re interested in Warcraft to begin with. On top of a free digital download of the game in full, you’ll additionally get guaranteed access to the next World of Warcraft beta. Oh, and a flying horse mount that puts the celestial steed to shame: Tyrael’s Charger.

Not bad, eh? I’m still curious whether the one-year pass will be at the current discount rate you get for long-term subscriptions or if they will charge the single month rate for 12 months, but either way, count me in.

Following Michael Morhaime’s introductory announcement, the “slightly” more outspoken vice-president Chris Metzen took the stage in rock-star fasion, Dalaran theme blasting overhead. The upcoming game preview cuts came rolling in, starting with Diablo 3 and then preceding to “Blizzard Dota”, a game I have never heard of which looks awesome. Apparently they’re creating a cross-over fighting game which will pit Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo characters against each other and incorporate pvp elements of all three. The preview included Arthus fighting a siege engine and ended with “Coming Soon… Seriously.”

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm got its trailer too, looking par for the course–that is, pretty awesome. The new units glimpsed in brief didn’t stand out to me much, though I’m sure they’ll be gone over in detail later in the convention. One that did catch my eye was a zerg unit that had… how should I describe it… a DK Death Grip.

But what I was really here for–what I really wanted to see–that came last. We all knew it was coming. It had to be coming. But until now I’d not heard a word about it: World of Warcraft 5.

The description Chris Metzen had to offer for the premise of WoW 5 excites me, as a major pvper, to no end. No super villians this time. No joint effort against a common foe. WoW 5 will focus on alliance against horde, straight up. The video certainly doesn’t reflect it though:

Remember the Pandaren pet Blizzard was selling a few months back? It is now a race, accompanied by some awesome Japanese-themed landscapes that will apparently comprise an entire continent: Pandaria. (Apparently Blizzard almost made Pandaren the alliance race in Burning Crusade in place of Draenei.) We can look forward to a new class I’d been expecting for a while now–monks–and the level 90 cap raise everyone expected. Is only the alliance getting a new race, will there be evil pandas too, or is there a new horde race yet to be revealed? That was my biggest question, and Metzen announced early in the post-ceremony interview that they would be more or less neutral–not only available to both factions, but as I understand it identical in racial abilities and appearance.

That’s it for the opening ceremonies. I’ll do my best to catch up and keep up from here on out.

Horror Film Review: Paranormal Activity 3 (dir. by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost)

When me and my sister first moved into our house last year, I was so excited to see that we had a loft.  In fact, the day we moved in, I told her, “The loft is mine.”  Yes, I had it all worked out.  The loft would be my little office/art studio.  I would sit up there with a little candle going and I’d write my poetry and read my books and compose my thoughts.  Whenever the real world got to be too much for my poor little head, I would go up to the loft and I would find peace and quiet.  That loft would be my sanctuary, my little world of fantasy where everything was fine.

That night, I lowered down the ladder that led up into the loft and I started to climb.  If you know how terrified I am of both heights and ladder then you’ll understand just how difficult that was for me to do.  Seriously, with each step up the ladder, my heart beat just a little faster and I could hear my own breathing growing more and more ragged.  My feet felt so heavy and I had to stop several times so I could rest on the ladder and catch my breath.  At one point, Erin came out of her room and stared at me clinging onto the 7-step ladder.

“Lisa Marie,” she asked, “what the Hell are you doing?”

“The loft will be mine!” I snapped back.

Summoning up all of my courage and determination, I forced myself to move up the remaining two steps of the ladder and popped my head up into the loft.

“YAY!” I declared.

That’s when I saw the world’s biggest, most evil-looking spider hanging about two inches from the tip of my nose.

“AGCK!” I shouted as I fell backward from the ladder and ended up falling flat on my ass on the floor below.

I haven’t been back in the loft since.  Erin’s been up there a few times and she swears to me that she’s sprayed all sorts of sprays and cleaned out all sorts of dust but I don’t care.  I may not be the smartest girl out there but I do know that when you find something really scary in a room, you lock up that and never enter it again.

I found myself thinking about that loft and the spider within earlier today while I was sitting through Paranormal Activity 3.

Paranormal Activity 3 is the latest installment in the franchise of films about dumb men who, once they discover that there’s an evil ghost stalking the women in their lives, respond by not leaving the house but instead sitting up video cameras so they can record their eventual deaths.  This time the action is set up as a prequel to the first film but essentially, it’s the exact same film that you’ve seen twice before (though, this time, the filmmakers rip-off the end of the Last Exorcism as well).

Still, as far as the Paranormal Activity franchise goes, the third is probably the best of the series, if just because Micah’s not in this installment.  Instead, Micah’s role is taken by Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), who is the somewhat goofy but well-meaning stepfather of Katie and Kristi (who, of course, will eventually grow up to the focus of the first and second Paranormal Activity films).  It turns out that Dennis is something of an aspiring filmmaker and hence, it makes a little bit more sense why he insists on setting up cameras once it becomes apparent that his house is haunted.  Anyway, the movie pretty much recycles all of the shocks and scares that you expect from a Paranormal Activity film.  There’s countless shots of people sleeping, dark shadows appearing in corners, and the whole thing where one person stands perfectly still for 5 hours.  The scares are effective because, quite frankly, mysterious shadows are always going to be scary and at their rare best, the Paranormal Activity films manage to tap into that very primal, basic fear.    Unfortunately, the Paranormal Activity films also have a tendency to drag in-between scares and this third installment is no different.  That said, the film’s finale is well-done, if predictable.

However, in the end, it’s simply impossible to watch Paranormal Activity 3 and not wonder what I’ve wondered during every Paranormal Activity film: why doesn’t anyone ever just leave the damn house?  Seriously, if you think I overreacted to seeing a spider up in the loft, you should see me when I run into a ghost hanging out in the kitchen.