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If you decide to start a new Pandaren character, you'll be able to select between Hunter, Mage, Priest, Rogue, Shaman, Warrior and Monk classes. After the level 1 through ten starting zone, which is set on the back of a giant turtle off the coast of the main continent, you pick Horde or Alliance, head back to older WoW content to level, and eventually return to Pandaria for the 85 to 90 content. That means another trek through Outland, which as of now, Blizzard has no plans to overhaul like it did with Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms in the Cataclysm expansion. "We would love to do that," said Street. "It feels really old now but we don't feel like the time is right. We didn't want to spend a ton of our development time on that because we really had all this stuff we felt like we wanted to do for Mists of Pandaria. So we would like to do it someday, just now is not the time."
Though you won't be able to pair your new Pandaren character with a new profession in Mists of Pandaria, some existing professions will be tweaked, including cooking. "We thought it would be fun to make a really big deal out of Asian style cooking. So you can learn to be a master stir fryer or a master baker or a master barbecuer and these different branches each benefit a different style of food. If you learn barbecuing you might be making strength food and if you learn stir frying you might be making agility food and you only need to unlock one of those to progress to the end to get the feasts." It seems like focusing on cooking as a Pandaren will actually be a good idea, because Pandaren racial traits increase the statistical bonuses from food by 100 percent.
I jumped onto a level 85 Alliance-Pandaren Monk, who was in the middle of helping out the jinyu–those wise fish-people I mentioned earlier. The character was on the last quest in the camp, which was to take three of their warriors out to “show them how it’s done” in combat. So I tried my best, playing this Monk for the first time ever. I ran around clumsily beating down 15 baddies conveniently located just outside the swampy camp’s borders while trying to learn the Monks abilities. When I finally made my way back to the camp, I felt horribly guilty: if these fish people based their new combat style on my clumsy moves, they’d all be dead within the week–most likely from accidentally killing each other.
Nevertheless, the leader of the Jinyu praised my skills, boosted my reputation to exalted, and declared to the whole zone that his people were ready to ally with the Alliance now. Yay, me. But that’s not why I came to Pandaria–I heard these panda people made some sweet booze. Thankfully, the next quest was exactly what I wanted: an order to sneak into a nearby monastery and steal a rival Pandaren’s brew.
Core World of Warcraft players looking to test their mettle will likely enjoy one of Mists of Pandaria's other touted additions: Dungeon 'Challenge' Modes. Described as the "ultimate 5-player time trials" Challenges yield prestige rewards (like awesome new armor sets). They're also one of Lead Producer Lagrave's favorite additions.
"I'm a huge fan of the challenge modes," he told me. "If you're an achievement junkie, there's a lot of awesome hard achievements to get. Two, if you want to be distinctive, that armor set is very distinctive. There's going to be unique mounts. And you're going to be able to brag. We're going to have leader boards for the guilds." In short, it's a team-based PvE mode where you'll be able to see how you stack up against other players when facing the same challenge."
The great mystery of Pandaria is in the energy called “Sha”, which is a sort of dark energy that feeds on angry, hatred, and aggression. For some reason, it’s been growing within Pandaria (one can only imagine that it will get worse as time goes on and the Alliance and Horde do their thing). It’s here players will have their first dungeon experience in the expansion, at the Temple of the Sha. There are also several unique races across the zone map, including the monkey-like Hozen and the fish-like Jinyu. The two factions will fight to get these races on their side, fighting for them and you can clearly see how that might affect the sha, no? But one of the big parts of Pandaria is that it’s not just about the questing and fighting this time. In Jade Forest, you’ll come across cloud serpents, which look a lot like Chinese Dragons. You’ll be able to get an egg for one, hatch it while doing specific quests and tasks over the course of 20 days or so and then raise it from birth into adulthood: when you can ride it, and race it in the Jade Forest tournaments.
The Valley of the Four Winds was the next area the gents talked about. The heartland and farming territory of Pandaria, it’s here that players will find out the Pandarens don’t do anything half-assed. Huge vegetation litters the landscape, easily several times the size of the largest Tauren. In the Valley, you’ll also run into a faction called the Tillers. They’ll give you your own farm where you can harvest crops, make crafting materials, plant gifts for friends, or even plant “pets” to use in the game’s new pet battle system. Everyone’s farm will be invisible to everyone else’s. So what you grow, Joe Blow won’t see and vice versa, but it’s not instanced. It’s a form of phasing to keep it all out in the wild.
Scenarios will be implemented in Mists of Pandaria, and will essentially replace group quests completely. Dave Kosak, Lead Quest Designer said, “We realised players were hitting a wall with group quests and possibly never returning to complete that chain.” So apart from those group quests that remain in the game from launch and previous expansions there will be no new group quests that are not Scenarios.
The new scenarios will be offered to players as part of quest lines, but you’ll be able to queue for them as you would a random dungeon. The good news is they won’t require a traditional dungeon group set-up of tank, healer and DPS so the developers predict that queues will be very short – as an added bonus Scenarios will also scale, to a certain extent, based on the make-up of the group, so an all-DPS group will provide a very different experience to a tank/healer or traditional three-role party.
The Monk, with its three vastly different Specializations, makes a fine introduction to WoW’s newly reinvented talent system. At level 10, players will choose between three specializations: Brewmaster, a tank who uses Pandaren booze to fortify himself for battle while dazing opponents, Windwalker, the fists of fury damage dealing Monk, or Mistweaver, who spends his Chi healing teammates.
When Mists of Pandaria launches, all players will need to re-spec along these lines, first by choosing one of three Specializations. According to Blizzard, the reason for this revamp is to avoid the cookie cutter builds most players use. The developers know that most players are choosing one of three builds they’ve researched on the internet. By offering them a literal choice of three, and automatically giving players talents many consider “mandatory,” they hope to make choosing talents fun again, so players aren’t just picking what they need to stay competitive.
And, as anyone who has been following Mists of Pandaria knows, this expansion will be introducing a new race -- the eponymous Pandaren -- and a new class, the monk. Mists of Pandaria will also include a complete overhaul of the talent system. Street told us that the original talent tree concept essentially ended up creating cookie-cutter builds, as the community identified an optimized build for each tree. Many of the previous abilities granted by talents have been rolled into the abilities themselves, and talent choices now provide smaller, situational abilities or bonuses, regardless of specialization.
For example, when I made my Paladin, my first choice was choosing between one of the following three talents: a flat 10% movement speed increase in all situations, a moderate movement speed increase that lasted for eight seconds but only triggered when I used Judgement, or a significant movement speed burst that was its own ability on its own cool-down. The idea behind the new system is to make each talent choice viable and to eliminate "must-have" talents that virtually all players end up taking.
Perfectly timed, Master Shang Xi and I ended up in an ancient forest where one final piece of the puzzle had to be fulfilled before I could continue my investigation into Shen-zin Su fate. For spoiler reasons, I won’t fill you in on the specifics, but I dinged 10 almost spot-on at that moment, and it felt like an incredibly well-paced piece of progression. To be fair, I never once ran off the beaten path to grind my level higher by my own means, so following the game’s start-zone structure means the team have done an incredible job of making sure you get to this point and feel a sense of achievement.
This was equally rewarded with a hot-air balloon ride off Shen-zin Su so that we could actually go to his head and ask him directly what the problem was, which it turns out is a pain he’s never felt before and one that has crippled him. This entire sequence was all in-game, story-driven, and epic in scope and feel. Just flying around the head of an immensely giant turtle whose back you’ve been living upon as part of an ancient, undiscovered race sold me on the game and its direction. Say what you will about fluffy, furry pandas, my experience with the game’s start-zone was among the most compelling in the MMO space I’ve encountered.
Moving on to the Q&As, AusGamers chats with Blizzard's Tom Chilton:
AusGamers: Now, there’s a couple of competitors that have come along and have come on strong out of the gate and some of our guys were wondering is there anything on the drawing board for you guys moving forward in terms of adding a little bit more voice stuff, or kind of amplifying that story component a little bit more?
Tom: Right. I think it’s important to understand that it’s not necessarily the right thing to change a game’s identify. Other games are trying to build their own identity and what works for them may work for them, but it’s not necessarily the right thing for us. There are advantages and disadvantages right?
I think playing voiced-over games like The Old Republic, I’ve certainly had the experience where there are really cool class storylines, yet at the same time, as a Warcraft player, I don’t really want to hear two paragraphs of preamble before they tell me to go and kill ten monkeys or something like that. So I think there are times that it feels right and there are other times that it’s not even necessarily [or going to be] something that felt right for World of Warcraft.
So I think that it is important for us to look at what other people are doing in the industry in general and then making sure that if there are really good ideas out there, that we incorporate some of those. For instance, we are going to get AE looting.
WoWHead chats with Blizzard's Greg Street and J Allen Brack:
Q: Is there going to be a new level cap, and if so, any examples of perks in the works?
Well, there's a couple things that are going on with guilds. We're still figuring out if we're raising the cap or not, to be honest, Still figuring out if we want the cap to be at 25 or not. I think it really comes down to it, it's if we feel there's enough perks that feel right at the time. If we felt there weren't any additional perks that felt convenient without adding 'player power,' we'd leave it as it is, but continue to add other features we'd been talking about for guilds, like new rewards. We're also going to have challenge modes and scenarios play into guilds.
We've also been looking into changing how quest/guild xp works, so you get flat amount of xp on quests that are green at a minimum. A complaint we've had is that lower-level players feel that they can't contribute much to a guild, since you get such a small amount of xp then. So something we thought about doing, if that if it's green minimum, all quests contribute the same amount.
A lot of work has gone in, even though we can't show the new results yet--but the guild system is one we really liked. For cataclysm, we felt that people loved the rewards and that feeling of a group.
Eurogamer chats with Blizzard's John Lagrave about the possibility of WoW on an iPhone:
"Here's your platform, you've got to put an interface, what do you do? So yes we have [looked into mobile] and we always are. Maybe we'll stumble on the great way to put WOW on the phone - maybe we won't, but we're certainly looking into it.
"We won't do it until we think it's decent. But it's interesting and the world is evolving towards that little handheld device - I'd have fun on it, that's absolutely the case. It would be foolish for any game developer to not be looking at that and we're not - we don't think - we're foolish!
And then there's a video preview on PC Gamer, a round-up of all WoW Insider's coverage on Joystiq, and an assortment of other goodies on Blizzplanet.
UPDATE: Oh, hey, here are a slew of other articles. Pandamania.