Looking at the screenshot below I'd say it was some new game altogether if I didn't know any better. Well, it is technically a new game if we're counting the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion as such, however, my point was that it simply doesn't ooze "WoW" like most WoW screenshots tend to.
Perhaps it is the missing iconic UI, or maybe it is the impressive particle effects on those flame jets, possibly just an increase in polygon count on every texture in the vicinity of my adorable, pudgy panda? Or mayhap it is my blazing new computer that is eating everything in its sight alive and regurgitating it in a slew of pretty colors and shapes? Likely it is all of the above but let’s throw some screenshots of older content out there and see how Pandaria stands up to scrutiny.
Here we have an excellent portrait of a goblin rogue just outside of some ruins on a misty afternoon as he treks across the island in search of the blimp to take him back to mainland Azeroth. The textures and foliage are definitely similar to the picture I initially proffered but there are hints here and there, sprinkles of WoW-ness piled atop the lushness of the environment and sheen of the armor. I'm not quite sure yet though, this could easily be some random game if I didn't know better...so time to examine something truly, truly dated!
Damn. Here we see my vaguely human warrior with his back to the camera as he ignores the life and death struggle of a guard with a mangy wolf. I hope that the bread he was munching was more important than the guard's life! Here you'll notice the incredibly...standard texturing on both the guard, ground, and foliage. The trees are apparently bucking the trend of poor texture resolutions and have impressively beautiful bark to convey a sense of bewilderment to any onlooker by boldly stating "our leaves may suck, but our bark has bite!" Weapons are impressively lustrous though and convey an almost audible sheen if onlookers ignore the fact that sheens don't make sounds.
Now do me a favor and scroll up and down between these three screenshots a bit and evaluate them, compare and contrast their hues, texture resolutions, foliage, and overall aesthetic. Every graphical setting in the game was pumped up to max for all the pictures so no area has any unfair advantage beyond their time of release which, admittedly, is a rather large boon. However to my mildly-trained eye it seems that the aesthetic Blizzard is attaching to Mists of Pandaria is of much more striking clangor compared to even Cataclysm! As I examine the Pandarens staring at that gout of flame on my desktop I'm amazed at how surreal it seems, the depth present on the character models and the heart-stopping beauty of the flame. Even the small plants blend into the environment well! The cave walls seem to glisten with molten light as the infernos gout up out of the floor randomly.
Behold the serene respendence of Pandaria!
I dare say no World of Warcraft player has encountered environs quite so exquisite as Pandaria has to offer, however, there is a bit of a downside to the increased visual fidelity that is seemingly on display here and it is as follows:
WHAT IN THE DEATHWING'S UNHOLY NAME IS THIS?!
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a female Pandaren surrounded by a multitude of male Pandarens. If you'd kindly examine her facial region the thought may come to mind that Blizzard has officially crossed the line from "woah those are awesome graphics" to "WHEN DID WE ARRIVE AT THE VALLEY OF THE UNCANNY?" We've all read the furry jokes and complained on internet forums about how pandas will be the downfall of the game and ruin everything, exagerrations and truths aside, pandaren faces may very well shatter my oblique young love affair with Pandaria's aesthetics and visual design. Something about those voluminious eyes, just-too-chubby cheeks, and sultry yet unnerving grin unhinge my senses. I can't quite place what it is that forces my inner-voice to wail UNCANNY VALLEY but it happens every time I gaze upon a Pandaren face.
Only time and content-exploration will tell if my gut is correct friends, but for now I shall continue my passage throughout Pandaria---all the while extoling the virtues of its locals as long as I don't come across a Pandaren...in first-person view...with my UI turned off. When that happens I'll likely turn my misfortune into a drinking game and down a shot of vodka every time it happens.
Damn, this is going to be an expensive expansion.
P.S. Why is it alright for all the male Pandarens to be overweight yet the Pandaren women are all slim as silk? Is there some innate social mechanism oppressing female Pandarens everywhere or do males just have the ability to be crazy ninja monks with a fifty pound gut? Seriously, if I didn't know better I'd say there was some sly misdirection or social satire hidden in these physical forms before us...