There was almost too much info coming at us during the press tour of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. I almost feel like I’ve slowly been digesting it these past few days, and am just spewing it out at you in hopes that you can digest it all too. Gross? Too much? Well, now you know how I feel. It’s clear that Blizzard is trying damned hard to make sure Mists of Pandaria makes its mark as one of the best expansions to date for WoW. In this final preview today, we’ll tell you all about some of the new dungeons, scenarios, the Pet Battle system, and Challenge Mode for all your hardcore PVE-ers out there.
Stormstout Brewery and Redone Scholomance
Scott Mercer talked to us a bit about some of the new dungeons coming with Pandaria. The first one we were shown was clearly one of the team’s pride and joys when it comes to content in the expansion. Chen Stormstout was one of Warcraft 3’s most revered characters, and a big part of the reason the Pandaren are more than just an April Fool’s joke. Stormstout Brewery was erected in his honor, and the Pandaren take their beer very seriously. It’s almost a religious thing for them. But something’s gone wrong in the brewery Chen’s been away. He comes back to Pandaria to find it overrun and in disarray.
Hozen (wild-monkey creatures) have gotten super-drunk on the ale and are destroying the insides. Vermin (little rabbit-like kobolds) have infested the supplies and are poisoning the ale. And all this wrongly brewed beer has ticked off the Alementals (yes, Alementals) and they’re storming around the upper tiers of the brewery upset that the Pandaren have mistreated the art of brewing so badly.
We were very briefly shown some of the mechanics in the dungeon. To break up the party of the Hozen, you’ll have to break a lot of barrels and roll them around the map. You’ll fight through a wave of hundreds of Vermin to get at their leader and stop him from making the brew storage so foul. And you’ll climb your way to the top of the building to find Chen’s uncle in the middle of a storm of Alementals and not sure how to stop it. It’s a lighthearted and crazy fun dungeon. Anything with partying monkeys and demi-gods made of beer usually is. I can’t wait to see its finished product.
The second dungeon we were shown was the redesigned Scholomance. Like Deadmines before it, the team had a tremendous amount of positive response to redesigning and refreshing some of Vanilla WoW’s older dungeons into new heroics, and as such Scholo and Scarlet Monastery will be getting the treatment this time around. One of the first things we saw was some seriously updated artwork on the interior of Scholomance. Pictures’ eyes follow you; statues glow and watch as you walk by. The story is that while it was once knocked down, Jadice Barov and Darkmaster Gandling are still stalking around the school and teaching necromancers of the Scourge. But places like the classroom have been completely redesigned, the layout has been altered, and boss fights are dialed and tuned up to eleven thanks to all the tricks the encounters team has learned in seven years. Gone are the old dated models of some of the scourge, and in their place are the newer ones from the Lich King expansion. It seems like Scholo is about to become one of players’ favorite dungeons all over again.
Scenarios – Group Content for All
Tom Chilton then gave us a peek at the new Scenarios system, or at least more than we were given at BlizzCon back in October. Designed as a way for small groups of 3 to 6 to gather quickly and complete group quests, scenarios take the action out of the open world and place it into a sort of mirrored part of the world. This way the group content doesn’t have to necessarily affect the normal solo questers, and solo players won’t fight through a ton of quests only to wind up finding they can’t finish the story because they don’t have anyone to play with. Think of them as instanced public quests, and you’re kind of onto the idea.
You can queue up for them, don’t need a clear set of classes (healers won’t really be necessary), and progress through a series of scripted and directed stages and objectives. One we were shown is called “Lightning Lager” and is in Pandaria. Basically this Pandaren wants to make a special kind of brew, but it can only be made with ingredients captured during a lightning storm. You can guess what you’re ultimate goal is, as Tom didn’t want to spoil these scenario quests for everyone. They’re basically less-rigid instanced content that won’t take as long as dungeons and will still award valor points for those who prefer to do them. The team already has five completed and ready to ship, though they’re going to keep making more and more until they ship the box. The UI for how you’ll access the scenarios wasn’t final, but essentially you’ll find out about these through simply playing through the content and then you’ll be able to queue up randomly or with a group to charge off and take care of some quick and dirty business.
The Pet Battle System – Gotta Catch ‘Em All
The new Pet Battle system is probably one of the most divisive new features of this expansion, but I can’t help loving the idea. Essentially a way to do more than just look at your collection of in-game non-combat pets, Blizzard’s own take on Nintendo’s famed pet-fighting series is bound to be a great way to kill time in Azeroth. It’s a completely optional activity, and nothing you do in the Pet Battles will in anyway affect your character. It’s all about the pets. It’s really the first Azeroth-wide mini-game they’ve been able to put into WoW. You’ll take a roster of three of your favorite or best pets and pit them against another person or NPC’s three best in turn-based battles a la Final Fantasy.
You’ll name your pets, choose which three skills of six they have available to them (which are different on every pet), and be able to randomly propose a fight to anyone you come across in the world. Or, if you prefer anonymity, you’ll be able to privately queue up for a match and when you get one you won’t be able to see or chat with your opponent. It’ll just be you and your pets against what could just be a smarter NPC if you didn’t know better. This was the team’s way of keeping the Pet Battles as casual and friendly as possible. They want the competition to stay in the true PVP, not with the pets. So their goal is to lower the “I lost and it sucks” factor as much as possible. It doesn’t even track your losses, just your wins. Of course if you never win, you’ll know but that’s neither here nor there.
We were shown a video of the pet battles, a fight between Illidan and Arthas. Final Fantasy’s old MIDI music blaring, we watch a side-view of the two teams duking it out. You can swap between pets on the fly, all three are standing out before their master, ready to take orders. We watch as Arthas quickly dispatches Illidan’s pets with Mini-Kel taking the crown at the end. It really is turn-based battling at its J-RPG finest… Pokémon, eat your heart out.
Challenge Modes – Competitive PVE
Lastly, we were given some more info on the Challenge Mode dungeons. In WoW, there are a lot of guilds who like to lay claim to being the “best” at running such and such dungeon. The Challenge Modes are what will truly determine who is the best. Basically a way to officially run a timed version of any dungeon with your favorite group, the Challenge Modes will record which team is the fastest on each server and put the rankings up there for all to see. Not only that, but you’ll be able to see how one group of your guild ranks against another as well for a little friendly guild-wide competition to form. It’s definitely going to be one of the hardcore players’ favorite new aspects.
If you can believe it, even after these three articles there’s still a lot we don’t know about Mists of Pandaria. There are seven more dungeons we haven’t seen, the new arena map, two whole zones we didn’t even glimpse, and we still have to learn more about how each faction works as we’re promised they won’t be just the same “rep grind for gear” as before, but more along the line with the Tillers and the new farming system. Heck, we haven’t even touched on the new raids and how they’ll each be Raid Finder enabled at launch. In short folks, Mists of Pandaria is shaping up to be World of Warcraft’s most ambitious and feature-heavy expansion to date. Anyone who’s writing it off because of the Pandaren, might really be missing out. Stay tuned for more info as it becomes available, including exclusive interviews with Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street, Jeff LeGrave, and Scott Mercer.