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The Zones & Tone of Pandaria

William Murphy Posted:
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The overarching theme behind World of Warcraft's newest expansion, Mists of Pandaria isn't one of simply extending content, refurbishment, or just increasing the level cap once more. Sure, all of these things are there.  Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance are both being overhauled like Deadmines was, and the cap is rising to 90, and there are going to be seven new zones to explore on Pandaria itself. There are also nine new heroics and three raids for players to look forward to, as well as two new battlegrounds. And I haven't even mentioned the redesign of the talent system, the addition of scenarios, and the pet battle system... oh and that brand new class in the Monk and the new race of the Pandarens.  What does all this add up to? Well, as we were told countless times during the trip to their Irvine, California offices: the focus this time is about expanding the options for everyone in Azeroth. And more than this, the team also seeks to return the focus of Warcraft back to the actual war between the Alliance and the Horde. In short: Mists of Pandaria is trying to bring back the old days of WoW, and from what we were shown last week it just might do that.

Cataclysm set out to re-make the old world, and in a lot of ways it succeeded.  But what happened is that players found themselves stuck at the new level cap of 85 and unable to progress unless they had the guild to do so and unless they wanted to raid or run heroics non-stop.  Pandaria changes this mentality, and with several new systems it seeks to give everyone across the board something to do from the moment they log into the expansion for the first time.  And then they'll find that they have about nine-bazillion things to keep them busy outside the normal questing, battleground and dungeon buffet.  To say that this expansion is feature heavy would be an understatement.  But let's recap the two-hour or so presentation we were given to start the day at Blizzard HQ because there's a whole lot to share.


The spirit of the first vanilla WoW was all about adventure, the call to adventure, and the Alliance versus the Horde.  Chris stated that somewhere along the way, the game became less and less about this.  They want to get back to that.  And at BlizzCon they first showed Mists of Pandaria, and it kind of took people by surprise.  It’s not predicated on a big new world boss, or a global threat.  It’s really about war itself, and Alliance and Horde will be going at it like they haven’t in a very long time.  They’re thinking of the Pandaria expansion set in two parts: the first is a storyline about Pandaria itself, and what’s been brewing there for 10,000 years.  The second part will be the patches that come after its launch.  Instead of working up to some major boss, they’re conceptualized as “sequels” to the box itself and the story will kick into a whole different gear.  The Pandaria mystery plays out, you help them, all is well… but then the war storms the beach and the story really starts with Alliance and Horde fighting over the wealth of Pandaria itself.

The “villain” comes into play with the patches, and to cut to the chase, Chris said the final patch does not occur in Pandaria.  But things get so escalated, that the final patch of Pandaria will wind up being the Siege of Ogrimmar as the Allies and Horde storm Ogrimmar to bring Garrosh down and end his reign as warchief.  He says they haven’t had this much fun building a Warcraft story in many years, and they’re really excited about where it’s going.  Pandarens might be zen and chill characters, but the expansion isn’t all about light and fluffy races: it’s about war.  The global conflict of World of Warcraft is back to the forefront of the game itself.  If anything Pandaria and the seeming calm is a contrast to the warfare to come.

Why Pandaren now? Why this direction for the game? They believe that with this expansion, if they were ever going to have the Pandaren join the game, it had to be now.  Initially, many forget this, but Pandaren were once slated to be the Alliance race in The Burning Crusade.  The feel with the themes in this expansion, the idea that they wanted to try this lost continent, and that they wanted to have a neutral race in general it had to be now.  And with that, Chris said they had something new to show us today: the female model of the Pandaren.  Cute, vivacious, and feminine, they’re in stark contrast to the hefty males of the Pandaren.


Dave Kosak, the Lead Quest Designer and Cory Stockton, the Lead Content Designer then took over to tell us about how Pandaria has changed and evolved since we last saw it at BlizzCon.  The map itself has grown since then, into seven zones instead of the five there were going to be before.  The idea behind this is to give a less linear progression through the Pandaria content for those who will go through it multiple times.  They were designing these zones, and one area called Krasarang Wilds was originally just going to be a part of another zone, but as they built it they realized it had more than enough within it to be its own area so they made it larger and gave it its own whole series of content.  The landmass itself has grown in general, because as they make these zones they find themselves with more ideas than they know what to do with.

Cory and Dave then took us on a tour with video of several of the new zones, beginning with the first zone: The Jade Forest.

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 Windswas 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.

The Valley is also where players will run into the Stormstout Brewery, named after the Warcraft III hero, Chen Stormstout.  It’s another new dungeon to the game, which is out in the open world.  And while there will be a dungeon portion, similar to the Deadmines it will have plenty of quests in and around it that tie into the lore of the zone without forcing players to go into the dungeon itself.  But more on the Stormstout Brewery would come later. 

Then we were shown the Krasarang Wilds, a coastal rain forest zone where the Ancient Mogu dwell.  The Mogu were once the dominant and tyrannical race of Pandaria 10,000 years ago.  Well, as the Sha grows, their power is returning and they want their reign to return.  These guys will be all over Pandaria in dungeons, raids, and so forth.  They built their empire through force and had the actual ability to create races themselves, which they often did to have more slaves to their will.  All over the continent, not just here, there will be historical points of interest for players to collect and bring to the library in another zone (the Vale of Eternal Blossoms) to collect achievements and see plays put on detailing the history of Pandaria.  It’s a feature specifically intended (while optional) to flesh out the lore in the game and give fans some way to be rewarded for hunting it all down.  Lastly, we were told that it will be here in patch 5.1 after the launch of MoP that the Horde and Alliance will storm the shores of Krasarang to begin the war on Pandaria. 

Next we were whisked to the Kun Lai Summit.  Here the barbarian Yongol (descendents of the Tauran – Yak + Mongol) are looking for a new home.  They do so like any Yongol would: aggressively.  It’ll be your job to figure out if there’s some solution to why they can’t just settle peacefully like the other races of Pandaria.  Kun Lai is also home to the tallest mountain in all of Azeroth, which is the home to the Shadow Pan Monastery.  The monks of the Shadow Pan are essentially the Sha Police in Pandaria. 

The summit itself leads into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, a level 90 zone in Pandaria.  It’s here that players will run into the Lore Walkers (the aforementioned lore librarians you’ll bring historical artifacts to), and Pandaria’s main faction hub with an auction house, bank, and so forth.  Dave and Cory ended their presentation by informing us that while they’re not ready to talk release date, six of the seven zones are all but completely finished.  They’re content ready and quested up and working on polish.  That’s pretty impressive, considering the expansion itself was just announced in October.

Read on to the second feature, for more information on the new battlegrounds, the Monk class, the talent system, dungeons, scenarios, pet battles, scenarios and more.

Read more about Mists of Pandaria's Battlegrounds, the Monk and Talents in Part 2 of our series.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.