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The Pandaren Starter Area

By William Murphy on March 26, 2012 | Previews | Comments

The Pandaren Starter Area

Mists of Pandariais a really ambitious expansion for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. The disenfranchised will blow it off as another lame attempt at the company to get back missing Azerothians, but really… they’re missing the point. Mists is probably the first time since Blizzard first brought us into WoW that they’re trying to really bring something for everyone back into the game. One of the reasons World of Warcraft was such a success in 2004 was because it was the first MMORPG that was for both the hardcore and the casual gamer. It worked on each level. As time ground on the expansions came and were mostly about progression – whether by level or gear – and less and less about a world to explore and enjoy.  Along the way to its massive success as the decade defining MMO, WoW lost its sense of wonder.  Mists of Pandaria is a return to form for World of Warcraft.

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I spent a good amount of time in the beta both at last week’s Blizzard HQ trip, and over this past weekend during the first stages of the MoP beta.  Aside from being sad that my lowbie Pandaren Monk’s skills were a little bugged and the animations weren’t complete (it is beta after all), I found myself reading quest text, looking into the nooks and crannies of the world as I followed the quest lines, and in general I was stopping to breathe in the art and mystique of the world Blizzard’s created.  I wasn’t just rushing along trying to hit level 20 and get my mount, or get to the cap so I could begin raiding.  I was playing in Azeroth in a way I haven’t in years.

Playing the Monk

Back at BlizzCon, the Monk had a whole new UI where he had to balance light and dark energies. That’s gone now. Instead, the Monk can likely be best equated to the Rogue.  He builds up Chi, and spends these points on his more powerful attacks.  Only instead of finishers, the monk’s attacks are more about flow.  You’ll always be building Chi and then quickly spending them, and in general the flow of combat is probably a lot faster than most other classes in WoW.  In a way, it feels a bit action-y, while still being auto-attack and energy-based in nature.

In this build of the beta, a lot of the animations are a little wonky.  The roll movement (one of the first skills you get) is broken so that your monk just flies through the air, but you’ll quickly learn to use it as a charge sort of skill to close the distance between you and your enemies.  By level 12 when I left the giant turtle’s back for the normal lands of Azeroth, I had five main skills. I had my chi builder, my roll, a hard punch and a brutal spinning kick that was especially useful on mobs with lower health. The final skill, the spinning crane kick that has you twirling through the air like a character out of Capcom’s Street Fighter, is not working. I was given the skill around level 7 (you don’t have to see trainers, new skills just come to you), but it never worked. The reason being that the “target is too low a level”.  Essentially, I’m thinking they’re still working out the skill progression for the class and maybe I’m not supposed to have that one so early.


Choosing Sides

You can watch or skim through the video above if you’d like, and you’ll see almost the entirety of the Pandaren starting zone.  It’s easily one of the more intriguing ones added to the game since launch.  With drunk Hozen monkeys, viscious verming tearing up fields, and a crashed Alliance ship that reintroduces society to the peaceful and long dormant Pandarens, the whole progression is smooth and gives off the vibe that these benevolent and “zen” people are being dragged back into the affairs of the Horde and Alliance. Throughout the first 11 or 12 levels you’ll learn about the ways of the Pandaren and their religion, and then by the end of the area you’ll fight for both Horde and Alliance who have crash landed on the giant turtle’s back.

Then you have to choose who you side with.

Tensions are rising in Azeroth as Garrosh Hellscream rules with a dictator’s brutal zeal, and war is coming back to the forefront in the wake of Cataclysm.  It’s almost like the Pandaren are reminiscent of the Native Americans, forced into the life and bickering of the Horde and Alliance and forced to take up arms with either or. 

So Much to Come

I’ve only just scratched the surface of what Pandaria has to offer. I’ve barely started life as a Brewmaster Tank, I’ve not even begun to test out the new talent system, the Pet Battles (not in yet) or the new Battlegrounds, and I’ve certainly not seen any of the new dungeons yet either.  I’ve not raised a wind serpent, or tilled my own farm.  I’ve not driven the drunken Hozen from Stormstout Brewery either, which is a must. 

I can’t imagine that before the boxed product launches, I’ll see this all either.  But that’s okay, because for the first time in years, I find myself getting excited about a WoW expansion, and I don’t want to spoil too much.  Is it still World of Warcraft? Of course. It’s still questing, dungeoning, and gearing.  But it’s also much more. There’s a sure sign of a team that’s really trying to get back to their roots here, and it’s going to be fun to see if they actually can.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.
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