The team at Blizzard has done it again, managing to deliver some more gaming goodness to its waning long time fan-base in the form of, get this: Pandas. Yup, that’s what I said, Pandas. Mists of Pandaria, WoW’s newest expansion hit shelves recently, and is already shaping up to be arguably the best of the add-on content packs yet.
For the vets, up to this point, you’ve managed to put an end to Deathwing’s destructive reign and even saved the Dragonflies from utter annihilation. For the newcomers, you’ve got a long road ahead and plenty of proving left to do. Nonetheless, the story goes on now as the long lost continent of Pandaria has been discovered, and with it many dark secrets to be uncovered including a long-buried ancient evil and an extraordinary character race of Pandas or ‘Pandaren’ to roleplay.
Players will now be able to master the mythic powers of the Pandaren monk by exploring up to three paths of discipline: The Windwalker, a high damage character with a flurry of hard-hitting attacks and combos, The Mist Weaver, a mage type character with a bit of a twist utilizing spiritual energies to get the job done, and finally The Brewmaster, a thick-skinned tank character built to stand in the face of just about any adversary.
Moreover, the Pandaren are WoW’s first neutral class of character uninfluenced by the cares and opinions of the outside world, at least for the moment, instead turning their focus inward to a more serious and urgent matter within their own homeland. It’s an interesting little twist that really helps to bolster the story of Pandaria and at the same time appeals to all players regardless of allegiance.
Pandaria is been beautifully portrayed as a land full of life whose vary roots seem unmistakably spiritual. A rich contrast of bold and bright colors, fantastic sky drops, and large engaging landscapes and scenery help to sell the impression that this is a place long preserved from the taint of the outside world.
There’s a bit of old world Japanese lore to Pandaria accented by not just all of its surrounding eye candy but also a wealth of mood music and orchestra. Audio plays a huge role in driving that surreal feeling you get during the time you spend here.
Huge kudos goes out to the dev team in terms of character creation. Pandas are not your typical MMO style character race, but these models and their various customizations have been done amazingly well. It’s no secret that non-human characters are not the most player preferred class in MMOs abroad, but what has been done here is worth a second opinion. Clearly these are panda bears, but the real magic is the subtleness of human characteristics you see in the various models including everything from hair and mustaches to facial features and body build and even suggestive fur and color types to depict the different races of panda. While this isn’t something that hasn’t been done before with other character types, the extent that it is done here is both extraordinary and appealing even to those players who might prefer to stick to human character sets only.
Taking a more in-depth look at the various panda types, the Windwalker is great for players who prefer offense over defense. These bears have quite an arsenal of skills at their disposal to deal high DPS to their opponents including a basic jab attack, a ranged rising sun kick, a penetrating Tiger Palm, and a crucial Spinning Fire Blossom AoE attack to name just a few. Windwalkers can also duel-wield one-handed weapons or use a two-handed weapon to dish out lots of pain. At level 90 they can learn the invaluable talent Invoke Xuen, the White Tiger which hits for a ton of damage, but has a fairly long cool down.
For players who prefer the frontline approach to things, the Brewmaster’s tank ability is the best choice here. Hardwired to take an increased amount of damage over time and maintain threat or aggro, the Brewmaster is the ideal character to take on raids and into various PvP scenarios. More than just a meat bag, the Brewmasters can deal a respectable amount of damage themselves, and are skilled in various weapon types such as swords, maces, axes, staffs, and two-handed pole-arms. Though the Brewmaster shares a few similar skills to that of the other monk types, they can call on unique talents to even the odds during battle including Expel Harm, Keg Smash, and Guard buffs to name a few. The Brewmaster, true to his name, can also make use of a number of special brews to help reduce damage, remove effects such as a stagger from DoT, and also increase health.
For players who have developed a fetish for magic, the Mistweaver provides a fun and interesting take on the art of spell casting. While they tend to resemble other mage types out there in that they are primarily healers, what sets them apart from the rest is the fact that they tend to be more effective at closer distances as opposed to long range. Thanks to a handy talent called Eminence Mistweavers can convert 50 percent of damage taken to a smart heal on the lowest health target within a party. To increase the effectiveness of the Eminence, talent weavers can also summon a Jade Serpent Statue which basically mirrors the healing effects of the Eminence talent. Though it’s not required, DPS healing is not only quite useful during close quarters combat, but can add a little excitement to things from a mage perspective.
Without throwing any spoilers out there, the story of Pandaria is by far the most engaging element of this new expansion. It’s told in such a way that you feel like you’re a part of something special right from the start. There’s clearly an underlying spiritual and moral way of life established amongst the Pandarens, and a sense of discipline and peace practiced throughout the land. It’s very easy to jump into your new role and begin making your impact on society. You will initially be challenged with the run of the mill ‘Speak to this NPC’ or ‘Collect this many Items’ quests, but they will all soon tie into a much deeper and immersive story line waiting to unfold. By the time players finish up the main story, they will have a good understanding of Pandarens and the potential role they will play in mainstream society.
The bottom line is that Mists of Pandaria is not only arguably the best of the expansions yet, but it comes at a critical time when the fan base is beginning to fall off a bit, and a series of questionable patches to the game as of late have stirred up a ton of controversy. Undoubtedly, this is definitely some much needed good news for a change and could even be just what WoW needs to rejuvenate the masses. The new areas of the expansion look absolutely stunning, and even more impressive than that is the fact that these next-gen graphics are being pushed out on a dated graphic engine to start with. Great graphics are backed by solid audio and sound effects.
And who would have guessed that playing a Panda would be this cool! There’s a nice selection of new monk types and plenty of customizations to help make your character look unique. All of these new features come with a celebrated and engaging storyline that pulls you in instantly and gets you pumped about playing WoW all over again. For all the previously mentioned reasons, I’m happy that the Blizzard team has earned a nearly perfect score on this one.