Oh! To be a Panda(ren)!

1 Apr , 2012,
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As a long time World of Warcraft player, I was curious when I got wind that Mists of Pandaria was in the works.

It was slated to be WOW’s fourth expansion (following The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King and last year’s Cataclysm), and that begged the question – what else can the MMORPG that’s captured the world’s biggest market share do to up the ante?

From the looks of it, a fair bit. Mists introduces a new continent (like duh!) with clearly oriental themes, and implements a good number of changes including better customization at character creation, a more streamlined interface, a less clunky talent system, and the ability to loot multiple targets with a single click (what a godsend!).

Of course, one of the biggest draws has got to be the fact that you get to roll a fuzzy, wushu savvy critter, and that was exactly what I did when I got my hands on a Beta Invite. I decided to unleash my paws of fury on an unsuspecting Azeroth by rolling a Pandaren Monk.

Check out the new character creation screen.

Customization's so much easier now.

The Pandaren starter zone is called The Wandering Isle, and it’s a beautiful, expansive place replete with breathtaking autumn hues, Asian architecture, and a soothing ambient track that resonated inner peace.

Just look at that scenery.

From the get-go, you get to jump right to kungfu fighting.

The introductory quest has you picking up hand wraps and punching target dummies into oblivion, before embarking on a journey that’s rife with ancient Chinese secrets, mythological and pop culture references galore (coughcoughAvatarTheLastAirbendercoughcough).

Meet Huo, the spirit of fire.

Training pools that change you into cute critters when you hit water. Kinda like in Ranma 1/2.

Eventually, you’ll also get to meet (and beat up) plenty of new creatures indigenous to The Wandering Isle, including the monkey-like Hozen, Virmen rodents, and sentient plants called Scamps.

It's like whack a mole. Except with rabbits.

And since we’re on the topic of beating on things, I’m going to talk a little bit about the Monk.

The Monk is the second “hero” class to be released (the first being the Death Knight), and it’s a class that’s incredibly versatile.

Naturally, you start out with plenty of ways to dish out punishment. You use Energy as your core mechanic, and rack up Chi points when you perform basic attack moves.

Chi points lets you deliver stronger attacks with additional effects while you’re in specific stances, such as the Tiger Palm, which strikes for extra damage on tough foes, and the Blackout Kick, which is kinda like an execute ability, dealing massive damage and refunding a Chi point if you kill the opponent.

What’s more, specializing unlocks a plethora of abilities that lets you fulfill either tank, healer or damage roles.

The Brewmaster specialization.

Players of the Warcraft 3 will probably remember the Brewmaster Chen Stormstout, who’s the inspiration behind the tanky Monk spec. Familiar abilities include Dizzying Haze and Breath of Fire, and its damage mitigation mechanic is an ability called Stagger, which lets you reduce the damage you take by delaying it and converting it into a Damage Over Time effect.

The Windwalker specialization.

The Windwalker, on the other hand, plays a little bit like a ninja. It’s a specialization that focuses on building Chi points, and dishing out rapid fire martial arts attacks. The baseline ability for the Windwalker is Fists of Fury, which combines a potent stun with multiple hits in a frontal cone. How cool is that?

The Mistweaver specialization.

Perhaps the most unique of all is the Mistweaver spec, which uses Mana as a resource and encourages you to get up close and personal while healing your allies. Much of the Mistweaver’s powers deal damage, or require that you deal damage to heal your allies, and that’s a play style that’s going to take a bit of work to adapt to.

I’ve been having fun with the Mistweaver spec, and likely as not, it’s going to be the spec I’ll be sticking to when the new expansion hits stores later in the year.

And now, it’s back to Pandaria for me.

Until next time, cheerio!