Blizzard released a lot of new info about World of Warcraft's next expansion today. But does it all mean? We walk you through all the changes, tell you what we think of them from our hands-on time with Mists of Pandaria, and break down what they mean for every aspect of the game: from questing to casual gameplay to release date.
At BlizzCon, Chris Metzen told the crowd that the enemy in Mists of Pandaria is "war itself," referring to the fact that there's no huge monster threatening to destroy the world in this expansion. He elaborated on that thought when talking with press at a closed-doors event held at Blizzard last week, telling us that MoP is really about getting back to WoW's original theme: "the call to adventure." Metzen and the team want the focus to be back on the world and discovering the new cultures and threats that are indigenous to these new, unexplored parts of Azeroth. It's a more subtle call than "OMG A GIANT FIRE DRAGON WANTS TO KILL EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER LOVED" and one that Blizzard hopes will resonate with the nostalgic and the hopeful.
But it's hardly a time of peace for Azeroth. As Blizzard revealed at BlizzCon a few months back, the Horde and Alliance will bring war to the zen-filled land of Pandaria, and Metzen explained further to us that both sides will go "to the brink" and have to look at what they've destroyed. He described it as a near-apocalypse scenario that both sides will have to step back from and do some soul-searching.
That's the end of the MoP storyline, and that whole story will wrap up inside of the game's launch content. Blizzard's mixing it up with MoP by having a full storyline in the "boxed content," which will lead players into the next story, told in the post-launch updates. That story revolves around assaulting Orgrimmar to take down Garrosh Hellscream and replace him with a new Warlord of the Horde. It sounds awesome (Vol'jin for the win!), and you can read our earlier post to get all the juicy details straight from Metzen's mouth.
Pandaria, the new continent being added to Azeroth in the expansion, is broken up into seven zones (not including the 1-10 Pandaren content, which takes place on a giant floating turtle). Here's what we saw in each of them.
The females were fully animated in the build we got to play, and have cute little bushy tails that the images below don't show.
In the Jade Forest, players will be able to purchase an egg of a Cloud Serpent (either blue, red, or black), that you can nurtur and grow into a flying mount for your character. The system works very similar to the Horde's Venomhide Ravasaur mount quest series in Un'goro Crater. At first, it's a minipet that will give you daily quests that revolve around feeding it and catering to its every whim. After a few days of that, it'll turn into a larger pet with new quests for you. After 20 days of doing dailies for your Cloud Serpent, it'll be fully grown and will be available as a flying mount.
Having the mount will also unlock unique content in the world, such as being able to participate in the Cloud Serpent race, sitting atop a bluff with bleachers stuffed with Pandaren fans cheering you on.
I jumped onto a level 85 Alliance-Pandaren Monk, who was in the middle of helping out the jinyu--those wise fish-people I mentioned earlier. The character was on the last quest in the camp, which was to take three of their warriors out to "show them how it's done" in combat. So I tried my best, playing this Monk for the first time ever. I ran around clumsily beating down 15 baddies conveniently located just outside the swampy camp's borders while trying to learn the Monks abilities. When I finally made my way back to the camp, I felt horribly guilty: if these fish people based their new combat style on my clumsy moves, they'd all be dead within the week--most likely from accidentally killing each other.
Nevertheless, the leader of the Jinyu praised my skills, boosted my reputation to exalted, and declared to the whole zone that his people were ready to ally with the Alliance now. Yay, me. But that's not why I came to Pandaria--I heard these panda people made some sweet booze. Thankfully, the next quest was exactly what I wanted: an order to sneak into a nearby monastery and steal a rival Pandaren's brew.
That booze was some heavy stuff. My lightweight self passed out almost instantly and I was woken by the clobbering of a chunky pandaren who decided I needed to learn the value of moderation and balance. I was sent to meditate under the nearby pagoda--my character automatically moved there as part of a mini-cutscene that never actually broke me out of the game world. New tech lets the devs design quests that move and animate your character in the live game world while you watch, but lead quest designer Dave Kosak assured me that the team is only using this sparingly because they know it can get frustrating if you're losing control of your character constantly.
The meditation itself was a fun minigame that involved trying to get a moving meter to land exactly in the middle by nudging it one way or the other, while it sporadically tended towards the outside edges. It was tricky, but I got it after a minute or so of panicked button mashing. It was fun enough and captured the pandaren zen mentality well.
Overall, the quests felt pretty similar to what we've come to expect from WoW--there's no revolutionary new technology looking to change the way we quest. At the end of the day, Kosak told me that quests need to mostly be about combat, because combat is fun. There did seem to be a few more mini-cinematics and minigames along the way, but the core is still finding crazy new creatures, beating them to a pulp, and using their internal organs for creative activities.
There will be three new raids at launch, but we really don't know anything about them at this point. The raid on Orgrimmar to take out Hellscream will happen in a later patch.
Everyone's talking about Blizzard's changes to the Talent system, but let's get real: MoP changes way more than your talents. Every single class is different from what you're playing now. It was impossible to try out all of the classes extensively in the limited time I had with the game, but I'll talk about what I saw (mostly Monk and Warlock), and I'd encourage you to check out your class on Blizzard's official MoP talent calculator , if you haven't already.
One interesting thing I noticed while playing the Monk (which may or may not be carried over to other classes by the time MoP launches), is that I could fire my ranged abilities whether or not I was in range of my target. If you're out of range, the spell still goes off but doesn't hit anyone. We noted a couple weeks ago that Guild Wars 2 does this and we felt it added a nice level of skill to the combat. I hope this becomes more wide-spread in WoW as well.
The biggest change to how talents work at this event is that you'll be able to swap out individual talents at any time and any place. Swapping a single talent for another just costs a consumable, similar to how the Glyph system works now. And Glyphs! Oh my word, every one of 'em is changed and almost all of them are super interesting. Here are some of my favorites that I saw:
Enough of that general class talk. Let's get into what really matters: how did they change my class? Most of the Warlock spells worked differently, but maintained the same theme as the existing spells (Corruption is a DoT, etc.), and every demon pet got massive plastic surgery, taking advantage of the game's newer high-res models. Your Imp is now a Fel Imp, and Singe Magic is now an AoE magic debuff removale for your group. Voidwalker's become a Voidlord who looks like a real tank now, with a disarm and a personal shield that keeps himself healthy. The felhunter pup has morphed into a floating eyeball-squid demon called an Observer, but maintains the Felhunter's spells. The succubus has retired as well, replaced by the less sexy Shivarra , with all the same spells. The old Felguard is now a Wrathguard , and looks to be available to all specs of warlock.
Awesome, warlocks will continue to rule. But let's talk a bit about the new Monk class, because it's pretty freakin' radical. Going into this event, I wasn't very excited about Monks, but I walked away from my time playing an 85 Windwalker (melee damage) Monk fairly impressed. The core mechanic of the Monk--build up Chi by spending energy on combo-builders to execute finishers--felt like a more focused version of the Rogue combo-point mechanic, with more options for how you want to spend the Chi points you build up and some very cool reactive elements.
If nothing else, Monks are incredibly fun to watch. I started most fights with a Flying Serpent Kick, which sent my pandaren flying through the air, leg outstretched in classic kung fu pose. I hit the button a second time to slam to the ground, damaging and slowing anything beneath me (the ability has a max range of about 40 yards), and started building up some Chi with some basic Clobber attacks. I unleashed the Chi with a Fist of Fury attack which sent my fists into a E. Honda-like blur in front of me that damaged and stunned all the hozen in front of me. The little monkey freaks were begging for more, so I busted out a Spinning Crane kick that sent my Monk into a swirling roundhouse kick tornado that lasted for 5 seconds. Once I land, all three enemies were pretty beaten up so I threw out some Blackout Kicks to finish them off.
That was my favorite AoE combo, but I was only using 1/10th of my abilities, so I started messing around with others. The craziest I found was Touch of Death, which will instantly kill any NPC that has less health than you. It's on a 1.5-minute cooldown and costs 4 chi, but still--that's insane!
Another cool mechanic: each monk spec is able to summon a giant statue that helps the Monk do his job. Windwalker Monks (melee DPS) create a tiger statue that sends a spirit tiger to charge your target and deal damage to it every time you use a certain amount of Force (Monk's energy). Mistweavers (healer) summon jade serpent statues that will toss small heals out everytime you deal damage and works like a Priest's Lightwell ability, letting groupmates click it to receive a HoT. Brewmasters (tank) throw down Black Ox statues that AoE slows enemies and can be clicked by groupmates for a shield that absorbs damage and boosts that Monk's heals on them.
Still not convinced you want to give Monk a shot? How about these awesome mechanics:
Nine total new dungeons are being added: 6 entirely new ones in Pandaria with heroic and normal modes and 3 new heroics based on remakes of classic dungeons Scarley Monastery and Scholomance.
I got to play through the first two bosses of Temple of the Jade Serpent, a level 85 dungeon ready for you the second you step foot onto Pandaria--and they were tough! The first fight places you in a big room with a large pool of water and intricate stone pathways going through it. Wise Mari, a magical priest of some kind stands in the middle, completely protected while summoning large water elementals that take a beating and shatter into a corrosive pool and little water glob minions that hunt you down.
It's a challenge to take down these minions without dying and once you take out 5 of them, it's time for the real fight. Wise Mari starts spewing out a wall of water from her face and spins slowly around. Your team has to hop on the stone platforms in the water, constantly circling while attacking to stay in front of the wave of death chasing you. It took us about 10-15 circles to take down her health bar, and I had more than a few embarassing jumps into the damaging pool beneath us.
It was a fun fight that mirrored the difficulty of early Cataclysm dungeons, but instead of requiring you to constantly CC enemies, you're required you to pay attention to your environment and move to avoid hazards. The second boss, a lone pandaren monk in a dojo filled with dead pandaren required the same level of reaction skills when she periodically summoned four waves of fire, water, air, and (I think) earth from herself heading in different directions. She also threw forever-burning blue fire on the ground that slowly narrowed the fighting area and acted as a DPS gate.
The other level 85 dungeon, The Stormstout Brewery, looks totally ridiculous. A group of hozen (those immature monkeys the Horde aligned with) have taken it over, gotten totally drunk, and gone crazy. Knife fights and chandelier-hanging ensue as you fight your way through to free the brewery and score some epic booze. Some highlights we saw during our fly-through were jumping on rolling beer kegs and running on them to ride them around smashing hozen and a giant distorted bunny that ambushes you and spews out carrot-breath in a disgustingly orange spray.
Pandaren are best when they're drunk, which is why you'll find Brewmasters tucked all over Pandaria, who only show up from time to time. Whenever you find one, you can complete a scenario—one of the new gameplay types that are basically mini-instances, based on chunks of the open world, that can be run in small groups without a need for a specific lineup of tank, healer, DPS—to earn reputation with them. The scenario we saw, Lightning Lager, was only available while it was nighttime and raining in a certain area. First you had to repel invaders on the brewery camp, then push your way threw their lines to a temple at the bottom of the hill where a giant boss stood ready for a good bashing.
The developers have five scenarios "close to completion" at this point, and will add more before launch. The goal is to let them develop areas further than they could with regular questing, and allow you to queue up to find groups for the content--as opposed to open-world group quests, which they found most players just skipped because they couldn't find a group for them.
We didn't learn a whole lot of new things about pet battles, but we did get to see one in action. It was a very early version, but it looked a lot like a Final Fantasy game (Blizzard even ran the Final Fantasy music in the video as a joke), with a player and his three pets standing on each side of the screen, with one pet pushed towards the middle as the active combatant. On each turn, you can use one of the active pet's three abilities or swap to a different pet. It also looked like you had two general abilities that you could use once per game, but the video didn't show them in action.
You'll be able to name your pets, each will have 6 possible abilities that you can unlock and pick 3 from for each fight. Pets have four stats: health, attack, defense, and movement, which acts like an initiative roll, deciding who attacks first. Pets are leveled individually and you unlock pet slots by earning achievements in pet battles.
Blizzard reiterated their desire for Pet Battle to be extremely casual. No record of your losses will be kept, only a running total of your victories. You will not see other players' names or be able to chat at all during pet battles--the developers said that it "will feel more like a relatively intelligent AI than PvP."
Don't fret, hardcore WoWers! I've got some good news for you too. Challenges are coming along really well. If you recall, Challenges are designed to be "competitive PVE content"—dungeons with ramped up difficulty and time limits and leaderboards. A new UI pane lists every dungeon challenge available to you and the highest medal you've earned in it, and a countdown timer on screen warns you how long you have to beat the dungeon before you drop down to the next tier of medal (gold, silver, or bronze).
Earning bronze in every dungeon will net you an achievement (and is something even relatively unskilled players should be able to do, according to the devs), but getting silver and gold will be much harder. In return for the challenge, silver will earn you an exclusive set of Pandaria-themed gear that doesn't have stats but can be used for transmogrification. The rogue armor set they showed had a flowing gold dragon draped across its shoulders and the devs told us that the armor has a special effect that lets the dragon breath fire every time you score a critical hit while wearing it.
The best of the best that cap out with all gold medals will earn an exclusive flying mount that looks like one of the famous Chinese guardian lion statues with a moghu head on it.
Two new battlegrounds (both 10v10) were announced at the event: Temple of Kotmogu and Silvershard Mines. The Temple plays similarly to Rift's Black Garden Warfront, and has a single artifact in the middle of a large temple grounds. When a player picks up that artifact, they will grow larger, deal more damage, and start earning points for his team. Unfortunately, they also get a stacking debuff that causes them to take increasingly more damage the longer they hold onto the artifact. The map is broken into three zones: an inner courtyard where you earn 5 points per tick, a plaza area that earns you 3 points per tick, and the rest of the zone, which is temple grounds and grassy terrain, earns you 1 point per tick.
The key difference here that makes me excited about the mode despite the mixed success of Rift's similar mode is that the damage debuff stacks per team, not per player--meaning that you can't just toss the artifact back and forth to negate the damage debuff.
Silvershard Mines is definitely inspired by Team Fortress 2's payload maps. In a diamond goblin mine underneath STV, three diamond carts spawn in a central location and start traveling towards an endpoint along the tracks. Players can stand next to a cart to capture it for their team, much like the capture points in the Eye of the Storm battleground. Whichever team controls the cart when it reaches the end of its line gets the points for it, and the first team to capture three carts wins.
There so much I love about this design. First, all three carts are moving at once forcing you to make quick decisions. Second, there are switches on the tracks that players can use to divert the carts' path and either buy themselves some time or sprint towards the end. The more players standing next to a cart, the faster it will move. I also love that it's not alternating attack/defense, leaving the potential for some epic last-minute switches that flip ownership of a cart right before it hits the endpoint and earns the other team full points for it.
The developers put heavy emphasis on changing the way faction reputation grinds will work. Instead of simply moving the bar on the bottom of the screen to occasionally get new rewards at a vendor, leveling up a reputation will unlock access to new content--particularly scenarios--in addition to loot. One example given was that as you raise your reputation with The Golden Lotus (see below), they'll begin to trust you with more and more responsibilities, unlocking new parts of their headquarters in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and giving you new tasks that involved bigger enemies and more critical locations in the valley.
The seven different factions on the island are summarized below in Blizzard's official descriptions:
While the Tillers (those nice pandaren farmers that host daily vegetable exposés in The Valley of the Four Winds) aren't necessarily a reputation faction, there's still plenty to unlock with them. They'll introduce you to Farmer Yun, who owns a farm out in the valley and apparently sucks at his job. The place is overrun with weeds, stones, and crazy animals. If you help him out, he'll hand the farm over to you and you'll be able to use it as your own personal vegetable factory.
The developers were a bit shy with specific details, but they did say you'll be able to plant things, water them, and return later to harvest them--very similar to the timeline in FarmVille. Among the possible things you can work your green thumbs on are herbalism nodes, cooking ingredients, gifts for different NPCs that'll raise your reputation with their faction, and non-combat pets. Your farm can also support some animals like pigs.
Six of Pandaria's seven zones are already fully loaded with quests, according to lead quest designer Dave Kosak. I ran into a few bugs in the Temple of the Jade Serpent dungeon and a single phasing bug, but none of them were big--leaving me with the impression of a fairly polished game. At least four developers all stressed at different times during the day that they are much farther along in development than they think most players expect. They weren't ready to divulge a specific release date, but based on what I've seen, I'd put my money on a public beta before the end of April and a launch around mid/late Summer.