This article originally appeared in issue 245 of PC Gamer UK.
Getting to Pandaria is easy. If you're at Level 85 already, you'll get a letter with directions. If not, roll a new Pandaren to at least get the fl avour of it. You'll be able to do this even if you don't have the expansion pack – all races are going to be unlocked for everyone – although you won't be able to create a Monk unless you upgrade. That leaves Warrior, Hunter, Rogue, Priest, Shaman and Mage as possibilities. Sorry, no Death Knights.
The Pandaren starting area is the Wandering Isle – a giant turtle with mountains, currently swimming off course. Before you can do anything about that though, you've got to train. Think Wushu with bamboo – pagodas, forests, dragons, mischievous elemental gods. It's a much, much slower-paced start than Cataclysm's new races got, though there's still plenty of beating stuff up between lectures about nobility and meditation.
There's no getting around it: World of Warcraft's engine is old. Mists of Pandaria doesn't change that, but it does take full advantage of being able to crank its draw distance for the sprawling temples, and packs its locations with detail and colour. When you're in the wilds, it's more familiar stuff. The set-piece locations are big and lovely, though.
Pandaren get a few racial traits, including better cooking skills and 'inner peace' for more rested XP. However the funniest one is that being fat – sorry, 'bouncy' – they take less falling damage than other races. This doesn't mean you can jump off cliffs though, so it's likely to be of limited use – unless you are just spectacularly clumsy.
On the other hand, Monks are a major addition. Everyone but the Worgen/ Goblins can take this class, which covers the whole DPS/Healer/Tank trinity. They wear leather armour and focus on staves, using energy to build up Chi that can be deployed in ways that really put the 'holy freaking hell' into 'overpowered' – at least at the moment.
The coolest Monk attack is the Touch Of Death. It recharges fast, and doesn't take much to perform – a couple of build-up strikes to raise Chi. What does it do? It one-hit kills just about any NPC, provided they don't have more health than you do and aren't a protected boss. In short, forget about getting Bruce Lee on Deathwing or another player's buttocks, but just about anyone you meet out on the field? They're history.
You also get a couple of ways to utterly humiliate yourself in battle – the king of them being the Flying Serpent Kick. This kick launches you through the air, but rather than targeting an enemy, will happily see you zoom straight past them and off the nearest cliff. To use it, you have to tap the button again mid-flight to slam down with a shockwave. It's laggy though, so practice and good timing are needed to use it effectively.
The three Monk sub-classes are Brewmaster (Tank), Windwalker (Damage) and Mistweaver (Healer). The first is easily the silliest. Want to be a giant happy panda who stops enemies by drinking beer and hurling the kegs at your enemies? This is your class. It has quite a lot less class than its trainers like to pretend.
Monks have their own Moonglade equivalent in the snowy Pandarian mountain, with a spell to take a 'zen pilgrimage' for advanced training. The return trip puts you back more or less where you left, with no need to take taxis or run across the whole world. In a cute touch, you have to bow to your master before fighting. By typing '/bow'.
There is no Achievement for snagging a panda-related pun, but that's not going to stop anyone. Pandrogny, Monium and Ring are just three of the names you'll fi nd funny at fi rst, but which will develop into deep shame over the next few years. Have fun!
The Wandering Isle is one of WoW's most laid back locations. A few monkeys and killer rabbits – adorably called “Carrotcrunchers” – are about the worst you have to deal with, which is why a panda's life revolves around practising a million different ways to kick arse without even having any bubblegum.
Someone at Blizzard is apparently a Ranma ½ fan. Part of the training temple is devoted to cursed springs that transform anyone who falls into them into a new form. Unlike the Jusenkyo pools of that series, it's temporary and you'll only transform into other animals. Still, watch out for cranes. They won't attack a panda, but a frog? That's lunch!
Much of the tutorial is a personal story, as you join up with a band of more experienced Pandaren. You'll get to know them pretty well, including would-be lovers Aysa and Ji, and strongman Jojo Ironbrow. He keeps demanding you bring him materials to break with the power of his mighty head. It'd be very mean to try to fi nd something strong enough to give him the same kind of headache he's given you... right?
Hope you're ready for a fight! Your first proper battle involves taking down a flying serpent called Zhao-Ren with nothing but fireworks. While regular enemies are still tagged by the first striker, bosses are willing to be beaten up by impromptu groups. Run up and take part and you'll be given kill credit – both here and in later big fights
Get ready to befriend an island. To fi nd out what's wrong, you get to be fl own by hot-air balloon for a one-on-one chat with great sea turtle, Shen-zin Su – badly wounded by a crashed Alliance ship carrying Horde prisoners. The fi rst thing they did? Make two camps and hang war banners. This bodes well for the Pandaren people...
Speaking of which, don't think this is all played straight. Blizzard still loves puns and throwaway gags. A goblin obsessed with explosives? Meet 'Makael Bay'. A later quest – 'I Have No Jade And I Must Scream' – offers a nice 'I see what you did there... ' moment, even if it has no relevance at all to Harlan Ellison's short story. Still, the tone is fairly serene to sombre in training – as if to make it extra-specially clear that the Pandaren are a proper, respectable part of WoW lore, and not just a joke race that lucked into a whole expansion.