Townlong Steppes is more civilised, with colour-coded grass on its towering islands. Beyond that, it remains a mystery. Between it and the Dread Wastes is your main goal here: a giant door under siege by locust men that protect Pandaria's Level 90 zone, the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. Amusingly, this sealed-off land that nobody ever sees already has flight points on the map. Try not to notice that. It's only polite...
Finally, there's the snowy mountain of Kun-Lai Summit. It's for Levels 87-88, although Monks will be familiar with it before then – it's where their special training monastery is, atop the Peak of Serenity. If you need a reason to return here every now and again, defeating trainers gets you an hour-long XP boost – 50% from both quests and enemies.
Not everything in Pandaria is as it appears though. Early on, you visit the Temple of the Jade Serpent – where you shoot fireworks for a little panda cub, smash bookworms in the library, and do all the usual questing stuff. Later though, it becomes one of Pandaria's first dungeons. It's the map you know, only now it's fi lled with vengeful ghosts.
How do you get around? On kites, of course! The factions have brought a few classic taxies, but Pandaria Air involves surfing through the skies to get where you're going. Your flying mounts will work in Pandaria, but only after you hit Level 90.
There's a new mount type to make up for this, though – the Cloud Serpent. You can't just buy one; instead, you have to raise your own from an egg over the course of many, many daily quests. At the moment, it's tough to see how these will be better than a regular mount – they appear to be the same speed – except for acting as a flying ego-boost.
For a pet that's easier to look after, you want Pet Battles. This 'don't call it Pokemon!' mode lets you turn any critter that you've collected into a warrior, from the Tiny Goldfish to the Spirit of Competition. Each one levels up, unlocking new abilities to use in their special turn-based battles. You can have up to 500 pets in total, and three of any kind.
Pet Battles is a whole new game, accessible from Level 3. Animals fought in the wild can be captured without the need for a magic ball, with a matchmaking system to pair your fi nest critters off against other player tamers. Not trainers! That's that 'other' game...
Azeroth itself is still ripped apart by the Cataclysm, although you'll fi nd a few changes here and there: notably the new Pandaren outposts and hot-air balloons. If you've not logged in for a while, you'll also fi nd new portals to the later Cataclysm dungeons and a tribute to Deathwing's fall – complete with character to show you the ending movie – although it won't make any sense at all if you've not seen the rest of the story.
Two more dungeons have been given a Heroic Mode overhaul for Level 90 characters though: a reworked version of Scarlet Monastery/Scarlet Halls, and the evil Hogwarts-for-necromancers itself, Scholomance. Same maps, new content.
Along with six new dungeons and three raids, Pandaria also adds a new type of group content: Scenarios. These are short 2-3 player-focussed, story-based instances that you can queue for like anything else, but which try to offer a compact experience that you don't have to spend hours on (or need a dedicated healer/tank for).
Theramore's Fall is the highest profile Scenario. Theramore is a town in icky Dustwallow Marsh, and the home of Jaina Proudmoore – one of the few high-profile Alliance characters who gets on with former Horde leader Thrall. As Horde, you'll attack. As Alliance, you'll defend her and try to clean up after their inevitable rampage.
Regular dungeons now have a twist as well – at least the new Pandarian ones. Challenge Mode adds a time-trial element, scaling down your gear in the interests of fairness. Get a fast time and you get a medal, along with bonus rewards.
Long before all that though, you'll find most of the questing experience has been heavily streamlined. Talent trees have been completely thrown out, and are now a case of picking skills instead of spending points. You get all your new skills automatically on levelling up. New fl oating icons in the world make it easier to see key characters and quest objects.
Most classes have changed dramatically as a result of this. Talents that everyone picked are now usually given to everyone, with the idea being that you can now pick cool extra options instead of having to follow a boring theorycrafting guide to be any good.
You'll also get a taste of power from character creation, with your potential hero being decked out in high-level armour rather than some Level 1 rags. Of course, you don't get to keep that armour. It's just so you can see what you'll look like after a couple of months.
Some parts of the world will now be 'cross realm' in an attempt to fix the fact that most players only hang out in new and lategame areas. With this, players from different servers will be temporarily thrown together when it gets quiet to add a sense of life. It's similar to what Guild Wars 2 does, only with rather more pandas.
If your adventures have left your pockets full of gold, you'll be able to spend that money at a new Black Market Auction House. These focus on items you can't normally buy, with no 'buyout' option, and bids start around the 10-20,000 gold mark. Auctions last at least 12 hours.
Expect big changes for Azeroth's politics, with the fi nal boss of the expansion not being a new big bad, but Garrosh Hellscream. To take him down (and presumably reinstate the slightly less bloodthirsty Thrall), both factions will lay siege to Orgrimmar. Hopefully there'll be a bonus bit where you get to slap Thrall and yell “His name is HELLSCREAM. What, precisely, were you expecting?” But that's yet to be confirmed...