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.
New factions to befriend (or betray)
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:
- The Shado-Pan: The bravest and most disciplined of pandaren fighters, the Shado-Pan were established by the last Pandaren emperor to act as guardians against the negative Sha energy that permeates the continent. Part of their duties also involves manning the mighty wall that protects the pandaren homeland from the dangerous mantid race. They welcome the assistance of any who have the bravery and skill to aid them in their sacred charge.
- The August Celestials: Four powerful ancestor spirits have always watched over the lands of the pandaren: Yu'lon the Jade Serpent, Xuen the White Tiger, Chi Ji the Red Crane, and Niuzao the Black Ox. Each of their four temples will call on the service of bold adventurers.
- The Golden Lotus: Nestled in the center of Pandaria is the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, an ancient place of great power that's been around since the time of the Titans. The Vale and its magical waters were once used as a weapon by the Mogu, and after their overthrow it was decided to seal off the vale from any intruders. The Golden Lotus is an order of pandaren priests and fighters who defend and maintain this sacred land. Members are specifically chosen at a young age by one of the four August Celestials.
- The Klaxxi: Keepers of the mantid culture, these stoic mantid lords have determined that their own queen has been corrupted and must be destroyed. Although wary of outsiders, it may be possible to earn the trust of the Klaxxi, gaining access to their unique arms and armor.
- Order of the Cloud Serpent: This order of flying warriors was founded long ago, during the Zandalari wars. Gain their favor, and they'll reveal the secrets of training a cloud serpent to become a loyal mount.
- The Lorewalkers: This peaceful faction has been charged with safeguarding pandaren history and culture. Intrepid explorers can win their favor by collecting historical artifacts from around the world.
- Artisans: Many Brewmasters have wandered the world in search of exotic ingredients to expand their craft, while the Tillers and Anglers are simple farmer and fisher folk, respectively. These three factions are the backbone of civilian life on Pandaria, and offering assistance to these artisans will reap great rewards.
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.
The release date
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.