Expanding our Minds

Well, pun intended of course. With the release of the NDA and the cataclysmic flood of information on what we (might/will/could) see in Mists of Pandaria you will see blogs all over the blogosphere light up as people try to make sense of it all. Some predict the end of the game because of “Casuals” while others see it as the new hope in gaming. I for one do welcome a lot of the preview material, if only because it makes the game more cohesive and enjoyable.

Pandaren

Well, the debate is reasonably settled on the Pandaren Female form, but the nice thing here is that Blizzard did not decide to go for the Black Panda – Red Panda disconnect. Rather, both will be part of the customization options for the race. This means that rather than picking “sides”, Blizzard decided to allow both the Black and Red Panda concepts to co-exist. I applaud this, since now basically everyone gets what they want.

And besides, how many black-and-white Panda combos can you make, anyway?

Things to do in Azeroth before we die

Thanks to the addition of the 11th Character Slot (Oh yeah!) I would be able to make a Panda of my own (Monk of course) and play it as a fat epicurean. With the sneak peeks on pet battles, exploration, improvements to archaeology and cooking specializations it means we will have plenty to do that isn’t dungeons or raids. And it was about time.

Archaeology improvements include the addition of mob spawns in dig sites which drop goodies, including a convenient teleportation option to the next dig site. This cuts down on the immense travel time involved, and also means that your level starts making a difference while braving through dark jungles into abandoned temples and explorer’s tents.

The various cooking specializations will each benefit a primary stat – other than offering a bit of diversity, it also makes having cooking on multiple characters worthwhile, and dovetails nicely with the Pandaren’s reputation as epicureans. My fun and fat friend in slot 11 is going to be a lot of fun!

AoE Looting

Shamelessly mentioned as an upgrade for the game after it has been included in RIFT and Star Wars. After all, looting individual creatures is quite a waste of time for some of us mass-murderers (Paladin Tanks, I look at thee!). Sure it’s a nice-to-have and not a necessity, but it will certainly make life a lot easier.

Graphics Upgrade

Yes, upgraded character models are on the table, but probably won’t be finished in time (other than what is needed to make Monks). This might be sad news, but it shows that upgrading old content to more modern standards is definitely in the pipeline. I hope this also includes eventually a pixel-upgrade on some of the old sets, especially now that they are being used for Transmogrification. Some pieces can’t match each other simply because their quality diverges between 8-bit pixel style to rendered goodness.

What I was especially impressed with were the videos released with the new models, such as the Sha and the Celestial dragon. I have to say that the quality (while somewhat cartoonish) is very good and I am looking forward to seeing it live. Many people decry the cartoony style of WoW, but so far most games haven’t stood up to the test of time quite that well, and the same goes for WoW’s movement style. For some reason to me it seems a lot more fluid, and this will help a lot once the Monk comes into play.

The Beta and Annual Pass

One of the main topics now is the Beta – everyone wants to see the new graphics, class, game and direction. Many of those bought an annual pass in the hopes of just that, and now that the first invites are sent to people who opted in, they fell entitled to join as well. Of course, the devil is in the fine print. Yes, you will be in the Beta, but Blizzard decides when. This will most likely be in the large Open-Beta push towards the end a month maybe two before release, where only the last bugs need ironing out.

I understand some people feel “meh” about this, but also realize that this was already quite clear before. Yes, it’s a bit misleading, but certainly not a breach of contract or anything else that is cried about on forums. You can still get an invite (if lucky) through the opt-in before the grand public opening, so be sure to have those boxes ticked in your battle.net account!

Conclusion

This expansion will be in part about Pandaria and part about the titanic struggle of Horde versus Alliance. Exploration and hobbies become as important as raiding. All in all I think Mists of Pandaria will be an expansion where we slow down from our daily lives, rather than stay in our modern-24h-per-day speed. Raiding will be big, as ever, as will be PvP.

But the focus will be more on it being a game, and on enjoying ourselves. So that those who call themselves truly casual, or those who are not but relaxing on an alt, can have as rich a gaming life in WoW as anyone else. And I applaud a little R&R before we save the galaxy again…

Stay tuned as I take a fine-tooth comb through the changes and announcements, and see how we as Shades can gain a benefit!

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