Just thirty minutes after the opening ceremony, a panel was held introducing attendees to the newly announced Mists of Pandaria expansion. Tom Chilton, World of Warcraft Game Director, was first on stage. He stated that the primary objective is to merge new content with fun gameplay of the past. Complaints that the endgame content of Cataclysm was simply more of the same were cited.
First of all, Chilton said that they want people to get people back into the entirety of the world, rather than hanging out in the primary capital cities as people usually do. In order to achieve this, the concept of World Bosses will be reintroduced. This entails large groups of players migrating to an area in an attempt to defeat what is the equivalent of a Raid boss but on the overworld. This also means griefing a group’s attempt is possible by killing their players.
Secondly, Chilton expressed a wish to have players able to progress their characters any way they want to. This means obtaining valor points through daily quests, running dungeons, or raiding. He said that they are hoping this will allow players to play the game however they wish.
Additionally, the talent system will be getting a major revamp. This is an attempt to get rid of the “cookie-cutter builds” that are prominent in the game. A major problem is that players are locked into what talents they can choose a little too tightly and don’t get much freedom in choosing exactly what kind of spec they want to run.
Chilton at this point passed the stage to Cory Stockton, World of Warcraft Lead Content Designer, who then presented an introduction to the new continent, Pandaria. There will be five new zones. Additionally, it will be one unified continent, with all the new zones connected. The continent will have a heavy Asian influence due to the Pandaren Monk background. There will also be an Auction House, Bank, and other critical game functions on the new continent. This is a big change from older content, which required you to hearth back to your capital city to access these functions. Another major change is the ability to ride flying mounts. This will be changed so that you will be unable to acquire flying until you reach max level.
After this, a layout of the new continent was presented, with the five zones labeled in different colors. The Jade Forest is presented as the introductory zone. The lore of Pandaria was then presented: the island has been shrouded by mist since The Sundering, which explains why nobody has found or had access to it. The Alliance and Horde will stumble upon the continent via a naval battle that results in destroyed ships washing up on shore. They soon discover the vast resources present on the island and promptly begin battling over it.
In addition to the five new zones, there will also be a new starting zone aimed at the playable Pandaren race. The zone is actually resting on the back of a giant turtle set out to explore the rest of the world. Players that choose the Pandaren race will play from levels one to ten as a neutral race. After this, they will then permanently choose a faction.
Some of the creatures of Pandaria were also introduced. First were the Jinyu, which are a sort of sagacious fish creature who will be found in various zones. Additionally, there was the mischievous Hozu, a monkey race; the Verming, which are a rabbit-like incarnation of the classic kobold; the Mantid, who are a sentient insect race and a primary source of conflict for the story; the Mogu, an ancient race that occupied Pandaria before the Pandaren overthrew them and took over the island; and finally the Sha, a race of darkness-borne creatures that arise from conflict and negative energy.
After introducing the creatures, the developers went on to elaborate about the introductory zone for the new continent. The Jade Forest is the location that the factions wash up near after the aforementioned naval battle. The Alliance then meet the Hozu—and the Horde, the Jinyu—after which the two factions then turn those races against the other. This in turn leads to more of the Sha appearing, which makes the Pandaren initially dislike both races. There is also a dungeon called the Temple of the Jade Serpent located in the zone, which has been taken over by the Sha and will be the 85-86 level dungeon.
The Valley of the Four Winds also had a brief overview: Stockton stated that the zone is split up into a couple different biomes, giving it the feeling of being several zones. A jungle is located in this area, as well as Pandaren farmlands and a brewery. The farmlands will have a distinctly Asian feel, given that they look like tiered rice paddies.
Greg Street, Lead Systems Designer for World of Warcraft, was next up to present the new features for the expansion. The first subject was the new Pandaran race itself, with the available classes presented as Hunter, Mage, Monk, Priest, Rogue, Shaman, and Warrior. After, the Pandaran racial bonuses were presented: Epicurean, which gives a 100% increase in stat bonuses from food; Gourmand, which increases Cooking skill by fifteen; Inner Peace, which allows the Rested experience bonus last twice as long; Bouncy, which grants a 50% decrease in falling damage; and finally Quaking Palm, which lets you touch a secret pressure point on an enemy target to put them to sleep for three seconds.
Next, the Monk class was detailed. The spec trees for the Monk class are as follows: Brewmaster (Tank), Mistweaver (Healer), Windwalker (Melee DPS). Additionally, the class was explicitly stated not to be a hero class, and all races with the exception of Worgens and Goblins can play them. They use staves, fist weapons, one-handed axes, one-handed maces, one-handed swords, and the healers can use off-hands. Additionally, they will only wear leather armor: Agility-based for tank and DPS, and intellect-based for healers. The Monk class will use Chi as their energy, which is used for Jab and Roll. These two abilities generate light and dark forces, which are in turn used for everything else. Additionally, there is no auto-attack, meaning you need to be pressing keys all the time.
Street then reviewed the changes to the Talent system made in Cataclysm. He lamented the lack of true customization and hybridization in the talent system. Street said that the new talent system will be “so different that we’re calling it Talent System 2.0.” He then went on to say that the idea behind this new talent system is that you have class abilities given to you by your class choice; spec abilities, given to you by your specialization choice; and finally your general talents, which should be entirely optional and customizable.
This approach has you choose a specialization at level 10 and gives you a spec ability right away. From this point on, the player receives a new spec ability approximately every ten levels. In most cases these are the old, mandatory talents that you would have picked anyhow in the former talent system. An example was given in the form of a protection paladin, who would receive Avenger’s Shield at level 10, Hammer of the Righteous at level 20, Judgements of the Just at level 30, and so on. He made a footnote that some spec abilities are not mutual to one spec. He then went on to detail the actual talent system. There will no longer be any talent points and only one talent tree. At every fifteen levels, you’re presented with a choice between three talents. You can only pick one of them; there is no way to have more than one of the three choices at any time. However, you can change your individual talents later as easily as it is to change glyphs.
After this, Greg Chilton returned to the stage to introduce the concept of Scenarios. Scenarios are short instances for only a few characters and entail a return to older areas. They are not like dungeons, and as such do not have the standard Tank/Healer/DPS party build. They are staged experiences with several parts, each with their own objective. They have scenarios that are quest-like, but also ones that simulate a battleground-like scenario. To do a scenario, you can queue for a group, but since there are no class roles, the wait times are very short.
Next, Chilton began detailing the new Challenge Mode Dungeons. They are essentially time-trial versions of existing dungeons. You are awarded a bronze, silver, or gold medal based on your completion time. The gear levels will be normalized in order to promote a fair competition. Rewards entail “sweet-looking gear with no stats,” presumably for the new transmogrification feature, as well as valor points. Finally, there will be leaderboards to display times.
At this point, Cory Stockton returned to the stage to detail the new pet battle system. You can collect, level, and battle with your pets. This includes preexisting pets. You can also capture wild pets by using a pet you already have to battle with them. Wild pets will have varying stats and abilities, and they may only show up under certain conditions. To track these things, a new feature called the Pet Journal will be implemented to track and manage your pets. Additionally, most pets will become tradeable. Finally, pets will become account-based rather than character-based.
Pets will gain experience by winning battles and gain new abilities by leveling up from this experience. Each pet can only use three abilities in battle, but they can learn six. Leveling them also increases stats, and you can use multiple pets to form a team. Battles will be both PvE versus wild pets and PvP versus other player’s pets. Combat will be turn-based and will be relatively simple. Teams can be up to a max of three pets, and there will be a queuing system to battle with other players. Finally, there will be “Masters” strewn about the land that you can find and defeat, after which they will grant you a special ability you can use in pet battles.
Stockton went on to explain the new dungeons. They’re planning to have a total of nine new dungeons, six of which will be located on Pandaria. In addition, specific older dungeons will be getting heroic modes. Among the classics getting heroic modes are Scholomance, and Wings 1 and 2 of the Scarlet Monastery. New Raids will also be introduced, including three at launch. The Mogu and Mantid races will be the primary antagonists of these raids, and all raids will available in Raid Finder.
After finishing this explanation, Stockton laid out plans for new quest content in the new expansion. There will be an increased focus on max level content with multiple hubs and incentives for players who mainly do raids and dungeons. Stockton stated one of the primary goals is to get more players doing quests and to make the quest choices less linear. He also stated that improvements to faction reputations would be made to make getting items that require certain reputations and points feel less like a grind.
The next topic discussed was Player versus Player content. Three new battlegrounds were introduced: Stranglethorn Diamond Mines, Valley of Power, and Azshara Crater. In addition, a new arena was unveiled called the Tol’vir Proving Grounds. Stranglethorn Veil Diamond Mine is designed to be similar to a payload match, but with the ability to make the carts take different routes. The Valley of Power is designed to require points to win. When a player holds a particular object, they gain points. Where they stand on the map affects the number of points they receive, so hiding in a corner may not be the most beneficial. Finally, the Tol’vir Proving Grounds are set to be a simple arena, like the Nagrand Arena, but based in Uldum.
Finally, Greg Street took the stage to detail some changes to achievements as well as other major things. Among these changes are allowing achievements to be shared by the whole account and create new achievements that require multiple characters to complete. After this, Street went on to explain some changes to resilience, which entail giving characters minimal resilience as they level up to allow them to break into PvP more easily, but still require PvP gear as the player progresses.
Additionally, some major changes are being made to individual classes. Hunters no longer have a minimum range on their ranged weapon, so they no longer need or have to have a melee weapon as a result. All other classes have had their ranged slots removed; rogues and warriors now will throw their melee weapon for their thrown weapon skills. Finally, wands have become a main-hand weapon. Warlocks are now going to have a different resource for each spec: affliction has soul shards, demonology has demonic fury, and destruction has infernal embers. Shamans are losing their buff totems, and the rest of their totems will be utility: Earthgrab is a root, Repulsion does just that, and Bulwark absorbs damage. Druids are now getting four specs: Feral will be cat (Melee DPS) and Guardian will be bear (Tank). Spell books and rotations for all classes have been improved, and spells are automatically learned on level-up. New spells are also being added, specs are more developed, and talent trees are being redesigned to be fun.
Analysis: It sounds like massive changes to character classes and specs are in store for the game, but at the same time, they’re essentially putting a watered down version of Pokémon into the game. I’m not sure what to make of this. On one hand, a new race is always exciting, especially since a new class is being introduced. The fact that Monks have no auto-attack is amazing because it requires you to be skilled to play the class. Additionally, it looks like the talent system is much better this time around. I do think that the Pandaren should have been entirely neutral instead; I think that would’ve been a more ballsey gameplay move. At the same time, one kind of has to wonder if WoW has jumped the shark.
Now you too can play as a panda, riding a unicorn whilst charging headlong into battle chanting the words, “Everybody is kung fu fighting,” and celebrate victory with a Pokém— I mean, pet battle.