At BlizzCon 2011 I had a chance to sit down and play the Monk class through the Pandaren starting zone – one of the new areas introduced in Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion set for World of Warcraft. Many people are worried that the new zone and new race won’t fit into the overall World of Warcraft setting. I can assure you that they both fit rather well.
[img_big]center,8587,2011-10-31/wowx4-screenshot-11-full.jpg,WoW: Mists of Pandaria[/img_big]
New Pandaren start in the Wandering Isle and can choose to be a Monk, Mage, Priest, Rogue, Warrior, Shaman or Hunter (and yes, I did see a Pandaren Hunter while playing at BlizzCon; they start with a turtle pet).
The first thing I noticed upon spawning is how bright and vibrant the zone is. Bold colors and actual daylight are refreshing after months of Cataclysm’s dark, purple caves and fiery citadels. The Asian inspiration was noticeable, but no more out of place than the Night Elves’ own Asian-inspired architecture.
While still maintaining Warcraft’s art style, the graphics were noticeably improved. The lighting and shadows played off the ground and the models, adding depth and interest to the environments. As I ran around, small cell-shaded dust clouds spun up, making it feel as if I was in an animated movie.
The questing flow of the zone was also well done. It feels more like a real place than the Goblin and Worgen starting zones, which almost felt like rides. There was light use of phasing to move the quest-givers with the player as I progressed through the story.
The story wasn’t just hidden in quest text, it was shown in the actions asked of me. One quest had me meditate in a cave and commune with spirits. Another had me read the ancient scrolls on a dojo wall. These scrolls weren’t just a text box, either, but a line of text which would flash on the screen as I ran to the next one. The zone felt rich with lore and even running through the zone as quickly as I could, I got a feeling for the Pandaren culture.
The beginning of the zone is probably one of the best introductions to the game for new players. After starting off in a training camp, I picked up my weapon and attacked punching bags, graduated on to trainees and then onto fighting a master where all players who attack him get credit for the quest. The smooth difficulty curve should help new players grasp the controls of the game.
One of the special things about Pandaren is they start off as a neutral race; players get to choose their allegiance to the Alliance or the Horde at the end of the starting zone (which is around level 10), unlike other races which are faction-bound from the start. This is another reason why Pandaren are great for players new to the game. They get to hold off on making a major decision for their character until after they have experienced the game and its factions. A lot of work was put into the Pandaren race and the Wandering Isle and I’m glad both factions get to enjoy it.
[img_big]center,8587,2011-10-31/wowx4-screenshot-06-full.jpg,WoW: Mists of Pandaria[/img_big]
I also spent some time with the Monk class and it is a lot of fun to play. The Monk is not exclusive to Pandaren; all races except for Goblins and Worgen can be one. The class does not have an auto-attack, but, due to its multiple resource system, is never hurting for something to do. The only time I missed having an auto-attack is when I was typing in chat or looking through my bags while being attacked. While playing, though, it made me feel like I had much more control over the character.
There are three resources a Monk uses: Chi (a bar that regenerates quickly, like a Rogue’s energy or a Hunter’s focus), light orbs and dark orbs. Chi can be used to do a Jab attack, which does a small amount of damage and generates a light and a dark orb. The orbs are then used for more powerful, combo-like attacks.
Tiger Palm is a strike that uses one light orb and does increased damage to opponents above 50% health. Blackout Kick is an attack that uses two dark orbs to do heavy damage and if the target dies, one of the dark orbs is refunded. After attacking a few enemies a combo of Jab-Tiger Palm-Blackout Kick naturally emerges. It should also be noted that the orbs do not go away when combat ends. You could Jab at weaker enemies until you’ve attained the maximum number of orbs (four each) and then run up to a stronger enemy and unload all of your powerful attacks in a row.
[img_big]center,8587,2011-10-31/wowx4-screenshot-10-full.jpg,WoW: Mists of Pandaria[/img_big]
Although, most players probably wouldn’t just run up to that powerful enemy. The Monk is a very mobile class and one of its early abilities is Roll. This uses Chi to have the character dive and somersault to move forward, similar to the Mage spell Blink. Blizzard knew this would be everyone’s preferred method of transportation because there was a special achievement called Pandaren Express in the BlizzCon build for rolling 100 times during the demo. This got a chuckle out of me and a few of the other players who found it.
Monks also get a Flying Kick ability that propels them to their target and stuns it. This ability is on a cooldown and dos not use any Chi. With a full Chi bar you could roll twice and then jump kick to an enemy. That type of mobility will come in very handy in PvP or chasing down run away adds in a dungeon.
Both the Pandaren race and the Monk class are a lot of fun. There’s a lot of other news and big features coming in Mists of Pandaria and I cannot wait for it to be released. While there is no date yet, signing up for the WoW Annual Pass guarantees access to the MoP beta. See you all there!