If you don’t know what World of Warcraft is, then you’ve either been away on another planet or you were just born. Blizzard’s annual shindig, BlizzCon, was held this past weekend in California. BlizzCon is the premiere event where Starcraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft fans can mingle, dress up as their favorite character from their favorite Blizzard game, and get the insight into what’s coming next in Blizzard’s gaming world.
BlizzCon started in 2005, almost a year after World of Warcraft was released in November 2004 and was held at the Anaheim Convention Center. Starting in 2007, the event has been held annually. At each BlizzCon event, the next expansion of World of Warcraft has been revealed. The Burning Crusade was revealed in the first event. This past weekend, the latest expansion in the vast WOW universe was confirmed: Mists of Pandaria. (For a detailed analysis of the BlizzCon events, vist here).
The new expansion introduces a new race (the Pandaren), a new class (Monk), a revamped talent system (again), vanity pet battle system and challenge mode dungeons. I’ve seen many reactions online to the expansion along the lines of “a panda?!”. Yes, the Pandaren are pandas. Less we forget, however, that the Pandaren have existed in the Warcraft universe before this.
The Pandaren are the first neutral race, allowing the player to decide which faction, Horde or Alliance, they wish to align with once they reach level 10. Blizzard has not done this before in WOW. Typically new races are immediately aligned with one faction or the other (i.e. Worgen were introduced as Alliance and Goblin were introduced as Horde in the last expansion, Cataclysm).
As expected, the scenery designed for Pandaria is breathtaking. Blizzard seems to be the king at creating cinematic trailers for their games. The Pandaren themselves are the most articulated characters ever introduced in the game. Blizzard has stated that their designers are working to revamp the old characters since they are aging and each expansion seems to bring higher detailed models.
The new vanity pet battle system is jokingly being referred to by many as WOW’s version of Pokeman. In short, you can battle your pets against other players’ pets, gain new abilities by winning, etc. Possibly a nice distraction if you get bored with the new content. It remains to be seen exactly how much fun this will be or if it will be given a second thought by diehard WOW players.
To me, the biggest change that is coming with the expansion is the often revisited talent system. The talent trees were revamped in Cataclysm, trimming them down from the monstrosity that they had been since the release of the game in 2004. The designers apparently weren’t happy still and changed the system again. This time, however, it’s a massive change. New talents will be unlocked every 15 levels and you get to choose from 3 different talents to activate each time. You no longer gather points to assign in a tree. By 90, you have a total of 6 active talents. An in depth discussion of the new talent system along with a talent calculator can be found here.
Many players will be put off by the introduction of a playable race of Pandas. Others will undoubtedly find them adorable and a lot of fun to play. The point being, Blizzard continues to introduce new areas, new races, new classes and mini-games just to have fun in the game. For a game that has been going strong for 7 years, keeping everything fresh and fun has to be a constant task. To date, I believe the worst expansion was the first: The Burning Crusade. Mists of Pandaria, however, should be a laid back breath of fresh air and fun.