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What are Pandaren, anyway?
The Pandaren race is the first playable faction in World of Warcraft with a neutral bent--at least, when their story begins. First introduced by Sam "Samwise" Didier in the form of doodles and sketches, the Pandaren starred as a Blizzard Entertainment April Fool's joke as the fifth playable race for RTS title Warcraft III.
The Pandaren made another joke appearance in April 2005, as the World of Warcraft website contained a reference to a new "Pandaren Xpress" in-game food delivery service. Now, Blizzard apparently aims to incorporate the Pandaren race into the official Warcraft universe by making it the focus of their upcoming expansion.
Following the War of the Ancients, the Pandaren decided that the world was becoming too hostile and they retreated from the known portions of Kalimdor. Ten thousand years later, a group of courageous heroes of Pandaria is adrift on the back of a giant turtle. When discovered by the races currently inhabiting Azeroth, playable Pandaren will need to choose which of the two main factions to join: the Horde or the Alliance.
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The newly designed Monk class
Also coming in the Mists of Pandaria expansion is the addition of a new class for players to choose: the Monk. The Monk will be a martial-arts themed class featuring "chi" as an ability resource and hand-to-hand as part of the combat mechanic. The Monk will not have an auto-attack function, as his abilities each require concentration.
Want to tank? You can do it on a Monk Brewmaster. Would you rather be a healer? Then the Monk Mistweaver is your pick. You can also choose to specialize as a Monk Windwalker and provide melee-style dps for your party; this will also probably be the preferred soloing and questing spec for the class. The Monk's weapon will only be used for finishing moves, and will probably include Fist Weapons, Staves and Polearms.
Who can be a Monk? Everyone except the Worgen and Goblin races. Why can they not choose the Monk class? That has not yet been officially announced. It will be interesting to see Blizzard's explanation of why Worgen and Goblin Monks don't fit into the lore, when, well--pandas.
Check out the official trailer, linked here, and decide for yourself: is this a huge mistake, or brilliance in disguise?
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Pet Battle System and Challenge Modes
Of at least equal contention in all of the latest expansion announcements is the proposed Pet Battle System. From what we've been able to gather, this new mini-game within the MMO will feature your companion pets. You'll be able to challenge other players to battle with these pets, in a Pokémon kind of way, and the system should lead to new and exciting ways to gain even more pets. The companion pets will each have certain abilities, and while much of the system is still under wraps, it's hard to see how the idea works with the conventional World of Warcraft universe we've all grown accustomed to inhabiting.
If you've participated in any of the PuGs resulted from the recently revised Looking for Dungeon system in WoW, you've surely come across a Go-go. What's that? It's the player that is constantly criticizing the pace set by the group's tank and yells "GOGOGO" while pulling adds and generally creating an atmosphere of mayhem and frustration. The group's tank has quite a bit on his or her shoulders; making sure that no adds are running loose, that everyone is able to get their quest objectives handled and that the healer has sufficient mana for each encounter would be plenty to keep any one person on his or her toes. Now add that Go-go to the mix, and you can see just how unappealing it can be to tank for strangers.
Blizzard apparently feels that far too many tanks are still willing to subject themselves to this behavior and is instituting "Challenge Mode" to dungeons. In this mode, the group is racing the clock to down the final boss before time runs out so that they can earn a medal. Yup, a medal.
Challenge mode will equalize the gear and weapons for all members, meaning that no one will be able to claim a substandard iLvl as being at fault for a failure.
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Other changes to expect
The Talent System is said to be getting a rather severe overhaul. Because so many players ultimately choose a so-called "cookie cutter" build based on theory crafting, Blizzard has decided to trim the talent selections all the way down to 6 of 18 choices. At levels 15, 30, 45, 60, 75 and 90, your character will be able to choose one of three possible talents, each of which provides a skill or passive ability.
In short, there is now only one tree for every class. Regardless of your choice for specialization, the same three choices will be presented to you. It's also looking like those three choices will all share some similarity. For example, in the current build, Warlocks at 45 will be looking at Hour of Twilight, Soul Link or Sacrificial Pact. They all look like PvP talents; the first gives you a bit of a buffer if your health drops low, Soul Link looks just like it always has (damage is shared with the minion) and the Pact looks like the Voidwalker's Sacrifice spell--only it works with all minions and will prevent all damage for 10 seconds; no cap.
Will this new system keep players from whipping out calculators when it's time to spec? Won't we all end up picking the one ability or talent that proves to offer the most threat, survivability, dps or healing throughput? Probably. In another example, the Warlock talents offerings at 15 are all ways to recover health. The first gives you a flat HoT of 50 percent of your max health over 25 seconds. With the second talent, your nuke spells will each heal you for 25 percent of the damage they do. In the final choice, you get a Drain Life spell that does AoE damage and restores 6 percent of your health per target affected. It's pretty easy to see that if you're leveling, the first talent is probably most beneficial.
Of course, none of this is anywhere near being set in stone; the expansion has only just been announced. No release date has been mentioned as of the end of Blizzcon in October, 2011, so we'll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.
- All information and screenshots taken from the official World of Warcraft website for the Mists of Pandaria expansion.