Mists of Pandaria travelogue: A hunter among pandas

Shacknews Managing Editor John Keefer returns to World of Warcraft to explore the new world of Pandaria. Read his travelogue to discover more about his ongoing journey.
My hunter had to clear off some cobwebs before taking a trip to the Isle of Pandaria for the new World of Warcraft expansion. He hadn't been adventuring since just after the Cataclysm. He was maxed out at 85, but his gear was somewhat lacking, having not raided much with the guild after a self-imposed hiatus. But the allure of a new adventure brought me back, and while I was confident in his ability, my skills were rusty and so much had changed since I had last visited Stormwind. After a bit of research and practice, though, I was right as rain, and ready to see what the new continent had to offer. My first glimpse of the new land offered a sense of déjà vu. The Horde was there, spreading their chaos as always, but the new surroundings had the feel of Stranglethorn Vale in the Eastern Kingdoms or Nagrand in Outland. I was battling monkey-like Hozen (I fully expected a quest telling me to kill the "Leader Hozen") and making friends with fish-like Jinyu. Except for the Oriental musical ambiance, it was almost a feeling of "been there, done that." It wasn't until I had finished the first several quests that I ran into my first portly panda. I'm really not sure what I was expecting, but if I closed my eyes, I could see Caine talking to master Po in Kung Fu, or Shifu talking to Monkey and Po in Kung Fu Panda. It was just enough of a change from my initial reaction to make my trek through the Jade Forest zone rather enjoyable. The story's evil presence showed up early on. The Sha are entities that feed on negative emotions, like fear, doubt, hatred and anger. I have no love for the Horde so it was easy to blame the presence of the Sha on them. But several quests revealed the truth, that it was in all creatures and had to be dealt with. Gear upgrades were plentiful, usually as quest rewards. Several pieces were the exact same type and level, but with slightly different stats, such as haste, expertise or mastery, allowing me to customize my character without too much thought on which piece was better.

Cooking is a lot more in-depth than in previous expansions.

Not having played the beta, I found it difficult tracking down my profession trainers. I found myself pointing at every panda NPC in a town looking for cooks, jewelcrafters, miners, or fisherman. At least the first aid trainer was easy to find. I eventually did find all of them, except the fishing trainer. I'm sure I just missed it, but for some reason it seemed more difficult to identify them than in past expansions. Overall, the Jade Forest experience was entertaining. Between mining and quest experience, I hit level 86 rather quickly, while also being able to increase my professions to near maximum. The quests were grouped together nicely, making for a minimum of running around until the quest area was done, followed by a bread crumb to the next area. Some of the quests have actually been entertaining. While there are still plenty of "go here and kill X beasties" quests (and yes, Hemet Nesingwary is back), one quest had me kick a lazy panda back to his sister. Another one had me punting marmots. While there are players who have already power-leveled their way to the new cap of 90, I'm trying to take my time. There seems more to do and a bit more intricate ways of doing things. For example, in the Valley of the Four Winds (one of the next zones), you can learn to farm and your crops are ready in 24 hours. These crops can be used for cooking. And cooking now has six different branches to skill up aside from everyday cooking. I should have another entry before I hit 90, looking at the later zones. Maybe I'll have a chance to try out the new pet battle system in the meantime.