World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria preview

We get an in-depth peek at the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria, and talk with some of its lead developers about the new continent, races, and new Monk character class, as well as some new systems like Pet Battles, and Challenges.

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When Blizzard announced Mists of Pandaria--the next major expansion for World of Warcraft--little was revealed, save for the fact that it would take place on a new continent with Asian-influenced aesthetics and feature a new race of Panda-people (Pandarens) and a new playable class (Monk). That all changed last week at Blizzard headquarters when a veritable deluge of new details were shared at a press event that Lead Game Producer John Lagrave playfully likened to getting hit with a "data fire-hose." A host of brand new game systems and a number of refinements to the World of Warcraft formula are being implemented, with significant attempts to enhance the experiences of both casual and core players. The first thing that struck me about Mists of Pandaria is how pretty it looks. There's no mistaking it for something other than World of Warcraft, but the overarching pan-Asian influences in the areas I saw and explored definitely gave the new continent its own unique flavor. Pandaria is a neutral land caught between the conflict between the Horde and Alliance, and shares a symbiotic relationship with its denizens. A force called "The Shaw" reacts to the host of negative emotions that come along with war, and affects Pandaria's inhabitants in mysterious ways. Pandaria's heroes find themselves in a situation where they will need to choose sides in the war for Azeroth. "The land itself reacts to the forces that work upon it," Lagrave told me. "So the Horde and Alliance start warring upon Pandaria, and the Shaw--all those different forces--come to life. All those negative emotions trigger the Shaw: the Shaw of Fear, the Shaw of Hatred, the Shaw of Anger. Because of that, the races on the land respond." There were a number of considerations as to how the new continent would be constructed. "We knew we had to make a connected continent," said Lead Content Designer Corey Stockton. "There was no way we could do fractured zones again." "We've got things that feel like Mongolia and the Himalayas in the northern zone. And the first zone, The Jade Forest, feels very specifically Chinese," Stockton said. "Then we've got rain forests and jungles that feel like Vietnam. So we really have this pan-Asian influence over everything. You can't really say it's one specific place." Based on my time playing as a level 85 Pandaren Monk, I'm happy to report that the new race and character class are nice additions to World of Warcraft's stable of choices. The hand-to-hand combat and animations are different and engaging, and finally give players a chance to create their own personal WoW-themed martial artist with a specialization as either a healer, tank, or damage dealer. I was able to sample a host of different punches, kicks, buffs, other abilities, including the power to roll for short distances. In short, it seemed like a class that folks will have a lot of fun checking out. Core WoW players will be happy to note that Mists of Pandaria raises the game's level-cap to 90, includes nine new dungeons to explore, and unveils a host of new races of creatures to fight, ranging from the Mogu--a race of warlike creatures that once ruled Pandaria--to the Hozen, a race of monkey-like creatures that are equal parts filthy and mischievous. The talent tree has also been revamped and simplified quite a bit, allowing players to quickly enhance their characters in meaningful ways while mitigating the risk of buyer's remorse.

Just like Jet Li, but fuzzier.

Mists of Pandaria will also include a number of new game modes and systems, some of which offer optional (yet deep) distractions that have the potential to appeal to both casual and core players, alike. Pet-based combat is being added, for example. In this optional mode, players will be able to engage their pets in turn-based battles against other players' pets, in a mode that's similar to the battle system prevalent in early Final Fantasy games. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 different pet-types, including a brand new Panda Cub pet, the number of possible pet-battle combinations is quite large. Pets will level up as they progress, and the mode is quite friendly to casual players. The system will keep track of how many times a player wins one of these battles, but loss statistics won't be shown in an effort to keep players from getting discouraged. "I compare it sometimes to our achievement system, where we have players that are really, really into achievements, and other players just don't want to mess with them at all," said Lead Systems Designer Greg Street. "With StarCraft, for example, even trying to do very casual PvP is really intimidating for [some] players, particularly players who haven't done it before. So we didn't want pet battles to be a scary thing. There's not much risk involved. No one is going to make fun of you," he said. I asked Street if pet combat might expand, should the community embrace it. "If it takes off and there's a lot of depth there and people really gravitate towards it, then sure. We would do more with it in the future, and try to support that. BlizzCon pet tournaments or something," he said. Seven new reputation factions are also being added to the mix, and though--like pet battles--they're entirely optional, there are some pretty cool nooks and crannies to delve into. The factions include, for example, a group of elite Pandaren fighters known as The Shado-Pan, and a faction of LoreWalkers that gathers bits of mythology and history comprising "the story of Pandaria" spread throughout the land. "We're trying to put a bookshelf in that room that has your collected scrolls and books of things you've found. Every time you visit it, you try to fill up the shelf with all the stuff, and then you can read it that way," Street explained, illustrating how faction-based activities will yield their own tangible rewards.

The Pandaren are a powerful, Zen-like race that will find itself in the middle of the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance.

There are even a trio of Artisan-based factions: the Brewmasters, Tillers, and Anglers. The Tillers--which were discussed in the most detail--deliver optional gameplay inspired by games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, Street explained. "You have this farm. And it's really something that you as a player have to deal with and take care of. You can go plant seeds, and the next day you might log in and water the seeds. And the next day you might log in and harvest the turnips. And then you take the turnips back up to the little farm area where all the farmers hang out. Maybe one of the Pandaran might buy turnips from you and, in return, give you apple seeds. Maybe you can grow flowers to give to a girl Pandaren because she needs them for her boyfriend. We almost have this little social interaction RPG on the side." When I had spoken with Stockton earlier, he had also hinted that the farming aspect of the Tillers faction could serve as a precursor to putting housing in World of Warcraft. "We've always wanted to put housing in WoW, but that's a whole team's worth of work. So this is kind of a way for us to test the waters a little bit. You get your own (instanced) farm, but it feels like it's yours, and that you're changing the world. You start with one little plot [of land], and over a series of daily quests, you can clear out up to nine plots," he said. New "Scenarios" are also being added, which are basically PvE missions for multiple players that are a lot easier to get into than traditional RAIDs or dungeons. Stockton told me that "scenarios" fall right between the two. Players basically queue up for a scenario in which they'll be presented with a common goal, and then get to work. "Our engineers have told us we should literally have zero queue times because there's no sort of actual role [prerequisite required]," Stockton said. "Doesn't matter if you're a Tank, Healer, or DPS; you're just going to get right in." Core World of Warcraft players looking to test their mettle will likely enjoy one of Mists of Pandaria's other touted additions: Dungeon 'Challenge' Modes. Described as the "ultimate 5-player time trials" Challenges yield prestige rewards (like awesome new armor sets). They're also one of Lead Producer Lagrave's favorite additions. "I'm a huge fan of the challenge modes," he told me. "If you're an achievement junkie, there's a lot of awesome hard achievements to get. Two, if you want to be distinctive, that armor set is very distinctive. There's going to be unique mounts. And you're going to be able to brag. We're going to have leader boards for the guilds." In short, it's a team-based PvE mode where you'll be able to see how you stack up against other players when facing the same challenge." Challenge modes also balance player gear. Street told me that you'll never hear a story of someone soloing a Challenge by overpowering their gear. I remarked to Street that it seems like a natural fit, and asked him about the creative impetus behind the new mode. "It really came out from our struggles with difficulty. Coming out of Wrath of the Lich King, dungeons started feeling really easy," he said. "We started hearing from players that say, 'You know, I used to love dungeons. I liked the challenge. I liked trying to use every ability I had. Like, we can't beat this boss; what can we try to do differently.'"

The landscapes in Pandaria are quite striking, with a variety of different Asian influences on display throughout the continent.

"They loved the intellectual part of it, whereas, for a lot of players now, dungeons are very fast. [Players] don't have to communicate a lot. It can often be really anonymous, if you're with a group of strangers. They just weren't enjoying it very much." Cataclysm, Street noted, featured a return to some difficult dungeons, but those unable to invest the time commitment necessary to build up a party for a RAID felt a little left out in the cold. Dungeon Challenge Mode is another way to deliver a more challenging experience while reducing the time required to participate. "It just comes back to having this gigantic player-base that's super diverse," Street said. "Because those Challenge modes don't reward any power at all, we can keep them as an optional thing," Street said. "They're not a barrier to advancement." Street also revealed that the loot system will be undergoing a significant change that's more player-friendly. "For RAID-finder from now on, rather than having a random roll where you compete over the item, we're just going to do 'per-player loot,'" he said. "You'll be happy when someone gets an item, rather than bitter." He also mentioned a new system, tentatively titled "The Bonus Roll." Currency is earned by doing daily quests, and that currency can be exchanged for a "Bonus Roll." After defeating a boss, the player will have the option to use it to yield an extra reward. It's randomized, akin to a slot-machine. Sometimes it'll give you an item off that boss' loot table. The idea behind the new system is that it'll encourage players to perform daily quests before dungeons because doing so could yield some better loot. My overall impressions of Mists of Pandaria were quite positive, and there seems to be an extra effort this time around to appeal to both casual and hardcore players with the new systems being introduced. Post-release patch content is already in the works, the first of which will see the Alliance and Horde dropping anchor and setting up battlements on Pandaria's shores, and the last of which will culminate in a conflict with Orc Warchief Garrosh Hellscream in Orgrimmar. All in all, it looks like World of Warcraft fans will have a lot new stuff to get excited about when Mists of Pandaria finally arrives.

A Hozen. You'll beat the tar out of a lot of these guys in Pandaria.

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 19, 2012 12:50 AM

    Jeff Mattas posted a new article, World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria preview.

    We get an in-depth peek at the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria, and talk with some of its lead developers about the new continent, races, and new Monk character class, as well as some new systems like Pet Battles, and Challenges.

    • reply
      March 19, 2012 1:00 AM

      Looks like it is time to resurrect my level 85s in preparation for this.

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        March 19, 2012 1:06 AM

        The recent Scroll of Ressurection changes (combind with SW:ToR getting boring rather quickly) got me to re-sub again.

        Been revisiting PvP and Arena's for the first time in a long time.

        Actually been having a lot of fun with it despite how tired I'd grown of it.

        Still though Mists of Pandaland doesn't really interest me.

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          March 19, 2012 1:23 AM

          I've always been a fan of monk characters, all the way back to my pen & paper D&D days. Also played a monk in Baldur's Gate. I'd be lying if I said that part of the expansion doesn't intrigue me.

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      March 19, 2012 2:03 AM

      This might, just might, be the first WoW expansion I don't even try out. Nothing out of the features really pushes my buttons and the whole theme is "off" for me. I really really wish Blizzard would do whatever it takes to get real world PvP into the game, that's the one thing I'd go and try for sure.

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        March 19, 2012 2:42 AM

        What do you mean with "real world PVP"? Urban combat?

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          March 19, 2012 2:46 AM

          The kind found in DAoC or WAR for example. Areas, forts and other conquerable things that are persistent, fights between guilds / realms for the control of those things. Something you'd be able to classify as "warfare", instead of a bunch of instances which have no relevance in anything except gathering points for your next upgrade.

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            March 19, 2012 3:28 AM

            Ah I see, I concur Dark Age of Camleot hat the best MMO-PVP up till date, I really wish there'd be an MMO that does this right.

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            March 19, 2012 7:38 AM

            Empty servers?

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              March 19, 2012 9:12 AM

              Yes, because they were always empty.

              What a derp reply.

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                March 19, 2012 9:15 AM

                Well, WAR's open world pvp wasn't exactly good or even passable. The shit was fucked for the first six or so months after release, but almost the entire population had bailed after one or two.

                Not really a derp reply. Real open world pvp tends to be fucked unless there's something in place to balance populations, but won't happen so long as companies stick with the hard two-faction model.

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                  March 19, 2012 10:28 AM

                  You drew correlation between the servers being empty and PvP for both DAoC and WAR. DAoC was immensely popular for a very long time, especially when you consider how solid EverQuest was at that point in the MMO world. Years later yes, the servers are dead... but that game didn't up and die from the PvP content. It died because of age and competition (primarily WoW).

                  WAR had a relatively good subscriber base despite all of its flaws for awhile. Servers did clear out fast and the fact that shit was busted did seal the deal on that game in the long run, but the general idea of "open world PvP" that DAoC and WAR were both built on is still very solid even to this day. It's just unfortunate that western players are far more likely to embrace the PvE side of these games, forcing folks to look toward the east for games like TERA to pop up where they can do *real* PvP.

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                    March 19, 2012 10:32 AM

                    tl;dr: There was a massive shift in western MMO gameplay, people latched onto it and now here we are... deeply rooted in an age of MMO gaming where people resub long enough to knock out new content and then disappear back into a dark hole until the next content patch / expansion comes out.

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          March 19, 2012 2:46 AM

          Southshore/Tarren Mill!

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            March 19, 2012 3:23 AM

            ss/tm lasted about a week, it only lasted that long because world pvp didn't exist before then

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              March 19, 2012 4:53 AM

              It lasted much longer than that - plus Nesingwary's and Blackrock had tons of random, escalating encounters back when warsong US had horrifying long queues :D

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              March 19, 2012 9:05 AM

              I don't think you were on the tarren mill side of things, alliance scum >:(

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          March 19, 2012 2:51 AM

          Sabuk war!

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        March 19, 2012 5:12 AM

        Same here. Even though I haven't played in about 6 months, I was still planning on coming back for the next expansion. I honestly don't see anything besides the Monk class that would make me want to play again.

        Is there no main antagonist and story behind this expansion? Is everyone just peacefully enjoying the new zones and doing kung-fu?

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        March 19, 2012 7:31 AM

        Same. I will have Guild Wars 2 and SW:TOR to play.

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        March 19, 2012 10:57 AM

        Same, it was fun while it lasted. GW2 + D3 should be enough to displace the Pandas.

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        March 19, 2012 1:20 PM

        This a thousand times. Plus one.

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        March 19, 2012 2:37 PM

        Yeah, I have to agree. As much of a sucker as I am for Asian-themed MMOs, I just can't seem to build up the inclination to pick this game up again.

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        March 19, 2012 3:12 PM

        It's been dead since flying mounts showed up.

        I've felt for awhile that flying mounts should be something you can only get on while you're in a city, and once you've dismounted you're stuck on a ground mount. The existence of flying mount has really taken a heavy toll on the flow of the outdoor world, trivializing questing, nuking PvP, and eliminating most of the significance of the flow of the game world. Really bad decision on their part.

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          March 19, 2012 3:27 PM

          I wouldn't be averse to losing flying mounts in exchange for a whole bunch of teleporters. Trying to get somewhere in any reasonable sort of time on a ground mount is just way, way too long.

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            March 19, 2012 3:32 PM

            fuuuuuuuuu you can have my flying mounts over my dead body >:(

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            March 19, 2012 3:40 PM

            You've already got flight paths!

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              March 19, 2012 3:53 PM

              Plus, that's why I like the idea of flying mounts being one way. You use it to hit your destination, and from then on you kind of have to hoof it in the same dangerous world that everybody else did.

              I am possibly somewhat nostalgic for classic WoW, but back then there was some actual significance to the game world. These days everybody just regards it as "outdoor content that I'm done with when I finish leveling", because even if you couldn't fly over everything, everything in the game world is fucking weak and dies in five seconds. Like questing is so easy there's virtually never a point to using cooldowns, because shit is dead almost the moment you touch it.

              I don't know, parts of the old game were clunky as shit, but the game world felt like a place I wanted to explore. Now it feels like a waste of time that I have to put the time into just to do the "real" content that's tucked away behind instance portals. Presumably they did made it so trivial because they thought that challenging content frustrated their large base of people who suck at video games, and yet, the game's easier than ever and managing to lose subscribers. So go figure.

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        March 19, 2012 3:57 PM

        Me too. Hoping Secret World scratches the itch a bit. SWTOR is fun for the story but not the gameplay. Not that interested in GW2 since the last one just wasn't fun to me.

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          March 19, 2012 6:43 PM

          GW2 is only like GW1 in setting and name only. GW2 is a very different game from the first one.

    • reply
      March 19, 2012 2:47 AM

      going to be gud

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      March 19, 2012 3:03 AM

      I've not played WoW since around 2007, but I am constantly amazed by how great it looks in new screenshots.

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        March 19, 2012 4:41 AM

        but for some reason even with the latest greatest and settings on ultra it never seemed to look as good for me in game.

    • reply
      March 19, 2012 4:01 AM

      [deleted]

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        March 19, 2012 4:11 AM

        they can choose to be either.

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        March 19, 2012 4:52 AM

        Both, you choose after the initial panda zone.

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        March 19, 2012 7:37 AM

        I thought you were joking when you said pandas. But no, the literally are pandas. Lol. Who the fuck would buy this?? Is one of the new features jack black doing voiceovers?

        • reply
          March 19, 2012 7:56 AM

          I'm assuming you don't know that they've been in Warcraft lore for quite a long time. People have been asking about them since right before TBC was announced. If anything Blizzard is listening to their fanbase by finally adding them.

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            March 19, 2012 9:02 AM

            pandas started as a fucking april fools joke, nothing to do with warcraft lore.
            only when dumbasses started wanting that shit in, did blizz put that in

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              March 19, 2012 9:04 AM

              I don't remember people wanting a panda hero in The Frozen Throne, but Blizzard put it in anyway.

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              March 19, 2012 4:01 PM

              Still incorrect. They had a special mission and everything in WC3, and as far as I know there was no big fan outcry asking for it to be implemented at that time. Way back it was sort of a joke, then it was a mission in WC3, then it was included in some WoW quests back in Vanilla. Considering how the world has gotten progressively larger since it released, I'm shocked that other people didn't see this coming.

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          March 19, 2012 7:58 AM

          As I'm sure hundreds will tell you, this race was around at least as far back as Warcraft 3. They wanted to put them in the game sooner, but China was pretty against a game where a panda could die. I'm not sure what's changed with all that.

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            March 19, 2012 8:39 AM

            lol, China's gonna be in an interesting position when the pandas go extinct.

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            March 19, 2012 9:08 AM

            China was pretty against a game where a panda could die

            this has never been true. you are repeating something that someone just made up out of whole cloth

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              March 19, 2012 9:13 AM

              [deleted]

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                March 19, 2012 9:21 AM

                pretty specious evidence and, even if 100% true and accurate, only applies to a single city in china

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                  March 19, 2012 10:16 AM

                  I mean, WC3 had pandas. WC3 was huge in China. So like, how could it be true?

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              March 19, 2012 9:16 AM

              It may not be true, but it was told to blizzard employees, because that's what my friends there told me as well a few years ago. They are/were in the cinematics department, so it wasn't some some random CR guy.

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          March 19, 2012 9:44 AM

          [deleted]

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      March 19, 2012 4:57 AM

      Challenges kinda sounds fun

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      March 19, 2012 8:40 AM

      The game has its supporters and detractors. I took a break from it, but I have found I miss it. Maybe like a drunk missing his bottle, but I miss it.

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        March 19, 2012 3:58 PM

        I went through this with Cataclysm. Enjoyed up to Firelands. Might try Deathwing in my full Firelands Resto Drood tier since it's meant to be hilariously trivial to PUG now.

        Pandaren can fuck right off though.

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      March 19, 2012 9:09 AM

      I'm going to buy it and play through the leveling up portion and explore the new continent. After that, I probably won't touch wow again until another expansion arrives.

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      March 19, 2012 9:25 AM

      I kinda wanna subscribe to WoW for the first time so I can see the furry crowd descend on it lol

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      March 19, 2012 12:29 PM

      Something interesting from mmo-champ's preview...

      The final raid will be Siege of Orgrimmar, with the goal of bringing down Garrosh as Warchief.

      Umm.. yep. Going to play that.

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        March 19, 2012 1:01 PM

        On the Horde, too? Should be interesting. I felt pretty conflicted about Garrosh taking over for Thrall, but I guess it was all to set up a big change-up. I wonder when they're going to take out Sylvannus, too.

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          March 19, 2012 1:05 PM

          Baine for Warchief! There is no one to take over for Sylvannus though unless they bring Therion in to rule over both the Blood Elves and Undead.

          It would never happen but they should make it that there is a cure for being Undead and give the player a choice of being undead or getting cured and still being tainted by the undead curse but not truely undead.

          Also they need to make the non-player races that are based on current races playable like Frost Dwarves, or Fel Orcs.

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          March 19, 2012 1:06 PM

          Yep.

          The write-up said the Alliance & Horde get into all-out war mode, and one side starts committing war crimes that causes the whole thing to go batshit insane. My guess is it's the horde who starts it under Garrosh's orders, and that causes a rebellion within the horde to restore sanity to their leadership.

          In another interview, Metzen said Varian's character is going to be developed quite a bit in this expansion. Apparently one of the concepts for an encounter in the final raid is Varian ordering the attacking forces to defend horde children from Garrosh's forces, because Varian realizes the greater horde in innocent & they're there to take out Garrosh, not kill innocent horde.

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            March 19, 2012 1:18 PM

            I guess some shit has been going down with the Dwarves, too, where Magni is killed or frozen and the next heir is a dark-iron dwarf?

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              March 19, 2012 1:30 PM

              That stuff is covered in the Shattering novel before they released Cata. He gets turned to crystal/diamond or something iirc.

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              March 19, 2012 1:38 PM

              That was pre-cata. He was fucking with some forbidden magics to do something and got wtfpwned.

    • reply
      March 19, 2012 2:10 PM

      But will they finally allow more than 10 characters on a realm? I had one of each class already on Mal'Ganis before cataclysm came out. Still have not played a Goblin..

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      March 19, 2012 3:35 PM

      I am the only one thinking on the Kungfu Panda movie?

      • reply
        March 19, 2012 3:40 PM

        Yeah I'm pretty sure you are the only one.

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          March 19, 2012 3:47 PM

          GETTA LOADA PROFESSAH MAGICTHOUGHT OVAH HEYAH!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Ziz legacy 10 years
        reply
        March 19, 2012 5:32 PM

        Wtf? Where do you get that from?

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          March 19, 2012 8:07 PM

          wtf man wtf. I just looked to the frontpage pictures and I *inmediately* thought: Kung Fu Panda. But I guess its only me after all.

          • reply
            March 19, 2012 10:08 PM

            Dude, Kungfu Panda looks like THIS, not the other way around.

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            March 19, 2012 10:46 PM

            Trolls will be trolls, it obviously looks a bit like kung-fu panda. Can't see that as a bad thing though, the artwork looks great, as you'd expect from Blizzard.

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              March 20, 2012 3:42 AM

              Nono,dont missunderstand me. I didnt say its a bad thing. Eveyrthing is constant feedback, ones from otthers, etc. It just have this resemblance, but its perfectly fine.

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                March 20, 2012 5:09 AM

                Yeah I know, i was just speaking generally.

          • Ziz legacy 10 years
            reply
            March 20, 2012 7:09 AM

            I was kidding, that was the first thing i thought too.

      • reply
        March 19, 2012 6:49 PM

        I don't see it.

    • reply
      March 30, 2012 9:46 PM

      i love this game , i post many wow article at www.wowwowcatagold.com
      share your ideas with me.

    • reply
      March 30, 2012 9:47 PM

      contact me at www.wowwowgold.com
      share your ideas.

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