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WoW fans, welcome to Pandaria

The long-awaited fourth expansion to World of Warcraft is finally here. Read this overview of new features and content in Mists of Pandaria.

September 25, 2012 is a very important day in the World . . . of Warcraft. It marks the release of Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion to this immensely popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).

The story is set. After the battle of Theramore (as told in the recently-released novel World of Warcraft: Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War), the Alliance and the Horde have engaged in an all-out war. During a particularly pitched and heated naval battle, Horde and Alliance forces stumble upon a new land that has never been discovered -- even though both navies have sailed these waters for years. The continent? The mythical, lost Pandaria.

Meanwhile (or perhaps many years ago as I speculate in my Mists of Pandaria Beta gallery) in another part of Azeroth, another Alliance naval vessel carrying several Horde prisoners runs aground onto an island. However, this is no ordinary island -- it's a giant sea turtle, Shen-zin Su, which carries an entire community of Pandaren adventurers upon its back. Once these Pandaren reach the age of decision, they are given a choice: join the Alliance or the Horde and fight for that side, forsaking all other Pandaren who choose the other side.

General overview

The Mists of Pandaria expansion includes a whole host of general changes and improvements -- not the least of which is the ability to level your characters another five levels (to level 90) while playing through seven new zones. The new zones have amazing scenery and architecture, familiar and brand-new characters, and exciting quests, much of which you can see in my Beta and Release galleries.

Quest progression leads you through the zones in the following order:

  1. The Jade Forest
  2. Valley of the Four Winds
  3. Krasarang Wilds (although this can be done woven in with Valley of the Four Winds depending on which quest line you follow when)
  4. The Veiled Stair (an unmarked, very small zone that links the Valley of the Four Winds with Kun-Lai Summit along the eastern part of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms)
  5. Kun-Lai Summit
  6. Townlong Steppes
  7. Dread Wastes
  8. Vale of Eternal Blossoms

WoW Mists of Pandaria: Continent map (Screenshots of World of Warcraft game client by Wally Bahny for TechRepublic)

As World of Warcraft players can attest, Blizzard once again adjusted the Talents module, completely removing the "trees" this time. Now, instead of each specialization having a set of talents to choose from, many of which are "mandatory" (if you want to do the most damage or healing or have the most damage absorption), players have a set of talents assigned to them based on the class, another set based on the specialization, and a final set that can be chosen from regardless of which specialization they have selected for that class. This means that a Combat Rogue can choose a talent like Shadowstep, which was previously only available to a Subtlety Rogue, or a Protection Paladin can choose Repentance, which was previously only available to a Retribution Paladin.

Another set of systems changes that have been in the Live version of World of Warcraft for about a month are the Account-Level Achievements, Pets, and Mounts. There is a subset of each of these three features that, once you earn it on one character, you get it on all of your characters. This is a great feature because many of the achievements are tough enough to do once, let alone once for each character (like Insane in the Membrane), and some mounts and pets are extremely rare, hard to find, or expensive.

New features

With those account-level pets, you can now engage in Pet Battles (Pokémon-style). After training your choice of three otherwise non-combat pets, you can team them up to battle against other players' and non-playable characters' pet teams in order to earn more skills for those pets or sometimes to steal a pet from your opponent.

Scenarios are small, instanced sets of tasks that three players can engage in but that don't require a specific set of roles. For example, unlike 5-man dungeons, which require a tank, a healer, and three DPS characters, scenarios can be played with any combination of characters in these three roles. One scenario that World of Warcraft players have already had the chance to participate in is Theramore's Fall, again based on the novel World of Warcraft: Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of WarI engaged in Theramore's Fall with my rogue and two other DPS specs several times and did not have a problem with excessive damage.

One huge new feature is the addition of the Pandaren race, which brings a single race that is able to choose which faction they wish to join. I've already covered the Pandaren in my Beta article, and the Pandaren are gone into in even more detail on the official website and on many of the fan sites.

The other huge new feature is the addition of the Monk class. This hybrid class is capable of healing, tanking, and doing damage depending on the specialization selected. Most races, including the Pandaren, can choose to be a Monk. There is plenty of detail on the official website and many of the fan sites.

New content

The release of an expansion also brings with it plenty of new instanced dungeons and raids. There are two entry-level dungeons, the Temple of the Jade Serpent and the Stormstout Brewery, as well as several others as characters level from 85 to 90. Mists of Pandaria is also shipping with one raid instance allowing for 10 or 25 players in normal or heroic modes and 25 players in Raid Finder mode, as well as two more raids coming a month or two down the line.

In addition, expansions bring with them many new reputation factions, and Mists of Pandaria is no exception. The reputation factions in this expansion are interesting and don't seem to have the "grind" (or, at least, the uncomfortable grind) that previous factions did. I go into several of the factions in my new Mists of Pandaria gallery.

Technologia

If you are new to World of Warcraft and would like to give it a try, all races are free to all new players up to level 20 using the World of Warcraft Starter Addition. If you enjoy the game and end up signing up for a full account, or if you're a returning player who hasn't played in a while and would like to join a fun and friendly Horde guild, log in to the Duskwood realm and contact one of the officers of the Technologia guild, the official unofficial guild of TechRepublic. Inferious, Elkwinkarma, or any of the other officers would be happy to extend you an invitation.

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