Mists of Pandaria will launch with nine heroic dungeons, four of which were previewed to one extent or another at last week's press event: Temple of the Jade Serpent, the Stormstout Brewery, the updated Scholomance, and the updated Scarlet Monastery.
Temple of the Jade Serpent
Blizzard is taking a new approach with its introductory dungeon of the expansion. Rather than starting you off in instances that are entirely secondary to the expansion's story arc and saving the dungeons that tie closest to the plot of the expansion for the level cap, the very first dungeon you run in Mists of Pandaria will set the story's tone. The Temple of the Jade Serpent will display the expansion's villainy right up front.
The sha, as you've heard by now, are the core external villains in the land of Pandaria. They are the manifestation of negative emotion. The Temple of the Jade Serpent will be your introduction to the sha. The Temple is where, once upon a time, an old emperor of Pandaria beat down the Sha of Doubt and saved the entire empire. Unfortunately, the war that the Horde and the Alliance have brought to Pandaria's shores has rekindled the Sha of Doubt and the temple has fallen under its influence.
We did get to tackle the Temple hands-on at the press event, so we can provide a few concrete details about the bosses within and their abilities.
Wise Mari Upon entering the Temple, the path immediately splits. If you take the left path, you'll face a jinyu water speaker, Wise Mari. The waters of the Temple have been tainted by the sha's influence, and Mari was tainted right along with them.
The room where you fight Mari is circular. The floor is part shallow water, part branching stone pathways. If you touch the water, you begin taking damage, so you need to jump from stone to stone to avoid it. Mari himself (herself?) is immune to all damage at the beginning of the encounter and does not become susceptible to damage until you've beaten waves of corrupt water elementals.
Once Mari's shield drops, he (she?) turns in a slow circle, spraying a gout of water. If you get hit by the water, you take massive damage and get tossed across the room ... probably into the water on the floor, which will cause even more damage and potentially kill you outright. If you've raided Serpentshrine Cavern, you'll recognize the mechanic; The Lurker Below uses the same one.
During the water jet phase, the entire party can completely avoid taking any damage whatsoever as long as everyone is good about jumping and moving in a circle. My party lost three players during the first phase of the encounter, but we won anyway -- our tank and our hunter (Tankspot's Lore) finished the last phase on their own. Heroic mode at level 90 is not likely to be so forgiving.
Zao Sunseeker If you travel to the right upon entering the dungeon, you'll find Zao Sunseeker. Zao is one of the good guys. He has apparently traveled into the temple to salvage a scroll containing a story, a piece of Pandaria's history. Unfortunately, through some magical means, you end up battling the five suns from the story. Upon defeating each sun, it shows its true form -- sha, of course. After you defeat all five sha, they infest Zao with the negative emotion they embody. You are then forced to kill Zao.
Zao is, as far as we could tell, mostly untankable. He will follow the tank around, but he launches his primary damaging ability, fire arrows, at random party members for heavy damage. The fight becomes a game of the DPSers taking the boss down before the healer runs out of mana.
Liu Flameheart Liu was labeled the Priestess of the Jade Serpent, so it's probable that she'll have some story build-up prior to entering the dungeon. However, we didn't get that far in our questing, so her exact role remains to be seen. What we do know is that her encounter was pretty fun.
Liu is a monk, and the bulk of her abilities are appropriate to the class -- melee abilities on the tank and an AoE leg sweep that damages everyone in melee range. However, she also has a flame wave ability to keep the ranged players on their toes. Just outside of melee range, a series of flame waves spawn and travel in a line radiating outward from her. Ranged players just need to run out of range of the flames.
Deal enough damage to her, and she transforms into the Jade Serpent itself. She spawns patches of flame beneath players at that point, so you need to DPS her down before there isn't anywhere safe left to stand.
Sha of Doubt The Sha of Doubt is another callback to Serpentshrine Cavern. This time, you'll see echoes of Leotheras the Blind. At intervals throughout the encounter, the sha spawns a shadow copy of every single party member. If a shadow is not killed fast enough, it explodes for 50,000 damage and heals the boss for 10% of its health.
While that mechanic was fun, the one that killed us most often was the righteously painful DoT that the sha randomly cast on party members. If it didn't get dispelled very quickly, the damage it dealt become overwhelming.
We didn't have an opportunity to take the Stormstout Brewery (or any beyond the Temple) hands-on, but Blizzard's developers all seemed eager to talk about this one. The Stormstout Brewery is located in the Valley of the Four Winds, the rural farmland of Pandaria. Chen Stormstout, pandaren hero from Warcraft III's Founding of Orgrimmar bonus campaign, will adventure right alongside you while you explore his ancestral brewery.
To Chen's dismay, things have gone poorly for his family while he was away. Hozen, a race of monkeys, have invaded the brewery. Even worse, they've gotten into the beer. Virmen, a race of rabbits, have followed suit, broken into the pantries, and are breeding like there's no tomorrow. Even worse, the spirits of the beer itself, alementals, have been whipped into a frenzy.
While not everything we heard about Mists of Pandaria is sunshine and rainbows, the Stormstout Brewery does embody the lighthearted laughs we've come to expect from the pandaren.
You'll storm the brewery, ride kegs into groups of enemies to crash a hozen frat party, break up monkey knife fights, battle your way through a gauntlet of virmen to their alpha male Hoptallus, and then face down the angered alementals ... as well as the Stormstout ancestors who are not very happy about their brewery's maltreatment.
In Cataclysm, Shadowfang Keep and The Deadmines received dramatic overhauls (or remixes, as Scott "Daelo" Mercer called them). The two instances didn't have many (if any) bosses in common with their classic WoW iterations. However, the Zul'Aman revamp from later in the expansion remained mostly true to its original vision. Zul'Aman had been streamlined to some degree and polished to match the World of Warcraft of 2011, but most of the bosses were the same as they always had been.
Scholomance seems as if it will fall somewhere in the middle. The original concept of Scholomance has been preserved. It remains a school of the dark arts with Darkmaster Gandling as its overseer. However, Scholomance's aesthetic will see a serious face-lift in Mists of Pandaria. Entire rooms, gates, and hallways have been eliminated to reroute you through the dungeon. Rooms that were once completely barren and uninteresting have been refurnished and populated appropriately.
The first boss of the instance is now an improved Jandice Barov. Rather than being completely out of your way, the dungeon now takes you straight to her lair. Jandice will still use illusion-based magic as she always has, but now she'll benefit from all of the combat tech that has been developed and implemented since 2004.
While much of the content between Jandice and Gandling was kept a secret, we were shown one final surprise: Lilian Voss is back. As far as we know, she's fighting for the good guys -- or at least, the not-Gandling guys. Who knows what qualifies as good in Warcraft these days?
The developers didn't actually discuss Scarlet Monastery at all. Not one bit. However, our press kit did include fly-through video of the zone. It doesn't tell us much, but you can see that Ms. Whitemane will still be there. That's all that matters, right? Also worth noting: Herod is gone, replaced by Armsmaster Harlan.
As previewed at BlizzCon, every new heroic dungeon is going to get a challenge mode. The challenge mode times your run and grants you a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on how well you do -- or nothing at all if you're just that bad. Blizzard expects that just about any seasoned group should be able to earn at least a bronze medal in each heroic dungeon. Challenge mode does include a ranking system on the server and guild level, allowing you to weigh yourself directly against other players.
Earning bronze medals will net you an achievement, but the real rewards lie with silver and gold. Silver medals will award you pieces of vanity gear to use for transmogrification. The gear will have no stats, but they will have a unique appearance ... and completing each set will give you a unique effect. An example given was the dragons on the rogue set's shoulders will breathe fire once you've completed the entire set.
While the art was not completed for the press preview, the developers did reveal that the reward for collecting all of the gold medals was a unique mount styled after the qilin from real world mythology.
It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!