I mentioned before that this is all new to us. There are some familiar elements, of course (for example, in Kun-Lai Summit, the Zandalari show their tusked faces again), but even then, we're treated to the unfolding of a continent that has had 10,000 years to grow in its own way. This is an opportunity the Warcraft
setting hasn't had since Warcraft III
. Outland and Northrend were established in previous Warcraft
games, and Kalimdor made its appearance in Warcraft III
, exposing for the first time the distant past of the War of the Ancients and the sundering of the world. Since then, we've been exploring that lore.
Carve yourself onto a blank slate
With Pandaria, we're exploring what happened somewhere we have never been before. Granted, we'd heard
of Pandaria before, because of Chen Stormstout's appearance in the events surrounding the foundation of Orgrimmar. But that was all we had, an awareness that this one character had come from somewhere.
Now, with the Mists parted, we finally get to explore that place and discover for ourselves the truth of an entirely new approach to things we take for granted. In Pandaria, things as simple as the history we've been taught about the formation of the world could end up being challenged. The spirits have their own hierarchy. The natives approach the land entirely differently. Everything from custom and tradition to warfare is approached in ways that have evolved in isolation for century upon century, millennia after millennia. There are entirely new peoples unheard of in the rest of the world, going about their lives without a thought to the war between the Alliance and the Horde that looms so large to us.
Of course, that war expanding to the shores of Pandaria is part of the new lore, too. The clash between these cultures, each with new ideas the other has not seen before, is an engine driving our exploration forward. It's handled very deftly in Jade Forest
, as the Alliance and Horde forces make pacts with local peoples (the Hozen and Jinyu) and begin exploring, only to be party to a great calamity that helps kick players out of the zone and into the wider continent on a journey as much for personal redemption as exploration.
Pandaria's story -- stories, really -- use the unknown as a lure and a promise to motivate further exploration. Every place you explore has new sights, new ideas, and at times new forms of menace that must be confronted. To a degree, at times you're facing this danger because it's related to your actions, but there's also a sense of the outsider in a new world being given a chance to become part of that world.
The gate of the new world
I was floored with just how many interweaving quest lines cut through some of the zones. Kun-Lai Summit
has quests involving your faction expanding into the new zone, quests completely departing from that to explore the history of the area, quests involving the Temple of the White Tiger and the native spirits of Pandaria weighing your actions, quests that reveal the Zandalari-Mogu alliance and its origins, and quests detailing the Shado-Pan and their influence on the world and how the world has influenced them. If you ignore the quest text, you're doing yourself a disservice here.
The zone is liberally strewn with story beats. And it's not unique in that aspect. Every zone I've explored has been similarly festooned with crazy shrines unfolding the origin of the Mists
and how the last pandaren emperor saved Pandaria (and why he didn't just save his own empire, but also even the lands held by his people's enemies) or giving tantalizing hints about the mogu or the mantid.
Better yet, you
are absolutely in the middle of all of this.
Without giving too much away (I warned about spoilers, but I still want to avoid as many as I can), the Towlong Steppes
is an excellent example of a zone that gathers together plot threads from previous zones and lets you explore the effects of your own actions as well as those of other characters. The hunt for the Sha of Hatred takes you through the zone (but is not
the culmination; there are more quests and stories than just this one). It has you meeting many figures and seeing how their actions affect you and others. It does a magnificent job of showing you why the pandaren value balance so much, why the Sha are an enemy to be feared and how their corruption is entirely different than anything you've experienced before by making it a gameplay element of several quests. You will experience for yourself how it feels to be influenced by the Sha. You will see allies fall to them. You will become just as motivated to stop them as any.
In the process of playing through the zone, you learn more about the mantid, the yaungol, and the cycle that produced the Great Wall in the first place. It's really great to see the questing innovations we saw in Cataclysm
not only used but exploited to the very edges of their capacity and improved upon when they prove insufficient. It makes learning about the world part of the gameplay, and I can honestly say I've spent more time than I was expecting to just exploring for new quest hubs to find out what happens next.
Pandaria is a whole new world, and we're about to learn more than we have since the game launched.
While you don't need to have played the previous
Warcraft games to enjoy
World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the
World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore