Because of this, beta testers who were well past the zone when it was closed may want to copy another character over to the beta and give the new version a play-through. It seems that both Alliance and Horde have received significant changes in the opening portions of the zone; however, later quests outside of the starting areas seem to be unchanged. In addition, there were several model updates with the current patch. Pandaria's wildlife now seems to be suitably diverse from the rest of Azeroth's creatures.
So what's changed? Well, quite a bit, actually. Take a look at the before and after in our galleries for a peek at the changes, and follow after the break for some impressions from the new Mists starting experience.
Why the change?
The biggest question that people have been asking is exactly why changes needed to be made to the zone in the first place. The last build before Jade Forest was shut down seemed to be pretty solid. Buggy quests had by and large been fixed and addressed. So what was the reason for the changes, and why were they necessary? What's with the pandaren villages out of nowhere, the temples, and the airship battles?
While we don't have a definitive answer, I think the reason these changes were made were due to the introduction of the zone and to Pandaria in general. Players didn't encounter the pandaren race until Lorewalker Cho made his debut after a lengthy prologue devoid of any pandaren whatsoever. In fact, much of the first half of the zone's play didn't really have any pandaren to speak of; the Horde and Alliance were pretty well embroiled in the affairs of the hozen and the jin'yu, respectively. Players didn't really meet the pandaren until well after alliances were made with the other races, and the arrival of strangers wasn't seen as a big deal.
When your expansion is called Mists of Pandaria and prominently features a pandaren on the box, the pandaren probably ought to make a noteworthy appearance almost immediately. And when the Alliance and Horde are touted to make an explosive impact on Pandaria with their arrival, it should probably be bigger than a singular event at the end of the zone. Before the revamp, both Alliance and Horde seemed to be wandering blindly until the sha made their first appearance.
Now things are a little more clear for players as they arrive on the zone. Players are immediately confronted with the factional conflict and with the results of their action on the pandaren villages nearby. They are introduced to the concept of the sha relatively quickly, as well as the Shado-Pan, who are not happy at all with the arrival of strangers or what the Alliance and Horde are up to.
More importantly, we've got that dual-view perspective of both sides that makes them look horrible no matter which side you are on. If you are playing Alliance, you see a Horde of warmongers and resource hogs that are mowing down the scenery as fast as they can get the shredders working. And they haven't ignored the pandaren village nearby; in fact, they've kidnapped pandaren children and are using them as slaves. The Horde warlocks are out in force along with the Forsaken and their plague, and none of it looks very good in the eyes of the Alliance.
On the Horde side of the equation, the Alliance are striking with an all-out aerial assault, without any regard for the pandaren below. And lest you think the Horde are monsters for enslaving children, the Alliance are up to something similar -- they have both adults and children hauling around building materials and helping construct their airfield so they can continue with their attacks.
This tactic is incredibly similar to how the South Barrens played out for Alliance and Horde. Playing through Alliance made the Horde look like a bunch of savage killers of innocents; playing through Horde made the Alliance look like a band of murderers and looters. It's when you play through both that you see the full story -- and the same seems to be applied to Jade Forest. In this case, both sides are incredibly wrong, but there are reasons for each that are reinforced as the quests progress.
I can't really decide if the changes are better or not, not yet -- I haven't finished fully playing through the zone. I'm hoping that the changes weren't just limited to the introductory parts of Jade Forest; otherwise, later quests are going to have some big, gaping lore holes and a whole lot of confusion. As it stands, it seems odd that you are apparently one of a few Horde or Alliance left alive, when the other end of the continent contains a whole fleet of your faction that you are apparently unaware of.
And as a Horde player, wandering to the other end of the zone and seeing what the Horde were up to down there was not the most comfortable experience in the world. Blizzard really didn't pull any punches with exactly how evil the Horde have turned out, and it's more than a little disturbing. It did nothing to further factional pride; if anything, I felt more alienated from the faction I chose than ever.
I think that has less to do with the actions of the Horde and more to do with when I started playing a Horde character. I began playing Horde back in vanilla, when Thrall was warchief and seemed to be a decent, if largely inactive, leader. He didn't openly seek conflict with the other side. Garrosh's actions in Cataclysm stood in stark contrast to the Horde of old, and the actions of Garrosh in Mists seem to be pushing that line even further into territory that makes me oddly uncomfortable.
Perhaps that's unintended, or perhaps that's exactly where we're supposed to be. We don't know, really, and we won't know until the events of Mists play out to their end. As it is, Jade Forest presents an entirely different introduction than previously thought to the lands of Pandaria and its citizens. If you haven't gotten a chance to check it out, I recommend that you do so and see the changes for yourself.
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!