Levels 1-85 with a pandaren character are an exercise in learning just who your pandaren is, and what makes him tick. It's also an opportunity for some sweeping character development, the type we really haven't had much of before. A new pandaren from the Wandering Isle is essentially a wide-eyed, fresh-faced ingenue in the world of Azeroth, tentatively taking those first careful steps towards exploration, excitement, and opportunity.
But Azeroth is like a bus swinging abruptly in front of your character. The impact of the world and what it means to your pandaren is entirely up to you, as is the strength of that impact. Your pandaren could be unaffected, ever the optimist in the face of despair -- or they could be transformed by the experience into someone far darker, far more sullen, far more worldly than that wide-eyed person that left the Wandering Isle.
Once you've hit level 85, the world changes dramatically all over again.
Where you've been
Your character has systematically gone through the worst of what Azeroth has to offer. If they've made the journey, they've seen the horrors and remnants of the war against the Lich King, the lives lost. If they've made the journey, they've seen the broken, shattered remains of a world that was once teeming with life, now floating in the Twisting Nether and teeming with fel energy. They've seen the events of Westfall, witnessed Sentinel Hill alight in flames. They've seen the destruction of Camp Taurajo. They've watched, perhaps aghast, as a bomb flattened Thal'darah Grove into oblivion.
Everything that your character stands for, everything that your character followed so lightheartedly on the Wandering Isle has been brought into question. That concept of living a venerable, honorable life that both the Tushui and the Huojin follow has suddenly become a much, much harder concept to follow. The world of Azeroth is a harsh, harsh place. It's cruel, it's unforgiving, and it's far from kind. Many of the events and scenes your character will witness are as far from venerable and honorable as anything can get.
How has your pandaren character reacted to all of this? How has it changed his perspective on the world? How has it changed his reaction to pandaren that chose the other side of the faction barrier -- does he look at them with disgust, or does he look at them with longing? Does he regret the decision he made on the Wandering Isle? Does he wish he'd chosen the other side? Or does he wish, perhaps, that he hadn't made the decision at all? How does the presentation of a world that is such a stark contrast from the idyllic Wandering Isle affect your character's attitude? Your character's outlook on life?
Where you are going
At level 85, your pandaren is going to be tasked with yet another mission by their respective faction leader -- but this time, the mission is far more personal. Pandaria is something that was spoken of on the Wandering Isle, to be sure. But its location and the very matter of its existence are both things that are unknown. The lost continent is spoken of in legends of Liu Lang, but as far as the pandaren of the Wandering Isle know, it's been lost for good. It's been so long since anyone has seen Pandaria that most presume it lost, never to be found again.
Suddenly, your character's faction leader is not only telling him this place exists, they're telling him that he has to go and explore it. He either needs to find the lost prince of Stormwind, or he needs to put the first steps in place to conquer this strange new land. This news serves as two things -- a reminder of gentler times on the Wandering Isle, when Lorewalkers told tales of Liu Lang's journey, and an even starker reminder that your character, regardless of his values, is not a part of that society anymore.
Pandaren place great reverence on the concept of home and the idea of family. It's what they fight for, and what they strive to protect. With the sudden announcement of Pandaria's existence, your pandaren character is going to have both of those ideals brought into place. Pandaria represents the home that existed before the Wandering Isle. It represents the family that existed before Liu Lang. As far as your character knows, there may not be any pandaren left on Pandaria at all -- or he may have ancestors on that continent, family that he didn't even know about.
Why you are going
The missives from Alliance and Horde are simple missions, but your pandaren has far more reason to head to Pandaria than the average Azeroth citizen. Yes, your character's faction leader is sending your character to Pandaria with a purpose in mind ... but is your character's vision the same as his faction leaders? Is he heading to Pandaria simply because Varian or Garrosh told him to do so, or is he heading there with another purpose in mind?
Has your character fully made that leap from neutral pandaren to willing soldier of the Alliance or Horde? Or is there a small, wistful part of his memory that wishes to return to that peaceful time on the Wandering Isle? Is he headed to Pandaria to help the faction he chose, the faction he swore his allegiance to, or is he headed there to find a respite from the brutality of Azeroth? Is he hoping to help his faction, or is he hoping perhaps to blend in with Pandaria's natives and simply disappear from his faction's forces?
Or is there another reason he wants to head to Pandaria's shores? Is he looking for his ancestors, whoever they may be? Is he looking for some clue to his past, the origins of his people? Is he out for himself, looking for something in particular that Pandaria has to offer? Is he looking for history, or is he looking for wealth? Is he looking for answers, looking for conflict, or looking for peace?
Who you will meet
Regardless of his intentions, your pandaren is in for a shock when they arrive on Pandaria. Not only is the pandaren race alive and well -- they don't particularly care for your pandaren's arrival. Even though your pandaren is originally from the Wandering Isle, even though he shares history with Liu Lang, who the pandaren celebrate in story and song, he's still made his choice. He still belongs to one of the two factions that arrived on Pandaria's shores.
Because of this, he is still inadvertently responsible for the arrival of the Sha. While the pandaren in Pandaria are not particularly judgmental, there is still a sting of guilt that should be felt by any character headed to Pandaria, regardless of race. But for a pandaren, this sting is going to be far more keenly felt. Your character has traveled to Pandaria, he's found his ancestors, both home and family one one massive continent teeming with life.
And he's brought disaster to both home and family. That faction he so willingly sided with when he left the Wandering Isle is a powerhouse of destruction that managed to release chaos on the shores of his ancestral land. How does your character deal with this realization? Is he aware of what he's done? Is he ashamed of it? How does the events of the Jade Forest affect your pandaren's perception of the faction they've chosen? How does your pandaren relate to the natives of Pandaria? Is he happy to see them, or is he ashamed of his past?
Pandaria may seem like a carefree, peaceful land -- but it's full of hidden mysteries. It's full of sorrow, and it's full of regret. It's riddled with Sha that spawn from negative emotion, Sha that were released as a result of the Alliance and Horde's arrival on the once-lost continent. And as a pandaren, your character should keep in mind everything they've learned throughout their travels in Azeroth, because it's going to have a definitive effect on how they react to Pandaria once they arrive.
Pandaren characters may seen lighthearted and fun, but they've got a dynamic history that makes them far more compelling to play than you'd think at first glance. While the pandaren aren't the most serious of races, there's more than enough dark to contrast to the light, and more than enough plot elements while leveling to transform your pandaren into a character with a surprising amount of depth.
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