It's been brought up on MMO-Champion, it's been chatted about on the forums, and even the official WoW forums are now abuzz with the latest news. Amid all the humdrum, it'd be negligent of me not to talk about it as well, so here we go; today's blog is about the...
Mists of Pandaria.
Boubouille brought it up on MMO-Champion after one of his community members found that Blizzard had registered trademarks on the name. The dates on the trademarks, as well as the timing, wording and style of them, make it appear increasingly likely that this will be the next expansion for World of Warcraft. I do not believe that this is a patch as they're not patented in this way, and I find it unlikely that it would be Warcraft IV because I doubt Blizzard would tie such a game into a geographical niche like this.
No; for me, once we're done with Deathwing, we're off to the southern islands (of which Pandaria is one) and taking the fight down there because the Pandarens need help of some kind.
After getting over the initial mental cry of "wtf, PANDAS?!", I have to admit that I'm very intrigued by how this is going to develop. There is no reason to believe that the entire expansion will relate merely to the pandarens themselves, despite it being obvious that they would play a big part. Additionally, many commentators are forgetting that Pandaria itself could merely be the scene for the conflict itself and not necessarily the wheel which all spokes are attached to.
So, the pandarens need help from both the Horde and the Alliance. Easy enough to decipher. But why? From what enemy do this mysterious race run from, to the point they'll approach the other races for some muscle?
For me, this has got Azshara, the Naga and the southern Old God written all over it - and if that turns out to be true, you can sign me up for another expansion. For those with their tinfoil hat already donned, here's what I'm thinking:
1) Azshara is too big a character to shoe-horned into 4.3, and easily big enough to form an expansion around. Considering some of the pre-Cataclysm hype surrounded her, it's clear Blizzard want to deal with her at some point and the southern islands is the perfect place to set her centre stage.
2) The naga have played a bigger part in Cataclysm than expected, and not just in Vash'jir. When you also consider the overwhelming popularity of the Battle Maiden quests, it wouldn't be a surprise if Blizzard chose to develop them further in another expansion with more room.
3) We've been killing Old Gods since Vanilla, so there's nothing new here - especially if we consider that the "threat" would have to be substantial in order to force pandarens to seek aid. This Old God is also the most likely to be responsible for the Highborne mutation in the first place.
4) The links to the Burning Legion have yet to be tied up, and this could be one route. Sargeras himself spent time with Azshara, so a demonic presence in the southern islands is possible and could set the scene for a later expansion dominated by Sargeras (the ultimate end of WoW).
5) The southern islands themselves are utterly unexplored. If we go down there, Blizzard have almost got an entirely clean slate with which to create whatever they want, outside of the bounds they worked under during the development of Cataclysm. The only limit is their imagination.
If we remember back to the product slate, there were another three expansions after Cataclysm, so it's reasonable to assume that we won't be approaching level 100 anytime soon. As hinted above, I think that honour will be reserved for the fallen Titan himself. It's more likely that we'll see a set of entirely new zones, a new level cap of 90, a break from typically Azerothian adventuring, and some work to bring something new to the mix while tying up a few loose ends before that climactic push to 100. We know that Argus is already touted for future work so that will see the logical continuation from The Burning Crusade (remember, Kil'jaeden was merely banished), while the oft-mentioned Emerald Dream has been a recurring theme since Vanilla; it's likely we'll have to visit there to sort out a few nightmares.
Of course, this brings us roundly to the sticky topic of the playable pandaren.
Again, purely personal opinion, I think the expansion will release a new class. If we logically follow what's happened in the past, we've gotten an alternating release of race, then class, then race, then... Class? The pandarens are unlikely to pick Horde or Alliance wholesale, and while I like the idea of completing their opening zone before choosing a personal Alliance, I'm just not sure that's a very engaging choice.
But, Zell! Blizzard have said they won't release a new class without a good reason or a compelling role to fill! If we were to pick up "Brewmaster" or something similar, the possibility of a melee DPS/ranged DPS/healing class has already been very well mulled over. Sure, it would work but it would break the maxim mentioned above - nothing here is "new" or "compelling", so why would Blizzard go for it?
They wouldn't. Naturally.
So, say hello to World of Warcraft's first Support class.
Sounds a bit pie in the sky? Sure it does.
But if you think about it, it makes all the sense in the world. Blizzard as a company will not have ignored some of the innovation that Trion have brought about in Rift, and one of the major sticking points of Cataclysm is the lack of individuality amongst the classes. You either tank, heal or deal damage and while that model is tried and tested, a lot of the personality of raiding has gone by the wayside. A support class, let's say a Pandaren Monk (come on, you were waiting on me coming out with it), could have three specs that enhance either tanking, healing or DPS, while the player himself contributes whatever the raid requires at any given time. If adds come streaming in, he can pick a few up until the tanks can get them. If there's loads of raid damage, he can toss heals or damage reductions on the tank while the healers concentrate on the raid. And while there's nothing else really going on, they'll contribute a bit of damage and help out where best they can.
/doff triple-strength-double-sided-megatinfoil hat.
Let's round out this post of wild speculation by simply saying that very little, if anything, will be confirmed before Blizzcon. It wouldn't make fiscal sense to do so before then. But the very idea of an expansion such as this gets the creative juices flowing once you get over the initial revulsion of cartoon pandas running around, nastily accompanied by crap impressions of Jack Black.
For me, though, I have to admit... The gloom that has wrapped around me with Cataclysm has lifted, just a little, since thinking about what "Mists of Pandaria" could imply.
And don't lie.
We're ALL curious as to just how beautiful Azshara's model is going to be.