Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pondering Pandaria

MMO-Champion reports that "Mists of Pandaria" is "extremely likely" the next WoW expansion.  While some folks are unconvinced, I'm inclined to trust the MMO-Champion track record

Hindsight is always easier than foresight - my best guess would be nowhere near the mark - but this makes a lot of sense in hindsight.  Regardless of the success or failure of Cataclysm's world revamp, which peppered with a few new zones in previously blank areas of map, the more traditional model with a new continent makes sense as a follow-up.  If Pandaria does turn out to be located on a previously unknown South Seas island, it is a logical battleground for an invasion by Azshara and the Naga.  There are relatively few other combinations of location and antagonist that players have heard of (especially through the Vashj'ir storyline in Cataclysm) and that are not similar to past foes (The Burning Legion again, or yet another Dragon Aspect gone evil). 

There are a few obstacles Blizzard has to deal with, if this is the expansion.  Panda haters are going to hate, and Panda lovers aren't going to be happy unless the race is playable for both factions, as Rohan suggests, which would be a first.  That said, I see no niche for a Brewmaster class, even if Blizzard does want to take the PR hit for marketing drunken cartoon pandas in a game that kids play, which might mean no new class.  WoW expansions have always included either new races or a new class, and Blizzard had previously suggested that two new races every expansion would be tough due to art requirements.  One new, neutral race mitigates that concern by halving the art requirements, even if two panda factions require Alliance and Horde colors.

There's also the issue of China, which was rumored to have prompted the removal of the Pandaren as the Alliance race for the 2007 Burning Crusade expansion.  Six months ago, I would have guessed that Blizzard no longer cared about China due to the likelihood that the government would refuse to approve the next expansion no matter what its contents.  However, after a rocky period that saw WoW China shut down outright and the Wrath expansion delayed by nearly two years, Blizzard seems to have finally mended relations; Cataclysm reportedly hit China a mere seven months late.  I don't have a good answer for this question, other than that Blizzard apparently thinks they can do something involving Pandaren - perhaps the Chinese version of the expansion will have all the Pandas find-replaced with Worgen? 

In the end, my guess is that Pandas, much like EQ2 Beastlords, will arrive because people want to see them.  Yes, some people will argue that this is WoW jumping the shark, but others have been asking for the Pandaren at every Blizzcon since the first.   By the time you're talking about a seven year old MMO, your target audience really should be your current playerbase.  Very few players who have stuck with the game through Cataclysm are going to walk off because they think Pandaren are a joke, while players who have already made the decision to leave are free to mock the move as validating their departure.  Sounds like as good a choice as Blizzard could make under the circumstances. 

11 comments:

Anjin said...

I guess that my disbelief that "Mists of Panderia" would be a full expansion is a failure of imagination on my part. I can see Blizzard launching a 1-10 and 10-20 zone for the pandas (or Brewmaster hero class starting zone), but I don't see what else they might do with it.

Admittedly, Blizzard does not want to rush to level 100 when I assume we'll be taking on Sargeras himself. So a side adventure to kill time might work.

But a trademark filing carries nowhere near the weight that MMO-C's Cataclysm leak had.

Green Armadillo said...

The way I picture it, Pandaria would be a Northrend-sized continent only part of which would actually be occupied by Pandaren, and all of which would be under attack by Naga. I'd also be surprised if the cap increases by more than five levels, because that just causes mechanics problems with more talent points etc.

As to MMO-C's Cataclysm leak, it wouldn't surprise me if he got a tip-off to look for this trademark precisely because it is something he can cite publicly without revealing his source.

Carson 63000 said...

I've seen a few people opine that this is unlikely because Pandas "aren't epic enough". Personally, I think that's a point in its favour: after the legendary evil of the Lich King, and the world-reshaping destructiveness of Deathwing, I think it would make sense for Blizzard to take a step in a more light-hearted direction, rather than try to "out-epic" WotLK and Cataclysm. Especially given how broad a stripe of humour the Warcraft universe has always possessed.

paeroka said...

I've written about it in my own blog (http://nerdybookahs.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/no-virtual-pandas-in-china/): I wasn't able to find any evidence of a law against the virtual killing of pandas. On the contrary, there is an MMO from Chinese developers featuring a panda race.

I'll stay curious and hope we won't have to wait too long to find out what it is.

Bronte said...

Every expansion thus far has had a central antagonist (not necessarily the final antagonist, but a central one at the very least).

Illidan for The Burning Crusade.
The Lich King for Wrath of the Lich King.
Deathwing for Cataclysm.

So what will be the penultimate enemy for Mists of Pandaria? Panda-hunters?

Anonymous said...

From what I've read, the original Chinese objections to the Pandaren was that they were depicted wearing Samurai armor. Chinese =/= Japanese, so they were rather ticked off. The latest Pandaren artwork has all been much more Chinese-derived, so they're happier with it.

There is actually a Chinese MMO today where you can play (and kill) panda-men, so there's no actual law.

Straw Fellow said...

"By the time you're talking about a seven year old MMO, your target audience really should be your current playerbase."

This is pretty much my thoughts on the whole thing. They are releasing it, and I assume other things, to pelase the current playerbase. Given the recent announcements about subscriber numbers dropping I would say that WoW has reached its peak and is now going into preservation mode.

But paeroka is right, that Chinese law was a rumor from the beginning. I've heard it been repeated and debunked since Warcraft 3.

Yeebo said...

I think a China themed area would be a neat addition to the game, Pandas or no. I'd love to ride around on a Ki Rin or a sinewy Chinese Dragon.

If they do put in Panderans, hopefully they will be a neutral race that gets to pick either Horde or Alliance for their faction once they near the end of their starter zone. That alone would make them a popular choice on PvP servers, being neutral to everyone up until 20 or so would make the early levels a lot less painful.

Loop Not Defined said...

The "banned in China" rumor has very real roots in an art showcase that created a lot of controversy. No law was ever passed, but their legislation did indeed discuss the matter. Perfect World, the Chinese MMO that features a panda race, shows that they are more amicable to the idea these days.

Regarding the Brewmaster, I think implementing a generic "Martial Artist" class with specialties reflecting the Drunken Master and Monk tropes would be more than doable.

Loop Not Defined said...

Here we go, found it:
http://www.china.org.cn/english/environment/232989.htm

Not an art show, it was a fashion show.

Anonymous said...

Bronte - that's easy. Azshara. It's probably the rumoured "South Seas" expansion, which means lots and lots of naga. Might even see the conclusion of the chain where Neptulon gets taken. Also, the Zandalari prophet "Zul".

I reckon the name is just to get people's attention, and it won't mostly be about pandas. Let's face it, "Wrath of the Lich King" wasn't just about undead either. And how many demons were in Shattrath, Zangarmarsh and Nagrand?