Mists of Pandaria Beta: First Impressions and Nitpicks

I’ve been enjoying the beta greatly. I’ve been taking it slowly, exploring a little bit on my mage and testing out glyphs and talents on random mobs I pass-by while taking screenshots. A lot of people have been doing the high-level quests but I tend to burn out fast when I do that so I’ve been plonking around with testing abilities and rotations primarily. I also rolled a monk (Shojuu) and have been leveling her in the early morning just to avoid the deluge of other people who are in the beta right now.

The art direction and mechanical development of this expansion is in such stark contrast to how half-formed Cataclysm felt; what the Blizzard development teams learned from Cataclysm’s challenges definitely reflects here. Abilities have a lot of polish and additional functionality, and the world feels so much more cohesive and alive. I could get lost in Pandaria and I’ve only been around the Jade Forest at this time.

One thing has stood out to me so far, while testing new Pandaren monks. Early on in the leveling experience, you meet Ji of the Huojin. He’s part of the Firepaw clan that’s in the first village you come to after leaving the initial starting area. As a female Pandaren I ran up to him to turn in my quest, only to be greeted by slightly creepy conversation text.

I went back and did the quest as a male just to see how it changed. It was similar text in that it was constructed similarly, but it did not have nearly the level of inappropriateness.

See for yourself.

What he says to women:
Hello, friend!
You’re some kind of gorgeous, aren’t you? I bet you can’t keep the men off of you!
Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!

What he says to men:
Hello, friend!
You’ve got a strong look to you! I bet you’re all the rage with the ladies!
Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!

It’s a subtle difference but it pulled me out of playing for a moment. I am aware that Ji is written to perhaps be slightly too friendly. I know people in real life who are like that. However, how it reads to me, as a woman in real life – it came off as exceedingly creepy, especially with the absence of a male-centered experience up until that point. The focus is on how beautiful she is, rather than strong. Given how Pandaren society seems to value strength and poise as gender-neutral traits, why make this guy espouse an exception? Add to the fact that this is stuff I hear from weird random dudes I know all the time, with the added “You and I are going to be good friends”…

…well it comes off as weird. I made a forum thread trying to break this down and it will probably get crapped on, but oh well. Part of beta testing is picking out bugs and giving suggestions and I actively want Pandaria to feel as cool as I know it could be, even if you are a lady Pandaren.  Recognition of gender is important, but not in a way that marginalizes. Blizzard hasn’t done a knock-up job of this in some places, but overall when I’ve leveled characters, I’ve not felt like the world I am presented with as a lady toon is wildly different from a male toon. It shouldn’t be that way in a fantasy game anyways! As I explained yesterday when bringing this topic up, “It’s one thing to encounter sexism from other players in roleplay who are dragging that stuff with them, but a game company can make a fantasy world in whatever image they choose. It should let women and men stand on equal footing, especially in a video game where mechanically it’d be a disservice otherwise.”

Obviously there’s a lot of unchallenged sexism in the developers and creatives at Blizzard themselves, but I felt that if I’m given access to the beta in order to make it better, why can’t better mean “less othering”?

Discussion Post: Beta Thoughts So Far?

Panda looks at giant carrot.

Screenshot courtesy of @alexziebart

It’s PANDAMONIUM, folks!

The first wave of beta invites went out (sadly, none to me) and so far we’ve seen a pandalanche of news and quirky things coming from testers. Gloriia of Corgi Island has some primo beta videos and stills from her time spent as a female pandaren monk, so you might want to check that out. I peeked over my boyfriend’s shoulder and watched him run around Stormwind with his flippy belt and flippy hair and very expressive panda lady face (lucky sod.) I’m so far impressed by what Blizzard has offered us in the way of the expansion.

As far as non-pandaren related beta stuff, there’s been some intriguing mage glyphs floating around. Who is going to find random critters to turn into turtles, leaving your indelible magey mark on the world?

What are you excited for in beta so far? What would you do if you got an invite? Have you just been reading every scrap of news you can get your hands on? Let me know in the comments!

PS: If you want to hear the most hilarious Mists of Pandaria discussion, tune into Bifactional this week. *tiptoes away*

Mists of Pandaria Monday: Three Hours of Sleep Edition

Welcome to Mists of Pandaria Monday! I’m your intrepid Apple Cider and I got literally three hours of restless sleep today due to the fact that I was up chatting about Lilian Voss on Mumble with people intently researching all of the new MoP information for you, dear readers. Pardon me while my research intensity leads to things like belligerent opinions, dead links, spelling errors or possibly not finishing sentences. A lot of really thorough coverage went up at almost 12 AM PST and I urge you all to go read it; WoW Insider and Wowhead did an amazing job collating and organizing all the relevant bits for your perusal. As it stands, I will be bullet-pointing and discussing the things I found most exciting personally before I fall face first into my keyboard.

Female Pandaren: More Bounce By the Ounce

I discussed my feelings on the potential aesthetic of the female pandaren last week and when the screenshots of the in-game model finally were debuted, I found myself quite happy with the results. As reported, the females will have fur color options, with the red panda fur look including a tail. This doesn’t make sense to me personally, because while I can swallow that this a magical fantasy world where red pandaren and black/white pandaren are the same species, why would only female red pandaren have tails? It seems like one of those weird evolutionary quirks that seems more “pandering” than plausible. As far as my concerns towards the body and figure of the women? Settled for the most part. I would have liked to see an even more rotund, hefty lady (or eventually a slider) but this will do for now. She’s got curves that suggest a physical but comfortable life and also slightly more bottom-heavy and animalistic than more humanoid counterparts. I can see her hefting a barrel of home-brewed stout or cooking up Pandarian Death Peppers just as much as fighting with a bow staff. A lot of criticism has come down heavily on the face that is presented in a lot of the official art but I think they are cute as heck. I have a feeling there will be some leeway on facial features and expressions for those who want to look more fierce. I also have some faith that Blizzard’s continued improvements with in-game models will give them a range of emotion in their face as well. The screenshots we’ve seen so far give them concrete personalities too that range from meditative to dreamy.

Now, interestingly on WoW Insider’s live Mists of Pandaria podcast this morning a fan-done “revision” of the model was linked (warning: Picture is SFW, but DA account has some NSFW if you browse further) that simply added a touch more weight to the face and body. Personally I like how it looks, but someone in the chat inevitably remarked about “furries” and how it’s just a “fetish” picture. Sorry, but liking a woman with weight on her is pretty typical, especially since women’s bodies fall all along the shape spectrum. There are fetishes for certain kinds of body figures or figures caused by various things, but finding appeal or aesthetic value in all sorts of body shapes, including larger ones, is not fetish material or even sexual. So let’s keep the weird rhetoric to a minimum.

A Farm of One’s Own, Lorewalking and Other Casual Pleasantries

As part of the intense shift towards more “casual” non-PVE/PVP centric content for Mists, one of the reputations you can encounter in-game is the Tillers. This is part of a quest to help a farmer and his rundown farm back onto its feet, eventually netting you your own in-game farm that will include dailies that help you grow plants (whether this is herbalism nodes or cooking mats), obtain livestock and decorate your farmhouse. As someone who has always loved the idea of things like Harvest Moon, Farmville but didn’t like the intense timesink elements of the latter, this little farm outlet in Pandaria is intriguing to me. I want to have my gnome grow all her own alchemy mats, till the earth with a yaungol and prosper. A lot of the information coming out about MoP‘s questing content and reputations suggests that a lot of people who enjoy doing story content but dislike some of the rote, impersonal challenges of dailies will enjoy this stuff to no end. Molten Front was the carrot-on-the-stick for those of us who are like this when Firelands came out but was such a logistical nightmare and failure of entertainment. This feels like a breath of fresh air. Another set of dailies will also allow us to obtain a beautiful cloud serpent, much like the Ravasaur or Wintersaber mount, putting meaningful and personally exciting rewards for those who chose to do the quests.

In this vein of adding additional things for those of us who like poking and prodding is the Lorewalkers reputation. I’m unsure whether this is what archeology is getting rolled into or if this is seperate, but players will be able to find Pandaren artifacts around the world and turn them into these culture keepers in return for an elaborate show depicting parts of Pandarian history and lore. It is a highly interactive way of learning about the world’s story that will grab our attention, in case we pass through questing too fast to absorb the story.

The most hotly talked-about feature though is pet battles. I missed the Pokemon train, unfortunately, so the sheer intensity of support for this mini-game that is being implemented is a little bit beyond my ken, but as an avid pet collector, the fringe benefits of being able to add value to my pet collection and cross the globe searching for new rare pets in the wild to add tickles me. It also introduces a style of combat game that has none of the drawbacks of PVP: no loss tallies, no contact or interaction with the other party, and the flexibility of pet dueling or pet battle queueing from anywhere. This might be a style of player-versus-player that I spend at least a little time dabbling in, even if it just putting together teams consisting of Alliance Balloon, Rustberg Seagull and Perky Pugs.

Overall, I feel that they are really putting in a ton of content for those of us who like to do a variety of things on a variety of characters.

PVE Explosion: Heroic Scholomance, Challenge Dungeons, and Minor Glyphs

For those players who like taking a big bite out of some PVE content though, I will say that WoW has gone far beyond a lot of the criticisms that plagued Cataclysm and bursting at the seams with raid, dungeon and extra perks for those who want to face some bosses and get some nice purples for their trouble.

Most exciting out of this news is the revamps of Heroic Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery. Not only is there quite a few hints that the story has been updated significantly to shape the old bosses, but there are new (???) villains lurking around every corner. Even the corners have been updated, promising a more linear and overall detailed dungeon. This is most present in Scholomance, which got a completely new facelift and floor layout in order to remove some of the weird boss backtracking and ridiculousness with trash that players encountered in vanilla.  Also included is the intense and mysterious Lilian Voss, powerful former Scarlet protege, now-turned-undead, fighting against skeletons in one of the rooms in the school of dark arts. What is she doing there? This question is playing on any lore junkie’s mind (including my own) as well as who is left in the Scarlet Monastery. Why hasn’t Whitemane gotten the same overhaul as the other models? Hopefully these will be answered in time.

A thrill that I am looking forward to as an ex-raider who still likes the adrenaline rush of executing content is challenge mode dungeons. These dungeons will require specific teams of people completing objectives within the instance for achievements, rankings and extra rewards such as vanity loot. It is reminiscent of bear runs or timed Culling of Stratholme, where perfect play nets you an extra special shiny but now with an additional challenge of being on a leaderboard. It is assumed to not only foster togetherness within guilds but inspire some level of server-based competition that is a little less time intensive than raiding. I want to put together a crack squad of people to tackle heroics and get some wicked looking gear, not going to lie. Given how much I have in dungeons right now with my guild, I am definitely sinking my teeth into this wholeheartedly.

Finally, the fact that Warcraft is going to debut with 14 bosses for the first raid tier is exceptionally intriguing, but mostly I’m just excited about minor glyphs letting me ride around on my guildies who are druid-stags. Vanity, flavor and usefulness seem to be the things most present here with the glyph revamp and I couldn’t be happier. Flat stat changes are not an exciting area of development and I’d rather see customization, personalization and choices be part of my glyphing process.

Story and Art Development

I’m going to swoon here for a moment – it looks like so far, Blizzard has put a fuckton (pardon my French) of work into creating this brand new world inside of their very old world of Azeroth. The rising conflict with between all of the native (or not-so-native) races of Pandaria, combined with obvious and deep Asian influences in the art design makes for an incredibly detailed, exciting world that I want to explore. I want to see all 10,000 waterfalls. I want to see all the new species of animals. Cynicism about rampant Orientalism aside, I really feel incredibly bowled over by how this world is going to look, feel and act, especially when my gnome steps foot on the shores.

I haven’t felt this excited for World of Warcraft since Burning Crusade came out, and I for one, am optimistic that Blizzard really is doing something very right.

Let me know what your thoughts are on the Mists of Pandaria announcements so far in the comments or on Twitter!