I keep wanting to spell Pandaria “Panderia,” I have no idea why. It’s not like Blizzard’s forthcoming World of Warcraft is pandering to anyone. After all, it has pandas, with two A’s. Kung-fu pandas. They wear the same Kung-Fu Panda bamboo hats that look like woks turned upside down. How Blizzard’s not being pursued in a legal capacity by DreamWorks Animation or Paramount Pictures, I couldn’t tell ya.
So Mists of Pandaria, which is not the subtitle for Kung-Fu Panda 3 (incidentally, confirmed) is coming at you next month on Tuesday, Sep. 25. It’s the game’s fourth expansion since WoW launched all the livelong way back in 2004, and for all we know, given WoW‘s declining subscriber numbers, it just might be the last.
Okay, probably not — settle down, WoW wonks — because the Blizzard product ETA chart that leaked last summer showed a fifth expansion coming by December 2013. (Blizzard neither confirmed nor denied its veracity, but with the exception of Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, everything else has so far lined up)
Let’s assume late 2014 then, since Mists of Pandaria is arriving third quarter 2012, and Cataclysm, the third and most recent expansion, was a December 2010 release. About two years seems to be the going delta between expansions: Wrath of the Lich King (second) was November 2008, and The Burning Crusade (first) was January 2007. There’s also WoW‘s 10-year anniversary, coming November 2014. What better way to send the most popular MMO in history out with a bang? (Even if it’s a bang players keep free-to-playing through 2015 or 2016 and beyond.)
The new Mists of Pandaria trailer above, which shows the expansion’s nearly four minute long opening cinematic, is quintessentially Blizzard with every ridiculous detail rendered down to the cracked, blackened grooves in someone’s battle-torn fingernails. Think of it as a more bearded version of something Dreamworks might do (and with actual beards, too).
There’s an orc who looks like Jason Momoa with Dayton Callie’s head. There’s a human who looks like a ponytailed Captain Kangaroo after several rounds of whatever Barry Bonds was alleged to be taking. And there’s a one-sided kung-fu showdown that suggests Azeroth will soon be completely overrun by wise-looking pandas, just one of whom can make the game’s two principal combatants (an orc, a human) look like schoolboy pugilists while itself appearing at worst vaguely distracted.
Gameplay-wise, Mists of Pandaria is going to edge the level cap up a few more notches, from 85 to 90 (a very long 85 to 90, I’m told). There’s a new character class, the monk (sorry, no “Noodle Restaurant Waiter”) and of course the new Panda race, the Pandaren, which, teasing aside, actually showed up in the Warcraft-verse long before Kung-Fu Panda hit the scene: Back in 2003’s Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, in fact.
And then there’s all of Pandaria itself to explore, a brand new continent apparently hidden away for eons, now magicked back into view to give restless WoW raiders and instance-mongers seven new zones to plumb.