World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Hands-On Preview

As is immediately apparent from the pandaren starting zone, this isn’t an ordinary turtle. Or more aptly, it’s not immediately apparent you’re on a turtle at all. In fact, this place looks like any other, with trees, plants, animals, villages, farms and life. But as the lore of the new expansion goes, the turtle set out from Pandaria sometime in the past, and you’ve been separated from your homeland and its goings-on for generations. Eventually, the turtle washes up on the main continents of World of Warcraft and you’ll rejoin the rest of the game from there. But for now, we’ve got a turtle to explore.

I’m at Blizzcon 2011, with a chance to spend a good two to three hours with everything Mists of Pandaria has to offer so far. That means the pandaren racial start zone and the new monk class to be introduced in the expansion. Both take a little getting used to.

As a pandaren, and a monk besides, I’m immediately thrust into various warrior training. The building before which I stand appears to be some kind of monastery, and after speaking with a nearby warrior monk who hands out some assignments, I’m off to practice fighting stuff and do the other Warcraft start zone-type activities one might expect.

Playing as a monk, at least for now, is a little different from other races, however. Monks have no auto-attack capability — instead, Blizzard is going for something of a Street Fighter feel by requiring players to hit buttons for every attack. The monk’s primary attack is the Jab, fueled by an expendable and refilling energy bar — smacking people around with it builds up Chi, an energy source divided into Dark and Light halves.

Chi levels are measured in a small bar down at the bottom center of the screen. Each jab landed adds Chi of both types, but soon I’m unlocking different moves that make use of different kinds of Chi. A powerful punch knocks out one Chi bubble of the four on the light side; a spinning move akin to Ryu’s Dragon Kick drains off three dark Chi. As I execute stronger moves, I always have to fall back on the jab to rebuild my Chi, adding a strategy element to every battle.

Once I’ve got the attack basics down, it’s time to start running the various gofer tasks of a pandaren monk. Primarily, I’m asked with bringing three local spirits to the aforementioned Temple of Light in the center of everything. It stands red and gold and beautiful above everything and throws a serious sense of scale into the whole starting zone.

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