After the announcement of the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft, I was able to jump right into the game and get hands-on with the class and race. Upon being dropped into the new starting area, I was instantly awed by the overwhelmingly cool visual aesthetic of an East Asian-themed kung fu panda village. Small changes made to the graphics engine have allowed Blizzard to make the game look and run even better than what we initially saw in Cataclysm. The highly-detailed landscape, sharper textures, and better lighting really help to immerse the player in the new setting.
While I don't want to spoil any of the starting-area content, I will say that the quest lines and story progression was rather fun and interesting. I found myself reading through much of the quest text, invested in what was happening beyond just the amount of XP I would receive at the end.
It starts off as a simple journey, with the player being tasked with helping various masters, picking up new techniques along the way. It soon turns into an important arc for the player, revealing more about the Pandaren and their role in the world of Azeroth.
I moved through the village, picking up my first few quests. There were numerous Pandaren focused on their training, sparring, meditating, or even just rolling around everywhere. Your master directs you to first spar with the punching bags, an important step in understanding the new combat mechanics that Blizzard has created for the class. The Monk has no auto-attack; instead there is a completely manual combat system that utilizes Chi and Light or Dark energy to execute moves.
The standard attack button uses Chi, simultaneously generating Light or Dark energy in the process. This energy can be expended during battle to unleash more devastating attacks and even combinations. Button mashing is a perfectly acceptable method of playing the class, simply hitting buttons as they light up, but I suspect that true mastery will require keen focus and timing.
The new class encourages players to be constantly active, mobile, and observant of their surroundings. A new roll maneuver, while fun to simply spam while running around, is also an important tool in combat. While it is impossible to tell what all of the uses might be for the ability, I was able to use it both offensively and defensively. I could use the roll to quickly move out of harm's way, or to instantly get range on an opponent to execute a brutal flying kick.
With the Monk, Blizzard is trying to cater to as many players as possible who might enjoy the new combat system, allowing the class to fulfill the role of a tank, DPS, or healer depending on their specialization choices. This certainly won't be for everyone, especially if you enjoy playing as passively as possible, but it should hopefully introduce a bit more thrill to the game for players who have gotten tired of the same old combat mechanics.
For anyone who is excited about playing a Pandaren or Monk, but worried about potential racial or faction restrictions, fear not! The Pandaren are WoW's first truly neutral playable race, with players able to choose between either Horde or Alliance upon completion of the starting zone story arc.
Pandaren are not restricted to playing only as a Monk: they can choose any class with the exception of Death Knights, Druids, Paladins, or Warlocks. Conversely, all other races with the exception of the Goblin and Worgen can start as a Monk.
Let us know what you think about the announcement in the comments below.