Even El Jefe de Santo has succumb to the beast known as World of Warcraft. He actually has been a fanatic since the early days of Beta so he has seen just how much the virtual world has changed over the years. It seems that, perhaps, the biggest changes of all are yet to come. He is not one to wildly speculate most of the time, but some patch notes and a specific copyright name have him dreaming big.
I'll come right out and say it: I've been addicted to World of Warcraft for years now. I've had periods where I didn't play as much and even one time where I outright quit. I've always come back and the last expansion, Cataclysm, saw me approaching the game with renewed vigor. Toss in a trip to Blizzcon and, well, I doubt I'll stop worshipping at the alter of Blizzard and it's monster MMO anytime soon.
The lifespan of Cataclysm has been relatively short, at least it feels like it, compared to before. We're already talking about the next expansion and some might say that things are moving too fast. We've got word of expansions coming at an "Every 18 months" pace as opposed to a much longer dev cycle. This is to keep the content flowing and to, ultimately, keep the massive numbers of subscribers paying that monthly fee.
Then something showed up on the Internet that literally drove everybody bananas.
It was a simple copyright entry that caused this whole discussion to ramp up: Mists of Pandaria.
The implications of the name were that perhaps, after all these years, we'll finally get to see the Pandaren in Azeroth. Our last real glimpse was in the RTS form in Warcraft III. There isn't a whole lot of lore behind them and they began as a simple bit of concept art by Samwise and an April Fool's joke.
The Internet machine is moving at full speed in trying to uncover more information about this proposed expansion but the only problem is that there isn't any. We have a name, some information pertaining to the type of copyright it is and that's it.
Why not join in the fun, hmm?
What could the Pandaren bring to the table? Alliance? Horde? Neutral.
I, personally, hope that they could be used to introduce a race that, though traditionally neutral, could make the choice to join either side. This could be a big deal in terms of development philosophy for Blizzard. The game is aging, though still the major one in town. Things need to be shaken up and, maybe, the Pandaren could be the thing to do that.
Our major exposure to the Pandaren is via the Brewmaster Chen Stormstout who is only mentioned in a brief questline in the Barrens. We find his keg and track down some things to get a sweet mug o' brew. That's it.
Could the "Brewmaster" be a hero class? Well, if we think about the class in terms of actually being playable how would it work? One of the more silly things suggested by some is that the player would have to ingest alcohol on a regular basis to build up a meter that is essentially the Drunk Bar. The more sober a Brewmaster is the worse his damage is, etc. The more drunk such a class is, though, the better his damage is.
As ridiculous as that is it would be something amazing if it could be pulled off. Furthermore what sort of role would a Brewmaster fill? Tank? Damage? Healer? A hybrid? A support class with the ability to damage? Interesting questions that we have no idea about because, well, Blizzard is keeping a tight lid on things.
Blizzcon is going to be huge this year because the next expansion will be confirmed and we'll know more about what's in store for us. Pandaren or not there is going to be a huge set of changes coming our way. Why so much change?
If one were to look at this picture here a few things come to mind:
1) Ethereals in Stormwind? 2) Are they ethereal vendors? 3) What the hell?
Well, to answer all those questions let's look to the upcoming Patch 4.3. It not only brings us the raid in which we'll finally get to face the antagonist of Cataclysm, Deathwing, but also something along with it known as "Transmogrification".
The process of transmogrifying will allow players to assign a look to their gear. It is finally going to allow people to customize their gear in the way they choose so long as they stay within the constraints of transmogrification. So, say you have a Tier 2 armor set in your bank that you could never bear to disenchant or throw away. Come 4.3 you'll be able to assign the look of the Tier 2 set to your current gear without losing any stats. Personally I'll be assigning the Dragonstalker armor set as my look for my Hunter. Even weapons will be eligible for this so long as one stays within the rules: Only weapons of the same kind can be transmogrified except hunter ranged weapons (Bows/Guns).
So, I could, as a hunter, look like I'm wearing full Tier 2 and wielding the hunter epic Rhok'delar while I'm actually wearing iLevel 390 something gear. This is a level of customization we haven't seen offered before and I think it's a HUGE shift in the design philosophy at Blizzard.
Ever heard of silohuette theory? Well, it's been applied to the design sensibilities of WoW since the beginning. Developers wanted players to see, just by the silohuette of a player whether A) They were of the opposing faction B) Just how powerful they might be based on the look of gear. So, if you ran across, out in the world or in a battleground, some rogue sporting uber-threatening Season 9 gear then perhaps you should reconsider an assault. They're even going to throw in "Void Storage" as a means of stowing away all that banked gear so we have a place to store all that previously and newly farmed vanity gear.
This change in 4.3 means that things that were only mere ideas before that they've been "looking into" might actually be a possibility. This is cosmetic customization of weapons. What's next? Housing? Surnames? There's a lot that could actually be possible in the future of WoW.
Ultimately this one change alone means that subsequent expansions of the game could feature some really BIG features finally. Let's not also forget that with us wrapping up the Cataclysm storyline that most all of the threads tying to the prior games are finally taken care of. Deathwing was the last major story carried over from the original RTS games. This is all new territory in terms of what Metzen and the creative team can whip up.
I can't wait to see what Blizzcon will bring. I am excited for more Diablo III info and Starcraft 2 and possibly Titan (Blizzard's secret project) but more than anything else I want to see just how the team is going to shake up Azeroth yet again with the next expansion.