I <3 My Panda!

I’m sorry for the lack of posting but as you may expect, I’ve been playing World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. On my Brewmaster monk. Who is a Pandaren. And I’m sorry because I know how creepy this will come across, I love my panda. In a deep, meaningful way. Silliness ahoy!

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That’s my Pandaren right there. His name is Hwoarang, and he is indeed already level 90.

Now that’s not to say I haven’t sacrificed everything this week to get him to level 90, because I do like to shower and actually cook meals that don’t come in plastic containers from the freezer aisle of my local supermarket. It’s true I’ve been ordered to rest, keep my leg up and generally just recover and wait for physiotherapy on the NHS that has a ridiculous waiting list right now, and it is in this downtime that I’ve managed to get my Pandaren Monk to level 90. I also prepared for weeks beforehand. I got heirlooms and used them until I couldn’t get benefit from them any longer. I kept stashes of potions and consumables on hand. I had a mammoth supply of leather from ages past on a bank alt for his professions.

I was ready for this reroll. And I’m really VERY happy with it.

Some may find it odd that as a World of Warcraft player – one that has lapsed many times – I didn’t go for the female Pandaren. This is personal preference because, I confess to the world, I’ve been a Blood Elf female for as long as I can remember. I’ve had alts and dabbled in Goblin and Worgen along the way, but I always come back to my Blood Elf female rogue. It’s not because I get off on the female form either – in many different ways, no to that. But because of semantics; I went through a portion of my life where I called everyone Darling and Honey, even my pets who have actual names themselves. In a very serious way, it was more comfortable not for me but for others to see that coming from a female avatar, even though I didn’t try too often to sexualise her. There was no point. It didn’t do anything for me, and truth is, no race did in World of Warcraft. I didn’t really feel the attachment to them.

The other side of the female Pandaren is simply I find them a bit too creepy myself – their doe-eyed innocence and doll-like facial expression just doesn’t work for me. If it works for you that’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong and as much as I may make joke about RealDolls and Fleshlights, truth is that it is entirely up to you. For me, personally, it was time for a male character. One I felt comfortable being and being seen to play, and my Pandaren Monk is totally that and so very much more besides.

My monk, as you can see, looks awesome. I wanted a brawler look, considering the many fighting game styles it incorporates. I wanted a real monk tank look – hardened, a bit savage in a sense but with that kind of very austere air about it. Leveling through the game itself you don’t get to do that – sadly, transmogrification only really works end-game in World of Warcraft right now as you’re replacing stuff too quickly for it to be very viable. But I kept little bits and pieces and aside the boots – which are brown and a bit off and I’m actively hunting for replacements – I’m very happy with what I’ve created.

I love the Pandaren vibe. It’s not so much the Oriental style, or the Feudal nature of their story. It’s a society based upon balance and upon acceptance of your own limitations. The game itself introduces characters in Pandaria that are not in keeping with this, such as many individuals in the Shado-Pan who are as judgmental and filled with doubt and hate as any of the recent encroaching species seeking to lay claim to a land that really isn’t theirs to begin with. It’s when you cut through it all and get to the undercurrent, to Wrathion and others, where it begins to make sense. The war between the Alliance and Horde, to these key players, is folly. They can see, feel and predict a deeper, darker threat on the horizon. The active Sha are a real and present threat and must be dealt with, but the escalation of hostilities between the two factions can only see the worlds demise. United we stand, divided we fall. The seeds for the future are sown. The war is the perfect cover for these dark forces to infiltrate and instigate their dark practices among the allied races of the Horde and Alliance respectively. The world must unify, or be consumed – either by the present Sha invasion, or by forces that haven’t stirred in their world for tens of thousands of years – in a fireball of judgement.

But the reason I love my Pandaren is because he feels so much more “real”. This is the most amazing thing about the Pandaren to me, especially the males more than the females. They actually have expression, and life. In combat, my monk scowls as he braces to tank the fields of Mantid forcing their way from their small island over to mainland Pandaria. At times, my monk is focused and serious. And then he smiles and cheers, and his face lights up. He moves, and I smile and feel like yeah, this is good. My Pandaren just feels like a proper piece of work in a game that has been known to take more than a few shortcuts over the years. He sounds great. He feels like a riot. And I’ve dressed him up in exactly the image I wanted. He feels like the culmination of hard work and great design.

The catch in that is, of course, compared to every other race my Pandaren Monk is simply… well… over-designed. Or looks it. Even compared to the female Pandaren, the male version just looks like someone sat down and “got it”. That they understood the concept and the idea, and did something brilliantly. The female Pandaren are, sadly, an inevitable consequence of the idea of having a female version of a race in the game. It’s very clear they came later, because they look more rigid and plastic than the males do. They look like toys compared to the brutish but cuddly male pandaren. They just don’t quite fit.

Arguably that is one of the failings in World of Warcraft right now though. My Blood Elf female was at least a masterstroke of simple, elegant design. Keep it simple, keep it sharp and it is hard to not find a good look on them. But the male Blood Elves are ridiculous and have always looked bad, a forced engineering effort to ensure balance. The old Vanilla races look aged and archaic next to my sharp fuzzy panda. Imagine having Lara Croft circa Tomb Raider 2 standing next to Lara Croft circa Tomb Raider: Underworld. The differences are stark and immediately noticeable, and it’s definitely something Blizzard should be addressing with some considerable haste.

Or perhaps not, because Pandaria and the style of play Blizzard are going for is more MMO than it has ever been. Sure, it’s got problems and ridiculous grinds and perhaps the odd economic blip on the horizon, but ultimately the truth of it is Mists of Pandaria so far does more right than it gets wrong. A great new species, a wonderful new land, interesting dailies and the undercurrent of a good story already firmly laid in concrete. Sure, some of the ideas aren’t original and I’m sure Activision-Blizzard are already having to deal with some very difficult relations with Nintendo – but I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery in this case, as Harvest Moon and Pokemon are recreated Warcraft-style. Indeed, some are suggesting this may be down to the rumours of the game finally seeing a console release – but on the Wii-U, as it is the only system that could probably handle the method and madness of the game. Who knows? We will see.

My panda is fun. I love it. And I love it more than I thought I was going to. Some people sigh and shrug and want to change their toons via paid tweaking or the barber shop in the main cities. I am not one of them. I got what I wanted and how I wanted, with the name I wanted too. My panda is live and alive, kicking ass and taking names. He is fun, expressive, imposing and yet still huggable and awesome. The monk tanking is great fun, the instances so far have been a blast and the new Pandaren continent is brimming with potential. How that potential gets used is not up to me though. Blizzard have to capitalise on that.

I love my panda. And it’s coming back to World of Warcraft after some time exploring other MMOs out there (The Secret World, The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, Rift etc) that you realise that the strength of the game isn’t always in the design or the execution. Sometimes it is simply how much you want to be on your character, how much you like it and how much you want it to survive and do well. If you have that connection with your character, you will do everything to make sure they survive and thrive, and you will never feel bored of it.

I currently have that attachment with my Pandaren Monk. I am wholesale in love with him. I want to be him in a sense. And that’s perhaps the one sign that World of Warcraft may finally be speaking my language again – by making me feel a real connection and passion for my little creation.

Everything else is gravy. If you don’t like a character, you won’t want them to do well. I love my Pandaren. And will do everything to be a bloody amazing Brewmaster Tank.

Because that’s what he is. So it’s my job now to practice until we are one and the same.

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