Spoiler Warning: This post contains potential spoilers for World of Warcraft gameplay. It covers the journey to Pandaria and questing through the zone of the Jade Forest.
First, a recap. Then, my review.
Upon setting off to explore the new world beyond the mists of the southern great sea, heroes of Azeroth land in the mysterious Jade Forest in Pandaria. Our first greeting to the continent comes in the form of a battle at sea as warriors of the horde and the alliance seek to conquer what could be theirs. Both sides wash up to the shores of the new world, friendless in a mystical world that they yet know nothing about.
Members of both factions set off to form alliances with anyone they can get help and resources from — the horde with the hozen, and the alliance with the jinyu — but the pandaren race, for the most part, remains unconvinced that either side is worthy of inhabiting their sacred lands. Certain individuals, however, are willing to give the newcomers a chance, teaching them the ways of the land and the people. Heroes of both factions lend their hands to assisting the pandarens however they can, and in doing so they earn powerful friends all across the Jade Forest.
But the uncertainty that the majority of pandarens hold is not unfounded. As the two factions continue their conflict, the negativity that they brought ashore affects the land in ways unexpected by the newcomers.
This negativity manifests itself as the Sha — shadowy elemental-type creatures that weak havoc on Pandaria and its inhabitants. As heroes complete their questing in the zone, they are called to banish that which they brought upon the land — the Sha of Doubt that has overtaken the Temple of the Jade Serpent.
Gameplay through this enchanting zone was quite fun in my book. The cinematics and subsequent quests involving the naval battle serve as an effective way to introduce the lore leading up to pandaria, and remind players of the tense situation that the horde and the alliance are currently in. And once ashore, that conflict remains a central part of gameplay — although questing scatters across the land and does indeed go on many different tangents, all the while it leads back to this central conflict.
As a horde character seeking to ally with the hozen, the process of going from a hated outsider to a feared conqueror, and finally to a respected comrade was an interesting albeit familiar one. WoW players have faced similar circumstances many, many times, although the differences in this version were strong enough that I didn’t feel like I was simply grinding through content.
And I think the reasoning for that comes back to the successful way in which the overarching conflict is never forgotten while in this zone. Numerous times, players are reminded that their presence on Pandaria is seen as an unwelcome nuisance to the majority of its people. While questing to gain the respect of those people, players also are constantly in contact with their military leaders who simply want the other faction annihilated; sometimes characters even play AS those leaders through a retelling of their memories.
When needed, cinematics continued to play a role throughout the zone. Though not so often that they became expected, these short scenes helped advance the central lore and bring the unfolding events to life, as well as to showcase the beauty of the zone. The area contains some glorious visuals that introduce players to the architecture of the continent — rolling hills, bright orchards, intricate temples, colorful creatures — all which really sink in to the player who is grounded, literally limited to ground-only mounts, until they reach level cap.
If it sounds like I’m raving about this zone, it’s because I honestly, thoroughly enjoyed it. I like to take my time through questing and really soak up the full experience that comes along with it, and in the case of questing in the Jade Forest, that made for quite an enjoyable time. The area is not without its flaws (one bug in particular has been plaguing me on and off in seemingly every zone of Pandaria), but there was nothing to a great enough scale that I thought it took away from the overall experience.
Now, after the rave review, perhaps you can see a bit of why I loved the Jade Forest through the screenshots I took along the way. Although I’m certain that they don’t capture the full range of awesomeness in this zone, they’re a start. What was your favorite aspect of questing through the Jade Forest?