Pandaria Zone Tours: the Jade Forest!

The Harlan Ellison reference is not lost on me.  Sadly, this quest did not involve countless millenia of torture by a malevolent supercomputer beneath Pandaria.  On second thought, that’s probably for the best.

Also, why is she upset that she can’t find any jade?  It’s the JADE FOREST.  Don’t they have trees that grow the stuff or something?

…I may not understand geology well.

Well, it’s finals week for me here, and at the moment I have a break from them.  I’ve got all day tomorrow with no finals, just some studying for my last one on Friday.  So I was intending on getting back on the beta tonight to go see the new content in Kun-Lai Summit, as well as begin my trek to 88.  Problem is, the world server’s down, so I’m currently left without that option.

So instead of playing the beta, I’ll just write about it some more!

So welcome to a short feature I’ll be running called Pandaria Zone Tours.  Simply put, I’ll write a bit about the design of these zones, as well as what to expect while leveling through them.  I’ll stray away from getting too involved in the storylines, as that’s something that’s best experienced first-hand.  As I’ve only played through two zones so far, updates on this will be sporadic (as is the nature of this blog), and I’ll write about more as I play through them.  I’m also at the mercy of Blizzard here when it comes to new content; there are seven zones on this wonderful continent, and only four are available to run through.  So yes!

Today, the starting point of everyone’s Pandaria excursions:  the Jade Forest.

The Jade Forest is a level 85-86 zone located on the eastern side of Pandaria.  It’s your introduction to the continent, its peoples, and their struggles and conflicts.  It’s also where you get your first small taste of the upcoming war (keyword small, but more on that later).

The Horde starts out on the northwestern corner of the zone, while the Alliance is on the southeastern tip.  The feeder quests to Pandaria aren’t on the beta yet, but in a nutshell, you crash-land onto the continent and have to pick yourself and your crewmates up.  From there, it’s further inland to figure out just where the hell you are.  Eventually, it’s clear:  you’re actually on the hidden continent of Pandaria!  I mean, I think the first clue was the pandaren you meet, but I digress.

As you explore this newfound land you find yourself stranded on (just kinda forget you have your hearthstone), you make new alliances, learn the ancient ways of a long-lost race, and quash an uprising of sinister forces.  When the time comes for you to leave, it’s off to the west, to the Valley of the Four Winds!

Proving to be even deadlier than the Elevator Boss, the Line Boss claimed many a tester’s character not long after arriving on Pandaria.  Critics of the boss’s abilities pointed out such unfair tactics as five-hour-long kill times and “the giant T-rexes that are one-hit wipe machines.”  Blizzard has yet to comment.

I’ll take any excuse to post an image of a queue about to be devoured by a T-rex.  ANY.

So how is leveling in the Jade Forest?  In a word:  non-linear.  For anyone burned out by Cata’s linear quest model, the Jade Forest will be a breath of fresh air.  The following map is my (crude) representation of the questing flow in Jade Forest.  Note that I might be wrong on the Alliance side; I haven’t played it yet.

I didn’t bother trying to include all the different paths there.  If it’s confusing, here’s how to read it:

  • Blue is the Alliance path through the zone.  Start at the southwestern corner, work along the southern coast, and then up towards Dawn’s Blossom.
  • Red is the Horde path through the zone.  Start at the northwestern corner, down the west side of the zone, then east to Dawn’s Blossom.
  • Yellow represents paths that both factions can take, leading to numerous quest hubs scattered around the zone.  You’ll need to do a few of these to get to 86, but there are feeder quests leading between them, and they can be done in pretty much any order.

There are TONS of different hubs here, each with its own story.  Whether you’re studying with the monks in the Tian Monastery, putting out fires in Nectarbreeze Orchard, or simply helping true love along in the Arboretum, there is a massive variety of quests to do.  And each hub has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for fun or serious, simple or complex.  You’ll probably find multiple ways to level each time you play through the zone!

As for the visuals…well, I think they definitely blow every Cata zone out of the water.

Have I mentioned how much I love these kite flight paths?  Seriously these things are so cool, I want a mountable version to fly anywhere.  MAKE IT HAPPEN, BLIZZ

WoW may be running off an engine that’s been around for over a decade now, but I’m impressed with just how much they’re still able to pull off with it.  Look at that screenshot up there.  You’ve got tons of different kinds of trees and foliage, vibrant colors, detailed models, and a view that extends so far you can take it all in.  I could honestly spend hours here just wandering around, looking at all the neat odds and ends.  I’ll admit, I’ve spent a good bit of time doing that already!

Sadly, this does highlight the ever-increasingly obvious graphical disparity between the newest content and models which haven’t changed in years.  My tauren may be a strong shamanic warrior of the Horde, but he looks like he should’ve retired years ago.  It’s just sad, really, and makes me sadder that new character models aren’t likely to make release.  As the world continues to move on, our characters need to as well.  However, this is a minor quibble, and I would gladly keep these old models if it meant we’d get more content like this.  It’s beautiful, and will keep on looking beautiful for years to come.

So, does the Jade Forest make for a good introduction to Pandaria?  Definitely.  Blizzard seems intent on creating a giant world filled with things to explore, and are actively encouraging exploration through their new questing model.  The zone is breathtaking, enormous, and fun, and the best part?  It’s only the first one!

Next time on Pandaria Zone Tours:  the Valley of the Four Winds!

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