November 12 2011
At this year's BlizzCon Blizzard revealed Mists of Pandaria, the next expansion for World of Warcraft, and one feature will be a new playable race, the Pandaren, inspired, as their name implies, by panda bears. This struck many people, including myself, as an odd choice, and complaints abound on the official forums about the Pandaren being "too childish." Quite a few actually thought it was a joke. Is it really that far out there for the Warcraft universe, or are some people simply put-off by the cuteness of it?
Let's face it, there's a lot of strange stuff in WoW already. It's hard to be critical of Panda-inspired race in a game where people play as gnomes, cows, and blue space goats. WoW has never aimed to be serious, "high" fantasy; it has always taken a lighter approach, employed cartoon-like artwork, and put its own spin on things like elves and goblins. The goblin starting area alone has enough outlandish things in it to make pandas look mature.
When you think about it, lots of fantasy games have something that borders on completely ridiculuous in them. EverQuest has Vah Shir (cat people) and Frogloks as playable races. That's right, a frog race - it still makes me chuckle to this day! (Comic relief perhaps?) Vanguard has fox-inspired Raki and wolf-inspired Vulmane. Lineage 2 has those female dwarves that look like anime versions of Orphan Annie, and Guild Wars 2 will have the Yoda-like Asura. Sure, it's a matter of taste, but it's not uncommon for fantasy games to take their imagery to extremes.
The Pandaren probably wouldn't be my first choice for playable races to add to WoW. I think I'd rather play as a Tuskarr or an Ogre, but I don't find the Pandaren particularly objectionable. The expansion is sure to offer other features to entice players that don't want to play as a panda.
It's worth noting that there are games that try not to be "cute" and avoid the sort of exaggeration that results in shoulder pads twice the size of your character. Age of Conan, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and Eve Online come to mind, and the variety of settings employed continues to grow. Rest assured, Pandaren won't be the last peculiar race to appear in an online roleplaying game.