Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Pandaren Starting Zone

I recently created a pandaren monk and went through the new starting zone. Here are some thoughts and observations. There will be spoilers if you haven't done the zone.

By and large the zone is very good. It's fun, gets across a lot of the themes, and gives a small taste of what Pandaria will be like. The ballon ride is a particular high point.

However, in my mind, there is one major problem with the zone: Aysa Cloudsinger. With Aysa, Blizzard falls into the trap of "telling, not showing". Everyone comments about how amazing Aysa is, but she never actually acts amazing. I think she meditates while you kill stuff, and that's the high point of your interactions.

Whereas Ji Firepaw actually solves problems. Admittedly his solutions are a little crazy, but he is shown doing stuff. As well, Ji is never outright wrong. He's supposed to represent taking action rather than thinking about things. But the downside of taking action rapidly is that sometimes things go wrong. But this is never fully shown.

What's really weird is that Blizzard did not take the obvious route at the very end. Ji uses explosives to get rid of the ship in the turtle's side, which causes the turtle to start bleeding rapidly. This almost gets across the idea of making a bad situation worse, which is the drawback of Ji's philosophy. However, Ji is the one who thinks of using all the healers to staunch the wound.  So Ji solves one problem, creates another problem, and then solves that problem too.

I don't really understand why Aysa is not the one who comes up with the idea of using the healers. It's the logical, obvious solution to balancing out the two factions, making them equal.

Also, the way Aysa is written at the end of zone, she is very reminiscent of an unfortunate female archetype: that of the nagging wife. Honestly, for the entire last part of the zone all she does is verbally criticize Ji. She does not come up with any ideas or solutions of her own.

In some ways this male vs female dichotomy is further reinforced by the Horde/Alliance NPCs. The Horde representative is male, like Ji. The Alliance representative is female, like Aysa. So the final choice has a very strong male vs female vibe to it. And in my view, the female Alliance side comes off very badly in the comparison, being the side which didn't actually do anything useful, just complained. I think is an unintentional error on Blizzard's part.

By and large the pandaren starting zone was very good. Aysa should have just done something in the final sequence, justifying the idea that she is a competent person. Again, "show, don't tell". If you want players to think of Aysa as competent, you have to show Aysa being competent. As well, Ji should have been shown at least once as being obviously wrong. And finally, I think the genders of the Horde/Alliance NPCs should have been switched to weaken the link between gender and the dueling philosophies.


  1. I was under the impression that Aysa not doing a whole lot is the entire point of her character, though. She spends some time mediating about a problem, and then tells you the correct thing to do about it, whereas Ji is often doing things but not necessarily accomplishing anything of note. It takes him like three tries to wake up Wugu, for example, despite finding the spirit immediately, and while helping out that village with their hozen problem is a good thing to do, it doesn't help at all with finding Dafeng, which Aysa does all on her own.

    I do think it is a little odd that it is Ji that seems to lead the efforts to heal the wound. I think it is partly because Aysa is supposed to be the kind of person that takes a while to determine a course of action, so Ji preempted her once again in trying out a solution to a problem that happens to succeed this time, and I think partly that the writers' sympathies are more on Ji's side and may have been trying to let him make up for his mistake - you'll notice that the cinematic where the wound is revealed is basically from Ji's point of view.

    As an aside, I think the cinematic shows the two at their worst - blowing up the ship seems like a stupid idea (it's a goblin's idea, after all), and Aysa tells Ji it's a stupid idea and we are shown that, indeed, despite the best of intentions Ji has blown a huge hole in the side of Shenzin Su, but then we see Aysa, who was correct, being needlessly antagonistic and unforgiving of Ji. I feel that the cinematic is the point where they'd decide which side to go with, if people hadn't pretty much already decided what faction they were going to go with when they rolled up their pandaren.

    In addition, with a pair where one is polite, reserved and proper and the other is loud, active and forward, I think in general people respect people like Aysa more while they tend to like people like Ji more. You know, like Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. Or C-3PO and R2-D2. Or, uh, Ernie and Bert?

    Finally, I don't really feel that the Horde and Alliance representatives have a masculine/feminine split. Instead, if anything, I'd say they both feel incredibly masculine. Yes, Korga is shirtless and continually showing off his Tauren beefcake abs, but Delora is not like a priest in a dress or anything stereotypically female like that - she's in full plate armor with a gigantic sword with a tightly bound hairstyle.

  2. Actually, when the "blow ship up" thing came up, I was expecting the questline to split and provide two different approaches:
    - follow Ji, rashly "solve" the problem by creating another, but then Aysa has to join in and fix everything.
    - follow Aysa and her good ideas, but as time drags on and nothing gets done, Ji joins in and actually gets things moving, fixing everything.

    It would have done a better job of showing the good and bad of the two approaches. As it's now, I agree that Aysa meditates while you do all the fighting and Ji solves the problems.

  3. I love most of Pandaria the continent, but the newbie zone kind of hurts me. It's just boring to me, and a lot of it does fall into what you mention about showing and not telling.

    Also, the area feels so simple, and I suppose that's because it's a newbie zone, but when compared to other zones like the Goblins or even the Humans, it just feels so lifeless and dull.