Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why Do People Hate the Pandaren?

Is a question I've heard asked. The pandaren race, which is to be a huge focal point of the next WoW expansion "Mists of Pandaria" seems to be its most polarizing feature. People either love them or hate them. In fact you can see this split in opionion expressed quite clearly on the MoP Preview Trailer. The likes and dislikes are split almost perfectly in half! There are various arguments for and against the pandaren. I'm going to address a few that I've heard and tell you why some of them don't hold water, and why some of them actually make sense.

Pandaren were an April Fools joke!

This is true. The very first time Blizzard ever mentioned the Panadaren they were the punchline of an April Fools' joke. On April Fools' 2002 Blizzard "proudly" announced a 5th race for Warcraft 3: The Pandaren Empire. It was pretty clear it was a joke. All they really had were a few pieces of Samwise's art, some reskinned models, and a paltry amount of "new units". Like it or not this is how the pandaren were first introduced to the public.

Pandaren aren't part of the lore!

Actually, they are! After the April Fool's joke the pandaren must have gotten stuck in the minds of the developers, because a few Pandaren were included in Warcraft 3's expansion, the Frozen Throne. The game includes a bonus campaign called The Founding of Durotar. This campaign tells the story of Rexxar, a half-ogre, half-orc beastmaster. During his travels Rexxar meets a wandering Pandaren Brewmaster named Chen Stormstout. Chen then teams up with Rexxar and helps him in his quest. Additionally, Pandaren Brewmasters are neutral heroes that can be recruited from the tavern in multiplayer.

If this doesn't cement the Pandaren as part of Warcraft lore, I don't know what does. The Founding of Durotar is undoubtedly cannon, and Rexxar can even be seen today hanging out in Thunderlord Stronghold. If Rexxar and his story are cannon, then Chen Stormstout and the Pandaren race are also cannon.

Pandaren are stolen from Kung Fu Panda!

This can be quickly discounted as false. Like I said, the idea of the pandaren was something Blizzard had in their back pocket since April of 2002, and it existed in some form in the head of art director Samwise Didier even before that. Kung Fu Panda was released in 2008, so the pandaren predate the movie by at least six years. Pandaren were doing martial arts long before Po ever existed.

The problem here is simply ignorance. If you're someone who hasn't been paying careful attention the lore it's easy to miss the Pandaren who, to be fair, haven't exactly been super-visible. So if someone is hearing of the Pandaren for the first time, it's easy to think that Kung Fu Panda had a role in inspiring thier creation.

And perhaps Po did, in some astronomically small way, inspire Blizzard's devs to create MoP, but I don't think it was anything like "hot damn, I sure love that panda movie! Let's base a whole expansion on it!"

We have cow-men, why not panda-men?

If you look at the anthropomorphic races that are present in WoW today, you can see that every single one is based off a predatory animal, or at least an animal that is prone to violence. Pandas are not prone to violence (although I wouldn't try petting one), and they're seen as cute and cuddly. Contrast this with bulls, from which the Tauren are derived. Bulls are very aggressive, and furthermore the idea of a bull-man is based off the minotaur of ancient Greek mythology.

I'm not going to take the time to systematically compare all of WoW's anthropomorphic races to the pandaren, but you have to admit, every one of them is based off a creature scarier than a panda.


So up until now I've been the devil's advocate, but what side am I on? Well, I'm kind of neutral. I don't really love the pandaren, but I don't hate them either. I do feel like they're slightly out of place in the WoW universe. The races that exist today range from peaceful to outright murderous. Never has a race gone beyond peaceful into jovial and fun-loving. It's a bit of a shock, and I'm not sure a race like that belongs in WoW outside of a few fun references here and there.

Another issue I have is that the panderan's footprint in the lore is very, very small. To base an entire expansion off what has been a fringe element makes it seem like Blizzard is running out of ideas. I'll compare it to a the Sonic comics I used to read as a kid. I used to love this comic, but then they killed off Robotnik, the main villain. After that the whole thing went downhill. With Sonic's main impetus gone, they started dredging up all sorts of old plot threads and villains in a desperate attempt to fill the void. That's a feeling I get from MoP. WoW doesn't have any Robotniks left so they're just going to start telling an entirely different story.

So the the pandaren feel a bit alien, but maybe they should. After all, they've been gone for 10,000 years. They've been absent from the war and turmoil that has shaped the world of warcraft and its races. The pandaren have a lot to prove to their new allies and to the playerbase, lets hope they're up to the task.

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