With as many years atop the MMO genre that World of Warcraft currently enjoys, it’s safe to say its a known quantity at this point. That doesn’t mean the developers at Blizzard can’t occasionally surprise: a fact that was proven with the announcement of the upcoming expansion Mists of Pandaria. The fuzzy, cuddly creatures may have been criticized for their appeal to a casual audience, but the new Tier 14 armor, Dragon Turtle mounts and gameplay adjustments coming with the expansion may be more to the liking of the existing player base.

It’s a bit unfair to claim that WoW has gone ‘Kung-Fu Panda’ with the new expansion, since any true Warcraft fan will tell you – and likely already has – that the Pandaren race has a long history in the franchise’s fiction. Somebody had to be brewing the hearty ales and lagers for the victorious Alliance…or Horde, depending on the campaign. That task has been performed by the Pandaren for some time, and the new racial mounts for the adorable monks continues the tradition.

Blizzard has revealed the mount in question to be the Dragon Turtle, a creature that also has existed in the series before WoW, and is likely as misunderstood as the seemingly-docile Pandaren. Anyone who has spent some time with the Mists of Pandaria beta knows how integral turtles are to Pandaren existence, so it’s hard to think of a more fitting companion. Especially with all the room for brew-barrels atop those massive Dragon Turtle shells.

It’s still unclear exactly how effective the Dragon Turtles will be in a fight, but the images released by Blizzard show that they are more than capable of transporting players majestically through an open landscape:

Mists Pandaria Armor Upgrades

Along with the images comes a look at the Tier 14 armor sets for the Pandaren characters courtesy of PCGamer. From left to right, the Druid, Hunter and Warlock Challenge Mode equipment belies the cute and cuddly demeanor of the Pandaren. These may just be images not reflective of stats or perks, but that doesn’t mean that cosmetics won’t be playing a part in deciding which of the new talent trees to pursue.

Players will have plenty of opportunities to see the armor sets in action, as WoW‘s Lead Content Designer Cory Stockton also promised that the limitations on daily accepted quests will be removed entirely with the expansion. The adjustment may be a long overdue one – or irrelevant depending on your play style – but it shows that the team at Blizzard haven’t completely set the gameplay itself on auto-pilot. Considering the fact that subscription numbers are holding strong, a massive increase in server population can be expected when the expansion is released. Daily quests numbering in the “hundreds,” then, may not be so outlandish a need when reuniting with less monogamous WoW friends who have taken some time off since Cataclysm.

We’ll see how the Pandaren and their lumbering mounts do against the Alliance and Horde’s when World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria releases this year.

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Source: Blizzard, PCGamer