In the words of Wrathion, Pandaria is a land of "mystery, history. . . and opportunity." Kun-Lai Summit features all three! We've been exploring the various locations in Pandaria by talking to the designers behind them. Today we've pulled aside Dave 'Fargo' Kosak, World of Warcraft's lead quest designer, to talk about the majesty of Kun-Lai Summit.
Kun-Lai Summit Hero
Q. Could you name three places you feel players shouldn't miss on their first trip through the zone?
A. It's hard to name just three! Kun-Lai summit is one of the largest zones in the expansion, and it encompasses a huge swath of terrain. Starting from the highland steppes you'll make your way into the piedmont of an enormous mountain range, home to terrible tribes of mountain hozen and the site of a yaungol invasion. Keep on trucking up the slopes and you'll find yourself among the blistering cold of the peaks. There's even a small forest along the northern shores - so there's definitely a lot of variety.
But if I were to play tour guide, there are definitely some highlights to call out.
First, just getting to the zone is an adventure. You'll traverse the Veiled Stair, carved directly into the mountainside north of the Valley of Four Winds. Be sure to read about the history of the stair at a resting spot a third of the way up, then stop for a drink in the Tavern in the Mists. You're almost there! Try not to look directly at the albino saurok as you navigate an underground river on your way to Binan Village, the most major pandaren settlement in the zone.
If you fancy some mountain climbing, there are a couple peaks of note. Kota Peak is famous for its berries, as well as for the angry yeti that eat them. There are rumors of a pandaren pet master who lives near the summit. Hint: the rumors are true. But even majestic Kota Peak pales in comparison to its neighbor, Mount Neverest, the highest peak in all of Azeroth (we measured). I would say that the view is tremendous as you're pretty much above the clouds up there. It's breathtaking. Legend has it that the last pandaren emperor ascended the summit to seek the wisdom of the Jade Serpent . . . you'll have a few reasons of your own to ascend the slopes as well.
And if I had to stick to just three locations, I suppose I couldn't leave out the Shado-Pan Monastery. It's the headquarters of Pandaria's first and only line of defense: the Shado-Pan. They were given a sacred charge by the last emperor to protect the land from the dark energy of the sha. They also man the Serpent's Spine Wall and protect the common-folk from the terror of the mantid. It's a lot for these guys to handle, so as you can imagine their Monastery is both a fortress and a place of deep contemplation. Nestled into the mountain peaks, it's absolutely beautiful. The Shado-Pan will need your help when their Monastery is overrun with the sha - you can probably score some points with the faction if you go into the dungeon and help 'em out.
Q. From a story perspective, what are the major things happening here?
A. Quite a bit! One of our goals with Mists of Pandaria was to feature more non-linear zones, and Kun-Lai, more than any other, embodies this. So there's a lot going on, and a lot to explore and discover.
The Sha of Anger has broken loose from his prison in the Shado-Pan monastery, and he's wreaking havoc all over the zone. Put together a raid group and you can pummel it back down into the ground, but otherwise, you'd best avoid that thing. It's whipping up all the locals into a frenzy.
For example, the aggressive mountain Hozen who live up in the highlands are raging out of control. The local grummles who push their goods back and forth on the "Burlap Trail" are getting massacred, so if you have the time they could really use your help.
Meanwhile, events in the Dread Wastes have pushed the yaungol out of their native homelands beyond the wall. Once they break into pandaren lands, they just start annihilating the place. Their roving warbands have left a trail of destruction in their wake. The Alliance and Horde can both pitch in to help reverse the tide of battle, and in the process they'll be able to lay claim to a couple of key towns in the center of the zone.
The Zandalari trolls are up to no good. They're ancient allies with the boogeymen of Pandaria, the mogu. Tracking down the Zandalari will require delving into the Valley of Emperors, a sprawling ancient burial ground up in the mountains, and ultimately concludes with a desperate last-ditch effort to save a stranded pandaren village on the coast.
Finally, this zone features an event that I consider to be the emotional heart of the whole expansion. The White Tiger - one of the four August Celestials that guard Pandaria - is waiting for you in his temple here in Kun-Lai. A debate is raging over the sacred heart of the pandaren empire, and whether or not the other mortal races from beyond the mists should be allowed within. Maybe you can help sway his decision?
Q. You mention all sorts of new factions and races - Yaungol! Mogu! Grummles! Who are they?
A. Our goal all along was to make Pandaria feel like a new place, with an ecology all its own. There are definitely some clashing cultures here in Kun-Lai.
The yaungol are an offshoot of the tauren race. They were trapped on pandaria when the continent broke free during the Sundering ten thousand years ago. They're a proud people, and they wanted to retain their nomadic lifestyle - they didn't want to submit to any emperor's authority. They've been forced to survive in the harsh lands beyond the Serpent's Spine Wall, where they're in continual conflict with the mantid. This has made them extremely tough.
On the opposite extreme you have the humble grummles. These little guys have been merchants, messengers, and traders since the time of the ancient mogu empire. They're able to carry many times their own weight. Their main trading route - "The burlap trail" - is a lifeline to the Shado-Pan Monastery. When you first arrive in the zone, the trail is under assault from the rampaging mountain hozen, and those little grummle guys sure could use your help. Oh! While you're here, be sure to visit the Grummle Bazaar, a tremendous marketplace and the home to one of the most luxurious mounts in pandaria: The Grand Expedition Yak.
We've talked about the brutish mogu elsewhere, but you can really delve into their history here in Kun-Lai, home of the Valley of Emperors. Thousands and thousands of years ago, the mogu were broken up into tribes and warring kingdoms. Then, along came Lei-Shen, "The Thunder King." He cracked some skulls until all the mogu bent their knee to him. Then he proceeded to conquer and enslave all of the other pandaren races, unite the language, and create the first empire. It was Lei-Shen who started construction of the Serpent's Spine Wall, and it was likely Lei-Shen who first forged an alliance with the ancient Zandalari. The mogu empire was overthrown in the pandaren revolution long ago, but if someone were to come along and unite the mogu once again . . . well, it wouldn't be pretty.
There's also an important faction that you'll meet here in Kun-Lai. The Shado-Pan need your help; first, your help pushing back the yaungol invasion and re-securing the wall. Then, you can help them cleanse their Monastery from the evils of the sha. Once you earn their trust, you can roll up your sleeves and help them out in their campaign across the Townlong Steppes . . . ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. That's another zone and another day!