|Oh you mean click THIS shrine!|
I'd intended to do a more straightforward review of the first zone of Pandaria but when I sat down to write... well, you'll see. Needless to say, if the game is capable of illiciting this kind of reaction from my subconscious, they're doing it right. So what if my questing is on rails, when they're this well made and the ride is so smooth and seemless, I really don't mind at all....
[WARNING: If you have not completed The Jade Forest questline in Pandaria, there be HUGE HONKING SPOILERS within, you have been warned.]
Some days, I am really very upset that I have to be allied under anyone's banner.
I know, you have to pick a side. I went with the Blue guys because, as a whole, I considered their actions to be acceptable in the face of the large number of different threats we've had to battle throughout the years. Onyxia, for instance, was personal. Ragnaros Mark 1 (and even Mark 2) was justified. Arthas was our fault (and frankly it should have been seen coming well before it became a problem) and I feel that anyone carrying the blue colours was justifiably made to suffer because of the mistakes that were made. Our King was, to put it lightly, a tool for quite some time. He's getting better at leadership, but his parenting skills need some work.
The Burning Legion is everyone's problem, but I digress.
When I heard of the destruction of Theramore, I can't say I was really that surprised. Its proximity to Orgrimmar has always been a problem, a perennial thorn in the side of expansion and conquest, which is what large sections of those who haul the red banner consider is their primary task. I mean, you just have to look at Sylvanas' creative use of Vykrul and her adaptation of (the late) Putress' experiments in chemical warfare to understand that solving internal problems is not something the Horde consider a priority. Everyone appears to have their own agenda, Garrosh being very much at the top of that particular chain of command and frankly, he's not acting in either a particularly fit or sane manner of late. Whatever the excuses (and no I'm still not going to read a book to explain it) Theramore has made the Alliance mad, and when humans get angry nothing ever good will ever come of it.
Hence I find myself dragged to a new land on a mission to find Varian's son, lost on the shores of a vast continent that has suddenly appeared from nowhere... except actually, I know this land. I've heard stories, whispers of a Panda called Stormstout who came to the Orcs aid long ago at (guess where?) Theramore, but refused to take sides. I've learnt since that he's not actually from this place but another faction of the same race, from a Giant Green Dragon (no that wasn't the beer talking, before you ask.) The key point here is that Stormstout wouldn't give allegiance to either of our banners, instead choosing to wander the world in search of adventure. When I think about it, he and I have a lot in common in many respects (love of beer notwithstanding) but I think even he's going to be pissed when he sees what my guys and the Horde managed to bring from the Earth in the Jade Forest. I know all about the Old Gods: I saw what C'Thun could do, still shudder at the monstrosity unearthed in Uldum. There's some evil and terrifying stuff buried beneath the ground. In Pandaria, their evil has most definitely been Supersized.
The worst thing about all of this is that really, had I given the matter sufficient thought, I could have seen this coming the moment I got on the Sky Carrier. I felt ill having to bomb the Horde in such a flagrant fashion, and when told to fire on unarmed orcs as they approached the jetty... I suppose it could have been an illusion created by the Sha but you know, it still didn't feel right. It should never be the done thing the moment you set foot on a new and unexplored land to arm the first set of hapless natives you come across and then get them involved in your fight, but that's exactly what happened ON BOTH SIDES. You couldn't have written that final confrontation any better at the Jade Serpent if you'd tried, and it appears that at least one thread of Pandaren History had already prophesied this was EXACTLY the kind of thing that could happen under the right circumstances. There is this occasional tingle of inevitability about certain moments: call it spider sense, if you like, but the first time I walked into the Jade Temple I just knew something bad was going to happen, and I was going to end up responsible.
That's something of an understatement, considering the utter chaos we've managed to unleash.
The Jade Forest is a beautiful place: helping the natives was a pleasure and even the threats I found myself facing didn't seem as terrible as those that have preceded this but now... Everything has a distinctive Sha taint. I am reminded of the Legion, of the Scourge, even of the Twilight's Hammer... those who see the darkness just beyond my peripheral vision and are irresistibly drawn to it. Those people whisper in the ears of the Admirals and the Warchiefs and make them do stupid things that ultimately only end in me having to turn up with some friends and clean up after. I suppose, on reflection, there is no way to avoid the trauma and destruction I've helped unearth in Pandaria. I'll be spending the next couple of years making things right again, just like I have all the times before.
However, there's a key difference this time around, and it is significant. This is especially personal, and the continent feels deserving of rescue than even Azeroth the planet has done before. I sense inside the stirrings of devotion and pride the likes of which I can remember from Molten Core, from Alganon, the moments when it stopped being just about beating the bad guys because that was the thing to do. Pandaria didn't ask for this to be wrought upon it, even if the disaster was foretold in prophesy. We came and made it happen. Two banners, completely out of place on a land filled with beauty and serenity, bound by simplicity and care. We drop from the sky and ruin it for everyone, and now there is a real compulsion to make right the mistakes people higher up the chain of command have dictated. Anduin, Varian's son, is suddenly not just the awkward teenager with no place in the scheme of things. He saw an opportunity and stepped up, could have left but chose to stay and now he forms the vanguard of a new way forward. If there's one member of my own faction I genuinely feel proud of right now it's him. Maybe youth has much to teach us in how to deal with the problems we perennially place ourselves within.
As I leave the Jade Forest I know I have to put right what the Alliance has destroyed. The question then becomes, who will aid me in this task? Is Chen Stormstout really the legendary figure who can help me with these answers? More importantly, what will become of those who survived the disaster at the Jade Serpent?