Taran Zhu: Where are the nortern senties? I didn't spot a single one of your men before reaching the camp. You grow lax, Gao-ran.
Gao-ran the Tempered: With all due respect, Lord, we have not grown lax. We are stretched thin. We are beset on all fronts, my men are worked to the bone, and I have not a single warrior to spare.
Lord Zhu, the mantid have not been seen in these numbers since the swarm more than 90 years ago. My men are going days without sleep just to hold the line.
Perhaps we should pull back to the wall? If the full force of the mantid come, we can confidently hold them there.
No, we will not be pulling back. It's 10 years yet before the mantid birth their next swarm. I will not see the Townlong Steppes given to them freely.
I had come to seek strong pandaren to hunt the Sha of Hatred, but we will step in here and help you fortify the barricade first.
Q. What’s the story here in the Steppes?
A. The events in Townlong directly follow up on what happened in Kun-Lai Summit. If you play through Kun-Lai you’ll meet the Shado-Pan, and if you step into the dungeon you can help them overcome their crisis in the Shado-Pan Monastery. There, Lord Taran-Zhu, the leader of the Shado-Pan, had become overwhelmed by the Sha of Hatred. The rescue at the monastery is an important moment for Taran-Zhu; he’ll finally see the value that the Alliance and Horde bring to Pandaria, and players will have earned a staunch ally.
The story picks up from there. In Townlong Steppes, Taran-Zhu is tracking down his nemesis, the elusive Sha of Hatred that’s blasted its way across the zone. You’ll get to ride with the Shado-Pan vanguard, but they’ve got a lot of ground to cover. The Steppes are home to the yaungol, who are still on the warpath. Meanwhile, the mantid are encroaching from the south. The sacred Temple of Niuzao is under siege, and a splinter sect of mogu are trying to create their own dark demigod on an island off the coast.
Even the mighty Shado-Pan will have their hands full. It’s a good thing you’re here.
Q. Could you name three of your favorite locations players should check out on their journey through the zone?
A. As with everywhere else in Pandaria, there’s a lot to drink in. No visit to the Steppes would be complete without a pilgrimage to the most hardcore of pandaren shrines, Niuzao Temple. Niuzao is the formal name for the Black Ox, one of the four August Celestials who watch over Pandaria and the embodiment of fortitude for the pandaren people. Bonus: your Valor and Justice vendors are there, as well, so something tells me you’ll definitely want to pay a visit. In addition, every few days, the guardians of the temple may need your help with some daily quests.
You’ll also want to visit the Shado-Pan Garrison on the western coast. This is the main base camp for the Shado-Pan on the move. Once you get to revered with the Golden Lotus faction, you’ll be able to come here and start earning your stripes with the Shado-Pan – more on that later.
Finally, there’s a little grotto in between Townlong and the Dread Wastes that isn’t important from a story perspective, but it’s one of the coolest places in the expansion. I’m talking about the Ambermarsh, a little corner of the map where the roots of the giant kypari trees burrow down into a foggy marshland, creating a kind of living canopy surrounded by canyon walls. The curling roots coil around globules of amber while mischievous wood sprites scramble around through the fog. The overall impact is really haunting – it’s just one of those hidden treasures that you’ll find all over the map in Pandaria.
Q. You mentioned that players can help the Shado-Pan and the August Celestials here? How do those quests work?
A. Right! The four August Celestials of Pandaria need your help, but never all at once. Sometimes you’ll help the White Tiger in Kun-Lai Summit, sometimes you’ll be needed at the Temple of the Jade Serpent. Here in Townlong, the Black Ox will need a hand as well. On some days he’ll rest quietly at the temple while you complete missions in the surrounding terrain. But on alternate days Niuzao will be on the warpath, actively defending his temple from a mantid assault. If you’re clever, you’ll lure the mantid into his rampage and he’ll help you slaughter them in big groups. With the dailies in Pandaria, we really tried to mix it up, so you’re never going to be doing the same sorts of things two days in a row.
That’s also true of the Shado-Pan. Once you’re revered with the Golden Lotus faction in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, you’ll have proven yourself to the Shado-Pan and you’ll be able to start doing daily quests for them and moving up in their organization. There are three branches of the Shado-Pan faction, focused on stealth, strength, or magic. Every day you’ll work with one of the three disciplines, and you’ll get to choose a companion to come with you.
One of our goals with the expansion was to make sure that earning reputation with a faction was more than just watching a bar grow across the bottom of your screen. In the case of the Shado-Pan, there’s a couple of things going on. For one, there’s a story that plays out, as you investigate what the mogu are doing on the island of Shan’ze Dao and ultimately thwart their plans.
For another, as you earn reputation with the Shado-Pan, you can unlock additional companions to accompany you on your daily quests. For example, on days when the quests require a caster companion, will you take along Fei-Li the Firecracker, the tempestuous fire mage? Or will you bring along the quiet but stern priest, Yalia Sagewhisper, to take advantage of her buffs and heals? Every new Shado-Pan companion has to be earned by first defeating them in a sparring match. (Easier said than done. During the beta, Snow Blossom the frost mage would absolutely DESTROY me.)
We built the Shado-Pan companions to actively assist you. Protector Yi will use his abilities to hold aggro for you, whereas Snow Blossom will try to crowd-control large groups of enemies with Frost Nova. The Shado-Pan daily quests take place in some of the most dangerous parts of Pandaria, so you’ll appreciate the help, although it’s possible to do the quests solo if you feel like a real challenge. That was another goal with our design of Pandaria – we want players to have lots of ways to pick their own level of difficulty as they play!
Players who get to exalted with the Shado-Pan will actually be inducted into the order (there are some sweet transmoggable helms up for grabs.) If you’re really dedicated, you can also earn the Shado-Master title by completing all of the associated achievements – you’ll have to defeat the Sha of Anger world boss in Kun-Lai Summit and other significant challenges for the privilege. Not easy, but worth it!