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Titles Tell Stories: How "Mists of Pandaria" breaks the mold

Mists of Pandaria was filed as a trademark by Blizzard last week, sending the WoW community into pandemonium. Love them or hate them, pandaren may be making their way to Warcraft sooner than you think. As a title, though, does Mists of Pandaria work in the same way Blizzard's past expansion titles have informed the public about their general storylines?

While I was drafting The Queue a few days ago, one particular vein of questioning stood out among the rest. Blizzard has recently filed for a peculiar trademark, Mists of Pandaria, under the classification of computer software (among other things). Many people believe that Mists of Pandaria will be the name of the next expansion, heralding in an age of World of Warcraft in which the fan-favorite pandaren finally make their emergence out of the shadows and into our hearts. Others hope that the pandas stay as the joke they originated from and WoW keeps only its other 50 bipedal, anthropomorphized races and rejects the pandaren concept. Either way, it is cause for discussion.

The title is an art form in the games industry. A title has to tell you everything you need to know right up front, on the box, to give players new and old alike an understanding of what the game is going to focus on, set the theme, set a tone, and even clue us in to the major plot points. The title Mists of Pandaria could or could not do those things. I've taken the liberty of writing up some words on the subject of this potential title. I could be right and could certainly be wrong, but here's some food for thought.

The Queue question that got this all started for me:

Zayd asked:

'The Mists of Pandaria'

Sounds like the name of a patch rather than an expansion to me.


The Mists of Pandaria does kind of sound like a patch title, but it could very well also be the name of an expansion. For all we know, it could even be the name of the first digital version of the WoW TCG. That's a big maybe. There are many factors to consider about the title, which holds great weight in the nature of games.

Past expansion titles

Let's start off with a little bit of history. World of Warcraft and its previous expansions all told the entire story of their representative games in the title alone. Even the original game, World of Warcraft, instantly acknowledged what the game was and what players were to expect from it. This was, quite literally, the world of Warcraft, the beloved strategy game that had captured the hearts and minds of gamers for years.

The Burning Crusade was named as such because of its villains, the Burning Legion, crusading across the galaxy killing or converting anything that crossed their path. Interestingly enough, while Illidan was the de facto spokesperson for the expansion in his infamous "You are not prepared!" patch opener, the real enemy was the Burning Legion -- Kil'jaeden in particular, who tried to use blood elf leader Kael'thas Sunstrider to bring him to Azeroth through the Sunwell. The title told us everything we needed to know. The Burning Crusade: It was burning, and it was a crusade.

Wrath of the Lich King was central to the storyline that had been flowing through Warcraft's veins since Arthas first gripped Frostmourne in Northrend. The title centered on the villain and his aim -- wrath. Lots of wrath. There was a whole bunch of the Lich King's wrath all over the expansion, and the title lent itself to easy exposition and understanding. This was the Lich King's expansion, his final moments in the sun, and the expansion was named accordingly. You knew from the beginning you were entering his domain, and you knew who the enemy was, always present in your quests and his towering fortress always in eyeshot.

Cataclysm was named for the event that shook up the world, essentially creating WoW 2 and changing the political and physical landscape of Azeroth. The word cataclysm has many connotations, most of them destructive, and reflected the world coming undone. It was simple, to the point, and put the breaking of the world at the forefront. This was an expansion about change. The expansion's trademark filing was even filed in a similar way back in 2009 before it was announced at BlizzCon. The procedure takes about three months, so Blizzard will want to have the trademark secure before running around with the name hanging on banners and being all over the internet.

Mists

What does Mists of Pandaria tell us just from the words? What are the WoW associations with each of these words that would lead us to believe that it is a title for a WoW expansion? Well, as Anne Stickney pointed out with my over AIM, the "mists" in World of Warcraft are usually tied together with the Kvaldir, sea-faring vrykul who attack ships, disrupt coastlines, and are generally mean in disposition. The vrykul made their reappearance in Cataclysm in the Vashj'ir zone, fighting against Azshara's naga forces in the Battlemaiden quest lines.

If Azshara is the next big bad guy coming to World of Warcraft, it makes sense to bring the mist and one of her enemies into the picture, potentially as allies to the player races of Azeroth. The only problem with the word mist in the title is that the word carries none of this meaning outside of the game world or having a basic understanding of the lore. You stick Mists of Pandaria on a box with some pandas and that's all people have to go on -- a foggy town with some pandas living in it. The concept of the mists in WoW is a bit esoteric, even if it's spelled out for you in quests and environments.

Pandaria

The second part of the title (we will skip "of") is the pandaren homeland of Pandaria, what many people believe will be the setting of the new expansion, giving us a new continent and islands (as opposed to a new world) to explore. Pandaria as an island works because, again, Anne Stickney is correct in assuming if we are getting a seafaring expansion (or at least going to new islands and continents), major island nations will come into play. But again, the title feels exclusionary.

Pandaria has never come up as a real, honest thing in the game world other than jokes or minor lore references. The antithesis to that statement would be Uldum, which just sort of appeared out of nowhere when Cataclysm launched; at least there were the actual gates of Uldum in Tanaris and a simiarly built Ahn'Qiraj that hinted at its existence. Pandaria exists only in Chen's Empty Keg and some other random references. When a player picks up the box for Mists of Pandaria, he does not innately know what the mists are or what Pandaria is.

Titles tell a story

If you've had any exposure to the Warcraft universe in the last 10 years, you know what the Burning Legion is, who the Lich King is, and what the word cataclysm means. You might not, however, understand the significance of mists or what Pandaria even is. I'm not saying it shouldn't be the name of the next expansion because of these factors, but it does give me pause to think about the words in front of me. It just seems a better fit for the card game in digital form, if the trademark filing is to be believed (it is). Is this the first Blizzard expansion that will truly be a World of Warcraft expansion and not a Warcraft expansion, if that makes any sense?

Titles are meant to tell me a story in as few words as possible to ramp up my expectations. Blizzard's titles have worked in a very similar manner since the beginning, and Mists of Pandaria would break a mold. I don't know. It's a little fishy -- but at the same time, can you argue with trademark applications?

Will I be upset if it's the new expansion? Certainly not. I have begun to like the pandaren more ever since this whole rumor started. Maybe this break in the mold is needed for the new era of WoW.

We're slowly running out of the original stories that the World of Warcraft we know has been built on. Maybe, just maybe, the story that lives in the next expansion's title -- be it belonging to the pandaren, Azshara, kvaldir, or anything in between -- is a clean slate approach. Maybe the title will be as foreign to us as it is to everyone else -- a great equalizer, a title that makes us all into fresh faces. So now we just have to wait and see if the title, Mists of Pandaria, will be telling any stories.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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