5.0 sounds like a lot of fun, but there are two basic things that I think are worth discussing - one is not an issue at all, but has become a problem for the player-base, and the other is an actually sort of a problem but I haven't heard too many people discuss it yet.
First, the thing that might actually be an issue: Is Blizzard reducing Chinese culture to an expansion?
We've seen Blizzard co-opting culture before. Trolls for Caribbean culture, Tauren for Native Americans, the dismal portrayal of Middle-Eastern and African people in the Pygmy of Uldum (down to their gibberish gibbering), the one-dimensional Irish/Scots among the Dwarfs... is this another step in that direction, where a pop-cultural understanding of Chinese and Far-Eastern culture is being stuffed into the Pandaren where we're going to see mildly offensive stereotyping based on fantastical imagery rather than any basis in the reality of that culture?
I can't say, but I do think that Blizzard does a lot of this without thinking about things. I don't think there is a process in Blizzard that filters ideas - I think it goes from design to execution with little conversation in between in terms of thinking about what the impact might be culturally. If there was even a minor conversation in the vein of, "Do we think this might offend the cultural sensibilities of the people involved," we would never have seen the Pygmy, or at least not in that incarnation. Or for that matter, quests in which we torture people, but that's a different topic completely.
The most confusing and unfortunate part of it is that nobody ever calls Blizzard on it, and when they do, the argument is thrown out as it's a game and not meant to be taken seriously.
Well. As a brown person playing the game, I felt a little hurt seeing the Pygmy. I wasn't particularly offended, I wasn't going to stop playing the game, but it just made me wish that Blizzard had taken the time to have a conversation about cultural impact, impression and stereotyping before building those models or designing the race.
And I think the fact that they never even had that conversation is kind of the point I'm trying to make.
Without playing through 5.0, it'll be impossible to tell how the far-eastern culture makes out among the Pandaren, but we'll see.
Next, let's talk about the non-issue: "Pandaren area a joke race, Blizzard is ruining WoW."
The problem isn't with Pandaren, the problem is that it's not Wrath of the Lich King. It's not The Burning Crusade. It's not the Cataclysm. It's not about your world in danger, it's not about a threat, there is no angry, angst-ridden, gritty and horrible antagonist to rage against, and certainly no obvious Gothic elements to be seen. Armor doesn't have skulls and bones on it.
Do you remember the Diablo 3 fiasco with the color pallet issues? This is the same thing in a different vein.
The criticism leveled against MoP is ultimately in the vein of, "This isn't what I like." Now, measure that against a game with walking cows, pig people with crossbows, and gurgling fish men who chase you on land. It isn't about the silly nature of the Pandas, it's their lack of grit.
Pandaria is beautiful. It's breathtaking. There are no ruins, the buildings are alive and open. The landscape isn't scarred by war. The mountains are cloaked in mist. The forests still stand whole and pristine.
After 3 expansions full of war, grit, dirt, blood, and more skulls and bones than you can find in an abattoir, I think the artists were done with those themes and wanted to move on. I think the writers were tired of pushing the same styles of quests. The creative team wanted to stretch its muscle in a way it hadn't before and Pandaria was that venue.
I can't seriously have an issue with that - video games at their purest, are art. Artists don't just repeat and do the same thing over and over - they experiment, they modify, they grow. That's what Blizzard is doing with Warcraft - they're moving on to something completely new, and I'm excited to see how it turns out.
A game doesn't need to be drowned in inches of blood to be good or interesting. People change, stories grow, and the game evolves.
This is a good thing.