Want to have a panda of your very own without any of the typical muss, fuss, or mists traditionally associated with exotic cow-colored bear ownership? Well, you have two options: 1) foist responsibility onto someone else every time it needs anything other than a warm, fluffy hug or 2) play World of Warcraft. I, of course, prefer the first option, but WoW's offering isn't half-bad either. In an upcoming patch, Blizzard plans to remove all expansion-based limits from race selection - including the Pandaren, once Mists of Pandaria launches. You'll find the bear necessities after the bear-ake. (That second one didn't really work, did it? Well that's just unbearab-- [sounds of hurling self out a window].)
Blizzard explained its plan to expand race selection beyond expansions in a blog post:
"With the release of patch 5.0.4, we’re making all the races of Azeroth playable by anyone, no matter which version or expansion of World of Warcraft they own. This includes the enigmatic pandaren, who will become available for play when Mists of Pandaria is released on Tuesday, September 25. We want the entire World of Warcraft community to be able to embrace their inner goblin, blood elf, worgen, draenei, or pandaren from the moment they step foot into the world of Azeroth."
Presumably, this means starter areas for each race will also be open to the un-expanded masses - which is something I strongly endorse, given that the incredible silliness of the goblin opener needs to be experienced by all.
It's also an interesting move, given that I imagine Blizzard - like most videogame companies that live on our commerce-driven plane of reality - probably wants to make money, and giving away one of its expansion's key draws seems a bit counter-intuitive. Maybe it's an attempt to keep more casual players - the ones who don't buy expansions anyway - around and rolling alts (or just rolling) a little longer? I don't know, though. F2P conspiracy theorists, what say you? Subscription numbers have been plummeting at a rate so alarming that even alarms are alarmed, so surely there's something there, right? Maybe? Discuss among yourselves.