The next race to become the top guild in World of Warcraft has officially begun. Mogu'shan Vaults, the first raid zone of the Mists of Pandaria expansion pack, is now available on Normal difficulty.

"The mogu, proud of their supremacy, kept lengthy records of their accomplishments within a great complex of vaults," says Blizzard of the new zone. "Guarded by ferocious magical beings, these sacred chambers have remained silent since the mogu's departure."

Players will find six different bosses to test their mettle. They'll get a variety of top-of-the-line gear by defeating these foes. As usual, the raid is playable with either 10 players or 25.

The Heroic (a.k.a. hard mode) isn't available today. Instead, it will be unlocked on October 9th. That's the same day that the first half will be available through Raid Finder difficulty (essentially a cross-server easy mode). The second half of Mogu'shan will be available in LFR on October 16th.

Blizzard has two other raids planned for release this month. The normal mode of Heart of Fear and Terrace of Endless Spring will go live on October 30th. Heroic and LFR difficulties will be available the following week.

For the previous expansion pack Cataclysm, Blizzard didn't stagger the release of content. Instead, all three launch raids were available at launch on both Normal and Heroic difficulty. As a result, guilds across the world raced to level up, gear up, and then plow through all of the content. It sounds pretty awful.

By staggering the Pandaria raids' release, Blizzard is giving guilds a bit of a breather. They had a full week to level to the new cap of 90 and prepare for the raids. I imagine many subscribers still played non-stop anyway, but still. Blizzard at least gave them the option to relax.

The phased release of the raids should prolong players' interest in the new expansion as well. Subscriber numbers for MMOs tend to dip after player finish the available content and are waiting for the new content to release. By implementing the expansion's raids in installments, Blizzard should be able to keep players engaged over a longer period of time.

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