Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Went Wrong with Theramore’s Fall

Or: Therafail – Where’s My Story?

by J. Adams

Warning: Spoilers!

I play World of Warcraft (WoW). I have played World of Warcraft since December 2004, which means I’ve paid $1394.07 (jumps to $2788.14 with my wife playing too) in monthly subscription fees, $639.92 in Collector’s Edition (CE) costs (4 expansions for which we purchased a copy of the CE each, including the next one), and countless hours actually spent playing the game; though that’s a number I’m not particularly willing to calculate because it might end up being extremely depressing. Warcraft itself has become a massive intellectual property – it has spawned action figures, a Collectible/Tradeable Card Game (C/TCG), novels, manga, American comics, and websites dedicated to the lore, gameplay, and number crunching (also known as “theorycraft(ing)”). In short, Activision Blizzard (formerly just Blizzard) has created one heck of a juggernaut and, as such, is subject to high expectations from a massive player base.

The newest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, released on September 25th and, among other things, promised a return to the “Orcs versus Humans” (or “Horde versus Alliance”) that dominated the original Warcraft games since back in 1994 when  Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was first released. As has been their wont for the last few years, the expansion was preceded by the release of a new novel by Christie Golden Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, that supposedly details the buildup of tension leading to the reintroduction of the Alliance v. Horde conflict the original game was known for. Those of us who have played over the course of multiple expansions are no strangers to novel releases that coincide with these expansions; Cataclysm was preceded by The Shattering, also by Christie Golden. 

Ah Pandaria -
In addition, the Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm expansions were preceded, by several weeks, by in-game events. For Wrath of the Lich King, the Scourge invaded the capital cities of the Horde and Alliance which provided the impetus for taking the war to Northrend, the new continent introduced for the expansion. Before Cataclysm, there was the Elemental Invasion which introduced the “new” Twilight Cult and provided backstory for the emergence of Deathwing, the dragon that ultimately causes the titular “Cataclysm” that changes the face of Azeroth forever.

For Mists of Pandaria, it was hinted that the leader of the Horde faction was going to do something terrible to one of the capital cities of the Alliance – this event would be the cause of increased animosity between the Horde and Alliance and would lead into the main conflict for the first part of the new expansion. Players were also told that they would be able to experience this event from both a Horde and Alliance perspective after the Tides of War novel released, but until then there wouldn’t be anything revealed on a large scale. The novel was released on August 24, 2012 and, of course, spoilers were posted all over the internet in short order. I personally got my information from these spoilers because I very much dislike Christie Golden’s writing and refuse to buy/borrow the book. There are also a lot of WoW players of the impression that lore (story) for World of Warcraft should take place in World of Warcraft – I am also one of these players.

As noted in the beginning of the article, I have already invested far more time and money than I should probably be admitting into this game, so why should I also be forced – in order to follow the lore and get the whole story – into buying a book by an author I dislike? The bottom line is: I shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, Blizzard did not agree – and here’s how they, in my opinion, showed their contempt for all the players that love WoW and its story but don’t believe they should be forced to invest in other media just to keep the story straight.

On September 17, 2012, the “Battle for Theramore” scenario was released as the pre-expansion event leading up to Mists of Pandaria. The event was hyped as noted above – players were going to see to what depths the Horde leader was going to sink to start a war of extermination against the Alliance, culminating in an atrocity that would wipe an Alliance capital (Theramore) from the face of Azeroth.

Jaina’s Mage Tower in the center of Theramore.
The Horde leader, Garrosh Hellscream, was to lead a massive attack on Alliance holdings on the continent of Kalimdor, obliterating one of the largest military and naval bases on that continent. Beginning with the fall of Northwatch Hold, detailed in the novel – Northwatch Hold is also a main Alliance questing hub in the game for lower level Alliance characters – the Horde army would then advance on the city of Theramore, a city led by one of the more popular Alliance lore characters, Jaina Proudmoore. The battle would be fierce, with the Alliance and its allies sending other major lore characters such as Rhonin Redhair, the leader of the Kirin Tor faction; General Marcus Jonathan of Stormwind, a character that has been standing outside of the city of Stormwind almost since the game was released; Admiral Tarlen Aubrey of Northwatch Hold, a quest-giver for lower level Alliance characters; and Pained, a character that has been associated with Jaina Proudmoore since the game was released to the area to assist in the defense of the city. As detailed in the novel, the attack is, in fact, fierce, but eventually the Horde forces withdraw, which confuses the defenders, until a goblin zeppelin flies over the city and drops a Mana Bomb, enhanced with an artifact known as the Focusing Iris, which obliterates the city and its defenders, with the exception of Jaina herself, in a blast that is the fantasy equivalent of an atomic bomb. 

Great story, right? I thought so – but what I actually experienced on the Alliance side was, to put it as bluntly as possible, disappointing and almost entirely disconnected from what the novel laid out. Entering the scenario, I was treated to a long-distance view of Theramore Isle where the titular city is located. The camera made a couple of passes over the towers and gave a fairly decent view of the city prior to the destruction I was expecting – but within the first 30 seconds, a goblin zeppelin arrives carrying a massive spherical object that looks a lot like a bomb. The captain of the zeppelin proclaims, “We’re gonna turn this place into a sinkhole!” The sphere drops, hits the ground, and explodes, destroying Theramore.

Somebody set us up the bomb…
with no apparent reason.
All the possible ways to actually make this event mean something, all the ways that Alliance players could have been introduced to this, literally, earth-shaking event and…nothing. To a person who knew nothing of the lore from the novel as I described it above, there is no rational explanation as to why this bomb was used to obliterate this city – or where the bomb came from, or who gave the order to have it dropped, or why the order to have it dropped was even given in the first place! A player that isn’t aware of that lore has no reason to feel the anger and/or betrayal in the subtext of the entire event. All the emotion that could have been evoked from a well-told story is wasted. The real introduction to the escalation of the Horde/Alliance conflict doesn’t even take place in the game that it will be changing.

Keep in mind that this is only from the perspective of an Alliance player. I don’t have a max-level Horde character with which to attempt this scenario, so what I have to go on is hearsay from trusted sources.

Keep in mind that this is only from the perspective of an Alliance player. I don’t have a max-level Horde character with which to attempt this scenario, so what I have to go on is hearsay from trusted sources. 

Speaking of the Horde, other events in the novel encompass meetings with other Horde leaders like Baine Bloodhoof of the Tauren and Vol’jin of the Darkspear trolls. Their meeting was thought to be a secret, but Garrosh manages to crash the meeting toward the end and tell them that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated in the future. Baine, however, has already made a decision that Jaina should be warned of the attack and sends a message to the city advising them of the danger – without Garrosh being aware. Evidently Garrosh has also withheld the reason for this assault from most of the army taking part in the invasion, and the greater portion involved has no idea what is coming. 

In the Horde side of the scenario, the players are in Theramore after a “failed” raid, and they’re required to fight their way out and also rescue a Blood Elf spy who is being held in the basement of the main keep. After completing the objectives, including killing several commanders, blowing up some tanks, and sinking a few ships, the characters rescue the spy who only then tells them that the attack was a ruse – oh, and go through this portal before the goblins drop the bomb or we’re all going to die.

From a lore standpoint, and as someone who loves the story that WoW tells and wants to be part of it as much as the game will allow, I feel this was a horrible, horrible way to bring this event to the game and introduce us to what was happening. However, as a way to preview what the scenarios Blizzard would be bringing to us in the new expansion will be like, it was a nice appetizer and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of them – but I think previewing one of the other scenarios, not  related to such a huge lore event, might have been a better idea.

Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street, the Lead Systems Designer for WoW, had the following to say when asked, “What’s your take on the Theramore event?” during a YouTube interview with Wowcrendor.

“We did not do a great job on messaging. Players expected an event -- but what we were really doing is giving players a preview of scenarios, there are a ton of scenarios coming in Mists of Pandaria. It's saying "this is what scenarios are like", they're a new feature, a way to do content quickly, in your lunch break, to get some more valor or gear.

I think players who understand that it's a scenario preview are enjoying Theramore, while those expecting a world event aren't. Players expecting a huge challenge aren't going to find it in scenarios, challenge modes are more for those players.”

It helps that Ghostcrawler is willing to admit that there was a lack of communication regarding what expectations players should have. I wish it could erase my disappointment over the whole issue. In any case, my anticipation for Mists of Pandaria hasn’t diminished, so next week I’ll be joining several million other adventurers in the initial rush to dominate a new continent.

See you there.

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This

No comments: