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Blizzard’s Storytelling: Bad or Just Unfair?

story

A lot of times I joking will post stuff from the WoW Forums, or poke fun at the BioWare forums.  I know that really it’s just a festering pool of every inane complaint where the smallest slight is trumped up like a national tragedy, and every idea demands the weight of the cure of cancer, but sometimes… just sometimes…  stuff like THIS pops up.  And it really, REALLY, gets under my skin.

GOOD storytelling isn’t always FAIR storytelling.  Everyone wants their faction to be the heroes and to win the war and come out on top.  There is a reason that Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and Warcraft II had TWO separate endings.  In Warcraft 3, the factions united to drive out the greater threat of the Burning Legion.  In WoW, a game built on continuity to the point where the slightest changed is burned in effigy among the chants of “Retcon! Retcon!” that the former option is impossible, and the latter has been done to death in every expansion.

Now you are probably grumbling at this point and saying “Oh Vry, so you think the Alliance should just lie down and take it?” Not at all, I will happily go on the record saying that the Alliance seriously should have had more victories, especially in the Eastern Kingdoms.  Honestly a quest line in the barely touched Dustwallow Marsh where the Alliance forged a path into the Southern Barrens by breaking through Horde strongholds would have been nice, since the Horde was busy dealing with the Grimtotem threat in the region to begin with.

FAIR storytelling is what people seem to want.  That special kind of story, where everyone wins, Everything blow is matched for an equal blow, and every loss is always met with an equal gain so that nothing is ever really lost.  I’ve played that game.  It was called SWTOR.  Seriously, go play through both factions stories and you’ll see.  Both Factions “win” Correllia.  Taris and Balmorra are lost and then retaken. And the only reason the Imperial’s are losing (or so we’re told, we never really see much losing going on from the Imp side) is because the Sith keep shooting themselves in the foot with stupid internal power struggles.

Speaking of stupid internal power struggles…  Loremaster Cho points something out that I think is very telling of where this story is going.  The Horde is tearing itself apart from the inside,  every race only concerned with themselves: The Blood Elves feel used and have decided to act on their own,  Sylvanus and her Forsaken have always acted in their own interests, the Goblins are naturally out to make a buck because that’s how goblins are, and even Baine enters the Battlefield Barrens story hesitate to join Vol’jin in open revolt because he must think of the Tauren before the rest of the Horde.  Only Vol’jin and his Darkspears seem to be working for the betterment of the Horde supposedly.  I say that because it’s unclear how much of this revolt is taking back the Horde from Garrosh, and how much is just straight up revenge for his treatment of the Trolls.

The Alliance on the other hand, is uniting together.  Bridges are being built, issues being resolved, and treaties made.  There is something happening with the Alliance.  It’s not just “Yea, we’re IN the Alliance, but we aren’t THE Alliance” anymore.  And while we haven’t seen the payday on this yet, I have no doubt that Blizz is laying the groundworks for SOMETHING with the Alliance.  Heck, the Garrosh storyline took 4 whole expansions to play out in totality.

What Blizzard is doing is GOOD storytelling.  They’re laying the foundations and foreshadowing events, they are establishing characters and their relationships, and the events that unfold make sense in the greater narrative.  I’m not going to say that Blizzard’s storytelling is PERFECT, and hardly what I would call FAIR, but it is most definitely GOOD.  There’s lots of hiccups here or there, or plot lines that vanish for months/years before resolving that drive me nuts.  But I always remember that storytelling in an MMO is very different from how you tell a story in a single player game, and definitely different from how you tell a story in a book.  Compared to some MMOs I’ve played, they’ve definitely got a good story going.  Compared to others, it’s still a bit lack luster but fits for the style of game they’re making.

Personally, I’d rather have a good story than a fair one.  But maybe that’s why I don’t pour out my frustration and bile onto the forums. (Besides, I have a blog for that)

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Telling the Tale: Reflecting on Wrath

Running from the Robot

Eat your heart out, Michael Bay.

In case you didn’t know, Loremaster is the end goal for every max level toon I’ve ever had.  To date, I have three toons with the uber-nerd-tasti-fied title, and each time is more enjoyable than the last.  Considering I did it the first time Pre-Cata before there were add ons to tell you what quests you’ve missed, ‘more enjoyable’ is easy to accomplish.  This last trip around the wide world of Azeroth, I decided to finish with Northrend.  I have fond memories of this expansion.  If you asked me a month ago why, I probably would have simply chuckled and said it was pointless nostalgia.  But it isn’t.  There is something different in the cold winds of Northrend.  Something that has helped me close in on the very issue with Cataclysm that has been banging around in the back of my head since I first got to 85.

Wrath of the Lich King excelled in one magnificent thing above all others in my book.  My book of course being the one that says a good story trounces over balance issues, bad design, and buggy gameplay.  I’ve been known the overlook some nasty problems with games in my day for the sake of story.  In this age of “We’ll release the game and patch it later”, it has proven to be a necessary ability.  I’m willing to work around the Silverite Mine bug in Dragon Age that deletes your inventory because I want to see what happens.  I don’t care if every cave in Dragon Age 2 is identical because I’m not there to explore caves, I’m there for the plot… and Merrill.  You get my point.  And if there was one thing that I will defend Wrath of the Lich King it was its story.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Cataclysm’s storylines.  Becoming the Herald of the Ancients and ushering in their return to save the World Tree from the forces of Ragnaros and Twilight’s Hammer.  Aiding the Earthen Ring in repairing the World Pillar and confronting all the various factions that operate in the Plane of Earth.  Though I must say helping throw a dwarven wedding beats out enlisting the Dragonmaw into the Horde.  Cataclysm had well told storylines.  The problem was they really didn’t have anything to do with each other.  Nothing that happens in Hyjal has any significance to the events in Uldum.  No one in the Twilight Highlands seems to care about what occurred in the depths of Vash’jir.  In fact, the only consistent threads through the five zones are strictly thematic in nature: the elements, the end of the world, etc.  That has been my biggest issue in Cataclysm, that the major plot seems thematic instead of narrative.  By which I mean there is no ‘overarching story’ to the expansion, just an ‘overarching theme’.  It’s like the Final Fantasy series.  Each game has its own plot, and each game tends to touch on the same general themes, but aside from the rare occasion (X & X-2, Tactics & XII), there is nothing story-wise connecting the games.

In Wrath of the Lich King however, the story was structured so that some plot threads resolved in the zone, and others built throughout the continent.  For instance, Yogg-Saron is first hinted at in the gorge in the Howling Fjords, it is not given a name until the Grizzly Hills, we are given glimpses of its influence and power in Storm Peaks and Icecrown, and we finally face off with the beast in the Ulduar raid.  Same with Loken and his meddling behind the war behind the giants and the iron dwarves.  There are many more: The development of the New Plague, the plight of the Taunka, the Nexus War, discovering the ancestry of the Gnomes,and  the various misadventures of the Brothers Bronzebeard.  These are on top of the normal zone specific plot lines that are going on.

Everything seems so connected in Northrend.  The same spirit has been extended to many plotlines in the revised 1-60 experience as well (In Ashenvale, you help design and build the bomb you drop on the druids in Stonetalon).  But not in the 80-85 part of Cataclysm.  The strongest narrative tie is probably that the Molten Front serves as a ‘sequel’ to what happened in Hyjal, but that is more or less the same zone.  Burning Crusade had a similar issue, but even then there were a small handful of plotlines that would pop up here and there, like Pathaleon the Calculator’s experiments for his master, the Blood Elf dependence on finding a new power source, etc. But in the end, because of this strong narrative thread, Northrend is much more enjoyable for me to level through than Burning Crusade and Cataclysm.

In summary: Yes, thus far Wrath was my favorite expansion.  No, it didn’t have anything to do with anything being “easy mode”. Yes, Merrill is adorable. No, I am not wearing lederhosen for Brewfest.

Villainy 101 (with Arthas & Friends)

Back before Wrath of the Lich King had even hit store shelves, Blizzard made a lot of talk about how it wanted to correct certain mistakes from The Burning Crusade.  Blizzard, the ever evolving, was learning! This was something I’ve always admired in their dedication to the magnum opus of a MMO.  Granted, not everyone enjoys every single change (Insert: Catering to the casuals! DKs are OP!) but the fact that they try is more than some companies can say (I’m still waiting for my Ultimate Doom on Xbox 360 to get patched to NOT crash at the end of Episode 2.) but one of their most boastful changes to WotLK from BC was fixing the issue with Illidan (who I’ll probably get around to talking about at some point) and make sure that Arthas is an upfront villain from the get-go.  That Arthas would be a constant presence as we went through Northrend.  However, at some point during this Arthas became a mustache-twirling evil-overlord-list-breaking villain that Snively Whiplash would frown at.

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