Monday, 23 April 2012

Warcraft – World of warcraft

We're at the big one, folks. The most popular MMO to date. Covering an MMO is going to be a bit tricky, as they are rather non-linear. However, covering warcraft stuff and not taking a look at WoW would be like talking about the 20th century and leaving out world war two. Sure, there were other big things, but this is the one everybody talks about.

Making a character
Let's just start at the beginning. Making a character. As the original World of Warcraft is no longer playable, I am unable to provide pictures, so you'll have to imagine those. The character screen gives us the two classical warcraft factions, each with four races.
Alliance: Human, dwarf, gnome, night elf
Horde: Orc, tauren, troll, ogr... wait, they get undead? That's weird. Sure, lands of conflict mentioned that the forsaken had diplomatic relations with the horde, but it also suggests that the alliance would open diplomatic relations as well. Okay, I got to see what this is all about. Let's make an undead dude.

Playing the world
The introductory test says that Sylvanas allied herself with the horde to seek help against her enemies, most notably the human zealots of the scarlet crusade. That's a pretty good reason for her to want an alliance, but what does the horde get out of it? Also, wouldn't the horde forces be too far away to do anything? Maybe playing the game will help me understand.

*five hours later*

Playing through the Undead starting experience, I have learned several interesting things.
  • The undead are seeking to create a new plague.
  • They have constructed secret vaults beneath Undercity, where they store all kinds of forbidden magic, including some sort of old god-related ore.
  • The mages of Dalaran are still around, have sealed off their city and are doing some sort of research.
  • Gilneas has built a giant wall, which they leave completely unguarded, yet somehow stops undead invasions.
However, I still don't get why the horde would help the forsaken, especially considering they would have to kill humans, which Thrall is trying really hard to stay at peace with. I guess I'll have to go look it up. TO THE WIKI PAGES!

Okay, this is what I could gather: Sylvanas sent ambassadors around the world in order to look for allies. The only people who responded were the tauren, who thought that the horde would be able to redeem and/or cure the forsaken. Amongst the tauren, the main person who promoted this idea was Magatha Grimtotem. However, from what I could find, Magatha is not actually a member of the horde, even promoting the idea that the tauren should drive all the 'inferior races' off the continent. But, if she isn't a member of the horde and has publicly spoken against them, how the hell did she get enough say to let a faction join the horde? That just doesn't make any sense.

Fooling around
While the undead story had some big holes in it, that might just be the exception. Let's try out some of the other races first, shall we?

Okay, so I'm starting in northshire abbey. Wait, Northshire Abbey? Wasn't Northshire abbey destroyed during the first game? For that matter, I can't really find any proof of Stormwind or any of the local counties ever having been destroyed, as there are no ruins anywhere. I do really like the Defias storyline though.

Night elf:
Now let me get this straight; The night elf population has split into two factions, the general populace and the druidic Cenarion Circle. The druids of the cenarion circle created a giant druid tree using druid magic. But then the tree got corrupted and now druids are trying to clean it. So why is the general populace living in the giant tree and are the druids living in the old night elf capital, rather than the other way around? And how does this year-old tree have an ancient temple inside of it? I do really like the aesthetics of this place though, feels really elfy.

How come we're still attacking ashenvale? I thought we made a peace agreement with the night elves in warcraft 3. I love the idea behind the new shadow council however.

Wait, why are there hostile dwarves within tauren territory? Don't we have a peace agreement with them? Wait, the dwarves actually blew up a tauren village? What the hell is going on here? The horde and the alliance are clearly still at peace, yet I'm constantly hearing about battles between the two factions.

So the gnomes have nuclear power, automated defence systems, mini-tanks and at least basic computers. So why in the hell were they a fairly minor faction during warcraft I and II? I do really like their capital city though.

As you can see, there's plenty of stuff to comment on, both in the good and bad departments. Let's see if we can break it down to the core issues.

Break down
The bad points are generally going to be more extensive than the good points, since its hard to say “it's good” for three consecutive paragraphs and remain interesting. This does not mean that the negative points have more of an impact than the positive ones.

Good: Everything has a distinct look and feel
I really like the visuals of world of warcraft. Sure, they're not as high-quality as some other games, but they excel in one aspect: making everything distinct. Every zone in the game is instantly recognisable. Almost every culture in the game is visually and thematically distinct. There are some minor exceptions (makrura and gnolls), but most of the game looks great and really feels like a warcraft game.

Bad: The time skip is full of gaps
As mentioned above, there is a ton of stuff that happened between Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. However, you never get to see this, and to figure out what exactly happened for even the most basic events, you have to scour the entire world. And sometimes even that is not enough. There is a number of issues where we still don't know what happened.

The biggest is probably the issue of how in the world the alliance got to its current state. Like in the RPG, the reason for the night elves joining the alliance remains completely unexplained. But now Jaina Proudmoore has suddenly teamed up with the other human nations, despite previously allowing the horde to kill Daelin Proudmoore, her father and king of Kul Tiras, as well as slaughter hundreds of alliance soldiers.

It's also really unclear whether the alliance and horde are at peace and who exactly belongs to each faction. Sometimes the forsaken are treated as part of the horde, while other times they are simply mentioned as allied with the horde. There are also three factions on each side called horde/alliance forces, which are actively waging war over certain areas, yet in other places it is mentioned that the horde and alliance are still at peace.

Good: Extensive backstory
Though the backstory is often hard to find, it is very, very extensive. Seriously, its huge. About 10,000 years of history, 3 games, several books and an RPG form the backstory outside of this game, while inside the game, there are at least 5000 quests, each with their own text, often providing new information. And, while we're at it, the backstory isn't half-bad either.

Bad: Major missing factions
There are several major factions that aren't just physically absent from the game, but also never have any actions mentioned.

The biggest of these is probably Kul Tiras, which is supposed to be the second most powerful human nation. While the marines that Daelin Proudmoore brought with him are included in the game, the horde is free to kill them despite having a peace agreement with the alliance (which includes Kul Tiras). The missing Kul Tiras gets absolutely ridiculous in the expansions, where every time there is a meeting between the alliance leaders the leader of Kul Tiras is missing. Some people speculate that Jaina Proudmoore is now the leader of Kul Tiras, but, while she shows up to the meetings, its clearly only as an advisor to the king of Stormwind (which also makes little sense, considering she would still be the ruler of the independent city of Theramore), rather than as an equal.

There is also a conspicuous absence of goblins. Supposedly, they are divided between five cartels, each led by a trade prince. Each cartel is its own world-spanning trade empire. However, throughout the entirety of the original world of warcraft, only the steamwheedle cartel appears. Would it really have been that hard to have the major goblin cities in the game belong to different cartels? They already have separate reputation systems, so its not like it would have been hard to implement.

And finally, the dark trolls are completely absent.. They weren't that important in the previous games either, but a contingent of them did show up to help in the final mission of warcraft III.

These four points allow us to to describe the problems with the story of world of warcraft in a single statement: While the universe is really interesting, the story often feels disconnected from what happened previously. This is actually something that pervades almost every single warcraft product that comes out after this date, but we'll get to that.

I think a big cause of this problem is the RPG, which was still considered either canon or a big source of inspiration for the development of World of Warcraft. Now the later books were written when world of warcraft was already in production, so its likely that world of warcraft influenced those rather than the other way around. But the first few books were written when TFT was still being produced and very little of that game actually made it in the RPG. Which probably explains why World of Warcraft seems especially disconnected from that game. Of all the units and buildings introduced in TFT, I think only the faerie drake, the draenei and the naga siren and myrmidon got any representation in World of Warcraft. Garrithos' new alliance, which should have some remnants or lasting impact, has completely vanished. What happened to Sylvanas' mind-controlled minions? Why are there no golems if they were so prominent in Warcraft III? Why are there no ancients of wonders or trees of life? All of these problems can be traced back to the RPG.

Now that's not to say the RPG is the only thing to blame. Game mechanics are in the way as well. Characters in an MMORPG cannot move around the world, so they can't influence the story that used to revolve around them. I think Jaina was the biggest victim of this, as without her role of leading the alliance, all she had left was her pro-activeness, which went out the window as well due to this limitation. Plus, the possible in-game quests were really limited, so 90% of the quests were in the vain of "Kill 20 raptors".

Though it wasn't all bad of course. World of Warcraft introduced many of the most endearing and enduring elements of warcraft lore. The riding raptors saw their first introduction in this game, as did silly gnome moustaches, the elemental lords and the dark iron dwarves. While World of Warcraft wasn't perfect, it certainly wasn't the worst thing that could or would happen to warcraft either.

In the end
World of warcraft has a lot of problems, there is no sense in denying this. However, it also contains enough good stuff to make me positive about the game as a whole. Since the experience will heavily differ from person to person, I can't really give it a grade, just the description of 'pretty good'. Next time, we'll take a look at... erm... I don't know. We'll probably need to take a look at some of the books or the second edition RPG before delving into the burning crusade. I'm also looking to do some non-warcraft stuff. Feel free to make suggestions and I'll see you next time.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Warcraft - the original games

Before we move on to the books, world of warcraft or the second edition of the RPG, we should talk a bit about the RTS games. There are mainly a few things I want to address regarding Warcraft III, but I will talk briefly about the earlier games as well

Warcraft: Orcs & Humans
Warcraft originally started as Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and that title is pretty much all you need to know. Evil orcs, having extinguished all life on their own world, have been summoned by the dark wizard Medivh. Now, they ride against the valiant humans of Azeroth. Warcraft I was nothing if not generic, but its still a fun game to play, even if it shows its age.

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
Warcraft II's story picks up six years after Orcs & Humans. It seems that, to the collective surprise of players everywhere, the orcs had won the war of the first game. However, they still hadn't fought their greatest battle. It seems Azeroth had only been a single nation out of many, its survivors fleeing north to seek for new allies. Since then, both factions have been building up forces for a new war.

And what a war it is. Both factions throw more and more into the battle, seeking new allies to aid them. The orcs ally themselves with the trolls of Zul'dare and the goblins of Kezan, as well as bringing more ogres to aid them in battle. They have raised the dead knights of the first war as death knights and have taken the dragon queen captive to force her children into battle. The humans meanwhile have formed the alliance. And as more and more nations feel threatened, more join. The elves of Silvermoon, the dwarves of Ironforge, the mages of dalaran, the ingenious gnomes and the dwarven gryphon riders of Northeron all band together to form a single unified fighting force. If warcraft II has anything going for it, its the sheer scale. The war is waged across an entire continent and you really get the feeling that the fate of the entire world is at stake (the entire world, in this game, being what is now known as the eastern kingdoms).

Warcraft II is a great game, there is no doubt about it. Of all three warcraft strategy games, it is probably the one with the least retcons. It also received an expansion, known as 'beyond the dark portal', which was similarly epic, with Ner'Zhul, a mighty orcish warlock, attempting to open gates to new worlds for his legions to conquer. However, warcraft II was still a standard fantasy setting. Evil orcs, trolls, goblins and dragons, fighting against the goodly humans, elves, gnomes and dwarves. In warcraft III, this would all change.

Warcraft adventures: Lord of the clans
Some of you may be wondering what the hell this section is all about. After all, there were only three warcraft games before world of warcraft, right? Well, not exactly. Lord of the clans is the warcraft game that never was. It was intended as an adventure game, following the story of Thrall, a young orc slave, and his attempt to free the orc people from what he saw as imprisonment. The game was cancelled about half-way through production, with concerns about its quality cited as the reason. However, when designing warcraft III, it was decided that the events from Lord of the Clans needed to have happened to give warcraft III the proper starting point. That is where Christie Golden, one of my favorite writers, came into the picture. She was hired to novelize the events of the lord of the clan game, though some parts of the game were removed. While reading the book is not required to understand the events of Warcraft III, it does add a lot to the story.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
If I covered everything I would like to cover about warcraft III, we would be here for several hours. Let's just say that it is a very, very good game. However, there are a few specific topics I'd like to address because they come up in WoW.

The beginning
Part of Warcraft III's strength is that it is very easy to get into the story. It really just starts out as a normal fantasy story. Hell, the characters are as cookie-cutter as you can get.
Hero dude (aka Arthas Menethil): Hot blonde prince. Knight (or paladin) in training. Strong and capable, but overly rash. Always looking to prove himself.
Generic Mentor (aka Uther the Lightbringer): Wise old paladin who has seen the ravages of war (he's a character from warcraft II). He's strong and confident, but never overly so.
Obvious love interest (aka Jaina Proudmoore): Hot blonde princess. Powerful mage who is, for some reason, still a student.
The story only keeps these stereotypes for a few missions, but it's enough to really ease the player into the adventure. After that, the characters start breaking their molds. Arthas has to go further and further to stop the undead plague that is overwhelming his lands and loses his soul and free will to the undead horde in the process. Uther clings to his values even when the course of action he should take is a darker one and tries to stop Arthas before it is too late. Jaina is utterly disgusted by one of Arthas actions and runs off. More on that later.

Warcraft III really manages to build the threat of the villains by actually having them succeed at the stakes of the previous game. Where the horde failed to destroy Silvermoon, the scourge burns right through it. Where the horde offensive was broken at Lordaeron, Arthas tore it apart from the inside. Where the horde failed to take Dalaran, the burning legion turns it into ash. The alliance has fallen, with only a few members surviving the onslaught. Many of the factions we didn't see, like Alterac and Stormwind, were already destroyed in Warcraft I and II (in the case of stormwind, in both). The remaining factions (Kul Tiras, Gilneas and Dun Morogh) are isolated, and not strong enough to stand on their own. Quite simply put, the eastern kingdoms are dead. They do not have enough strength to relevant to the coming conflict. This makes the final battle, where all three major factions finally band together, so much more epic.

I like these guys
Every main character from reign of chaos is likable and you understand their choices, even if they lead to dark paths, like they did for Grom and Arthas. So you're really rooting for the good guys by the end of the game. My personal favorite was Jaina Proudmoore, generic love interest who hijacked Arthas' position as main human character when the plot wasn't looking, and only alliance hero left alive by the end of the story. The game also makes great use of characters from previous games, most notably Uther the Lightbringer and Grom Hellscream, both of whom get expanded personalities and act as mentors to younger generation. Everyone in the story has flaws that make them feel more real, but they're not always obvious. Jaina doesn't have enough force of personality to sway any of the alliance leaders. Thrall is too trusting, and the freedom he gives Grom only leads to trouble. Tyrande is stubborn, refusing to ask for help, even when her nation is about to fall. Malfurion is too stuck in his own values, thinking that the druidic magic is all that is necessary for victory. I could go on like this for a while, but these four are the most important, as they end as leaders of the three surviving factions on Kalimdor, and should be the most important come next game.

Now is it perfect?
Warcraft III, while good, is certainly not perfect. Let's make clear that a game does not have to have achieved perfection for me to genuinely enjoy it. 

The most obvious problem with Warcraft III is that there is a gap in the story during the orc campaign, during which a few missions that were included in a demo took place. During this demo, Thrall befriended a tribe of jungle trolls by saving them from a sea witch. However, when the game actually came out, the demo missions weren't included, leaving Thrall with a disparaging remark towards trolls in one mission, and unexplained troll allies a few missions later. And I also know that several other missions were removed from the other campaigns as well, so its not like it would be impossible to make all campaigns 13 missions rather than 10.

Something that isn't as much a problem as it is just a missed opportunity is that the campaigns rely solely on the units that are available in the normal melee maps, rather than making some of the campaign or beta units available. There are dozens of units that don't really fit in a balanced melee map, but would have been fun to play around with and could have been used to flesh out the subfactions a bit. Why not give Maiev trainable assassins, sentries and owl bears rather than the normal night elf archers, huntresses and dryads? Why not let Grom Hellscream command orcish warlords rather than witch doctors? I know the models and animations for all these units were already completed, either for the campaign or for earlier builds, so its a shame they weren't used to their full potential. Well, to be fair, they did do this a few times. In the undead campaign, the blackrock clan is made up of members of the old horde, with ogres, goblins and dragons. And in TFT, the blood elf campaign was probably the most memorable because it used this to its fullest, giving playable naga, draenei and blood elf units rather than the standard humans. So it's a bit weird they didn't do this for the other campaigns.

Though Warcraft III is not perfect, it is still one of the best games I ever played. Will World of Warcraft live up to its predecessor, or will it be left in the dust?  We will find out next time.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Warcraft - Shadows&Light

Now, we tackle the final book in the warcraft RPG; Shadows&Light. I'm skipping the usual introduction for now, in order to talk about the title and the cover.

Those of you with a bit of knowledge about warcraft lore would probably guess that the book is about divine magic, with the light of the holy light and the shadow of the burning legion and the scourge referenced in the title, while the cover portrays the third major religion; the night elf worship of ancient guardians. That's incorrect!. Well, a few others of you may think, maybe its about the elves? The shadow representing the night elves and the light representing the high elves and blood elves. You're also wrong. So, what is this book about? Epic level (over level 20) adventuring. You go figure out how that ties to Malfurion being thought druidism.

So, epic-level adventuring. For the people here that don't play RPG games; The normal rules of 3rd edition dungeons & dragons (the ones used here and my personal favorite) only go up to level 20. At this level, the players have reached the apex of mortal power. If they continue adventuring, they will face things that no mortal ever could. They will travel amongst the stars/different planes and battle the gods themselves.

Epic-level enemies were included back in manual of monsters, giving statistics for most of the major villains on Azeroth. This book expands on those rules, also giving statistics for the various heroes, gods and everything in between. Let's not wait any longer.

Chapter one: Epic Warcraft
This book expands upon the core classes that are exclusive to warcraft. the healer, the runemaster, the scout and the tinker, as well as giving the epic levels for the various prestige classes.

Epic core classes
Epic class levels provided less additional benefit than normal class levels, as you've mastered roughly everything that your class has to offer at level 20. Instead, they offer small benefits, like bonus feats, and improvements on existing class abilities.
Epic healer: Still a dumb name, considering the epic healer can most likely destroy entire cities at this point. Epic healers only get bonus feats, which include all the item crafting feats (finally giving us some divine magic items).

Epic runemaster: Mostly gains melee bonus feats (focusing more on the monk part of the class), as well as stronger senses and continuing to slowly expand his knowledge of runes.

Epic scout: Becomes a silly name at epic levels, considering the scout is unlikely to do any actual scouting at this point. The epic scout becomes better at healing and detecting traps, as well as getting bonus feats focusing on movement or battling casters.

Epic tinker: Has a really tiny bonus feat list, with only 6 feats on it. Also gets better at scavenging equipment.

Epic prestige classes
Only includes rules for 6 prestige classes, 5 from the core rules and 1 from the alliance&horde compendium. There are 12 prestige classes in the core rules alone, with another 8 in alliance&horde compendium, 8 in magic&mayhem and 4 in lands of conflict. While I'm not arguing that every class needs epic levels, the choices made are a bit weird. Why include the marksman, but not the shaman? Why isn't there a single technological epic prestige class? The description of the prestige classes themselves is fine, and there is little I could comment on, so lets move on.

Epic feats
The feats themselves are decent, bringing a few new feats, as well as adding a lot of improved versions of old feats. It also includes a few feats for prestige classes that didn't get a description in the previous section, so its good to see them get some love as well.

Chapter two: Legends
I haven't really mentioned any of the short stories included in the various books thusfar. Every chapter starts with a small story. Most stories are uninteresting, confusing or just okay. However, the one included here is fairly amusing. Its about an orc visiting the valley of heroes, a bridge in stormwind where great heroes of the alliance have statues. He argues with the stormwind guard about who else should get a statue, mentioning several horde heroes and Jaina Proudmoore. When it is revealed that there only is room for one more statue, the guards argue whether it should be Anduin Lothar or Uther the Lightbringer, with the orc saying it should be Orgrim Doomhammer, causing a fight. It's well written and has some impact on the world, with World of Warcraft revealing the actual outcome, with Anduin Lothar getting a statue.

The chapter itself gives statistics for a large amount of the important characters of azeroth, including dead ones. The only ones that I'm missing from the list are Brann Bronzebeard and Rexxar. The chapter itself is well-written, with only a few small errors, like Arthas killing Muradin before taking frostmourne and forgetting to mention Archimonde is dead. I especially like Jaina Proudmoore's description, doing justice to my favorite character from Warcraft III. The illustrations in this chapter are made by a very large group of artists, with no artist doing more than 3 pictures, resulting in a very wide range of styles and quality. I do have to object to the portrayal of females in this book, not because of gender equality issues, but just because their pictures don't fit:

Maiev has become impossibly thin with her arms over-proportioned. Also, what the hell is going on with her hair?
Tyrande somehow wears even smaller clothing than in Warcraft III and looks like she is 16 years old.
Alleria has good proportions, but she looks much more like a night elf than a high elf due to the shading of her skin and the tattoos under her eyes. Also, that pose is terrible for shooting arrows, even if you were actually looking the right way and had your eyes open.

Chapter three: Eternals
What's this? The RPG writers noticing the warcraft universe does not have the same kind of gods as other fantasy universes? Astounding! This chapter gives an overview of the various godlike beings of the warcraft universe.

Ancient guardians
It adds a lot of depth to each of the Ancient guardians. The illustrations of the chapter are pretty good, though I can only call Azshara's porno-riffic (don't think I should post it here). I especially like the description of Aviana, messenger of the gods who was granted so much power by individual eternals that she eventually became their equal. The only description I have an issue with is Elune, which states that high elven magic made the human nations crumble into chaos right before the first war. And, on the more amusing side of things, Ursoc apparently made alewells, which I can only guess are moonwells filled with ale. The dwarves would love that guy.

Dragon aspects
The dragon aspects get great descriptions and a great expansion upon their backstory. The images are good, but don't always fit the images, like Malygos, who is described as looking long and serpentine (like an eastern dragon), but just looks like a normal dragon in the picture. The descriptions sometimes contradict the manual of monsters descriptions, but I'd call them improvements in all cases.

The elemental lords
Great descriptions, though I am happy they changed the design for al'akir later on. Tornado-dude looks rather silly.

The titans
The first real explanation of the titans in warcraft lore and a great first outing. Statistics are given for the two races of titan and their most prominent member. The chapter reveals several odd things about the history of Azeroth. The demons apparently attacked the world when it first formed, and the dragonflights were empowered to defend against them. Sargeras ultimate goal is actually azeroth itself, trying to absorb the limitless energy of the well of eternity. Which makes me scratch my head. The well of eternity, in the RPG, is the source of all arcane magic on Azeroth. However, demons, which are not from azeroth, mainly use arcane magic as well, meaning that there must be other wells of eternity. So why would Sargeras care so much about absorbing just another well?

Chapter four: Cosmology
This chapter describes the cosmology of the warcraft universe, which planes of existence exist, and how they relate to one another, as well as giving us the history of their study. This chapter is only a few pages long, and should have been combined with the next chapter, since they're about the exact same subject.

Chapter five: The planes
Meet the planes! The space beyond Azeroth.

The elemental realm: Very different from the one seen in WoW, with the four elements forming sort of their own planet. The fire realm is at the bottom of the world, Water and earth cover the surface and the air realm makes up the top. It was actually made by the titans back when they first shaped Azeroth to imprison the elementals. The main issue I have here is that there really is nothing to link the elemental realm to shamanism, which invokes the elemental powers. The realms also use the monster lists from dungeons and dragons, which doesn't always work as well, especially for the wish-granting djinni.

The emerald dream: The realm of the dreaming druids, the primal world. It's pretty much what you'd expect, though the writer apparently thought that civilization is responsible for fights between animals, as all they do is 'enjoy their freedom' (and yes, predators are confirmed as living in the emerald dream).

Outland: Finally, a look at outland in the RPG. The number of blood elves is apparently really low, as they aren't represented at all in the random encounter charts, while the draenei, who are also close to extinction, are. There are apparently still active portals on outland, which makes me wonder why Kil'jaeden hasn't sent a few thousand doomguard to take care of Illidan.

Twisting Nether: The realm that separates realms. Its population is again made up from dungeons and dragons monsters. It works a bit better than for the elemental realm, but the force dragons and prismatic dragons really shouldn't be on the list (why not just use nether dragons instead?). Also, the dreadlords apparently lease their infernals to others. And there are fel stalkers with buzz-saws attached to their head. This chapter gets a bit silly.

Appendix one: Spells and Magic items
The new spells are mostly focused on magic for powerful demons. The new items are the ones used by the various gods and heroes of azeroth. However, the item descriptions don't actually mention who owns the items, meaning you have to cross-reference everything.

The last outing of the RPG is definitely the strongest. It provides plenty of new lore, contains far fewer minor errors than the previous books and there is little more content that I could have expected from it. However, the illustrations are occasionally low quality and the descriptions of the realms can get kind of stupid. Still, it's a solid 7,5.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Warcraft – Lands of Conflict

Warcraft – Lands of Conflict
And we finally get to the most famous of the books; Lands of Conflict. This book details the travels of Brann Bronzebeard and his assessment of the eastern kingdoms, hoping to convince Jaina and Thrall to take it back from the scourge. Writing it from the perspective of a character is a good idea, and unlike magic & mayhem, they actually act on it. Everything is written from the perspective of Brann, with the exception of the sidenotes, which give statistics, rules and hints for players.

Chapter one – History & Culture
The history chapter gives us the history of warcraft. Unlike the core rules, however, this book gives us a few new details, and it is written from a completely different perspective, with little knowledge about the events on Kalimdor. Because it's written from the perspective of a dwarf, it gives us a nice look at their history, as well as the history of their close allies, the humans. It also gives us information on how to play campaigns in earlier eras of warcraft history.

Several of the odder elements of the RPG, like the conflicts with the elves or the bad view everyone has of arcane magic are finally explained in a satisfactory manner, without actually making either seem evil on its own. Surprisingly, it skips entirely over the first two wars between orcs and humans, as it couldn't really bring anything new.

The second part of the chapter focuses on culture. Bartering and coinage (and how Brann paid for his travels through the ruined remains of lordaeron with a bag of fish hooks, whetstones and candles), languages, settlements and goblin trading posts.

Finally, it gives us a more detailed timeline. The only complaints I have about this chapter are in this part. It restates the fact that arcane magic was an accident, and, for some odd reason, there is 2900 years between the founding of Quel'thalas and the construction of the sunwell. There is again a bit of weird history regarding The Frozen Throne, with the order of events being completely garbled and the blood elves joining for magic rather than being saved from genocide. Can the writers really not play through the campaign at least once?

Chapter two – Azeroth
This chapter covers the lands of Azeroth (the subcontinent, not the planet). Unlike Kalimdor, the horde and the alliance are still at odds in these lands.

The blasted lands – The blasted lands were the place where the orcish horde first entered Azeroth. Now, it is populated by the brutish dreadmaul ogres, demons and draenei refugees. The only thing keeping these creatures from spreading is the small alliance fortress of nethergarde, populated primarily by mages. The dark portal has apparently been recently rebuilt, but I have no idea how, by who, or why the mages and paladins that guard it haven't started tearing it down yet.

The burning steppes – Lands destroyed by the war of the three hammers, it is the largest outpost of the old horde, with a small population of orcs still waging war against stormwind. This is also the first place where the issue of population really props up. This book gives population counts for each region and every village, and frankly, the numbers that are given are utterly silly. Blackrock deeps, the capital of the dark iron dwarves, has a listed population of only 300, while blackrock spire has a population of only 450.

Deadwind pass – Basically, the place is grey and it sucks to live in. It was where Medivh used to live. There is also apparently a population of nomadic humans who refuse to acknowledge the alliance or ask for help agains the ogres that populate the region. Hell, the resources of the region are listed as death and terror.

Duskwood – This region has a lot of trouble with the undead, which surprises me a bit. The listed population of undead is only 250, with 1000 ogres and 3750 alliance folk in the region. While 250 undead is indeed dangerous, it stretches disbelief for this small number to terrorize and corrupt an entire region. Also, I wonder how the undead got here. They are explicitly scourge undead, but the scourge started in northrend and doesn't seem to have spread beyond the continent of Lordaeron. Indeed, they cannot be found in any of the other areas of azeroth.

Elwynn forest – Why the hell are there 300 wildhammer dwarves living here? A population of 10000 alliance folk is starting to stretch the limits of my disbelief a bit. The kingdom of stormwind was sacked during the second war only 25 years ago. Yeah, they could have done some rebuilding since then, but its a bit weird for such a large population to live here again. With the population of duskwood and the blasted lands, thats almost 15000 humans, and an earlier text implied a large amount of humans in westfall as well.

Redridge mountains – Again, 120 wildhammer dwarves living here. Weren't those guys supposed to be solitary? Redridge has a bit more believable population, with 1800 alliance folk living there. It also becomes apparent here that the population list is very much incomplete. Apparently, the region has a lot of trouble with gnolls, but they aren't even listed in the given population.

Stormwind – I... I think I need new glasses. Does this book list the population as 200,000? That's... That's utterly ridiculous. There's also a hilariously large number of 2000 night elves living here, despite the fact that these guys do no see themselves as allies of Jaina (and thus the night elves). The rest of the subcontinent only has a listed population of 44,000. The rest of the eastern kingdoms only has a listed population of 275,000, and that's counting the undead. Also, the city map uses the map of World of Warcraft. Without scaling any part. Meaning that the royal quarters take up one-sixth of the city. Also, a day of mourning is set aside for the high elves, honoring the destruction of Dalaran. Apparently, the high elves feel really sorry about the loss of a human city, ignoring the destruction of their homelands. Stormwind is also sometimes attacked by harpies, which means those girls got really strong wings, needing to fly over half the world to get there and all. Also, I have to agree with Brann on one part; Why are you keeping the demons, ogre mages and other nightmares alive within your city prison? The entire section just feels silly. It was clearly written with information from WoW, but adds a lot of stupidity, not understanding the concept of scaling. It also adds the question of why stormwind has such a shortage of soldiers, to the point it can't send any troops to regions except elwynn, which isn't under any real threats. The listed enemies in duskwood, redridge and westfall are only 3000 in total, and with only 2 strongholds, one between redridge and the burning steppes, the other between duskwood and deadwind, the lands would be permanently safe. What threat are the stormwind soldiers actually fighting that is more important than the scourge, the old horde or the defias brotherhood?

Stranglethorn vale – Why are there 1000 darkspear trolls living in stranglethorn vale? Aren't those guys supposed to live on the other side of the world? I honestly don't understand why the horde would build an outpost in this territory. It's probably for the sake of World of Warcraft, but its still stupid. Couldn't they have added another goblin town instead? Also, it's been a few thousand years since the destruction of the gurubashi empire. Have the trolls still not started rebuilding any ruins?

Westfall – Brann is not at all sympathetic to the Defias Brotherhood, despite having worked along with the stonemasons to reconstruct stormwind. It's actually a fun bit of personal history, though it also reveals that, apparently, all the stonemasons were paid individually, rather than as a group, which is a very, very weird business practice. Also, rebuilding stormwind apparently took only 6 months. Without using mages. Westfall's description is itself pretty decent, though it again highlights the absurdity of stormwind not having troops to spare, with only 300 soldiers guarding the entirety of westfall.

Chapter three: Khaz modan
Similar to the Azeroth chapter, but focusing on the subcontinent of Khaz Modan, home of the bronzebeard dwarves.

The introduction says that khaz modan suffered at the hands of the scourge during the third war, but again; There is no scourge presence south of the Thandol Span, except, oddly enough, in duskwood. There is no indication that the plague struck anywhere but lordaeron. The scourge had no reason to conquer khaz modan, only needing control of Quel'thalas and Dalaran to summon the legion.

The Badlands – A large desert home to the ancient titan city of Uldaman. Weirdly enough, this region lists gnolls in its population list, when redridge did not. More population goodness: the dark iron dwarves have a fortress in this region with a listed population higher than their damn capital. Also, this section reveals that all the troggs in Khaz Modan come from Uldaman, awakaned by dwarven prospectors. Aren't the gnomes even the littlest bit angry that the dwarves awakened the people who destroyed their city?

Dun Morogh – About half the inventions on Azeroth are made by dwarves. It's a bit surprising considering the world also has gnomes and goblins, both of which are usually portrayed as more inventive than dwarves (who keep to guns). However, since the book was written by a dwarf, I'm just going to write it off as nationalism. Also, gnome parties are apparently great. Who wants to experience Rhadzi's Whirling Beer Bong? More fun population stuff with no listed trogg population, despite them being listed for the badlands. And this section claims the gnomes awakened the troggs. Luckily, this book has stopped considering 'the mystery of the makers' as a religion, and just has the dwarven religion listed as the holy light.

Grim Batol – Something is hidden here. That's really all the information given.

Ironforge – Like stormwind, the map is copied from World of Warcraft, with no concern for scaling or anything like that.

Loch modan – Can the book please stop listing wildhammer dwarves in every region? They are supposed to be insular. 

The searing gorge – A large blasted landscape, with lava flows that prevent any settlement from being built. However, the article itself also mentions The Cauldron, a massive mine where dark iron slavers force ironforge dwarves, gnolls and ogres to mine. This book is not the most consistent, is it?

The wetlands – Hrm, apparently the remaining dwarven fortresses in the region were destroyed by the scourge during the third war. I'm going to let this slip, as it is fairly close to the continent of lordaeron. The wetlands itself is a large swamp, with little to no resources (though an oddly large population of 25000, making it one of the most populated regions on the continent). Hilariously, the wetlands have a listed dark iron population of 2500, more than in the rest of the world combined.

Chapter four: Lordaeron
The third and final chapter to describe the lands of the eastern kingdoms, this chapter describes the northern-most continent of lordaeron, overrun by demons and undead.

Alterac mountains – the remains of the kingdom of Alterac, destroyed when it betrayed the alliance during the second war. The remaining nobles have formed the syndicate, a roving warband intent on taking as much land as possible. Another major faction are the crushridge ogres, a surprisingly intelligent group of ogres. There is no listed undead population, which makes me scratch my head. What exactly killed most of the population, if not the scourge? Sure, the alliance and the horde fought over the terrain, but the alliance isn't going to kill civilians and the horde was only there for a short period of time, not enough the cleanse the land. Yet the largest human city only has a population of 800 (though it is suggested there may be another one in the uplands).

Arathi highlands – The remains of the kingdom of Strom, mostly destroyed during the second war. There are a few thousand survivors, but for some reason, there is no scourge presence here either. Though they are mentioned as having assaulted and damaged the Thandol Span (wouldn't they want it intact?). It's at least explained why the population here is so low, as many people have traveled to Theramore.

Dalaran – Once one of the seven capital cities of humanity, it was destroyed during the third war. It was retaken by Lord Garrithos during The Frozen Throne, and after his death, it sealed itself off from the rest of the world with a powerful magical barrier, not letting anyone in. I wonder why exactly they have cut themselves off, as Dalaran could really use support from the rest of the alliance.

Eastern plaguelands – Finally, the first mention of the scourge that is supposed to rule this part of the continent. All the scourge in the region are loyal to the lich king (what happened the undead loyal to the burning legion?). Brann says that the human survivors, mostly scarlet crusade, stand no chance against the scourge. Which, again, makes me scratch my head. The undead population is listed as 33000(which is oddly low for their central location in lordaeron). The human population is listed as 9000, all loyal to the crusade. Yeah, the human population is outnumbered, but it is also united in a single army, while the scourge are spread over the region. The humans are a lot stronger individually, and have access to powerful healing and undead-smiting magic. I wouldn't say the win would be easy, but I'd definitely say that the war could go either way. Yet Brann suggests the scarlet crusade doesn't even form the slightest threat to the scourge. The entry also mentions that there demons are still allied with the scourge, which contradicts the events of The Frozen Throne, where the scourge and the burning legion started a war.

Gilneas – Having cut itself off from the rest of the world, Gilneas built a giant wall to keep out enemies. As the wall still stands, it's safe to assume the kingdom is still largely intact. It's weird that the scourge would leave such a nice source of new undead alone, considering the wall is unguarded. However, it is also suggested that Gilneas has been overtaken by the naga.

Hillsbrad foothills – Okay, it's starting to get hard to take the scourge seriously as a threat. This marks yet another region in lordaeron with no scourge presence at all. Even more, it is suggested the scourge never had a presence here, which makes it questionable how they could get to the thandol span.

Hinterlands – And yet another region completely untouched by the scourge, bringing the total to 5. I was happy to see that the high elves were not universally loathed, and at least one writer remembered their connection to nature, making the wildhammer dwarves and the high elves friendly to one another.

Kul tiras – And a sixth region to be completely untouched by the scourge. Kul Tiras is one of the seven human nations, and one of only two to have never fallen (making its low population of 10000 a bit suspect). The book states that the population of Kul Tiras does not know about the death of Daelin Proudmoore or the city founded by Jaina, which makes me wonder why Brann didn't tell them. The entry also makes it clear that the naga are a widespread enough problem to be ingrained into culture, but according to the Frozen Throne, they only first appeared about eleven months before this book took place. The entry also introduces the magical prison of Tol Barad, which should be familiar to any players of WoW. I'm still wondering why human nations seem so intent on taking powerful creatures prisoner.

Silverpine forest – A region fought over by the forsaken, the worgen and the mages of Dalaran. There is little to note about the region, except that it has a very low population, despite not having a scourge presence.

Tirisfal glades – Home of the forsaken and the former capital of Lordaeron. Only the second listed region with a scourge presence and even then it only has a force of 900 in the area.

Undercity – Again, usage of a World of Warcraft map with no concern for scaling. It does clarify that the undercity was made mostly out of crypts and dungeons beneath lordaeron, not just the sewers. Brann actually suggests that the alliance send an ambassador to the undercity. From what he can gather, the forsaken are a divided people, with some just wanting to prove themselves to the humans, while others hate all living. I know the nature of the forsaken is a big debate in World of Warcraft fan circles, but the piece gives little that is not already known. Surprisingly, the undercity has a listed population of 650 non-forsaken undead. No clue who they are supposed to be.

The western plaguelands – The third region with a scourge presence. It is home to the school of necromancy.

Quel'thalas – Quel'thalas is very different from the portrayal in World of Warcraft. The blood elves have burnt down the massive forests of Quel'thalas. The scourge, not interested in a burnt wasteland, has retreated from the region. There are no blood or high elves remaining in the region, though their spirits can sometimes still be seen. Shadowy creatures haunt sunwell grove, though the red and green dragonflights are trying to restore the sunwell. Also, apparently the blood elves don't want the sunwell restored. Because they are evil. *Facepalm*

Zul'aman – Dominated by the forests trolls. Unlike its portrayal in World of Warcraft, Zul'aman is a large region rather than just a city. Several small high elf and scourge warbands can also be found here, though they are not strong. The book also says that the witch doctors practice arcane magic called voodoo, while magic & mayhem said they used a form of alchemy called juju (and shadow hunters practiced divine magic called voodoo).

Over the past three chapters, we've seen all the lands of lordaeron. I have to say that I didn't really like them. They weren't very bad, but they were at least sloppy. The editing is very sloppy and there are many blatant faults in the population numbers. Most annoyingly, the scourge only has a listed population of 71,900, making them less numerous than the alliance. Speaking about population numbers, let's talk about the miraculous re-population of stormwind. It's stupid. It takes a lot of power out of the Warcraft III campaigns, as Theramore is now only a minor city, rather than the last great stronghold of humanity.

Chapter five – Adventures
This chapter contains a number of premade adventures. They all look pretty decent and I cam't really cover them without giving away the content. They are very well-written for RPG adventures, giving a good amount of details.

Appendix oneOrganizations
Appendix one details the new organizations found in the eastern kingdoms. Most factions should be familiar to WoW players, but there are a few others as well.

Caretakers – Caretakers are employed by nobles to guard important human artifacts. Originally from Strom, the leader of the caretakers (known as the caretaker of the sword) still guards the mythical trollbane. The caretakers of the chalice are regional leaders, employing caretakers of the ring to build clever hiding spots, caretakers of the crown to build vaults, caretakers of the coin to build traps, caretakers of the gauntlet to serve as guards and caretakers of the cloak for the general staff. Despite their rather mundane purpose, they are still an interesting faction.

Cult of the damned – The famous necromancers of the scourge. Responsible for the creation of the scourge armies. They have a listed population of 10,000 and are mostly human, based mostly in the western plaguelands (wait... The western plaguelands only have a listed population of 3250 humans, all scarlet crusade. Does that mean that the cult of the damned are counted as undead, which means there are less than 30,000 actual undead in the region, or are they not listed at all?). One of the writers really needs to be told that high elves are from quel'thalas, not dalaran, as this is the second mention I see of a high elf supposed to mourn for dalaran rather than their actual homeland.

Defias brotherhood – Okay, seriously, the nobles expected to get stormwind rebuilt for free? Are they kidding? The stonemasons need money to buy food, you know. And yeah, they got food during the construction, but that only applied to them, not their families. And exiling them for even asking for money? It's a bit convenient that all the defias brotherhood members are listed as evil, isn't it? In the end though, the organization looks quite interesting, and easy to work into campaigns. The brotherhood aren't just bandits and renegades, they are also experts at construction and mechanisms. They have a strong fortress in the form of the deadmines, and make powerful mechanical weapons to give them an edge in battle.

Explorer's guild – The new guild of archeologists, researchers and explorers, most famous of which is Brann, who gathered the information in this book. Surprisingly, Brann is not listed in the leaders section, despite being one of the founders.

Royal apothecary society – Forsaken wizards, rogues and tinkers banding together to provide weapons for forsaken society. Also, quick note for those discussing the forsaken morality; Sylvanas, in this book, does not appear to be evil. The royal apothecary society is quite interesting and I think you could get a decent campaign out of either working with or against them.

Scarlet crusade – The members of the scarlet crusade are slightly mad. Maybe it was the loss of their family. Maybe it is the poison mists that cover the plaguelands. Maybe they always were. But now, they stand united against the scourge. And the forsaken. And anyone that even has the slightest chance of being plagued. Or be a necromancer. And anyone of a race they don't like. Or just has shifty eyes. I just realized, these guys are quite a large organization for being so damn picky.

Stormwind assassins – Known to players of World of Warcraft as SI: 7, these guys are the operatives of the alliance, former thieves hunting down anyone who is considered an enemy of the state. They have agents everywhere. Coupling this with the treatment of the stonemasons and the rather large population plot hole, my guess is that Stormwind is an evil, totalitarian state that has censored Brann's works to make themselves look better. In this case, the military is used to repress the populace. Thoughtcrime doubleplusungood. It would explain why Brann is trying to convince Thrall and Jaina, rather than asking stormwind for help.

Syndicate – Basically, the syndicate is the human kingdom of Alterac, declared enemies of the alliance after they allied with the horde during the second war. As such, the organization, at 3000, seems way too small, considering each of the nobles in the group employs his own personal staff and army.

Appendix two – Miscellaneous Notes
The final chapter provides new character options.

Only 6 new feats, but all are decent. I especially like the distraction fighting one, where you just go about insulting the opponent until he focuses on you. Must be fun to roleplay.

Three new basic weapons are introduced; the bayonet, the greathammer and the dwarven warhammer. It's good to finally see the classical paladin weapon with statistics.

Magic items
There's a bunch of fun poisons in here. My favorite is the potion of racial confusion, which confuses the imbiber into thinking all he sees are members of his least favorite race.

Prestige classes
Dark apothecary – A character who specializes in brewing and employing deadly poisons. Can actually replace his own blood with poison (though there is no racial requirement for the class, meaning people who still need their blood may join as well). Looks a lot of fun to play with.

Defias renegade – A deadly renegade who serves the defias brotherhood. They gain skills with both technology and exotic weapons to help deal with any threat.

Dwarven prospector – Does this really need to be a class? And a combat-capable class at that? What's next, the elite fisherman prestige class?

Scarlet crusader – Again, does this need its own class? Can't the scarlet crusade just employ paladins and priests?

Not really much to say, but I do have to note that I really don't like the cartoonish illustrations used in this book. I didn't really like the illustrations in the previous books either, but at least they were passable, here, we get the chibi dark iron dwarves.

I wouldn't call this book bad. It presents a lot of interesting ideas and gives us a nice look at the various cultures. However, the editing of this book is terrible, the given numbers are complete bogus and the illustrations are mediocre at best. The RPG and the developing world of warcraft have influenced each other a lot, so its hard to say where the bad ideas come from at times. However, the resurrection of stormwind is, in my opinion, the worst mistake that any warcraft writing made. The book had a lot of potential, but didn't always live up to it. In the end, I'm going to give this book a 6 out of 10. When next we meet, we'll take a look at shadows&light.