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.

No comments:

Post a Comment