Monday, 24 December 2012

WoW – A special look at – foreword

Happy Christmas everybody. However, since I don't celebrate the holiday, you're getting nothing special, just another article.

I've mentioned a few times now that I want to take a closer look at the alliance. However, as I was writing that article, I realized I had written down a lot of stuff that had more to do with my views on general warcraft lore rather than the alliance. Since that stuff was still necessary to understand where I was coming from with several of my arguments, I decided to give it an article of its own. So, let's begin.

What do I like about Warcraft?
Let's start with a simple, but important question: Why do I care about warcraft? There's hundreds of fantasy universes, so why did I choose to focus on this one? To my surprise, I was actually able to boil down the reasons pretty well.

Reason 1: Diversity: As a setting, the warcraft universe is INCREDIBLY diverse. This started as early as warcraft 2, where there were no less than 28 different factions involved (11 nations in the alliance, 7 orcish clans on Azeroth, 6 orcish clans on Draenor, the dragons of Alexstrasza, the dragons of Deathwing, the death knights of Draenor, the trolls and the goblins). Admittedly, these factions were not very developed, but it wasn't really necessary. They had enough characterization to be unique, and for players to relate and favor certain factions.

As more warcraft products came out, the number of factions only grew, each with unique characteristics. The characterization for some of the new factions was also much more extensive than that of the original 28, which meant that people could identify much more strongly with them. You certainly see a lot more fans of the night elves than you see fans of Stromgarde. However, while the books offered some development for them, warcraft 3 mostly left the original 28 factions alone, so it could focus on people who had split off to form their own groups (Thrall, Jaina, the Lich King, Sylvanas) or completely new factions (night elves, darkspear trolls, tauren). The old factions were pretty much cannon fodder throughout the campaign or were only seen as team names during victory screens. Really, only three returning factions served as anything more than cannon fodder: The Warsong Clan, Quel'thalas and Kul Tiras. Even Lordaeron, which served as the stage for a large number of missions, was really just a backdrop.

World of Warcraft tried to do something similar to Warcraft 3, giving much more development to the new factions than to the old. The dark iron dwarves, the many new troll tribes and the silithid were all given extensive backstories and connections to the previous games. However, this didn't work out as well as it did before. Warcraft 3 had been an RTS, with each map being only a tiny portion of the planet. If it wanted to ignore a faction, it simply didn't put any missions within that faction's borders. However, world of warcraft is an RPG, with a gameworld covering most of the known landmasses of Azeroth. It can't just skip over a faction the writers didn't properly develop.

That's not to say the writers didn't try though. Dalaran locked itself off for no real reason, the remnants of Alterac got wiped out off-screen, Gilneas blocked itself off with a wall, Kul Tiras and Crestfall weren't included on the map, Stromgarde fell to the syndicate, the hillsbrad foothills suddenly belonged to Stormwind with no mention of what happened to Calia, the Shattered Hand, Twilight's Hammer and Burning Blade clans stopped being clans and the Frostwolf Clan retreated to a single battleground. Not to mention the factions that simply vanished, like the Bleeding Hollow Clan, the Stormreaver Clan, four of the five goblin cartels and the Shadowtooth Tribe. There were also the groups that blizzard didn't develop, but didn't minimize, like the gnolls, the makrura, the ogres, the harpies, the ancients, the dryads, the troggs and the kobolds.

However, that's not to say the diversity is gone. On the contrary, the warcraft world has become more diverse than ever, thanks to the expansions. These were generally a lot better at adding new cultural elements to the world, mostly because they took place in lands that were largely unexplored, leaving room for the writers to add new stuff. Even Cataclysm, which had severe problems in pretty much every regard, gave us interesting new factions. The expansions did have a few problems of their own in this regard though, but we'll address those at a later point.

Reason 2: Clear backstory. In one aspect, the warcraft universe is pretty much unique amongst the popular fantasy franchises: It has an extensive, but easily understood backstory, especially when it comes to ancient history. To show what I mean, its best to compare it to some other franchises. In lord of the rings, the ancient history is given in The Silmarillion, which makes use of such complicated language and extensive metaphors (and things that seem like metaphors but are are actually meant literally) that it becomes incomprehensible to many readers. In Star Wars, the backstory has to be puzzled together from at least a hundred different expanded universe books, much of which contradicts each other or the new movies and television series. For The Elder Scrolls I can't even properly describe the backstory, what with the probably metaphorical home continent of the elves, humans somehow originating from three different continents, the warp in the west, most sources being unreliable due to being written in-universe and the contradictory nature of the daedric gods.

The backstory of the warcraft universe on the other hand makes use of relatively simple language, has the same physical laws for its entire history and can be (and more importantly, has been) explained in only a few pages. While I certainly don't dislike any of the other settings I mentioned, this does set warcraft apart. While it does have some hiccups, they are relatively minor and mostly regard lore that takes place more recently (unless that one theory about elune being a naaru and the holy light being created by the tauren sun god is confirmed, but that's a rant for another day. Maybe even more than one rant.).

What will I let warcraft get away with?
A big part of being a fantasy or science-fiction fan is being able to suspend your disbelief. You need to be able to accept all sorts of ridiculous concepts, like the laws of gravity and flying cities co-existing or societies being stagnant for thousands of years. More than that, you need to be able to accept some internal inconsistencies. If there is a dozen different writers and the works in the franchise are spread out over more than a decade, there is bound to be some things that fall by the wayside.

That doesn't mean you have to accept everything though. I do expect the writers to be paying some attention to what they are doing and try to be as consistent and internally logical as possible. Mistakes can happen, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with them. Still, there is a few things that I'm completely willing to ignore, most of which have to do with maintaining the diversity and the clear backstory I mentioned above.

For example, the history of most of the warcraft factions is extremely lackluster. It seems that most of the human kingdoms didn't have any important events happening between their founding and the first war, despite thousands of years having passed. I'm completely fine with this. That's not to say that the franchise couldn't benefit from some extensions in the backstory, but even then, its fine to just have a couple of hundred years without major events.

Another example is cultural contamination. In real life, all sorts of tiny cultural bits bleed from one nation into the nations that it has contact with. However, to maintain both diversity and a clear backstory, it's much better to ignore this most of the time. The gnomes and the ironforge dwarves get to be two distinct cultures, even in towns with a mixed population. It's actually a bad thing when cultural contamination is handled too realistically, as it takes away from the diversity. If human armies started to build spider-tanks and flying machines, the gnomes would become less distinct. If the orcs started worshiping the earthmother, the tauren would become less distinct. This can even apply internally to cultures, like blood elf magisters learning ranger tricks, or night elf druids learning to channel the power of the moon (more on that later).

On the other hand, having one race have something similar to another race can also be interesting, as long as the two are distinct. The difference between orcish and tauren shamanism is an obvious example of this. You have to be careful with this though. If you have two cultures with different views of the same spiritual being, they can't both be right. And if one them turns out to be wrong, it would make maintaining their culture, which has probably built up a fanbase by now, seem stupid. If you're planning to make one race wrong, it is best to give them only a minor cultural connection, like is the case with the tauren and the ancient guardians.

So, now that we have covered a few basic points, it's time to take a closer look at the alliance. See you all next time.

Friday, 14 December 2012

WoW - horde players' guide - part 2

And, after a long wait, the second part of the horde player's guide has finally arrived. I have a tad more free time coming up, so you can expect at least the next few reviews to be more frequent.

Chapter Five: History and Culture
And we rejoin Brann once more to look at cultures.

Orc: I really like Brann in this section. He is not entirely over his old prejudices, but is still willing to argue for peace. Otherwise, the section is actually pretty good. Brann actually points out a problem I have with the whole “first war is warcraft I, second war is warcraft II” thing, as there really wasn't anything to divide it into two wars in-universe. The history does skip over a few points, so this section can't stand on it's own for people who don't know the backstory yet, but otherwise it's really great.

The culture section is pretty good as well, but does have a few flaws. First of all, I dislike the idea that the clans have disbanded, as it takes away a bit of uniqueness. Plus, it contradicts WoW, where the shattered hand and the warsong outriders still exist. Another flaw is that it states that it was Thrall's policies that brought gender equality, despite the fact that women acting as full warriors within the horde dates back all the way to Warcraft I, where the orcish heroes were both female.

Jungle Troll: Another great section, augmented by the fact that troll history isn't really all that well-known. Most of Brann's information came from a single troll, Vok'fon, so he isn't too sure about the reliability. One interesting bit is that Vok'fon claims that the darkspear tribe merely reclaimed land when they sailed to the darkspear isles, implying that they lived in that area before either the sundering or the war with the night elves.

The culture section is also pretty good, contrasting the modern darkspear way of life with those of the other jungle trolls. The section focuses a bit too much on the other jungle troll tribes though, giving an incredibly detailed listing of hierarchy, which doesn't really apply to the darkspear at all.

At this point, I have to make a special side-note. Most of the books in the 2nd edition of the RPG have featured little side-stories along the text, usually about half a page in length each. I didn't really mention them before because... well, they really didn't have much to do with the content they were placed next to and were too short to be interesting. Even ignoring that limitation, most of the stories were mediocre at best. However, the side stories in this book are exceptionally high quality, tying into the text and sometimes even each other.

Tauren: The tauren history section is... minimalistic. It basically starts at the exact moment that the tauren met the orcs, not giving any history on what they were like before. It does go into detail a bit about how the tauren are changing their ways and Brann speculating that their insight into the world isn't as good as they think it is, but it's too short.

Forsaken: The history section is good, covering all that there is to cover. There is a minor mistake with Brann saying that Garithos' forces were the only remaining humans in Lordaeron, which is false, as, even if he was only referring to the nation rather than the continent, there is still the scarlet crusade, the solliden farmstead and the population of the Hillsbrad Foothills (though that group seems to have joined stormwind since then for some reason, which is something I'll address either when I do WotLK or just a general look at the alliance).

However, I do want to discuss the forsaken joining the horde again. The reason stated in this book is that, after the alliance (which the forsaken didn't want to join due to bad experiences with humans after they broke free of the scourge), the horde is the mightiest faction on the planet, hence why they joined. However, that just seems silly. The horde at this point consists of:
  • The freed remnants of the blackrock, shattered hand, bleeding hollow and warsong clans of orcs, who were so few in number that they could wholly fit on a small stolen human fleet, and that was before two shipwrecks, a massive war, the near-destruction of the warsong clan, the annihilation of Samuro's village, a smaller war, and the frostwolf clan retreating back to their homelands.
  • A single tribe of jungle trolls, which was so few in number that there was still room for it on that very same fleet.
  • An unspecified number of tauren tribes, the most powerful of which was nearing extinction when it joined the horde. A little wiggle room here for the horde to get numbers, but not much.
  • One village of ogres.
  • One nest of Wyverns.
Sure, there's a lot of variety in there and the individuals of all the races are pretty strong, but the horde is severely lacking in manpower. Daelin Proudmoore's fleet was a danger that could have wiped out at least the trolls and the orcs, and that probably wasn't even the full might of the Kul Tiras fleet. The illidari, the trade coalition, the naga and possibly the dark horde should all be at least as powerful, if not more powerful than the current horde, not to mention being in a much better position to help.

Another issue that gets brought up here is one I also raised: Why are nearly all the forsaken human zombies? The zombie part doesn't get addressed here, but the human part does. The forsaken themselves are not entirely sure, but they suspect it has something to do with the power of the human spirit, the fearlessness of humans and more nonsense like that. Seriously, RPG writers (and mr. Knaak), humans are not that exceptional in the warcraft series, so stop saying stuff like that. If you want an excuse, it's easy: Sylvanas' rebellion started in Lordaeron, and most of the undead there were probably locals. Undead that broke free from the lich king elsewhere were still surrounded by loyal undead and were slaughtered. Since then, the forsaken have only been raising the dead in the Tirisfal Glades, where the population was also human. Hence, most of the forsaken are human.

Otherwise though, the culture section is great, giving a lot of nice details, an interesting look at a society and some fun commentary by Brann.

As an amusing little sidenote, the book hints that Varimathras is secretly working for the scourge, sending information to Naxxramas. This would be different in WotLK, where he was secretly working for the burning legion instead.

Ogre: First of all, it's a good call to discuss ogre culture and history here, rather than just focusing on the main playable races. Second of all, this section makes no sense. It says that the orcs waged a massive war against the ogres when the horde first rose, exterminating or enslaving most of them to use in experiments. Because of this, ogres hate orcs to this very day. However, that doesn't fit with with what we see in warcraft at all. Back in warcraft II, there were ogres that were members, or even leaders, of the orc clans. In more recent times, the stonemaul are allied with the horde, at least 4 ogre tribes are part of the dark horde and one tribe was working alongside the demon-worshipping remnants of the blackrock clan.

Also, Brann claims to have fought ogres during the horde attack on Theramore, which makes all kinds of no sense. Brann has mentioned that attack about a dozen times throughout the books and he never claimed to have been involved before. Lands of Mystery, when Brann first traveled to Kalimdor, definitely took place after the battle, so there is no way to fit this into the timeline.

Forest Trolls: Very strong history section that, despite covering a large portion of history (all of recorded history in fact), manages to be fairly complete. It also addresses a few points in lore that had never been addressed, like the forest trolls fighting demons during the war of the ancients, as well as adding some new points, like the forest trolls leaving the horde after the defeat of Gul'dan, rather than waiting for the orcs to be defeated at blackrock mountain.

One thing that is odd though are the knowledge checks for the various horde races, which seem to be written for alliance players rather than horde. It's a bit weird that a member of the horde needs a DC 30 knowledge check to know that they are allied with a tribe of forest trolls.

The culture section is also pretty good, though, like the jungle troll section, it spends more time talking about the forest trolls outside the horde than the ones in the horde.

Cult of Forgotten Shadow: Ugh, organization alignments. You know, it really takes a whole lot of fun out of the setting if you announce up front which organizations are evil and which are good. Otherwise, the section is rather good though.

The Grimtotem Tribe: Calling this a horde organization is a bit of a stretch, as the sole goal of the tribe is not to be part of the horde. Considering the nature of the horde, it might have actually been a good idea to have a whole separate section with enemies that split off from the horde or were members of the previous hordes (in fact, they have a section on enemies to the horde that covers many of these things). Otherwise, the section is pretty strong though.

Chapters Six & Seven: State of the Horde and Threats to the horde
Like chapter seven of the alliance player's guide, this chapter should really have been merged with the one before it, as it repeats many things that were already said there and only adds a rather small amount of information. However, I'm pretty forgiving of it, because it is so well-written. The history section gives a clear oversight of the various races that are or were in the horde and their status before they joined, rather than only focusing on the orcs like most tellings of this story do. The section also has sections for the individual orcish clans and their place in history, which gives nice oversight. There's a couple of weird retcons here though, like the frostwolf clan having fought in the first and second war despite still not being corrupted by demons, or Gul'dan only heading for the tomb of Sargeras after the fall of Blackrock mountain. However, the section is still good despite those tidbits.

There is also a very interesting series of short stories in the sides, which follow the tale of a human paladin named Andarin, who was working to free a mysterious prisoner from the Undercity. In the end, it is revealed that this prisoner was none other than Calia Menethil.

Aside from the short stories, there is a lot of good stuff in this chapter, like the discussion of the various leaders of the horde and their positions, a number of mysterious expeditions centering around major characters (Rokhan seems to have gone off the maps completely and Sylvanas moves to and from Northrend all the time), the reaction within the horde when the forsaken were allowed to join and an oversight of the horde's various holdings. This chapter, along with the alliance equivalent, are probably the strongest chapters in the entire RPG. My favorite parts have to be where Brann points out how easily the warsong battleground situation could be solved:

This is one of many situations where an agreement could probably be reached, but no one bothers. The Horde needs lumber, the Alliance wants to keep the trees alive — so the Alliance could just give the Horde some wood extracted by their wisps. Seems simple enough to me.”

Hey Warsongs: Why cut down the trees in elf-dominated territory and antagonize the Alliance further, when other locations (such as Feralas) are nowhere near as contested? Just food for thought.”

I mentioned earlier that the holdings of the horde were discussed. The list that we are given is fairly complete, but there is one really notable omission: Shadowprey village. This is probably to leave room for a fan theory that the trolls of shadowprey village are not from the darkspear tribe, but are actually a tribe of dark trolls (there is a similar theory for the shatterspear tribe). As far as fan theories go, that one's actually a really good idea. The darkspear tribe has no reason to be in desolace at all, it would finally give the dark trolls some representation and some dark trolls joining the horde is a pretty logical follow-up after the two groups worked together during the battle of mount hyjal.

One more notable development here is that Brann seems to have turned far more neutral than in the previous books, speaking about the alliance as if he is no longer a part of it. This neutral perspective adds a lot to the sections written from his perspective. Despite this being a horde sourcebook, that doesn't mean he'll choose their side, but his dwarven heritage doesn't mean he'll flat-out oppose them on everything either. The alliance is listed right alongside the other threats to the horde, and is not treated differently. Speaking of the threat list, it is very well-written, but seems to have left out the dark horde for some reason.

Chapters Eight & Nine: Horde Military and Bestiary
Like the alliance chapters, this simply lists the various forces inside the horde. It is a bit stronger than the alliance counterpart due to going more into details about the military identities of the various races. However, like the alliance's dire cobras, there is an odd listing on the horde bestiary list in the form of the centaur.

In many ways, this book is similar to the alliance player's guide, starting out as just being fairly okay, and only growing better over time. I'd say that this book is a bit stronger than the alliance book though, as it takes a more detailed look at the culture.

Upcoming reviews: Second arc of the warcraft comic, war of the ancients trilogy, cycle of hatred, a special look at the alliance and something completely different.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

WoW - horde players' guide - part 1

Since I'm taking so long to write this review (busy with college), I'm going to release it in two parts. This is part one, covering about half the book.

I'll admit I'm excited for this book. I don't think I've mentioned it on the blog yet, but I'm mostly a horde player (though that has as much to do with me liking the horde as it does with the horde questlines experiencing much more of the alliance than the alliance questlines do). Our subject matter today is the Horde Player's Guide, the counterpart to the book we reviewed last time.

One good thing about this book is the statement that the alliance player's guide and the horde player's guide have replaced the old alliance&horde compendium and that book no longer counts. Those of you who read my review of that book may recall that the AHC only had a very small portion of the book dedicated to the title factions, so having these new books (which actually give what the title promises) replace it would be weird. However, those who read my review may also recall that the AHC was terrible, so I'm glad it and its nomadic blood elf terrorists are no longer canon.

Chapter One: New races
Like the APG, we're given three new races: half-ogres, half-orcs and forest trolls. As a racial selection, this is kinda weak, due to the fact that none of these races are actually members of the horde. Forest trolls are okay, as there is a sufficiently large group of them associated with the horde, but half-orcs are also found amongst the alliance in large numbers and half-ogres are incredibly rare, with only one of them ever being seen as a part of the horde. Ogres and skeletons/banshees/shades/skeletal mages would probably have been better choices.

Half-ogres: Despite being a half-breed race, half-ogres are actually somewhat united due to most of them being created at a single time, when they were bred to combine the strength of ogres and the intelligence of orcs. Both races, while biologically compatible, aren't naturally attracted to each other, so there's few to none half-ogres that are not descended from this group. As a backstory, this is actually really clever, as it allows the half-ogres to have a somewhat united culture. In this case, they're pretty much Rexxars clones, which is perfectly fine with me. The race is pretty cool and I'm surprised at how well they make it work.

The racial class on the other hand is meh. They get no special tricks, just some stat bonuses and a size increase. Yes, learning about their culture makes them bigger.

Half-orc: The half-orcs have all the narrative problems of half-elves, as well as having the problem of not having any racial history (due to only coming into existence less than three decades ago). It also raises a question. If orcs and humans can interbreed, and humans and elves can interbreed, where are the half-orc, half-elves? The section also makes the mistake of saying that most orcs and humans lost friends to the other side during the third war, despite the fact that the third war battles with the horde only involved a tiny smidgen of humanity.

Forest trolls: Why are these guys in the horde? In WoW, they were never really developed as a culture, so the players always assumed that they had mellowed out compared to the other forest trolls tribes. However, the RPG describes them as evil, savage cannibals who look down on all other races and would like nothing more than destroying them. Sounds like the perfect match for Thrall's horde, right?

Chapter Two: Class Options
First, the orcs get a racial class. They didn't get one before to make them more similar to humans, as humans and orcs “are the most important in the warcraft world” (literal quote from the book), a statement which is partially justified (they have had a lot of influence on recent history), partially false (the orcs in particular currently have very little power) and partially stupid (why does both races being important mean they have to be similar?). It's an okay racial class though.

Variant Classes
Melee Hunter: Exchanges some ranged abilities for melee abilities. Pretty basic and makes sense in lore.

Wandering Hunter: A hunter that draws power from the land, rather than from the animals, changing his normal aspects for different, environment-related ones. While okay, it seem weird that they still get an animal companion.

Uncorrupted Necromancer of Warlock: Basically, the playable orc and troll warlocks from WoW. Doesn't automatically become evil, but gets less bonus feats. Very basic, but necessary lorewise. Even with this, I'm still not particularly fond of the idea of orcish warlocks in the horde.

Battle shaman: A shaman that sacrifices a significant portion of his spellcasting abilities to become an adept melee fighter. Fits pretty well with lore.

Far seer: A shaman that sacrifices a few elemental abilities to gain extra divination spells. The divination spells are a bit weird though. How in the world can Eye of Kilrogg ever be cast as a shaman spell? It's a literal demonic eye!

Hidden Warlock: A warlock with some more mage abilities in order to blend into society. Not entirely sure why it is included in this book, considering hidden warlocks are still working for the burning legion, not the horde.

Racial Iconic Classes
Forsaken Witch Doctor: Apothecary: It's a bit of a weird racial class, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the witch doctor lorewise, but the class abilities match up surprisingly well. The apothecary has severely reduced spell power (gaining none of the witch doctor spells, and only one necromancer spell per level), but makes up for it through even more extended potion-brewing capabilities (being able to use all necromancer spells to create potions, being able to brew more powerful spells into potions, being able to make syringes).

Jungle Troll Witch Doctor: Gives up a few standard healer spells in order to become much more adapt with totems. Fits pretty well with the witch doctor unit from warcraft 3.

Half-ogre Hunter: Exchanges a powerful attack for the ability to call on the aid of animals. They really should have just called this class beastmaster, but otherwise it's okay.

Orc Warrior: Exchanges most of its bonus feats for greater axe skills, the ability to burst into rages and knowledge of where to best strike humans. So, basically, it's a warrior with all of its bonus feats pre-assigned. It makes sense lorewise, but I can't really imagine it adding much to gameplay.

Tauren Shaman: Loses some battle capabilities to create an aura of peace or call upon the ancestors. Another pretty good racial class.

Troll Barbarian: A ranged barbarian to emulate the headhunters from warcraft III. Pretty good class.

Creature class
Again, skipping these due to not really having much of a connection with lore. Not entirely sure why the Centaur are included though, considering they are the ancient enemies of the tauren and have been at war with the horde ever since first contact. The other creature classes are the abomination, the ogre and the ogre magi.

Some feats related to shamanism, the cult of the forgotten shadow and general warrior-ness. They're all actually pretty good.

Chapter Three: Prestige Classes
Bone Crusher: One problem that this book shares with its alliance counterpart (and many other RPG books, even outside the warcraft ones) is the fact that prestige classes are made as if they were core classes. However, Prestige classes are supposed to represent an extra specialization on top of your normal abilities. For example, a dragonslayer builds upon the capabilities of knights, fighters, monks and barbarians (or any other melee class), so would make a great prestige class. In addition, its' often handy to explain a prestige class as being a specific order or being agents of a specific deity, as it explains lorewise why the prestige class is a completely separate training, rather than just being a choice for a core class.

The bone crusher lies at the other part of that spectrum. The bone crusher is a massive brute who fights with his bare hands. As a prestige class, that doesn't work for several reasons. First, why the hell would someone first have to train in another class (which does use weapons) before he can become a weapon-less warrior? Second of all, why do all the worldwide examples of bone crushers (found amongst orcs, ogres, furbolgs, dwarves and mok'nathal) have the same specialized combat rules, despite not having any sort of similar training or source for their magical powers? This class reads like it should have just been a list of warrior bonus feats.

Dark Ranger: Now this is a better example of a prestige class. A small elite group of ranged fighters that gains special magic and training that are available to no one else. The bit that confuses me a bit though is the nature of the dark ranger magical powers. The text explicitly says that they're divine spells, but that some are arcane in origin. What does that even mean? Plus, if they're divine spells, from what deity or power are they drawn? The text makes it pretty clear that dark rangers are older than the cult of the forgotten shadow and that Sylvanas (who doesn't follow the shadow) was the first dark ranger, so it can't be that.

Hexer: A shaman that specializes in the calling of spirits. The class sounds and reads more like a new healer specialization than a prestige class.

Lightslayer: Sneaky agents of the forgotten shadow that fight to purge all traces of the holy light. An absolutely awesome prestige class that fits lore rather well. I really want to see these guys integrated into WoW.

Plagueshifter: With the spread of the plague, the horde has founded a new order of druids specifically to combat it. Another fun class that works well with lore, though I do have to wonder about a horde-exclusive druid order (since all druids are already part of the neutral/alliance-favoring cenarion circle).

Potion Doc: Why does this class exist? No, seriously. We already have a witch doctor class, plus a separate forsaken alchemist racial iconic class. What other major alchemists remain in the horde? Certainly not any that would call themselves potion docs, that's for sure. Maybe as a goblin alchemist variant, but not as part of a horde sourcebook.

Primal: People who unleash the beast within! Not too fond about this class either. While the abilities are pretty good, it again doesn't fit the prestige class mold. It's not a specialisation. It's a completely different combat style.

Pyremaster: Another example of a good prestige class. Pyremasters are a cult of orcish shamans who conduct the funeral rites for great orcish warriors. As orcs burn their dead, the pyremaster has built a kinship with flame, giving him special abilities.

Shadow Ascendant: Another good one, representing the ultimate followers of the cult of the forgotten shadow, who have become one with the darkness. They're powerful priests of darkness, acting as spies. Amongst the jungle trolls, some have even started revering them as dark loa spirits.

Shadow Hunter: Okay, while a decent prestige class, this section contradicts WoW completely by saying that the shadow hunters are the only followers of the loa, despite the fact that we see pretty much everyone in WoW who is associated with voodoo deal with the loa. It's a shame too, because I really wanted to know what the deal was with these guys. What differentiates them from normal loa priests? The Frozen Throne manual was unenlightening as always. My favored theory is that the shadow hunters are followers of the dark troll loa, rather than the jungle troll loa, which would explain their different powers and the fact that they only became playable after the battle of mount hyjal.

Spirit Champion: A warrior who channels the spirits to enhance his combat abilities. It's a pretty cool class, though the lack of a unifying backstory (again), makes me ask why the abilities aren't just shaman feats and/or spells.

Spirit Walker: A being who is neither alive nor dead, but always shifting between worlds. Fevered dreams make them question the very nature of reality, as they slowly ascend into a state where they are no longer one being. The spirit walker is an awesome prestige class, doing a very good job of extending the lore given to them in Warcraft III.

Spymaster: Another sneaky forsaken class. It's getting kinda redundant. In addition, the backstory of this class is confusing, with things like “the horde are the only people who know how to become spymasters, as they tortured alliance prisoners to get the information back during the first war” and “spymasters originate from the orcs, and most spymasters are half-orcs and forsaken, as orcs aren't disciplined enough to become spymasters”.

Techslayer: A warrior who specializes in stopping destructive technology. I'm a bit confused why techslayers are in this book though. Wouldn't the night elves and the furbolg have just as much, if not more need for these guys? Between the forsaken in the east and the goblin mercenaries in the west, I would say that the horde uses far more destructive technology than the alliance, so its weird to see these guys in this book. Giving an actual backstory that would make the techslayers some sort of organization would avert this, but alas.

Wilderness Stalkers: Why can only half-ogres, tauren and jungle trolls teach this art? If those three groups have it, it means it emerged independently on three different continents spread over two worlds. Considering that the class basically amounts to “person sneaks around wilderness and becomes one with it”, it's a serious stretch to say the night elves or the furbolg don't have them. Again, this is why its useful to make prestige classes members of a specific organization.

Chapter Four: Magic and Faith
In this chapter, we take a look at beliefs, magic and faith in the horde. I actually really like this chapter, as it doesn't just boil the beliefs of the western horde down to a vague unified “Shamanism”, but has multiple paths within shamanism, with each race being distinct, as well as having distinctions within itself. It's actually really clever.

Orcs: While the orcs have returned to their shamanistic ways from before Gul'dan's rise to power, there is one tiny problem: No one actually remembers the ways of the shaman. Because of this, there have emerged three distinct movements.
The first are Thrall's loyalists. Since orcs respect power, and Thrall is the most powerful shaman on the planet, they idolize him. These people are shamanistic not because they believe it's right, but because Thrall believes it's right. This group also greatly respects the Tauren, who have similarly powerful shamans, and are inspired by their ways.
The second group are the Walkers of the Old Path. This group seeks to reclaim the shamanistic traditions of ancient Draenor, rather than simply borrowing new shamanistic traditions from the tauren.
Last are the Faithful of the horde. For some reason, the book describes two completely unrelated groups in this section, but we're gonna talk about the first group first. This group has seen the horde's triumph at the battle of mount hyjal, where they helped save the world, as a sign that the horde must be on the right path. These are the guys that strongly support the peace with the alliance.
On the flipside, there are a groups that disagree with the new shamanistic horde. The other Faithful of the Horde see the pact with the alliance as a betrayal of all that the horde should stand for. This group considers the modern horde corrupted and weak, and seek to restore the horde of the second war. Finally, there are the Fallen Orcs, who have once more given in to the lure of demons and seek to restore the horde of the first war.

Tauren: Most Tauren have embraced their new place in the horde, seeing it as their duty to guide their new allies in the ways of shamanism. However, for a few it is different. Traditionalists have heard of the dark past of the horde, and want nothing to do with them, fearing that they may one day drag the tauren into darkness. There is also a few younger tauren who see the freedom and variety within the horde, and have broken with the traditions of their tribes.

Jungle Trolls: The trolls are basically in the same situation as the orcs, with many inspired by the example of Thrall, but a few who try to maintain their old traditions, many of which have now been outlawed. There are also a few jungle trolls who practice a weird mixture of traditional troll shamanism and modern horde shamanism.

Forsaken: The forsaken are split over how they are supposed to regard their current state. For those that follow the forgotten shadow, undeath is something to be embraced. Those who follow the echo of life are becoming addicted to arcane magic as, just for a second, it makes them feel more alive. Those who follow the value of knowledge seek to actually return to life, with many joining the Royal Apothecary Society to study alchemy in the hopes of finding a cure.

The cult of the Forgotten Shadow: The counterpart to the church of the holy light, the members of the cult embrace the values that oppose those of the church. It is a really good read, and, while canon, is sadly underused in World of Warcraft.

Shamanism – Ancestor Worship: As I said, it's really good to see shamanism split into several beliefs. Ancestor worship is pretty much what you'd expect; speaking to and channeling the power of your ancestors. There's a lot of specific little things here that really enhance the section though.

Shamanism – Animism: Every plant, every animal, yes, every rock has a spirit. Respect these spirits, for they may teach you great things. For the tauren, these spirits form a greater whole, a being that encompasses the entire world; the earthmother. The animism section is a bit short, and there does seem to be a jungle troll or ogre section missing.

Shamanism – Voodoo: While normal animists assume that the spirits of the world are mostly benevolent, this is not true to the practitioners of voodoo. Every spirit is trying to harm you. The only thing that can protect you from these spirits is knowing how to deal with them. The beliefs of voodoo for the darkspear tribe have changed much over the recent years, as they have been adapting to the ways of the horde. Again, a good section.

Really good spell list, doing a nice job of staying mostly horde-exclusive, and introducing a few spells that only work on people who are related to you or people who are members of your tribe/clan. Overall, good work.

Magic Items
My main complaint for this section: Most of these items aren't magical. Of, if they are magical, that magic doesn't come from the crafter but from the materials used. So why do they all require spells to craft? There's also a few items that should be completely unique, but can be crafted like normal magical items.

On a more positive note, the “anti-human” magic seen here makes a lot more sense, as it doesn't really only affect humans, just things that are essential to human warfare, like formations and heavy armour.

Chapter Four: Technology
Here is where this book makes a big mistake. To mirror the alliance's player's guide, the horde gets a large technology chapter despite the fact that, generally speaking, the horde isn't all that technological. Sure, they have the occasional inventor, but generally speaking, horde technology is provided by goblin mercenaries and the forsaken (and even that didn't really reach fruition until WotLK).

However, because they need to fill out this chapter, all of the races suddenly have technological advancements of their own. For example, the tauren now have collapse portable metal walls and automated drums. There are still a few technologies in here that could actually fit in with the horde, but its weird to see an atlatl and a freeze gun both requiring the same “use technological devices” check. If you're gonna say the atlatl needs a check like that, wouldn't simple weapons, like bows, crossbows and morningstars, also require one?