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?

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