And here's part 2, now extra ridiculously long in length.
V – And now for something completely different
With the main offensive broken, it's gonna be a while before we're on the assault against the lich king again. As such, there's some other stuff we need to look at. In particular, there are three zones that aren't really connected to the major plots.
First are the grizzly hills. I may already be hearing some of you say “Hey! That zone should totally be counted under part II! It's part of the horde and alliance war effort, and the main enemy is the scourge.” Technically, you are correct. However, the reason I put it here is that it really doesn't really fit anywhere.
Part of the problem here (Problem #13: The Grizzle Hills quests) is that most of the plot lines in the zone come out of nowhere and go away just as quickly. For example, Arugal is back, raised by the scourge to serve them. He has infected the local human communities with the curse of the worgen to raise a new army or something. It's pretty clearly a last-minute addition to the game, as we don't see worgen anywhere else in the expansion. Plus it raises an obvious question: Why have Arugal deal with this small group of humans, rather than just going directly for stormwind or kul tiras? Also, a minor note, but why doesn't Arugal have his own necropolis?
Similarly to Arugal, the Venture Co. appear as villains in this zone. It goes nowhere, and doesn't really make a lot of sense (the venture co. exploits undeveloped areas. Grizzly Hills is the site of an offensive by the horde and the alliance, has several strong and united native groups and is likely to get overrun by the scourge). The alliance and the horde fight over the wood of the region to serve in their war effort. It goes nowhere, as neither the alliance nor the horde construct any more bases. The polar furbolg have been corrupted, and we have to kill Ursoc. They also never appear again.
Actually, let's talk about those last guys. Back in the RPG (Lands of Mystery), it was established that the furbolg lived in a large tree named Grizzlemaw. Here, it's shown that Grizzlemaw is the city inside the tree. The name of the tree? Vordrassil. Yes, as the name suggests, it's a world tree.
What. The. Hell? Okay, short history. The first world tree, Nordrassil, was created to shield the second well of eternity from future demonic invasions. The night elves made a pact with three of the dragonflights that gave them a great degree of power to better protect the tree. At the end of the third war, the night elves weaponized this pact, using it to kill Archimonde. Seeking to regain their powers, the night elves grew a new tree, Teldrassil, and asked the dragons for their blessings. For the full silliness of that idea, look at the night elf section in my special look at the alliance. However, the dragons thought that the night elves were being arrogant little pricks and refused (it didn't help that the person asking, Fandral Staghelm, wasn't exactly in good favor with the dragons).
So when and why was Vordrassil built? It can't have been before Nordrassil, because there was no well of eternity to shield. I've heard some people speculate that it was to somehow contain Yogg-Saron, but the few bits of information we have seem to contradict that (with the ancient druids tearing down the tree as soon as they discovered the corruption). It can't have been between Nordrassil and Teldrassil, because the night elves already had a pact. And it can't have been after Teldrassil, since the tree is referred to as ancient, and Teldrassil is only six years old.
Actually, while we're at it, when did the furbolg get corrupted? Quests refer to it as a recent event, but we know Vordrassil has been corrupted for thousands of years and Grizzlemaw is not a recent construction. Why has this ancient corruption only become active now? The furbolgs also used the power of the world tree to resurrect Ursoc, which apparently only went wrong because of the corruption inside the tree. As established before, the night elves also had a world tree for a very long time. If a world tree is capable of resurrecting ancient guardians, why haven't the night elves done so for any of their dead ones?
One of the better parts of Grizzly Hills was the Drakuru storyline, where you encounter a frost troll named Drakuru. Hoping to make an alliance with the frost trolls (or at least maintain an additional enemy for the scourge to fight), the player recovers several artifacts that would help Drakuru hold off the scourge that's invading his home. His questline leads into Drak'tharon Keep, right on the border between Grizzly Hills and Zul'Drak, where the scourge and Drakkari are fighting. As the player defeats the final boss of the dungeon, Drakura reveals that he is actually an agent of the scourge and that you've just conquered Drak'tharon Keep for the scourge. I'll admit, that was a really nice reveal that made a lot of sense, and leads right into the excellent Zul'drak questline.
In Zul'drak, the scourge is invading, now led by Drakuru. In desperation, the Drakkari have drained the power of their loa, much like Hakkar did in Zul'Gurub. It's really one of the few instances where the scourge reaches its old level of threat. The Drakkari are an ancient empire, who have consumed the power of their very gods, and they're still losing despite facing only a small portion of the scourge army.
This zone also spells the return of the Argent Dawn and the Ebon Blade, who battle the scourge. The argent dawn has joined with the remaining knights of the silver hand and the brotherhood of the light to form the argent crusade. The most notable questline regarding the scourge is where the player uses an amulet to infiltrate them, and encounters Drakuru once more, now commanding the necropolis of Voltaris. Because of the past history with the player, he actually assumes that you've also joined the scourge. Working from the inside, you manage to kill Drakuru before he is able to unleash his new blightblood trolls. Okay, I'll admit that his storyline was pretty damn great overall. However, there is just one thing that's bugging me, returning all the way to problem #3: Arthas is an idiot.
During the questline, you actually encounter the lich king twice. First is at the end of Drak'tharon Keep. This appearance is actually pretty cool and rather sensible. Drakuru only introduces the players as the people who helped him, so it kind of makes sense for the player to not be instantly slaughtered. The lich king is not omniscient, so he probably just assumed that you were mercenaries, or even people seeking to join the cult of the damned.
However, the second appearance doesn't make a lot of sense. As you face off against Drakuru, you use one of his own blightblood trolls against him, overwhelming him. Beaten back, he decides to actually use previously established powers smartly (gasp!) and summons the lich king once more. However, then the lich king kills Drakuru for being incompetent, and lets the player go because he amused him. It's completely ridiculous and doesn't make any sense. Drakuru was by no means incompetent. Through clever manipulation, he managed to take Drak'tharon keep for the scourge. With his knowledge, the scourge then scored victory after victory against the Drakkari trolls, which were used to create a new batch of super-soldiers. Drakuru is one of only a handful of character in the entire expansion that acts even remotely intelligently. And he gets killed for it.
Furthermore, the player was only able to infiltrate the scourge because his superiors screwed up. The choker that gets enchanted to be your disguise was originally a trap from the scourge higher-ups to specifically kill the player (when seeing the choker, the target feels an almost irresistible urge to put it on, turning him into a ghoul). Since Drakuru is in charge of the zone, and he definitely didn't order the creation of the choker, it must have been ordered by one of his higher-ups, possibly even Arthas himself. And the choker then got altered by the ebon blade, which only exists because Arthas is an idiot. And again, Arthas just lets the player go because he amused him. Even the “the lich king is keeping the player alive for a later trap” explanation doesn't work here, because, again, the player was specifically, personally targeted by the scourge.
Sholazar, like Grizzly Hills, has few connections with the rest of Northrend. Unlike Grizzly Hills though, this makes perfect sense. Sholazar's storylines are mostly self-contained because they actually don't have a lot to do with the rest of Northrend. In the parts where it feels they should be crossing over, they do. You even teleport to Un'goro during one of the questlines.
On the other hand, I'm still not too enthusiastic about Sholazar Basin. Some of its questlines just don't really feel like stuff an adventurer should get himself mixed in, especially not during times of war.
Nesingwary is already a bit questionable, but its at least understandable why the player would help him. Big game hunting is prestigious and a source of money. It's not something a hero should be spending time on, but definitely something for an adventurer. The oracle/frenzyheart questline on the other hand...
Okay, summary. A member of Nesingwary's expedition wants the skin of a specific lion, so she can turn it into a trophy. However, as the player kills the lion, he is approached by an angry wolvar who says that you stole his kill. He declares you his slave, and sends the player to serve his High-Shaman. For some reason I could never figure out, the player goes along with this. Various wolvar give you odd jobs, while being various degrees of jackass. And, for some reason, the player does them.
For one of the odd jobs, the player is sent to capture a rainspeaker oracle, so a wolvar hunter can torture him. The rest of the clan would just kill the oracle on sight. As you grab the oracle, you are attacked by a crocolisk and fend him off. However, one wolvar saw you and thinks you were helping the oracle, so declares you a traitor. The oracle however takes you to his home, where you meat the High-oracle. He and the other gorlocs give the player various odd jobs, while being various degrees of smugly superior. Though, to be fair, they do give the player a bit of an incentive to help, being a slightly better developed culture, not treating you like a slave and trying to save lives and make peace rather than stirring up trouble. In the end, the player fights a lich that resides in a destroyed sacred pillar (actually a shielding mechanism left by the titans), and can choose to kill either a gorloc or a wolvar, which allies the player with the opposing side. I just don't get why the player would want to help either of them, other than for out-of-universe reasons (experience, gold for completing quests even if there is no reward in-universe, chance at rare pet and mount).
While we're at it, let's talk about the two “missing” zones of WotLK. Azjol-nerub was supposed to be World of Warcraft's first subterranean zone, centered around the ancient nerubian spider kingdom. Based on what we can see in-game, it was roughly beneath Wintergrasp.
However, either due to time constraints or due to problems with the engine, the zone didn't get into the game, which I find a bit of a shame. Instead, the zone was split into two dungeons, Azjol-Nerub and Ahn'kanet. Not everything made it in, sadly, though you can see (but not visit) some additional bits of designed terrain while exploring the dungeons.
Unlike Azjol-nerub, Crystalsong forest can actually be found as a zone in the game. However, the amount of quests in the zone can be counted on one hand, and it's only notable due to the presence of Dalaran hovering in its' sky.
While there is no way to know for sure, you can probably make a pretty good guess about the original contents of the zone. It would have likely continued the storyline of the blue dragonflight. The reasoning for this is rather obvious. First, Dalaran, main enemy of the blue dragonflight, hovers in the sky. Second, it takes an important place in the backstory of the blue dragonflight, as it was created when Deathwing used the dragon soul to slaughter them during the war of the ancients. Third, the crystalline creatures in the zone are also found in The Nexus, suggesting a link. With the nexus war storyline as it is, the presence of this zone is sorely missed.
However, I don't think that's the only missing feature that would have been in the zone. With the large amounts of ancient night elf architecture and the presence of crystal fey, there's a pretty good chance that that the night elves, probably in the form of the cenarion circle, would also have had a storyline. As I said before, their presence on the continent is oddly small, and a missing encampment would go a long way towards explaining that. Considering Lands of Mystery was based on early plans for Northrend, it's also a fair bet that the green dragonflight (who were one of the two races present in the zone in the RPG) would have been involved, tying the nexus war and the cenarion stuff together.
While we're between arcs, we might as well discuss some other various bits. Both the horde and the alliance get new architecture for their military bases.
I'm rather fond of both new horde architectural styles. The warsong offensive architecture is a mixture between Hellfire Citadel and the orcish architecture of Warcraft III. As the warcraft III-styled bases were a tad flimsy (wood, skins and what appears to be drywall), it makes a lot of sense that the new bases be built in a different style.
The forsaken architecture is also excellent, combining dark metal with a mad scientist's laboratory, perfectly capturing the feel for the forsaken this expansion. Like the new orcish architecture, it makes sense for the forsaken to be building in a different style. They can't keep using old, damaged, rotten human buildings forever, can they?
I'm less fond of the valiance expedition however. First of all, there is no reason for there to be a new style of building. Both human and dwarven architecture would be perfectly serviceable for the frozen north. Mixing the two would make some sense, but that's not what the designers did. Instead, we just get a different style of quasi-medieval human architecture. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, just not very interesting.
On the flipside, the human architecture in grizzly hills is very well-designed. The fact that it is different from normal human architecture is logical (quarries are very far away and local wood is in abundance), and it definitely adds to the feel of the zone. You can also see a close resemblance to the vrykul architecture, hinting at the connection between humans and vrykul.
The scourge also get some new architecture. Previously, their architecture had resembled that of the ancient nerubian empire, one of the first conquests of Ner'zhul. Arthas' new bases are instead built out of saronite, and made to resemble his own armor as a monument to his ego. How lucky for Arthas that saronite has the exact same colour as the otherworldly metal the dreadlords used to forge the armor of the lich king. Joking aside, it looks good, though it's nice that the designers haven't entirely forgotten the old style and still use it for the scourge architecture outside the Icecrown fortifications.
The architecture of the new cultures is also very good. Special points for the taunka, gorloc and drakkari architecture, which bear a close resemblance to their sister cultures while still maintaining a unique flair of their own. I especially love the drakkari architecture, though that may be due to my love for troll architecture in general. I'll admit that the wolvar and frost giant architecture leaves me a bit cold though. Not having building interiors hurts a lot.
Moving Naxxramas from the Eastern Plaguelands to Dragonblight in order to recycle the raid was absolutely lazy. Don't get me wrong though. From a gameplay perspective, the laziness was absolutely understandable. Thanks to old WoW raids requiring a RIDICULOUS amount of preparation, being RIDICULOUSLY hard, and Naxxramas being the highest tier of vanilla, there were probably entire servers where no one had ever finished the raid until TBC came out.
My problem lies with the laziness from a story perspective. More specifically, the naxxramas bosses are dead. One quest explains the resurrection of Kel'thuzad (his phylactery was a quest item in vanilla, but the person who you handed the phylactery to was a secret agent of the scourge), but what about all the other bosses? And why wasn't Naxxramas destroyed or taken over by the argent dawn after adventurers had conquered it? In fact, the explanation for Kel'thuzad's resurrection makes less sense, since we could otherwise just say that the entire raid was non-canon.
However, even then, it doesn't quite work. Several of the naxxramas bosses have canonical deaths outside the raid. I pointed out Patchwerk all the way in the beginning, so I'm just going to count these resurrections as the same problem. I'm specifically talking about Anub'rekhan, Grobbulus, Thaddius, Lady Blaumeaux and Thane Korth'azz, who were all killed during the events of the Ashbringer comic.
I have heard the counter-argument that these resurrections do make sense, as the scourge still had access to their bodies, and there really shouldn't be much of a difference between raising the body of a person who died once and a person who died twice. Okay, that's a fair point. However, it's hard to imagine that the people who have been fighting the scourge have made absolutely no plans for keeping killed enemies dead. Even if the guys in ashbringer had no time to take extraordinary measures, they still had a mage capable of casting fire spells with them. Even if we assume that the mage didn't think of burning the bodies and/or did know any fire spells, there are still two other resurrected characters. Patchwerk was killed in Acherus when it was conquered by the ebon blade. There is no way the scourge had access to that body. And Thane Korth'azz was killed by being struck by ashbringer, which is named for its distinctive trait of turning killed undead to ash.
On the plus side, everything related to the Atiesh storyline was cut. You may remember me referring to that as one of the dumbest storylines in WoW, and I stick to that statement. I guess this is as good a time to elaborate as any. First of all, the quest was given by a highborne member of the Kirin Tor whose life's work was the reforging of Atiesh. While the idea that a highborne could have joined the Kirin Tor is possible, he should be over ten thousand years old by this point. Atiesh was shattered four years before vanilla. Rebuilding it can hardly be called his life's work with those timescales. Second, he was a lone highborne hanging around in Naxxramas. How the hell hadn't he been killed yet? Third, how did Brann Bronzebeard end up with the base? Fourth, why did Brann Bronzebeard carry it into Ahn'qiraj? Fifth, when did the greatest knights of Lordaeron get murdered in a small passage in Stratholme and how did it turn that spot into the holiest area of the planet? Sixth, why is the demon inside the staff named Atiesh, when Atiesh was already named Atiesh before it became corrupted? I'd almost say that the comic version made more sense, but comparing two infinitely stupid things is impossible. Hurray for this stupid, STUPID, quest line being removed.
Inscription in WotLK was the single most boring trade skill in the game. All you did was make glyphs and scrolls. Glyphs and scrolls. Glyphs and scrolls. Oh look, I have learned how to make a new glyph! Maybe next I'll get a scroll...
Compare this to Jewelcrafting, which was focused on creating socket-filling gems, but also gave the player a lot of other recipes to add some variety. The glyphs themselves are also a lot more boring than the concept would seem. There are few things I praise cataclysm for, but one of the things it did right was expanding inscription to make it less boring.
Problem #14: Dalaran. I hate the way Dalaran was handled in Wrath of the Lich King. Just for those of you who didn't read my special look at the alliance, I'm going to repeat what happened to Dalaran during Warcraft III. It was invaded by the scourge, crushed by Archimonde, overrun by the scourge, overrun by the naga, overrun by night & blood elves, overrun by the scourge once more, mostly taken by the new alliance with some scourge left, left by the new alliance, and then finally taken from the scourge. Vanilla then added attacked by the forsaken. Wrath of the Lich King added attacked by blue dragons.
Long story short, there is no way in hell anyone in Dalaran should have survived all the way from the start of the third war to the start of the nexus war. If I really suspended my disbelief, I could buy that there were enough citizens away from Dalaran at the time (and not with the expedition to Kalimdor or in Nethergarde, as those mages seemed to have stayed there) that they could founded a minor community. Emphasis on minor. Maybe something like Goldshire, or The Den. A size similar to Theramore would already be too large. However, the Dalaran of WotLK is an outright capital.
Another nonsensical development was how diverse Dalaran suddenly got. While there always had been an established high elf community within the city, and its nature made a diverse population probable amongst the wizarding population, it was still regarded as one of the seven human kingdoms. Yet here, less than half the population seems to be human.
Actually, speaking of that high elf community; How did they survive until now? While we're clearly taking some 'liberties' with the backstory of Dalaran, the stuff with Garithos and the Blood Elves explicitly still happened. Garithos was ready to execute all elves in the city. They only survived with the aid of Lady Vashj. So how exactly do so many high elves remain? The only way I can think of is that the silver covenant had already distanced themselves from Silvermoon before Garithos tried to execute the blood elves (we know that more than a few of them were Silvermoon-loyal at one point, because some still hold the rank of magister/magistrix). Except the Silvermoon Elves hadn't really done anything all that questionable by that point (and the silver covenant can't have defected later on, since the mages of Dalaran didn't let anyone into their dome shield). Really, the only things they did was change their name, their national colors and fight to free their homelands along the alliance. Since the silver covenant has no problem working with the alliance, the only explanation that remains is that they were so offended by the name and fashion change that they defected in large numbers.
Problem #15: Excessive and unfitting comedic elements. The amount of comedic elements in the expansion once again grows, though it at least does me the courtesy of not messing up any important stories. The ones that annoy me most are probably the books lying around in the death knight starting zone which, when read, completely mess up the atmosphere the game was actually succeeding in achieving.
Second on my list of hated comedic moments is probably the D.E.H.T.A., a group of druids campaigning for animal rights by murdering hunters. It's once again trying to force druids into the role of environmentalists, but it just doesn't fit either the night elves, who are xenophobic and a tad militaristic, or the tauren, who are traveling hunters. There is no way either society would have accepted someone who kills hunters. There is so much about the D.E.H.T.A. quests that doesn't make sense, and we're all supposed to ignore it because it was intended as comedy. But I play World of Warcraft to see, well, the world of Warcraft. Not to see half-assed parodies. It's not like you can't have any comedy that works from an in-universe perspective.
While the concepts of Death knights is really cool, I've never really liked them from a gameplay perspective. They were like this weird mixture of warriors, mages and warlocks, and they never really seemed to get much of a class identity of their own.
Of course, Death Knights were created to be different from the other classes, a hero class rather than a normal class. However, I think the entire concept of hero classes was a big mistake, mostly because there was so little to distinguish them from regular classes, but also because there was only one hero class introduced. Why should this one class start at level 55, while other classes start at level 1? Sure, Death Knights likely had a long career behind them when they were raised, but no one starts out as a paladin or a warlock either, and I don't see them starting at higher levels.
Then there was the fact that every race was able to become a death knight, several of which really didn't have a justification. The tauren, night elves and jungle trolls were in completely different areas of the world (they did face the scourge, but that part of the scourge was loyal to the legion, not Ner'zhul), while the gnomes were busy dealing with the trogg invasion during the third war. And hey, that's two alliance races and two horde races, meaning the class availability is perfectly balanced.
Caverns of Time
The alliance becoming the monarchy is now also working retroactively, as we travel back in time to Stratholme, when the alliance was still called the alliance of Lordaeron. And the sigil of Stormwind is freaking everywhere. It's patently ridiculous. The sigil of Stormwind wasn't even the symbol of the alliance back then. Yet it's much more widespread than the sigil of Lordaeron, which was both the symbol of the alliance at the time and the nation to which Stratholme belonged. Arthas, who was the prince of Lordaeron at the time, has the sigil of Stormwind on him five times! You'd think they could have spared a couple of reskins for this.
This expansion introduced a mechanism that was absolutely vital to story-telling: phasing. Basically, it allowed the player to see a different version of an in-game area depending on which quests he'd completed. Finally, we got to see the world change as the result of a storyline.
Sadly, it didn't seem that blizzard realized the full story-telling potential of their new tool. Specifically, they didn't seem to realize that there was no more need for one-time events and patches changing areas that took place at a different spot in the timeline. The event that led up to Wrath of the Lich King should really have been told through quests so that new players could get the full events. The zeppelin towers and docks to Northrend should have been phased to only appear after the introductory quests.
Phasing would also have been really good for content introduced in patches, most notably the argent tournament. The starting quest-chain in Icecrown is all about the argent crusade establishing a base in Icecrown. Yet, if you do the quest after the patch that introduced the coliseum, there is this massive structure belonging to the argent crusade already in Icecrown. This seems like the thing phasing was invented for! Sadly, blizzard didn't wise up about this until Mists of Pandaria, and even then its not used consistently.
VI – Ulduar
I mentioned that there were two other wars going in Northrend. One of these was the nexus war. The other was the war against Yogg-Saron. AND IT IS GLORIOUS! No, seriously, the questlines are awesome.
Okay, the plot. Unlike the nexus war, there isn't really an overall story. Instead, we have a number of independent interactions with the remnants of the titans, which add to the final story in the Storm Peaks, but aren't necessary to understand it.
In the borean tundra, a gnomish expedition has discovered several parts of a machine, buried some distance from one another. Being gnomes, they put the machine back together, revealing it to be a gnome-like creature called a mechagnome. The individual unit's name is Gearmaster Mechazod. Mechazod reveals that he was a creation of the titans, and wishes to return to their time. As a start, he removed the curse of flesh from the gnomes that found him, revealing that they are actually the descendants of the mechagnomes.
In Scholazar, evidence of the titans can be found far and wide, with the five pillars in the basin actually acting as a shield. Like the crystals of Un'goro held off the silithid, the pillars hold off the scourge. Eventually, Scholazar and Un'goro are revealed to be testing areas, where the life that now covers Azeroth was developed. One of the pillars in Un'goro has failed due to sabotage by living servants of the scourge, and they are now invading in massive numbers. However, holding them off is an avatar of a mysterious creature named Freya, who enlists the player to help drive them back.
In the Dragonblight, Wyrmrest Temple and the path that goes through it turn out to be titan creations, as shown by the massive titan golem, Jotun, patrolling the path. Shame he isn't actually involved in any quests though.
In Howling Fjord, there's three events of significance. First, you discover that the vrykul are the distant ancestors of humanity (and they later turn out to be titan creations themselves). Second, we see a war that's been going on for a while, with stone-skinned titan creations fighting creatures of metal. Third, we get to see the first signs of the true nature of saronite as the player enters a quarry and the stuff starts whispering to him.
I've already mentioned the Grizzly Hills, where Yogg-saron has corrupted Vordrassil. From his name, it should already be pretty obvious that he's connected to saronite. The war between stone and metal also continues in this zone, with the iron dwarves possessing several strongholds. The player also discovers that a being named Loken is the one behind the war.
In Zul'drak, the scourge is once more messing with this sub-plot, as they are attacking and imprisoning storm giants, cutting them into bits to make flesh giants.
In Icecrown itself, we see the scourge once again mine saronite, though this time more of the relation between Yogg-saron and the scourge is seen, with scourge forces having exposed parts of yogg-saron's tendrils in their quarries, and having captured one of his minions. While the scourge may use the blood of Yogg-saron, they are also his enemies.
Then, we get to the storm peaks, where this plot reaches its climax. The exact events still aren't told linearly, but with a bit of warcraft knowledge, you should be able to figure out a rough picture. In early stages of Azeroth's development, it suffered from infection by the old gods. When the titans came, they fought and defeated the old gods, as well as their elemental armies, and sealed them away. When the titans reshaped Azeroth, they created a number of species to assist, including the earthen.
However, the old gods had not been truly contained. They “destabilized the matrix” of the titan creations that had been left behind in order to fully take over the world again. The destabilization was dubbed the curse of flesh, and its effects would only worsen over time. The titans returned to kill the old gods, but they discovered that the old gods had so thoroughly infected the planet that their death would result in the extermination of the planet.
So, additional security measures were needed. The titans constructed the Forge of Wills to build new earthen, as well as create the storm giants and earth giants, whose purpose was to defend azeroth (unlike the sea giants and mountain giants, whose primary job was help shape the world). Loken was appointed Prime Designate, responsible for leading the new defenses, while the dragonflights would keep track of the development of the planet.
However, Loken was manipulated by Yogg-saron and slowly corrupted. The first act in their plan was to once more neutralize the titan creations. Using his skill at lies, he secretly manipulated the storm giants and the stone giants into a global war. With halting global war as an excuse, Loken put most of the titan-created species into stasis. During this stasis, some titan species were overcome by the curse of flesh and woke up again, no longer in the titans' service. Loken then moved on to corrupting the other watchers of Ulduar: Thorim, Hodir, Freya, Mimiron and Tyr, who maintained a temple and guardians of their own.
Thorim's wife Sif was killed by Loken, who then blamed the frost giants. This caused a war between the servants of Thorim, the Frost Vrykul (and possibly frostborn), and the frost giants, servants of Hodir. Thorim himself retreated to the temple of storms in mourning, staying there for thousands of years.
Using the absence of Thorim, Loken strengthened his position, attacking and taking out Hodir, Freya and Mimiron. Tyr also vanished during this period, though he wasn't taken out by Loken. We're not sure what happened to him. With no one to watch over him, Loken forged an army of iron servants, made at least partially by converting old stone creatures. Around the time that the horde and the alliance made landfall, a war had begun between the remaining stone forces and the ever-growing iron forces. The stone forces are holding up remarkably well, but they're still losing due to not having any way to restore their numbers, while the iron armies have the forges of ulduar.
The player has had contact with this war several times, the alliance more so than the horde, generally fighting on the side of the stone beings. However, it isn't until the Storm Peaks that the player actively becomes a player in the war.
The alliance story here is one of my few problems with the arc. First, because some of the quests should definitely have been neutral, most notably “Fate of the Titans”, which revealed that there were watchers other than Loken and Thorim, and that they'd already been taken out.
The other one is obvious, and one that many people had. Problem #16: Muradin Bronzebeard. During the questline it is revealed that frostmourne didn't actually kill Muradin when Arthas took it from the pedestal, it merely knocked him out and gave him amnesia. Him surviving was actually shown in an earlier quest in the dragonblight. While not a strict retcon, it is a very, very stupid development. This was Arthas' turn of darkness, an incredibly important moment in WoW lore. Why would you change that? It's also a change that makes very little sense. When Arthas picked up the weapon, it had an inscription that it was cursed. Presumably, this was a final personality test set up by the lich king to see if Arthas was suitable to become his champion. When Arthas told the sword that he was willing to accept any curse to save his kingdom, the pedestal burst open in a shower of frozen shards, one of which hit and killed Brann. Initially, this seemed like part of the curse, but the later reveal about frostmourne's true nature would suggest it wasn't. A coincidence also seems unlikely, because having random lethal ice shards spraying around and killing the person who's supposed to pick up the sword is not a good idea. You may be able to raise him later, but there's lots of not-so-happy things that can happen to the body in the meantime, what with the local wildlife. We know the scourge wasn't keeping a close eye on the cavern either, since they would have just killed and raised Muradin while he was unconscious if they were. So, that leaves one logical option. The ice explosion was a way to wipe out everyone in the room except Arthas, leaving no witnesses and/or potential enemies. But in that case, why not just kill the people in the room? You're an evil legion of undeath. You can always use more corpses. Plus, giving people amnesia generally takes more effort than just killing them. And the amnesia was not very effective, as it's broken the instant Muradin sees Brann. There is no way Muradin should have been able to survive frostmourne cave.
Now I'll admit, the scene where the brothers Bronzebeard finally reunite is very good, one of the best scenes warcraft ever did. However, even that isn't worth the stupidity of Muradin's resurrection. Now a reunion between the sisters Windrunner, that's something that should have been in the game.
Anyway, back to the main titans plot. Players of both factions get drawn into the main plot when they go recover a group of kidnapped men, who have been taken to Brunnhildar Village, the only village of frost vrykul not to follow the lich king. The people of Brunnhildar are all female, kidnapping men to work as slaves. However, amongst their captives is also another female vrykul named Lok'lira, who, due to her gender, they treat relatively well. Lok'lira helps the player free the captives by transforming him into a frost vrykul.
After her assistance, she herself requests the player's aid. She wants the player to reinvigorate Thorim so that he will reunite the races of frost and retake Ulduar, killing the vile Loken in the process. It sounds like something that's both heroic and will result in epic lootz, so the player agrees. To reach Thorim, the player must compete in the Hyldsmeet, a contest between the women of Brunnhildar to see who is most worthy of becoming Thorim's wife. If this was made in cataclysm, it would have been a parody of one of those weird reality shows where people look for a partner. But no, this is wrath of the lich king, with a better questing experience than any other expansion, and it is played seriously, developing the culture along the way.
The player, being a god-killer clad in 80 levels of some of the best magical weaponry on two planets, naturally wins, reaching Thorim. Luckily, the wedding did not have to be consummated, and Thorim realizes fairly quickly that the player is genuinely trying to help him come back. During another long series of quests (seriously, this quest-chain is enormous), you help Thorim recover to his former glory, become friends with the frost giants again and even help capture his old mount. With a fully reinvigorated Thorim at your side, you fly to the temple of wisdom, confronting Loken.
Who then reveals that this was his plan all along. You see, Loken was actually Lok'lira, and this was all a plot to lure Thorim away from the temple of storms, where he would be at his strongest, to the temple of wisdom, where Loken could be empowered by Yogg-saron. Woops. Loken quickly takes out Thorim with his dark powers, also capturing his mount. Loken leaves the player alive. Unlike what happened after Drakuru's death, I'm not going to complain about this, because A) You actually were doing stuff that helped his cause and B) It's possible that Loken was already planning his own death.
Two dungeons now. Halls of Stone and Halls of Lightning. In Halls of Stone, you work with Brann Bronzebeard to get information from the tribunal of ages, which gives most of the backstory I wrote above, and take over the Forge of Wills, which was built by the titans to create their second series of earthen. As in all dungeons, you are successful, and Brann starts pumping out new earthen soldiers. I'm sure that they're going to play a huge role in future events!
Halls of Lightning is pretty much just a battle to reach Loken and kill the bastard. When you take him out (Yogg-saron doesn't appear to be empowering him this time), he gives one last cryptic message about his death damning the planet. Woops. Again.
And then, it's finally time for Ulduar itself, added in the first patch for WotLK. Part of the story is told through the trailer, which really should have been an in-game cutscene. Unfortunately, it involves the alliance/horde conflict, so it is really, really stupid. Problem #17: The Ulduar trailer. Brann tried to explore Ulduar after Loken's dead, but he ran into some trouble, being forced to flee for his life. He went to the Kirin Tor, seeking assistance from the two major factions. The alliance delegation arrives first, consisting of Varian and two guys I don't recognize. Jaina is also present, but she's already been informed, so she just stares from the balcony, slightly bored.
At that point, the horde delegation, consisting of Thrall and Garrosh, arrives at the bottom of the violet citadel. If you remember the battle for the undercity, you will recall that Varian has some problems with orcs (and possibly the rest of the horde). Jaina, deciding to be sensible, quickly teleports to greet them and keep them out of sight of the alliance negotiation while giving them the same exposition Varian is getting. I'm again wondering why the hell Garrosh has been taken along. Thrall mentions he got here as fast as he could, which means teleportation. Thrall was in Orgrimmar (or possibly in Nagrand). Garrosh was somewhere in Northrend. That means Thrall went out of his way to bring Garrosh, and only Garrosh, along. Why?
Garrosh demands to see Brann, so he can see the fear in his eyes and decide whether or not the tales about Yogg-saron are true. The fact that he says it without condescension actually makes me hope for one minute that Garrosh is evolving as a character. But no. He enters the room, sees Varian, draws his weapon, ignores an order by Thrall, punches Jaina out of the way and attacks Varian. WHY IS HE STILL IN CHARGE OF THE WARSONG OFFENSIVE AFTER THIS?
What makes the entire thing even weirder is that Garrosh tells Rhonin that a true warchief would never ally with humans, and the horde will thus not aid the expedition into Ulduar. Thrall is standing like ten feet away. How is this decision up to Garrosh? And no, the horde doesn't help the ulduar expedition. Thrall just says he's disappointed in Garrosh and walks away, apparently unable to do anything about Garrosh' decision despite him being the warchief and thus being his absolute ruler. This entire series of events make no sense. And why is Garrosh still in charge after this? No, really, I want an answer. ANSWER ME, GAME INCAPABLE OF RESPONSE! ANSWER ME!
On the alliance side, Varian says that he'll never work with the horde because of their betrayal at the wrathgate and teleports out. Well, shucks, if only there were nations in the alliance other than Stormwind. It would especially be fortuitous if Jaina Proudmoore was a monarch. Or if Muradin's brother was a king. Or if Rhonin's wife was the leader of her own army of high elves. But alas, there is sadly only one nation in the alliance.
The amount of stupid concentrated in this one trailer is just staggering. I still stand by the statement that this (with maybe some better editing, and cutting out the last few lines) should have been an in-game cutscene, as it is a necessary part of the story. But man, is it stupid.
Luckily for the planet, the player doesn't follow orders from his superior officers, and joins the Ulduar expedition anyway. The ulduar raid is absolutely fantastic, my favorite after Karazhan (and I'll admit it would probably have been my favorite if it didn't remind me of that stupid trailer). The layout of the raid makes sense from both the gameplay and an in-universe perspective, and looks really cool. The boss encounters are cleverly designed, with good lore for almost all of them. Unlike Icecrown later on, the bosses for this raid were actually thought out up front, with plenty of foreshadowing were necessary. Even the sound of the raid is fantastic, with great music and some very impressive voice acting, especially on Yogg-Saron.
The basic idea of the raid is that you want to stop Yogg-Saron. To get to him, you have to fight your way past a load of defenses, including some orbital weaponry. No, really. Ancient titan satellite cannons. Awesome. Arriving in the heart of Ulduar, you set out to free the watchers from Yogg-sarons control. Naturally, you do this by beating them up, because that's all the player character knows how to do. It's surprisingly effective though.
Now here's where my personality forces me to nitpick despite loving the raid. You may remember that there were originally six watchers. With Loken dead and Tyr vanished, only four remain inside Ulduar. Yet the raid design doesn't seem to include the two missing watchers at all. There are only four watcher rooms, the doors only portray four watcher symbols and there are only four sigils for the archivum console. The room thing can be handwaved, since there are actually six rooms that can be reached directly from the ring of observation (with the antechamber likely being Loken's room and the descent into madness formerly belonging to Tyr). However, the other two really can't.
After you free the watchers from his influence, you face Yogg-saron during the single best boss battle in the game. Parts of the fight take place inside Yogg-saron's mind, as the player sees three visions. First is the creation of the dragon soul, indicating that Yogg-saron is probably one of the three old gods responsible for the corruption of Deathwing (alongside N'zoth and I-have-no-name-but-am-evil). Second is the assassination of King Llane by Garona Halforcen. I'm not exactly sure why this vision is shown at all. With the timeframe involved, it would be really hard for Yogg-saron to have any influence on Garona at all. I'd dismiss it, except that Yogg-saron's loot table includes a lot of items related to the assassination. Maybe the Twilight's Hammer brought those items to him? The third vision is one of Arthas, turning an “immolated champion” into a death knight. We'll get to that.
Yogg-saron isn't the final boss of Ulduar however. You see, when the player killed prime designate Loken, an automatic signal was sent out to the titans, who responded by sending Algalon, a creature of pure celestial energy. Algalon was tasked with analyzing the planet and seeing whether the death of the Prime Designate meant that the planet was irrevocably corrupted, or if it was unrelated to corruption (perhaps he fell down some stairs or something). Unfortunately, Azeroth has become just a tad tarnished over the last few thousand years, so Algalon decides to give the order to destroy the surface. Naturally, this results in the player beating him up. Algalon states that the entire thing is futile as there is no way for us to defeat him (and even if we did, the order would be sent out automatically), but frankly, I'm calling his bluff. By this point, the player has faced gods, demigods, watchers, dragon aspects and a lord of the burning legion. Algalon is a powerful, sure, but he's no Yogg-saron. The raid beats up Algalon pretty good, and he gives in. Officially, he is amazed by the tenacity of mortal life and wants to give us a fighting chance. Personally, I think he read the records a bit more thoroughly to see where all the epic loot we were carrying came from and discovered we were actually being pretty successful in reducing corruption, but didn't want to admit that he had send the signal before fully reading the records and risk us pummeling him some more.
So he gives us the “all-is-well” code, which, when sent, overrides the re-origination order. We need to send the signal from a high location, which is where the the story does a minor side-step in logic once again. From both an in-universe and a narrative perspective, sending the signal from the temple of storms would have made the most sense. It's the highest mountain on the planet and played a very important role in the questline. However, I'm guessing that blizzard realized that most people didn't read quest text, so they sent the player to the more recognizable location of Dalaran, where Rhonin gives an incredibly corny little speech as he sends the signal. Seriously, that speech always makes me cringe when I hear it. Still though, the raid experience was epic.
VII – Assault on Icecrown
And, it's time for Icecrown. Since he became the lich king, Arthas has constructed massive fortifications throughout the region, making any direct assault impossible. The scarlet onslaught and the argent crusade instead tried alternative ways to get in. The scarlet onslaught tried an attack by ship, but they failed rather miserably, getting their ass kicked before ultimately being finished by the player (who discovers that Mal'ganis was still alive and leading them, suggesting that Balnazzar's survival wasn't a sign of Varimathras' betrayal, but an innate power.).
The argent crusade instead decided to dig through the mountain ranges around Icecrown to get into the area. Unfortunately for them, their entrance turned out to be right at the scourge stronghold of Scourgeholme, and a rather large battle ensued. With some major aid from the player, the argent crusade prevailed, establishing a minor base in the area.
But they're not the only ones. The horde and the alliance have constructed massive aerial barges to attack Icecrown from above (though they really spend most of their time attacking one another). I love these things. Their designs are ridiculously implausible, as I'm fairly sure both ships could be brought to crash with a single well-aimed explosive, but they look awesome nonetheless.
Problem #18: The shadow vault. The ebon blade also establishes a base in the region. What I don't get is why they need a base at all. They have a mobile, flying fortress, more powerful than any of the necropoli commanded by the scourge. Just park that thing over the ocean. Instead, they decide to conquer the shadow vault.
Now remember problem #5, about the question how the ebon blade is such a large organisation despite there only being four people present at the place they were turned? That get's even more bizarre here, as there is an ebon blade infiltrator stationed at the shadow vault. Let's assume for a moment that there were a few dozen unseen death knights. Then how would any of them infiltrate the scourge? The fact that they're not in mental contact with the lich king should have been a blatant give-away. They even mention during the quest that the lich king can see through the eyes of his minions. Now before you comment on the player infiltrating the scourge during the Drakuru story, remember that the player was actually wearing an item that was supposed to turn anyone into a ghoul. No real need to double-check. However, a death knight that was present at a battle during which a heaping lot of death knights turned? That's just silly. Especially since its really easy to eliminate infiltrators. Just kill them and then raise them again. The scourge does it multiple times during the expansion, so that shouldn't be causing any troubles.
Now there is actually an answer for this. Unfortunately, it is a Voodoo Shark, an answer that makes absolutely no sense and raises far more questions than the one it answered. In this case, that answer is the sovereign rod, a torture device used by the scourge to keep more intelligent undead in line. This particular sovereign rod has been enchanted further, and is used to break the hold that the lich king has over his minions by killing them and using the rod to resurrect them. However, two problems with this. First, the device is explicitly mentioned as not working on Death Knights, so it can't have been the source of any of these death knights. Second, why do we only use that device here? I can think of dozens of better targets for the rod. It's like Thrall one-shotting the necropolis in the comics. An ability this powerful should be a major plot point and seen as a major factor throughout the story, not during a single quest against a fairly minor target.
There's a few other major questlines in Icecrown. One features a crusader that has been plagued, and has the player looking for a way to safe him. This quest is actually a tribute to the dead brother of an employee. The quest-chain is pretty good, and has the player go to a number of major sources of curative power, like Keeper Remulos, Alexstrasza and finally A'dal. While the player is unable to safe Bridenbrad's life, three of the naaru arrive as he dies, and guide his soul to a heaven equivalent rather than letting him be corrupted by the lich king. While I'd complain about the naaru once again acting as deus ex machinas, this one actually makes sense. Given that the naaru are pretty much made out of the light, they probably just absorbed his soul into themselves.
Actually, now that I think about it, that actually makes a lot of sense. Would certainly explain why D'ore was buried inside a naaru tomb. He was absorbing the souls of the light-worshipping draenei to become undarkened himself. K'ure may have been the opposite, with the demons making him absorb the shamanistic orc spirits to dilute the light inside of him.
Another story ties interestingly into the Arthas: Rise of the Lich King book. In that book, there were three separate personae inside the lich king. Ner'zhul and Arthas should be obvious. However, there was a third person, a small, sick child, on the verge of death. You see, when Arthas first took frostmourne, his soul was shattered. The arthas that became the lich king was assembled from the aspects that Ner'zhul wanted in his champion. The original Arthas was reduced to this small child. You'd think this was all metaphorical or something, but apparently not, as we actually get to meet the child, who has taken the form of a ghost (even though corrupted arthas killed the child aspect in the book. I guess that part was metaphorical).
The child is imported for two things. First, it gives players not that familiar with warcraft lore a bit of an introduction to the character of Arthas, as we play him when he kills his own men after first becoming the lich king, as well as during his fight with Illidan. It's revealed that the fight was actually pretty damn hard for Arthas, which is excellently reflected in the in-game fight; Illidan is more powerful overall, but Arthas could beat him through a clever use of skills. Thinking his weakness came from his emotions, he does the second important thing: he rips out his heart and throws it into a realm of madness. You'd think that was metaphorical too, but no. You actually find his heart floating in a pit infested with faceless ones. It's a bit weird, but in an awesome way.
However, Arthas sensed you messing around with his organ and realized that just throwing it away somewhere wasn't actually all that secure. Instead, he planned to bring it to the cathedral of darkness, which is pretty much the evil counterpart of the light's hope chapel. The player, Mograine (leader of the ebon blade) and Tirion Fordring disguise themselves to intercept the heart. Tirion wants to see if Arthas is still redeemable. Unfortunately, Arthas is very much irredeemable, and with the advantage of standing on cursed ground, is too powerful for Tirion to defeat. Tirion is forced to strike Arthas' heart, stunning him momentarily, while Mograine opens a death gate for the infiltrators to escape through.
The Argent Tournament
In patch 4.2, the argent crusade organized a tournament to seek the strongest people on Azeroth, who would act as an elite force to take out the lich king. It's a pretty sensible idea, since you don't want to send an endless stream of cannon-fodder inside the citadel only for them to be raised as undead.
So, pretty sensible idea. How to screw that up? By having the tournament in Icecrown itself, far behind enemy lines. Seriously, what the hell? There's at least two zones on the continent that undead are unable to enter altogether. The tournament has almost no defenses whatsoever. If the scourge just sent a single necropolis, they would have captured all the best warriors on azeroth in a single stroke.
The alliance and the horde both send delegations. By this point I don't even have to tell you who the delegates are. Seriously, Thrall, last time you had Garrosh with you, he ignored your orders and punched one of your friends in the face. The time before that, he tried to kill you. The time before that, he tried to kill a prisoner before you got any information out of him. Why do you keep bringing him along?
And every single time Garrosh opens his mouth in this it is for another stupid reason. When he arrives on the tournament, he insults Tirion Fordring and says he was totally in the right for ignoring Thrall's orders and that he regrets not being able to kill Varian. And Thrall is bringing him to a tournament where Varian will also be present. The level of stupid on display here... Plus, in Trial of the Crusader, Garrosh again makes a decision that should be taken by Thrall (that the horde champions would fight the alliance champions to the death, rather than both fighting argent crusaders), despite Thrall sitting right next to him. How does he keep getting away with this?
We know that Thrall isn't this stupid. We've seen that in Warcraft III. When Grom proved to be uncontrollable, Thrall sent him to a spot where he thought he could do no harm. Granted, that resulted in war with the night elves, but based on the information available to him, it was the smart thing to do. Yet here he lets Garrosh do whatever he wants, even after the guy tried to kill him.
Speaking of Trial of the Crusader, we get yet another example of bosses resurrecting, as Anub'arak ambushes the raid. Are we really supposed to believe the adventurers that killed Anub'arak are stupid enough to not destroy the corpses of the important undead they killed? Plus, I distinctly remember his broken husk being a quest item. He still has his husk here. The hell?
The part that is missing
Normally, this is where we would move on to icecrown itself. However, there is very obviously a plot missing here. Throughout the expansion, we've been getting constant new connections between the scourge, the old gods, and the titans. Just on the confirmed side, we have the lich king pretending to be Yogg-saron to get the titan-created vrykul to join him, the scourge using the blood of Yogg-saron to create weaponry, the scourge using ancient titan machinery from Azjol-Nerub to reenforce their armies (though those guys were nowhere to be seen during the entire expansion for some reason) and Arthas' heart being surrounded by faceless ones. On the unconfirmed side, we have death knights using runic magic, gargoyles exhibiting a power similar to the curse of flesh, the scourge tolerating the presence of the twilight's hammer in their nerubian outposts, val'kyr (along with spirit healers) bearing a resemblance to the angels portrayed in titan architecture and something that used the model of a revenant trying to prevent Arthas from obtaining Frostmourne in Warcraft III.
Even Blizzard stated that there was something that wasn't expressed well in the game, which had to do with “the ability of mortals to become corrupted”. Most players assumed that referred to Arthas, and thus called it stupid (which would certainly be the case if it referred to him), but I'm actually thinking it might have to do with Ner'zhul. Remember the flashback in Yogg-saron's mind to Garona killing King Llane? While it's hard for the old gods to be responsible for directly manipulating Garona, it would be a lot more plausible for the old gods to be connected to the shadow council. It's not like most orcish warlocks would care what evil and dark sources their powers come from. And it would give some explanation for when the twilight's hammer, agents of the shadow council, came to serve the old gods.
So Ner'zhul gets turned into the lich king, planted in the middle of nowhere and overseen by the dreadlords. However, because of the knowledge gained from one of the old gods, he knows of targets and magics in northrend that the nath'rezim do not. Because of this, the scourge becomes far more powerful than they anticipated. Anticipating a betrayal, they only take a small part of the scourge to Kalimdor so that Ner'zhul can't claim the well of eternity, leaving a vast portion behind in the Eastern Kingdoms. Ner'zhul uses this opportunity to betray the legion, sending Arthas to give Illidan information on the skull of Gul'dan.
Of course, that's just one theory. The expansion provides no real indication for this theory, or any other theory for that matter. The connection between the scourge, the titans and the old gods is just kind of there, nothing ever done with it. It especially feels like it would have been easy to do something with the vrykul during the assault on Icecrown citadel, revealing that the lich king was not the god of death and causing a rebellion. However, that brings me to
Problem #19: The assault on Icecrown. During Wrath of the lich king there was a lot of build-up for the eventual assault on Icecrown Citadel. The taunka swore they would stand with the horde. Oacha'noa commanded the Tuskarr to join the assault. Magni Bronzebeard stated he would join. The horde and the alliance had a ton of dailies to soften up the defenses of Icecrown for the inevitable assault.
And then... there was no assault. An event that the expansion had been building towards for its entire run was just skipped over. The gates of Icecrown were just breached with patch 5.3. It wasn't even phased or anything. Of all the cut content in the expansion (a lot of which I didn't even mention), this is by far the saddest from a story-telling perspective. This could have been the crowning moment for the entire expansion, like the battle of mount hyjal was to warcraft III or the final charge against the Overmind was for starcraft. But no, we never even get to see it. That's just sad.
Time for the final run (Ruby Sanctum really has no story, so we're skipping it), as we enter Icecrown citadel itself. Patch 5.3, which added Icecrown to the game, added 3 new dungeons that take place earlier in the timeline. Remember Arthas' ghost child form? The kid mentioned that Arthas sometimes left his sword alone in a place called the halls of reflection. To reach the sword, Jaina and Sylvanas grab a few individual adventurers like the player, as well as requisitioning the champions from the coliseum (remember that the player is not one of these champions, as it becomes important later).
The way to the sword is long and hard. First, you have to fight through the forge of souls, where the scourge produces its' weapons, followed by the pit of saron, where they harvest saronite from an exposed tendril of Yogg-saron. Finally, you get to the halls of reflection. While you aren't able to destroy the sword, you are able to summon one of the spirits within; King Terenas Menethil, Arthas' father. Unfortunately, the intelligence he gives you is really stupid, but we'll get to that. Arthas himself also shows up, beats Sylvanas/Jaina rather handily, and then pursues them and the player until they manage to escape.
What always struck me about these dungeons is that the story was clearly designed only for Jaina's powerset, not Sylvanas'. Specifically, teleporting the player during the encounter with scourgelord Tyrannus in the pit of Saron and breaking through walls of ice during the flight in the halls of reflection are mage powers. They are definitely not ranger powers.
Another important factor of the dungeon was Quel'delar, an epic-level blade that was obtained through quest-chain. It was created to be the sister blade of Quel'serrar, with the idea that the dragonflights had forged the two blades, giving one to the night elves and one to the high elves. Nice story. Except it made no sense. Problem #20: Quel'delar's backstory. Quel'serrar was a specific type of blade, established as first being created before the war of the ancients (so before the high elves even existed), though the specific example the player wielded was forged during the questline. Basically, they threw out the entire backstory of the original sword just for the sake of calling their new sword its' sister sword.
What makes the entire thing even sillier is the backstory of Quel'serrar did contain a reference to another sword that could have easily taken the place of Quel'delar: The Prismatic Blade of Quel'serrar. While lesser blades of Quel'serrar were simply forged by a dragon, the prismatic blade contained the power of all five dragon aspects. Even Neltharion lent his power, before he became deathwing. It would have been so easy to say that the prismatic blade belonged to a highborne, and that he took it with him when the ancestors of the high elves were banished from night elf lands. Bam, you've got a backstory!
The quest itself is pretty good though. You obtain a shattered hilt, infiltrate the sunreavers/silver covenant to obtain a copy of a “how-to-reforge-awesome-elven-sister-blades” book, reforge the blade with saronite for some reason, bless the blade in the sunwell because you were dumb enough to make it out of saronite and then you've got yourself a sweet blade. You even get to see a phased version of sunwell isle, now under complete blood elf control.
Before we enter Icecrown itself, we should discuss the revelation of king terenas. Problem #21: The revelation of King Terenas. The good king reveals to us that, without a lich king, the scourge will run rampant and destroy the entire world. There's three layers of stupid to this.
First; we've seen what happens when the lich king loses his hold over his minions: they gain self-control, though often a somewhat corrupted personality. Sylvanas and her forsaken are living (undying?) proof of that.
Second; if the scourge is already capable of conquering the world with ease, why aren't they doing so right now?
Third; I don't buy the idea that a scourge running rampant could destroy the world. Sure, they're the most powerful faction on the planet, but a large portion of that power comes from their intelligent members. The way its worded here implies that they become a mindless horde. That means no or extremely limited magic, including necromancy. No one able to fly necropoli. None of the vrykul variations. No liches. No siege weaponry. No battle tactics. The scourge has massive numbers, sure, but not to the point of being able to compensate for that. Especially not in a world with high-grade explosives.
So, onto icecrown itself. The goal here is simple. Get in, murder the last few leaders of the scourge, then kill the lich king. Of course, what would wrath of the lich king be without miraculously resurrecting bosses? Say hello to Prince Valanar, Prince Keleseth and Prince Taldaram. Yes, that's right, three resurrected bosses for the price of one.
However, that's not the only boss encounter that makes no sense. Problem #22: Bolvar Fordragon, raised as a death knight. Remember the battle of the wrathgate? Well, apparently, Arthas has now raised Saurfang the Younger and is trying to raise Bolvar Fordragon as death knights. Even though when Arthas retreated through the wrathgate, he wasn't carrying any bodies...
Okay, let's try for suspension of disbelief. Maybe Arthas somehow used the souls he absorbed into frostmourne to create new bodies and... Hold on! Arthas didn't kill Bolvar! In fact, Bolvar didn't die until Arthas had already retreated into the wrathgate! There is no way he could have gotten either Bolvar's body or his soul. I'd call it a retcon, except Bolvar's body is still covered in marks from the dragonfire, which can't have been there if the lich king took Bolvar when he retreated into the gate. What the hell?
Finally, we ascend to the apex of the original Icecrown spire and face the lich king himself. Honestly, as far as boss fights go, it's not really all that epic. I guess its the surroundings. Sure, fighting on top of the original icecrown spire is kind of cool, but it's a rather small area with nothing going on but the fight. Yogg-saron had a massive chamber and portals into his mind. Illidan had the entire world floating in the sky. Arthas has a platform.
Anyway, I promised you stupidity, and hence I shall deliver. Arthas uses a devastating spell to kill the entire raid, when he finally reveals his plan. He has sacrificed armies, allowed all of his champions and commanders to be killed, invited the armies of the horde and the alliance to his very doorstop to get... 10/25 random adventurers.
Now, while some of you are currently dead due to caved in skulls (which is rather annoying, since I only have like 10 readers), I know there are a few people who defend Arthas' plan. After all, the player beat all the lieutenants, so he was clearly better. First off, every kill was a group effort. Second of all, we're not even the faction champions. Remember, the guys who invade Icecrown canonically aren't the same as those that won in the argent tournament. Those guys all died during the assault on the Pit of Saron. Third, we're 10/25 guys on foot. There's an airship with big guns circling the citadel. The second anyone steps outside, they get an explosive to the face. Even if we get turned, we took out all the guardians of Icecrown. By this point, an actual army will be enough to break the might of the scourge.
Honestly, I was expecting something like a fleet of necropoli buried beneath the caps of Icecrown, ready to assault the army that would come to finish the work we started. This is just terrible. But even when you write a bad story, you just have to go along with it, so Bolvar Fordragon, who resisted becoming a death knight, sacrifices himself by placing the crown on his own head.
Now if I had become the lich king, I'd simply order all of the scourge to go throw themselves off the top of Icecrown Citadel, ask the red dragonflight to torch the remains and then take off the crown (okay, I'd probably try to take over the world, but Bolvar is supposed to be a good person). But no, we have to end on a final note of idiocy, as Bolvar just goes sitting around. It's not like a person in full control of the scourge could order them to do anything, right?
Is it weird to say that I still like Wrath of the Lich King after all the problems I've just pointed out and spent ages complaining about? Sure, the plot is stupid, the characters have become unlikable idiots and there are blatant gaps in several places. But it still expands the world with interesting new ideas. Ulduar and the stories leading up to it added so much to the setting, as did the various new cultures of the northern continent. I'm especially interested in learning more of Oacha'noa, see the magnataur play a role in a conflict and maybe see the interaction between the returned Freya and the other goddesses of nature; Ysera, Elune and Aessina.
Unfortunately, blizzard took the wrong lessons from Wrath of the Lich King. Join me next time, as we dig into the hell of the cataclysm era.