Wednesday, 6 March 2013

WoW - Wrath of the Lich King - part I

And we return to looking at the games, this time taking a look at Wrath of the Lich King, WoW's second expansion. It's also probably World of Warcraft's most fondly remembered expansion, which means I'm likely to get flogged for any negative comments. Lucky for me, I actually think WotLK is a pretty decent expansion. Which is weird, because almost all of the main plots are incredibly stupid.

I have split this review up into two parts, because it's been a month since my last review and I'm still not finished with the entire thing (in my defense, I have also been working on the sunwell trilogy). Part two should be coming out soon.

I - The Beginning
Wrath of the Lich King, as the name suggests, centers around the war with the Lich King. Not sure where the wrath part in the title comes from though. Ah well, it sounds cool. It seems that after the events of The Frozen Throne, where Arthas merged with Ner'Zhul, the duo entered a long slumber, explaining why the scourge has been sucking at its job for the last few years. With the reawakening of the Lich King, the scourge finally starts acting like itself again, with necropolises emerging over several zones, and a new plague of undead being unleashed that turns anyone who touches it into a zombie. To fight these attacks, the horde and the alliance have allied, with Grand Apothecary Putress and Bishop Lazaril working together to find a cure. Though they don't fully succeed, they did find a way to limit infection, with the alliance using Naaru-blessed holy artifacts, and the horde using zombie brains. You may think that if the groups were working together they'd use the same cure, but apparently not. Finally, the lich king launches three direct attacks against enemy capitals; one against Stormwind, one against Orgrimmar and one against Tyr's Hand. And this is where our problems start.

Problem #1: The alliance story should not focus on Stormwind. I said before that I'm not exactly a fan of Stormwind. As a faction, I just find them bland. However, they're particularly ill-suited to the story of WotLK, simply because they don't have any sort of connection to it. Of all the factions in the alliance, Stormwind has had the least conflict with the scourge. Even the draenei, who've only been on the planet for a single year, have more experience fighting the scourge, as they faced a scourge contingent during the shattered sun offensive. Let me try and put it in a picture.

The purple areas represent every territory that has suffered at the hands of the scourge. The blue area represents the kingdom of Stormwind. The red area indicates where the two overlap. Notice a problem?

Hell, why did the scourge attack Stormwind anyway? It's all the way on the other side of the world! All of the alliance capitals are closer! Why not go after Darnassus, Theramore or Ironforge instead? From a story perspective, Theramore and Ironforge would do better as well, since their leaders actually have a personal connection to the story. The main villain, Arthas, is the former lover of the ruler of Theramore, and his turn to darkness was completed with the death of the brother of the ruler of Ironforge. Those are powerful stories. You could even have the scourge attack Southshore and bring back Calia Menethil. Considering her brother is the main villain, you'd think we'd at least learn what the hell happened to her. But apparently, we're not supposed to care.

Of course, the alliance isn't the only one with problems going on. Problem #2: The horde keeps Garrosh around. While the attack on Storwind was just a simple attack, a lot more was going with the attack on Orgrimmar. You see, over the last few days/weeks/months, tensions between Garrosh and Thrall have been rising, as Garrosh is much more aggressive than Thrall. Naturally, we don't get to see any of these conflicts, because that would be actual story-telling. Instead, we only get the climax.

Garrosh Hellscream: Thrall...Warchief...your armies await your command. Let me lead them to Northrend to remove this undead menace! With my complete lack of wartime experience, lack of familiarity with the scourge and ignorance of tactics, I'm obviously the best choice for a commander.
Sylvanas: Yes, Thrall. The time has come to kill Arthas. You can take my grand apothecary with you. His knowledge will be invaluable against whatever the Scourge will throw at you.
Grand Apothecary Putress: It would be an honor, Dark Lady.
Saurfang: Warchief, it is clear that Northrend represents the gravest threat to our people, and that we must act against it.
Thrall: My soul burns for revenge, but the elements tell me to think clearly. If the scourge was actively trying to conquer territory, they would have used overwhelming attacks against strategic locations near their current holdings. Instead, they have been striking throughout the world, executing minor attacks against as many enemies as possible, making sure that every faction in the world will strike back at the same time. Either Arthas is the biggest idiot in the world, or this is a trap. Instead of attacking directly, we will send scouts to assess the situation. I will also convene with the Lady Proudmoore and see what plans the Alliance has.
Thrall: Garrosh, remember what happened to your father?
Thrall: *facepalm*
During the duel, the scourge attacks. However, it is a minor attack, and the horde managed to hold of the attack
Herald of the Lich King: This small victory will avail you nothing! You should send all your troops to Northrend instead! This is totally not a trap! Wink, wink!
Thrall: Well, if he says there is no trap, it must be true! Saurfang, prepare the fleet!

Paraphrased of course. However, even in the actual version, it is pretty damn clear to everyone at the meeting that Garrosh has absolutely zero interest in using either tactics or strategy, will attack allies at the slightest provocation, doesn't know how to pick his fights and has crippling daddy issues. And yet we see throughout the expansion that they keep assigning important duties to him. In this example, he actually does get promoted to the commander of the warsong offensive, leading the horde forces in Northrend.

What makes the entire thing even sillier is that Thrall also sends Saurfang to Northrend. Saurfang not only outranks Garrosh (High overlord vs. overlord), but he is also a veteran of the first, second and third wars, universally respected amongst orc warriors, a fan favorite and he has experience working with the alliance. So why the hell isn't Saurfang in charge?

Luckily for Garrosh, he isn't the only idiot on Northrend. Problem #3: Arthas is an idiot. Throughout the expansion, we'll see just how completely unprepared the scourge is, and when you actually hear their final plan, you'll end up facepalming so hard that your skull contents will be in serious danger. You've been warned.

However, before that, we get some minor bits of stupidity in the form of the death knight starting zone. Don't get me wrong, the death knight starting zone is awesome. It is here that you first see the strength of Wrath of the Lich King, in that it has very strong quests and a feeling of scope that most other warcraft material lacks. From the very intro, it's a good experience, and it makes very effective use of Arthas, unlike some of the later areas where he will appear. The music is fantastic, with dark refrains of music from Warcraft III. The introduction of new story elements and many of the new characters is done naturally.

Sure, there's a few things that I don't like, mostly comedic elements that feel like they were forced in just for the sake of having comedic elements. But I'll get to that later. Instead, let's talk about the ending. After the scourge has overrun the scarlet crusade holdings of Tyr's Hand in an awesomely glorious quest-chain, they turn their attention towards Light's Hope Chapel.

A bit of backstory. Light's Hope Chapel is in the middle of the plaguelands. Yet it remains unplagued due to it being a powerful holy place. In fact, there is no known location on the whole of Azeroth that is more holy than Light's Hope Chapel. While we don't know the exact details, we know that this is because there is something mysterious beneath the chapel. There's a bunch of theories, but the most logical ones are that it is either Tyr (since there is a bunch of stuff in the area named after him and we know that Tyr had contact with ancient humans) or a naaru (because blizzard loves them some naarus). Because of this holiness, the knights of the silver hand placed their dead here, hoping to protect them from being raised as Death Knights by the scourge.

The chapel is also home to Tirion Fordring, one of the first knights of the silver hand, and the most powerful paladins left in the world. So, here's Arthas' plan of attack: He's going to send in a massive army, 10000 undead strong. Even with the advantage of holy ground, the mere 300 (oh hey, an actual subtle reference!) defenders will have a hard time against so many enemies, and Tirion will be forced to leave the chapel and join the fighting. At this point, the lich king himself will use a death gate to enter the fray and kill Tirion. Okay, that's a solid plan.

So, who does he send to lead his armies? His chief necromancer? One of the San'layn princes? Nope. He sends Darion Mograine, wielder of the corrupted ashbringer, a supremely powerful artifact whose full potential only becomes available when cleansed by the light, which happens when it is exposed to large amounts of holy energy, like a holy site, or a powerful paladin. Ashbringer is one of the most powerful artifacts in the world, but it is particularly potent against unholy energy, like the undead, or those who use cursed weaponry. Arthas is an undead carrying cursed weaponry. He's sending the enemy a weapon of which the specialty is killing him!

Arthas, you're your own worst enemy, you know?

Let's talk about what happens after that as well. The attack on the Light's Hope Chapel consists of only five death knights, with tons of mindless undead to support them. Highlord Fordring emerges when there have been about 500 scourge losses, and at that point four of the five death knights break away from the control of the scourge. The fifth, Orbaz Bloodbane, flees, eventually becoming the leader of the Host of Suffering. Angry at the lich king, the four death knights vow to go kill him and form the knights of the Ebon Blade. To do this, they take Acherus from the small force the retreating scourge left behind, and send the player to either the alliance or the horde (depending on race) to establish diplomatic relations.

So what are the problems with that?

Problem #4: Why the hell did the scourge retreat in the first place? There's only a handful of rebelling death knights, while there are thousands of remaining scourge soldiers, as well as baron Rivendare, Prince Keleseth, Prince Valanar, Gothik the Harvester, Salanar the Horseman and his dark riders, Patchwerk, Orbaz Bloodbane and Olrun the Battlecaller. Me thinks that should be an incredibly easy battle to win. And even if you were going to retreat, why not retreat using Acherus? It's a flying fortress!

Problem #5: Where do all the other knights of the ebon blade come from? There's very clearly only five death knights participating in the attack on the chapel, and even if there weren't, Tirion killed all present scourge soldiers bar the remaining four. Yet even during the attack on Acherus, there are a number of generic death knight NPCs joining in the attack. Where the hell did those guys come from?

What makes the entire thing even more confusing is that the death knight trainers of Acherus also join the knights of the ebon blade. We actually know where these guys were during the battle for Light's Hope Chapel, and it was not anywhere near the battlefield. They remained inside the citadel. So how in the world did they turn? The only way I can think of is that the ebon blade knights are somehow able to free other knights from the control of the lich king, but that just raises the question of why they don't do that for all enemy death knights.

Problem #6: Patchwerk, our lord and savior, who rose from the grave after three days. The scourge leaves Patchwerk behind as part of their token defense force for Acherus. Patchwerk is killed by the player. Patchwerk later appears as a boss in Naxxramas. Writers, I think you may be having a bit of a continuity problem here.

Tie-in Materials
Wrath of the Lich King had several books that tied directly into the story, so I'm occasionally going to need to reference them. For the previous section, three tie-in books are relevant. First of all, there is Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, which tells the story of Arthas' life. It's also a really damn good book. While the majority of the book takes place in the past, there is a tiny bit at the end that explains how the lich king got in his current state and how Arthas became the dominant personality.

Secondly, there is Ashbringer, which gives the backstory of the scarlet crusade, the argent dawn and, of course, the eponymous blade. While it is a good graphic novel, the game relies a little too much on you having read it, especially with the battle for light's hope chapel in the death knight starting quests.

Thirdly, there was the warcraft comic series, which explained the return of Varian Wrynn. I've discussed the comic series' descent into the abyss quite extensively already, but I'm afraid we're going to have to delve into that madness for a bit again. For one thing, I'm going have to address something I didn't mention at all in my review: The timing. The book's primary goal, at least for the first two arcs, was to introduce the character of Varian Wrynn, so he could go play a huge role in Wrath of the Lich King. However, here's the problem. Wrath of the Lich King came out on November 13, 2008. Issue #20 of the comic, which led into Wrath of the Lich King, was released on June 17, 2009. That means it took seven months before we actually knew what was up with the guy.

There's also the fact that the comic was an extremely poor tie-in. The game portrayed weeks of fighting the scourge attackers, during which the horde and alliance had a small alliance to figure out a cure for the new plague. However, in the comic, there is explicitly no pact between the alliance and the horde during the Theramore negotiations, which happen only a single day before the attack on Stormwind and there is no mention of the new plague or the other scourge invasions before that. Several events that happened in the both the game and the comic play out completely different. Most notably, the conversation which leads to the duel between Thrall and Garrosh has entirely different dialogue and different characters present.

II – Landfall
It's going to be a while before we see the Argent Dawn and Ebon Blade again, at least in force. Instead, we're going to be fighting alongside the alliance and horde during much of the initial foray into Northrend. For once, both sides actually differ in their approach, though I wouldn't say it's for the best.

The horde sends two largely independent forces. Orcs, trolls, tauren, goblins and mag'har have formed the Warsong Expedition, led by (*sigh*) Garrosh Hellscream. The expedition operates from Warsong Hold in the western Borean Tundra. The forsaken have formed the Hand of Vengeance, which is perfecting the new plague, a potent chemical weapon, while advancing from the east. During their advance, the horde expedition also encounters and befriends the taunka, an ancient offshoot of the tauren race that will eventually join the horde.

The alliance instead has a single main expedition, the Valiance Expedition, with Varian Wrynn as the main leader. Other races do maintain individual bases, but these are single outposts rather than independent factions. The Explorer's League is also active in Northrend, but isn't here for the scourge. Instead, they're looking for more information on the titans, and have befriended the dwarf-like Frostborn in the process.

However, this leads to Problem #7: The alliance becomes the monarchy. For some ungodly reason, someone at Blizzard decided that Varian had now become the supreme god of the alliance, and all lesser 'rulers' in the alliance serve him unquestionably. And I'm not even exaggerating that much.

Take for example Jaina Proudmoore. While her official title is merely Lady of Theramore, she is technically a monarch. As such, she is an equal to Varian Wrynn. Yet throughout the expansion, she's portrayed as being a mere adviser to the king, forced to follow his orders and unable to make any diplomatic accords of his own or break away from the alliance.

Just to rag on the horde for a minute, let's return to problem 2. Warsong Hold originally had a much larger base built around it, including a quarry, farms, stables and a dock. However, thanks to a problem with the kvaldir, the docks have been lost a while ago, and now the scourge is taking over the other facilities, cutting off Warsong Hold from any supplies. Garrosh' solution? There is none, because he doesn't consider it a problem. Garrosh doesn't believe in supply lines. Let me repeat that. The guy who Thrall appointed as the leader of a major horde offensive doesn't believe in supply lines. At this point, Garrosh' lack of military insight has become so great that its become incredible. No creature could be this stupid. Even newborn babies understand that, to get food, you need something that gives you food.

Saurfang rightly calls him an idiot, as they can't breach enemy fortifications without additional supplies. Garrosh counters that they can always raid the humans. Brilliant plan there, mister frowny-face. Breach enemy fortifications to get supplies that you need for any breaching of enemy fortifications to be successful. Can't see any problem in that statement. Plus, everyone knows that as soon as you raid and destroy a base, you can draw an infinite amount of resources from it. Saurfang instead tries to point out the fact that the horde isn't evil any more, so raiding people just because they have something you want is not done. Naturally, as an uncorrupted orc raised by the peace-loving greatmother Geyah, Garrosh just mocks this. Finally though, Garrosh is sick of Saurfang's talking, so he sends a single person to go hold off an entire scourge army. Naturally, that person is the player. However, for once, the player doesn't have the power of plot on his side, and is actually about to be overwhelmed by scourge forces when Saurfang comes to the rescue. After saving your ass, Saurfang asks the player to not tell Garrosh that Saurfang had to interfere, because god forbid that Garrosh learn from his mistakes.

However, while those two are big problems, there's something else that's important here. And that is that the questing experience of Northrend is amazing, the best out of all the expansions. Rather than having a series of individual quests that occasionally form into a chain, like vanilla and TBC, or having all quests form a single long chain, like Cataclysm, WotLK uses a series of short quest chains. Combine this with the large size for the zones allowing for there to be a large amount of quest chains per zones, and you've got the perfect recipe. As all quest chains are short, it means you can have small side-tracks in which you deal with a matter that isn't connected to the main plot, but adds to the feel of the world. And as the zones are big, it means you can still actually have a main focus between the side-tracks.

And the side-tracks are pretty interesting. For the natives, we get to meet the Magnataur, Snobold, Tuskarr, Vrykul and Kvaldir cultures, all of which are pretty well-developed. Sadly, there's also a few natives that barely get any development at all, like the wolvar, the polar furbolg and the northern harpies. In other plot threads, we get to see the forsaken perfect their new plague, the cult of the damned infiltrate the alliance and the scourge launch assaults against the dragonshrines and the drakkari empire, which are actually the two most logical targets for the scourge to want to control. We also get a few quest chains that are part of larger stories, like the infinite dragonflight attacking the bronze dragonshrine and the scarlet crusade, now called the scarlet onslaught, making landfall. Plus, there is plenty of fighting scourge.

III – The Wrathgate
The horde and the alliance have built up their forces and fought their way through the dragonblight, defeating several scourge forces along the way. Now, it is time for their final assault, as they prepare to attack Angrathar, the Wrath Gate, one of the entrances to Icecrown Citadel. For once, the horde and the alliance actually send competent people to lead the battle, with Saurfang the Younger leading the horde forces and Bolvar Fordragon leading the alliance forces. From the fact that there are still four sections after this one, you can probably guess that the battle didn't exactly go according to plan.

It actually starts out pretty fine. The alliance is the first on the battlefield, fighting an army of ghouls, geists and bloated zombies. To my ever-lasting surprise, we actually get an acknowledgment that there are more human nations than just Stormwind in the alliance, as one of the soldiers yells “For Lordaeron!”. The various lesser undead are forced to retreat, with an army of Frost Vrykul emerging from the gate instead. Frost Vrykul are pretty damn powerful warriors, so the alliance is now slowly getting pushed back. However, Saurfang the Younger comes to the rescue, along with the horde forces. Together, they manage to defeat the vrykul and approach the gate.

That is the point where it all goes wrong. The lich king himself emerges from the gate, raising an army of undead from the skeletons around the gate. Saurfang tries to strike, but is taken down near instantaneously, his soul sucked into frostmourne. However, before Arthas can kill Bolvar, the forsaken reinforcements arrive, led by Grand Apothecary Putress. Unfortunately, these guys are not here to help. Instead, they're unleashing their new plague on everyone present, whether living or undead. It's actually quite gruesome, as we see faces melting and we see a long shot of Bolvar dying due to the poisonous gasses, though the low quality of the animation on the cinematic kind of detracts from it. Even Arthas is forced to retreat, clearly injured. Lucky for everyone, the player just befriended the red dragonflight, and they come in before the situation can get any worse, destroying the forsaken plague catapults, but not before Putress himself manages to escape.

At this point, the battle for the Undercity has started. It becomes clear rather quickly that the attack on the Wrathgate wasn't actually organized by Sylvanas, but by Tichondrius, who has mounted a coup. Yeah, the traitorous demon was planning a coup, what a surprise. Sylvanas and her followers have been forced to flee from the city, retreating to Orgrimmar. Wait, Orgrimmar? How the hell did the entire civilian population of Undercity cross the ocean? And why? The forsaken don't exactly have any large strongholds, so I can understand that they have to leave their own territory, but why not flee to Silvermoon instead? It's much closer, and people from your faction haven't just slaughtered their elite fighting force.

Thrall and Sylvanas team up to retake the undercity, attacking from the front entrance. It's a pretty damn awesome battle, with especially Sylvanas standing out due to her awesome fighting style. Meanwhile, Varian, Broll, Valeera and Jaina sneak in through the sewers, ready to take some vengeance for Bolvar and hopefully retake the Undercity for the alliance (they don't know the horde is already doing that). As they travel through the city, they find the corpses of the humans that the royal apothecary society had been experimenting upon. Oh dear.

Up to this point, the battle for the undercity and its lead-up have been awesome, a few minor laps in logic aside. However, what happens now completely undermines that. It's understandable that Varian gets upset to the point where he loses control. However, he goes so far in this that it becomes inexcusable.

Problem #8: Varian's sudden personality shift. If you haven't yet, please read my review of the first seven warcraft comics. It was these comics that originally introduced Varian Wrynn, giving us a feel for his personality, and serve as his 'motivation' for things to come. Why do I write motivation like that?

King Varian Wrynn: I have seen the Horde's world. I have been inside their cities. Inside their minds.... I know what evil lies in the hearts of orcs.

During the comics, Varian visited both Orgrimmar and Thunder Bluff, seeing them from the inside. He has met the people, both good and bad. He has met Hyku, the brutish blademaster. Rehgar, the slave trader who was oppressive, but treated Varian with respect nonetheless, eventually giving him the chance to escape. He has seen the countless civilians of Orgrimmar, men, women and children just looking to make a living. Yet here, he dismisses all of that. They're evil, just because they are orcs.

King Varian Wrynn (to Thrall): I was away for too long. My absence cost us the lives of some of our greatest heroes. Trash like you and this evil witch were allowed to roam free – unchecked.

I have no idea what he is talking about. Which heroes died in his absence, and how are Thrall and Sylvanas to blame for that? The death of the soldiers at the wrathgate had nothing to do with Varian's length of absence. Had he not gone away at all, the exact same thing would probably have happened.

King Varian Wrynn: The time has come to make things right. To disband your treacherous kingdom of murderers and thieves. Putress was the first strike. Many more will come.

Varian is not speaking to Sylvanas. He is not talking about lack of oversight. Later conversations show that he actually believes that the massacre at the Wrathgate was a planned attack by the horde. He is standing in front of a horde expedition, led by the leader of the horde, against the guys who performed a massacre that slaughtered horde and alliance alike, and he believes that the massacre was planned by the horde. Paranoid delusion, thy name is Varian Wrynn.

King Varian Wrynn: I've waited a long time for this, Thrall. For every time I was thrown into one of your damned arenas... for every time I killed a green-skinned aberration like you... I could only think of one thing. What our world could be without you and your twisted Horde... It ends now, Warchief.

Wait, what? What? WHAT? You... no... wait... WHAT? I... I can't even begin to tackle on how many levels that is wrong. First of all, Wrynn isn't actually all that negative about his arena days. He's repeatedly expressed desire to return to those simpler times. Second, Wrynn only trained in Orgrimmar. The actual throwing-in-arenas happened in Dire Maul, which was not a horde tournament but belonged to independent ogres. Third, Varian has always thought of the orcs as green-skinned aberrations now? What the hell. Fourth, the idea that Varian universally hates the horde is ridiculous. He walked into Undercity with Valeera, a silvermoon-loyal blood elf, at his side, and was freed from slavery by Hamuul Runetotem, one of the most important tauren. Actually, now that I think about it, shouldn't Valeera have some choice words for Varian, now that he's declared war on her people? Hell, Jaina is also present. She let her own father die to preserve the peace with the horde. It's a miracle that when she teleports the alliance forces away, she doesn't just skip Varian and leave him for the horde to deal with. She probably didn't trust Thrall to actually kill him rather than take him prisoner. Or at least, that's how I'm interpreting it.

One of the big problems here is that Varian has plenty of reasons to be upset. However, all of those reasons should make him upset at the forsaken. Even being upset at the horde in general would be understandable. But no, he's going off against the orcs, despite them not being involved in this affair other than as victims.

Problem #9: Where are all the other alliance leaders in this? Varian is not a lone king. He is a member of the alliance, and as the head of the central nation, he is its representative. Yet here he acts as if he needs to answer to no one, declaring war in all of their names. By doing this, he has forced the horde into taking action, or risk being destroyed. Stormwind doesn't border horde territory, but many of the other nations do, or at least have outposts near it. Yet he doesn't even consult the other kings before taking this action. He had his little outburst, and now their people are going to have to pay the price in blood.

By all means, this act should have sundered the alliance. Tyrande is a proud warrior. She isn't going to let a foreigner's whims decide the fates of her people. Velen's goal is to unite the mortal races of Azeroth into an army of light, not divide them further. With the alliance offensive broken, he's likely to join the Argent Dawn in their crusade instead. Lordaeron has no choice but to stay in the alliance, but it is doomed anyway. With barely any defenses and their soldiers in Northrend, Southshore is going to be the first target in any horde strike. If they're lucky, Thrall will enforce tight enough control over the forsaken that their civilians are going to be spared. If they're unlucky, the forsaken are simply going to launch their new plague against it, and the last memory of the inhabitants of Southshore will be the faces of their loved ones melting away. Jaina has sacrificed so much already to maintain peace with the orcs, she's not going to throw it all away, especially when her supposed ally is refusing to even listen to her words of reason. Even Magni, a close friend to Varian, isn't going to let his anger issues result in the deaths of his people. The hundreds of dwarves in Bael Modan, Dun Baldar and Dun Garok, which would be amongst the first targets during a war with the horde, come first. With the dwarves distancing themselves from Varian's declaration of war, the gnomes will also follow. The only people that would consider joining in Varian's offensive, Kul Tiras, Stromgarde, Quel'danil and Aerie Peak, are now separated by large swaths of terrain. Kul Tiras might be able to hold off the strike. The others are quickly going to go the way of Southshore.

Of course, that's the pessimistic outcome. In the most optimistic outcome, the alliance leaders decide to stay together, but tell Varian to go screw himself, formally distancing themselves from his declaration. Stormwind may or may not leave (or be kicked out of) the alliance, but the other leaders are at the very least going to choose a new central nation, or move to a model where there no longer is a central nation.

Neither of these happen. Apparently, none of the other leaders of the alliance have any trouble with Varian playing with the lives of their people at all. Even Jaina, who let her own father die to maintain peace, does nothing. As I said before, the alliance has essentially turned into a monarchy. Only Varian Wrynn matters. At the end of the quest chain, Varian even calls himself the player's king, no matter what race he plays as.

Problem #10: The entire idea of a war between the horde and the alliance. Now, this is very, very subjective, but I've always disliked the idea of the alliance and horde going to war. I just don't think it's very interesting, mostly because it's all already been done. We've had the epic war for world domination in warcrafts I and II. We've had the two factions fighting, yet ultimately overcoming their differences for the sake of survival in warcraft III. And we've had someone stuck in the past lead to new conflict in The Frozen Throne. Between the three of those, you've pretty much covered all the all-out war storylines.

War could still work, but the writers would have to work really hard to have it not just come out as a pale imitation of the previous wars. And, let's face it, World of Warcraft is not exactly a good medium for doing that. While Northrend is a little better in this regard, all the old zones just lack the scale to do justice to the battles that it would take to conquer such a large territory. Plus, there really isn't any mechanism in place for big battles, with normal NPC AI being way too awkwardly artificial to give any sense of a true battle.

That is not to say that there should be no conflict. From both a story and a gameplay perspective, having separate factions but no conflict between them is just a waste. However, it should not be an all-out war, for the reasons mentioned above. Having a full-scale cold war between the alliance and the horde would actually be pretty interesting, and could lead to a lot of good questing opportunities.

IV – The Nexus War
The war against the lich king actually isn't the only war going on in Northrend. There's actually two others that, while smaller in scope, could still result in the destruction of Azeroth. One of these is the nexus war. Malygos, awakened from his slumber, decided that magic should be restricted, so he started attacking all mortal spell-casters.

Like most of Wrath of the Lich King, the Nexus War is a sharp contrast between a bad overall plot and some really good details. However, unlike the rest of Wrath of the Lich King, that's something you're going to have to work really hard to figure out. Why? Because the story is a complete mess, spread over several different mediums.

Problem #11: The backstory for the Nexus War. Okay, let's go over the relevant tie-ins here. In the War of the Ancients trilogy of novels, Rhonin travels back in time to fight during the original demon invasion of Azeroth. The main events of the story aren't really relevant here, but one event is. Originally, the blue dragonflight was pretty much annihilated during the war of the ancients, as they were the first target of Deathwing's demon soul. However, Rhonin brought back a few blue dragon eggs from his time travel adventure, and Nozdormu would give them to Malygos when he was well enough, and the blue dragonflight would rise again.

However, there was a bit of a problem. Time travel stories are hard, since every change to the past will have wide-ranging consequences for the present. Unfortunately, the books were written by Richard A. Knaak, and, as we've previously established, canon is NOT his strong point. As such, even though the books weren't that bad, there were dozens of problems with the new timeline. A particularly large one was that the books assumed that all blue dragons but Malygos had been killed during the war of the ancients, despite the fact that we'd already seen several. We're going to do a full dissection of the series soon, but for now, let's just say that many fans weren't happy. While no official statement was ever made (there is quite a few people that actually like the books, as they definitely have their good points), blizzard seems to have an official policy of ignoring all the timeline alterations. Even the other Knaak books seemed to ignore them, as they featured a number of blue dragons during a period where Malygos was still having mental issues.

So, we instead get a second explanation for Malygos' return in the form of the Shadow Wing Duology, also written by Knaak. In these books, a blue dragon and a paladin encounter the nether dragonflight, and through a rather complicated series of events, the nether dragons of that book get eaten by Malygos. While there are several issues with the book, there are two that are more important. First, the second book, in which Malygos eats himself some nether dragons, only came out in March 2011, a full nine months after WotLK. Second, the series was intended to run for three books, not two. However, blizzard and Tokyopop, the publisher for the blizzard mangas, broke ways after book two. Why? Because blizzard didn't have the manpower and/or management to actually get the book scripts done in time, so they stopped writing mangas altogether. Okay, that's a pretty fair point. But couldn't you at least finish your currently running stories? As it is now, we've got two contradictory backstories, one of which is unfinished, ending right at the point where it started becoming an actual backstory, and the other of which is probably non-canon.

Problem #12: The scope of the Nexus War. Okay, let's leave the exact details out and make sense of the current events. Something has awakened Malygos, and turned him sane. Or possibly left him insane. Both versions can be argued pretty soundly based on events and dialogue in the game. As Malygos looked around in this new world, he saw that magic was running rampant, slowly tearing the fabric of reality apart. So, it was his duty as Aspect of Magic to interfere, and he planned to remove magic from all mortals on the planet. This is an explanation that only works if we go by the “Malygos is still insane” version of events, because there is no way that the current mortals of Azeroth are using more magic than the Highborne that were active during the last time Malygos was up and flying around.

More evidence that points towards Malygos being utterly whacko is that he seems to focus his attention on the mages of Dalaran. Sure, Dalaran is the center of human magical studies, but it's by no means the center of magic in the world. And yet the only things we hear about is his forces grabbing random individual mages, and attacking Dalaran. Where are the attacks on the scourge, and their hordes of necromancers? What about the naga? The blood elves? The satyr? The mages of Stormwind? The goblins of Kezan? The dark iron dwarves? The forsaken? By all means, the nexus war should be massive in its scope, but the only people fighting the dragonflight appear to be the kirin tor and the other dragonflights.

Now, there is an obvious rebuttal here, which would work with the “Malygos is sane” version. He's intentionally limiting the scope of his attacks so that he doesn't have to face the entire world at once. He's not going to attack the scourge, since that is keeping the horde and the alliance distracted from his own plans. However, the problem then becomes: Why is dalaran his first target? It's one of the largest users of magic on the planet, yes, but it also has the most allies, even including another dragonflight. Nazja'tar is a much more obvious first target, as it has more mages than dalaran, is spreading its magic users faster than anyone on the planet, uses more dangerous magic than dalaran, and you might be able to convince other factions to assist.

And again, there's an obvious rebuttal. The naga are too powerful for the blue dragonflight to face. Okay, again, fair point. But that just leads into more problems. Malygos plan to take magic away actually has two phases. First, he's going to reduce the amount of magic users in the world. Second, he's going to unbind all the ley lines, redirecting them back to his home in the nexus. Considering how effective the second plan would be, the first plan seems more like a temporary measure. Reduce the amount of magic users before they can fray the fabric of reality any further. However, without targeting either the naga or the scourge, this seems like a rather futile effort. With all the bad things that have been happening to the various magic users in the world over the past few wars, their numbers were absolutely devastated. Silvermoon lost 9/10th of its population. Dalaran collapsed in on itself before being overrun by the undead. Half of the dark iron capital was slaughtered during the first war, and they've been losing more and more ever since. The satyr threw in their lot with the burning legion, and were subsequently on the losing end of the third war. The forsaken, already a small group to begin with, just had a coup that cost them many lives. The mages of Stormwind were slaughtered during the first war. The eldre'thalas had the source of their incredible magical powers destroyed after a purge killed most of their members. The naga and the scourge are the only ones that have prospered. If you're not going to target them, you might as well not target anyone at all, and simply focus on redirecting the ley lines. Especially considering that most magic used by the third and fourth most powerful factions, the Kirin Tor and the elves of Silvermoon, is cast in a way that doesn't mess with the fabric of reality (the elves have their runestones, and later taught their tricks to the Kirin Tor)

Which leads to the next rebuttal. It's possible that the blue dragonflight didn't attack Dalaran for its mages, but for its ley lines. However, my counterpoint is simple: If they were going after the major ley line intersections, why didn't they strike against Karazhan, the largest intersection on the planet? And why did they continue to attack Dalaran after it had moved?

Okay, so the nexus war has absolutely nothing to do with logical in-universe reasons. Blizzard simply needed another antagonist to add some diversity to the continent. Because they're not the main focus, the war needed to be small in scope. Dalaran is the centerpiece of the action, because you can have an entire faction that only needs a single city.

And that's just lazy writing. If you have too little time or resources to show all the impact your story should have, you shouldn't put that story in. Put it away for later use and go back to the drawing board.

Alternatively, split up your idea and tell it over several expansions. Start this expansion with a friendly blue dragonflight, which occasionally shows up to give the player a quest to retrieve some magical artifact, or capture an enemy. Start out with quests that just have you target obviously evil enemies, like the naga, the kvaldir or the scourge. However, become more ambiguous over time, asking the player to retrieve artifacts from the tuskarr, Dalaran and the alliance/horde (whichever faction the player is not), with increasingly weak excuses. Finally, in the scholazar questline, have the player steal something from the opposing faction, but eventually run into another adventurer who is going after the artifacts of your faction. After killing him, you find a note explaining that he was also under orders of the same blue dragon. The player goes to find some help with this affair, probably from the other dragonflights. After some questing going after individual blue dragons and hunters, find out that there is, at the very least, a group of blue dragons who want tighter control over magic. You don't know how many blue dragons, nor do you know whether Malygos is leading them. The story arc ends, for now, in a raid. A group of blue dragons have infiltrated lower Karazhan, and are performing some sort of ritual that affects the ley lines. They are stopped, but their exact purpose remains unclear.

Aside from the lack of scope, the events of the nexus war in the game are actually pretty well-portrayed. You first run into the blue dragonflight in the Borean Tundra, where they're attacking and kidnapping members of the Kirin Tor, as well as disrupting the rituals of the tuskarr that bind their ancestors to stone statues. The player also discovers that the manipulation of the blue dragonflight is actually causing damage to the very crust of the planet. Far more damage than the magic users it stopped. Again, if Malygos is supposedly sane now, why is he doing this?

After that, the player assists a group of attacking red dragons and kirin tor in Coldarra. You kill a few enemies, eventually leading to killing the mate of Malygos. You use her death to taunt Malygos himself, hoping to draw him into the field so the red dragons can take him down. However, he pretty much kicks all their asses, taking the lead red dragon to brainwash and replace the dead mate. The player and the Kirin Tor invade the underground portions of the Nexus, but its too late, and they're forced to kill her. While adventuring in Coldarra, the player also discovers that the blue dragonflight made a few new servants, in the form of the crystal ancients and the nexus drakes. They don't really amount to much, but they do add some nice diversity to the blue dragonflight armies.

More importantly is a discovery the player makes within the nexus. All the energy from the manipulated ley lines is causing a tear in the fabric of reality, powerful monstrosities emerging from it.

Wait... Malygos plan to stop magic users from fraying reality and destroy the planet and/or attract a horde of powerful magic creatures is to use their magic to fray reality and destroy the planet and/or attract a horde of powerful magic creatures? I... wha? Even if we assume that Malygos is totally insane, why is everyone else going along with this? Shouldn't there be mass desertions amongst the blue dragonflight and the humanoid servants of Malygos?

Anyway, the story continues in Dragonblight, where the blue dragonflight is now gathering up magic in the azure dragonshrine to use for an attack on the Wyrmrest Temple, where the other dragonflights have banded against them and the scourge. Even the black dragonflight has joined in. There's not really any real conclusion to the battle here, but a number of wyrmrest dragons do get kidnapped to join in the Oculus dungeon, where players free them and use drakes to take out the higher levels of the nexus.

And then... pretty much nothing happens for about six levels. There is one more dungeon starring the blue dragonflight, but, honestly, it's not really connected to anything. After the six levels are over, you pretty much just go back only to kill Malygos, using a key you got from Naxxramas. Not exactly an epic ending.

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