Sunday, 1 September 2013

World of Warcraft - Cataclysm - Uldum

Hey there everybody, and welcome back. Like you may have guessed, we're doing Uldum today.

Entrance into the lost city
In my previous review (Deepholm) I actually skipped over a small subplot of quests during the middle pillar fragment. In the Temple of Earth, the main questing hub for that zone, there were two small archaeological teams, one from the horde and one from the alliance. Having heard rumors of the twilight's hammer obtaining a titan artifact, they sent the player to investigate.

Arriving at the twilight base, the player discovers a horrifying truth: The twilight's hammer has uncovered a gateway! Gateways were actually seen long before this zone, playing parts in both warcraft III and WotLK. They're large portals, connecting two specific gateways over incredibly long distances.

Well, that's how they used to work. Now, they're suddenly stargates, with any waygate being able to connect to any other waygate. You may be thinking to yourself: “Wait, wasn't the elemental plane a prison for the elementals? Why would the titans leave such an easy escape route and not guard it in any way?” Congratulations, you've put more thought into the plot than Blizzard.

It's not just the existence of the gateway that makes no sense though, it's also the plan of the twilight's hammer. Namely, they're trying to use the gateway to invade Uldum. I... what? 

First, the borders of Uldum are completely unguarded, and you have the dominant armies in the region already. Deepholm, on the other hand, is controlled by a powerful and hostile god, and the only entrance into the region is protected by the most powerful shamans in existence. Using this waygate is harder than just walking in would have been.

Second, the player destroys the gate by hacking into it and making it connect to a gateway in the firelands. Y'know, the elemental realm of fire? Which is under twilight control? Why do you need to dig up a gateway, when you already have a gateway?

This entire opening questline is so riddled with holes, you could fly a gunship through it. Remember how I said that the plot hole riddled, completely undeveloped questline of Deepholm was still better than any other in the expansion? Uldum is the worst. You should be screaming in terror now.

...I can only hear one of you screaming. What if I tell you that the next part of the quest involves... random joke characters from the previous expansion! Ooh, we're up to twelve screamers now. Good.

But yeah, we discover that the pyramid in Uldum is some sort of giant weapon, and we're sent to meet up with a caravan of annoying, pointless characters. Specifically, the guys who formed the camp near Zul'Aman, telling us to kill Zul'jin for no damn reason. What makes this entire affair even more bizarre is that half these guys already showed up in Vashj'ir (only a single zone ago), where they were mercenaries in the alliance/horde conflict. When did they find the time to get back to dry land, reunite, fund an expedition and get to Uldum before anyone else?

Actually, come to think of it: Why are we teaming up with this expedition? Where are the explorer's guild and the reliquary? There's a titan city, filled with ancient secrets and magical artifacts of untold power. And yet, the alliance and the horde don't send ANY teams of their own into the region, instead waiting for a bunch of random treasure hunters? This entire scenario makes even less sense if you don't do the Deepholm lead-in quests, but follow the other intro, where Garrosh/Varian says that there are great riches in the region that must be claimed for the horde/alliance... and then sends the player to an expedition that's only looking to make profit for itself.

Actually let's talk about those lead-in quests too. Before cataclysm, lead-in quests for level-appropriate zones were often put into questlines of the previous zone. However, because far less people level by questing now (instead using stuff like PvP and random dungeons), they instead decided to add lead-in quests in central locations in the capital cities.

It's absolutely, gloriously, and completely irredeemably silly. Every time I read one of these quests, I just burst out laughing.

Anyway, as the entire population of Thunder Bluff drowns trying to cross thousand needles, the player joins the caravan, entering the city. And my gods, it looks glorious. Seriously, I love the way this zone looks. It's just fantastic. Great stretches of desert, beautiful architecture that resembles ancient egypt, vibrant oases and tons of lovely little details. As someone who actually bears the name of a bunch of Pharaohs (yes, Ramses actually is my real name), I really appreciate the amount of effort that went into sculpting this environment. Environment designers, you get a golden star. Quest designers, you get detention.

Monster designers? You fail the class and have to redo this entire grade. Why? Well, because of what happens next. You see, the caravan gets attacked. By pygmies. No, no, no, not by the short people from africa. I mean their incredibly racist caricatures. The warcraft pygmy are a dumb, filthy and backwards people, incapable of reading and existing solely to serve greater beings. Naming a race with those characteristics after a real group of humans (which already faces a lot of real-life racism no less)? That's just not cool, blizzard.
I'm seriously wondering how something as ridiculously racist as this slipped into a game. Were the game designers unaware that pygmies are a real group of people? Even then, change the bloody name as soon as you find out! Offer an official apology! Don't just leave it in and hope people ignore it.

Also, remember how I said Cataclysm has really bad voice acting? Well, that's only the beginning. You see, the voice acting is not just bad, but also very notably incomplete. A lot of characters didn't get voice acting before release, leading to cutscenes where only dialogue by certain characters is voiced, or even cutscenes that are completely unvoiced. It's really annoying, not to mention unprofessional.

The player and the expedition are brought to the lost city of the tol'vir (which is no more lost than the rest of the region, probably even a little less, so don't ask me where that name comes from), where they are put in small prisons alongside a weird cat person named Prince Nadun. Speaking of blatantly unprofessional end-products, you can spot several confused phases at this point, with a stealthed instance of Addarah appearing before the imprisoned version breaks out, and Tanzar's cage being in both the open and the closed phase at the same time, evident by the double door. He was also captured by the neferset, the inhabitants of the city for whom the pygmies work. The neferset look similar to Nadun, but made of stone. Nadun went to the city to investigate a mysterious new ally of the Neferset. However, at the city, his guards betrayed him and he was captured.

As such, he asks the player to investigate. Hiding behind a nice plant, the player spots a cool-looking creature called Siamat. The creature speaks to the Nadun's old guards (in an unvoiced cutscene), granting them 'Deathwing's Gift' and transforming them into stone. When you return to Nadun, he calls the creature a 'djinn', and you start conducting a plan to break out.

I will once again praise the environment designers, because the lost city looks great. It really looks like a true city, with market cranes, houses, impressive decorations and lovely work on the little details. It might just be the best-looking area in the entire game.

I'll spill the beans on what exactly is going on. The cat people are called Tol'vir, previously known in warcraft lore as Obsidian Destroyers. In warcraft III, where they were first seen, Obsidian destroyers were first introduced as undead units called obsidian statues. These statues were floating platforms that channeled healing energy, restoring either mana or health to all nearby units. These statues could then be upgraded into Destroyers, flying units that burned the mana of other creatures to channel their own incredibly powerful magical attacks. All in all, they were pretty cool units, though they were notably lacking in any sort of real backstory.

The next time we saw them was in the RPG, in the manual of monsters, which I covered in my second review. Even by the low standards of that book, the obsidian destroyer article stood out as terrible. Barely any information was given on them, and the few tidbits that were actually included blatantly contradicted either itself or warcraft III. Instead of statues that could be animated, they were suddenly normal fleshy creatures (though they were classified as magical beasts rather than monstrous humanoids for some reason). No mention was made of scourge affiliation at all, with them instead being treated like random hostile creatures. The statue form of the creatures was also thrown out the window, along with all of the cool abilities.

Luckily, the makers of world of warcraft decided to completely ignore the RPG in this regard. Instead, obsidian destroyers were first seen in the Ahn'qiraj patch, as warriors of C'thun. They were given a backstory as titan constructs that had been claimed when the qiraji took over ahn'qiraj. The scourge units were explained as having been similarly captured in a different titan facility in Northrend. Okay, that's a pretty solid backstory, and the way the old magical abilities were integrated was pretty cool. Obsidian statues were still missing, but there were a couple of doodads that looked enough like 'em that it could be forgiven.

Here's where things get weird though. Namely, blizzard refused to actually put any obsidian destroyers in Northrend. In an interview, they gave some weak handwave about all the obsidian destroyers being destroyed, despite the fact that the scourge hadn't really suffered all that many losses since they were last seen, and there still being plenty of titan facilities that the scourge hadn't raided.
Now, normally such a handwave would be done either because there was no model available (see: the off-screen extinction of the dark trolls), or because canon has shifted in a weird way since the creature was last seen (see: mountain giants no longer working with night elves). But here, there's a completely functional model, and their presence would still fit canon like a glove. Hell, even their aesthetics would blend perfectly into the various nerubian strongholds.
But no. No obsidian destroyers at all. And I can't for the life of me think of any reason why the designers decided to not include these guys. Seriously, do any of you readers know?

Anyway, then comes cataclysm, where we get a different iteration of the obsidian destroyers: the tol'vir. Like the dwarves and the gnomes, the tol'vir were struck with the curse of flesh, turning them into flesh and bones. Unlike the dwarves and gnomes however, the tol'vir didn't suffer memory loss, and continued their duty of protecting Uldum despite being mortals.
As a backstory, this is actually a pretty solid idea. It's nice, simple and fits into previously established canon. The problem is that absolutely zero effort is made to connect the tol'vir and the obsidian destroyers. Hell, just playing the game (and not keeping up with all the promotional material), there's no way you'd know that they were supposed to be the same creatures. The model isn't the same, the powers aren't the same, and no one ever refers to tol'vir living or having lived in any place other than Uldum.

Currently, the tol'vir are split between three groups. First are the ramkahen, of whom Nadum is the prince. They control the area around Vir'naal lake, and are associated with the power of the sun. The second group, which are the ones that captured us, are the Neferset, who control the lower river delta. The Neferset utilize the power of life, using a wide variety of animals. Finally, there's the Orsis. Basically, they're the stromgarde of the group, existing only to suffer terrible losses in a story that the writers didn't bother to continue.
After the cataclysm, the neferset got approached by Siamat, a very high-ranking servant of Al'akir, the elemental lord of air. He promised to remove the curse of flesh from the neferset, in return for them serving Deathwing. They accepted, and thus became servants of Deathwing.

At least, that's what I think is happening. However, several sources later on state that the neferset have captured Siamat against his will. But that doesn't make any sense because... well, why would they? Aren't they on the same side? Why would both air elementals and neferset continue to work with each other after this? Hell, considering how powerful the air elementals are supposed to be, why don't they just attack the lost city and free Siamat?

Anyway, back to the plot. You set some stuff on fire and steal some armor, and then escape in the only joke in the zone that's actually funny. Because the smoke only allows the neferset to see silhouettes, Budd's group uses group acrobatics and armor pieces to have the same silhouette as a tol'vir. Remember this one good joke, people.

Tol'vir at War
At this point, the questline splits into two. One questline is good in concept, but very, very poorly executed. The other is the single most terrible questline in world of warcraft. Let's start with the better one. Prince Nadun has returned to the city of Ramkahen to report to his brother, King Phaoris, that the Neferset situation is getting pretty out of hand. First, I like that for once, the prince is not the son of the king. Many fantasy writers seem unaware that the the title was used more widely than that, so its nice to see that averted. Second, you named the guy who leads the egyptian-themed civilization 'king phaoris'? Really? Even in-universe it's a really stupid name, because there are actual tol'vir with the title of pharaoh.

I actually kinda like this part of the questline, because it averts many of the problems we see with the way other leaders in warcraft are written. King Phaoris doesn't instantly decide, on his own, that war be declared. After all, Nadun basically just wandered into Neferset territory to spy on them, so his capture could hardly be considered an act of war. Instead, he admits that he doesn't have a full picture of the situation and asks the player to check in with nearby areas to see if there has been any direct Neferset aggression, while he ponders whether or not to declare war. Again, I like this. It allows the player to get introduced to some of the other important people and do a bunch of various quests without seeming like pointless filler.

Of course, because it's cataclysm, there needs to be some horrible incompetence included just for the sake of completion. In this case, it's that all the questgivers give info that the neferset aren't moving against Ramkahen yet, despite the fact that one of their quests involves defeating attacking pygmies, who we saw were working for the neferset only a few quests ago. Seriously guys, get a proof-reader that actually pays attention.

We return to Phaoris. However, he has dire news: The city of Orsis has come under attack by the forces of Al'akir, who have summoned up a massive sandstorm to bury the city. And here we see the first real problem of this questline: It's really obvious that A LOT of it has been cut. For example, the idea behind Al'akir unleashing his forces against Orsis is that it's a threat to Ramkahen: Don't resist, or you shall be swept beneath the sands. Except when Ramkahen does actually start fighting back, the air elementals are nowhere to be seen. In fact, despite this zone having no less than two instances taking place in the skywall (home plane of the air elementals), and another instance that ends in an air elemental boss, this is the only appearance of Al'akir's forces in the actual zone.
In another obvious example, the entire tribe of Orsis, despite having several survivors that teamed up with the Ramkahen, never has any of its survivors appear, or mentioned, again. Even the scepter of Orsis, which the questline makes a huge deal about recovering before the minions of Al'akir get their hands on it, is never seen again.

That one is especially notable because in the quest that leads out of the Orsis sub-plot, King Phaoris says that the scepter of Orsis is essential to Deathwing's plan to “unravel the secrets of Uldum and unleash great destruction”, which is the subject of that horrible, horrible second questline. And yet that second questline never mentions the scepter at all (by no means the only discrepancy between the two questlines).

King Phaoris is really not fond of the idea of going to war, and considers just giving Deathwing the scepter of Orsis. However, because he is a better leader than Garrosh, Cairne, Vol'jin, Sylvanas, Gallywix, Varian, Tyrande, Moira, Muradin, Falstad, Malfurion, Thrall, Rhonin and Tirion Fordring put together, he decides that he's not going to make this massively important decision rashly, on his own, in the spur of the moment, but actually consult with his advisors, which is the next part of the quest, where the player tries to convince the advisors to vote for war.

There's three advisors in total. High Commander Kamses (heh) is already pro-war, but he still asks for your help in a few things anyway. He has you recruit the local farmers, gather weapons and leather for armor, and help with one particularly incompetent recruit. That recruit is Salhet, who proves himself a pretty poor fighter, but a decent tactician. Sadly, that tactician part leads to the second big problem with this questline; THE BUGS! THEY ARE EVERYWHERE! You take control of a couple of lions that Salhet has tamed, and lead them around. However, whenever you give the move command, half the lions tend to stay behind. The fear mechanism doesn't work right, with enemy hyenas sometimes running, sometimes staying still and sometimes remaining unaffected. And, occasionally, the quest doesn't spawn enough enemies for completion. Kamses says that, if the player vouches for him, he'll give Salhet a squad to command.

The second vote is from Vizier Tanotep. He's normally ultra-compliant with the king, so he's unlikely to vote for the war. However, his son just got kidnapped, and the player earns his vote by rescuing the son. Good to see the politicians have got their priorities straight.

The third vote is from High Priest Amet, a seer whose vote shall be determined by what he sees during his attempts to scry the future. However, he can't do that at the moment because something is interfering with his scrying abilities. The neferset introduced some species of sea serpent into the lake that's preventing an accurate vision. Since the player is the single most experienced pest exterminator on two planets, he makes short work of the sea serpents, their broodmother and, while he's at it, the neferset tol'vir that introduced the sea serpents to the lake to begin with.

So, voting time. Kamses and Tanotep obviously vote pro-war. However, the twist comes when Amet abstains, sensing disaster for the Ramkahen if he votes either for or against the war. If he votes against the war, there is a short-lived peace, followed by destruction (probably when Deathwing blows up the planet). If he votes for the war, Phaoris will be forced to declare it, despite not really wanting to, as a result not leading the armies to the fullest of his capabilities and losing. Phaoris needs to make the declaration of war on his own.

'Luckily', someone walks in at that exact moment to tell Phaoris that Nadun got killed during a patrol. This is enough for Phaoris to declare war on his own... which confuses me. No matter what Amet would have voted, Nadun would have still died, and Phaoris would have heard about his death during the meeting. Why is the death of his brother only motivational for him to go to war if he doesn't have the full support of the high council?

Specifically, I get the idea that this is where there used to be a bunch of quests that were cut, and Nadun dying off-screen was an attempt to bridge the gap. For one thing, why would Nadun, a bloody prince, be part of an ordinary border patrol? But it's also that this quest is followed up by sending the player to defend the temple village of Nahom against the attacking Neferset, despite the fact that the Neferset would have no way of knowing that the Ramkahen had refused their offer. No matter what Phaoris decided, that means that the Neferset would still attack Nahom, meaning that Amet's vision makes even less sense because there would be no short-lived peace.

The player goes to Nahom, and helps to reactivate some ancient defensive measure that just happens to be in the temple. In another one of those buggy 'control a group of creatures' quest, he fights off the neferset attack. Actually, that quest makes me feel kinda bad for Salhet, because you're taking control of the squad he's supposed to be commanding. He's got one chance to shine, and you take it from him. Then again, you were the one to give him that chance to begin with. With one hand, the player giveth, with the other, he taketh away.

And then suddenly, the armies of the Ramkahen are already besieging the Neferset capital. Yes, this entire 'war' is fought in only two battles. What makes this even more odd is that the capital of the neferset is not the Lost City of the Tol'vir. That place is pretty much entirely ignored during the war, despite being about twice as big as the actual Neferset City, having a lot of Neferset holdings near it and being in a much more important location.

In addition, you'll begin to notice by now that the war is... kinda underwhelming. Both the bad guys and the good guys seem like they've been half-assing the assembling of their armies. As I said before, the forces of Al'akir are completely missing from the war. However, the black dragonflight, the twilight's hammer and the various creatures that serve the old gods are also missing. Hell, so are the pygmies and the wastewander bandits. All they have are ordinary tol'vir soldiers and the colossi that were under the command of the Neferset pharaoh.
The good guys don't even have those, instead having to rely solely on ordinary soldiers. Where are all the other guardians still loyal to their titan-gifted duties? We've seen scarabs and titan-loyal colossi within the zone itself, and the bronze dragonflight is only a single zone away.

However, the most obvious things that are missing are the watchers of Uldum. Uldum has four watchers, residing in the halls of origination. The ramkahen seem to be aligned with Rajh (construct of the sun), having large statues of him in their capital and having their priesthood dedicated to sun. The neferset seem to be aligned with Ammunae (construct of life), having large statues of him in their capital, and making very, very abundant use of animals in their military.
However, despite the obvious connection there, Ammunae and Rajh not only don't show up for the war, they aren't even mentioned. Nor are Isiset, Setesh, Ptah or any of the other inhabitants of the halls of origination. It's a really big hole in the story, and one that no one at blizzard ever seems to have addressed.

Anyway, you lay siege to Neferset City, kill Dark Pharaoh Tekhan (wait, Tekahn? As in, 'the Khan'? Damn it, naming people), and the entire ramkahen army promptly decides that they're totally done with the war despite the neferset still controlling the entire river delta.

Harrison Jones and the temple of Uldum
I know some of the people who read this don't play WoW, or at least not anymore. As such, I'm probably going to have to explain Harrison Jones.

In The Burning Crusade, Harrison Jones was part of Budd Nedreck's crew at Zul'aman. His entire purpose was basically just a cute little visual gag, with the last name of indiana jones, the first name of his actor, and him wearing the iconic outfit. It was just another one of WoW's many cute easter eggs. When Budd Nedreck's crew reappeared in Grizzly Hills, so did he, as a prisoner of a small group of drakkari trolls. It was basically just an escort mission, though one more fun than most by nature of the escortee not being an idiot. To extend the indiana jones joke a bit, he references his fear of snakes, calls the player 'kid' and the quest was named 'Dun-ta-Dun-tah!'. Again, cute joke, though it was already starting to get a little worn out by this point.

And then in cataclysm, they based an entire questline around the joke. Harrison Jones' questline, a “parody” of Indiana Jones, consists of no less than 59 quests, Harrison Jones appearing in 37 of them. I can't be certain from the top of my head, but I think that means he features in more quests than any other character in the expansion, except maybe Deathwing and Sylvanas. And mind you, Harrison Jones was intended to have even more appearances, but his quests in vashj'ir got cut (not to mention, as the main alliance archeology trainer, he was likely gonna be involved in the cut path of the titans as well).

This baffles me. Of all the stuff that got cut from cataclysm, the 59-quest long parody remains. I want to give you some context here:
-In Uldum alone, we saw al'akir's involvement with the plot getting reduced to what is basically a footnote. The plot point of the scepter of Orsis, indeed the entire Orsis tribe, falls by the wayside. The watchers of Uldum either never had any planned involvement in the storyline, which defies both in-universe and out-of-universe logic, or had their involvement in the storyline cut. The tie-in to the sunwalkers that was likely supposed to be in Uldum was cut. And amidst all those important storylines that got cut, the 59 quest long indiana jones parody, which you could have cut in half without anyone even noticing, ends up in the end product completely intact.
-For the Twilight Highlands, most of the alliance introduction quests and cutscenes were cut. The Harrison Jones questline got no less than 17 minutes of cutscenes (of higher quality than most other cutscenes no less), most of which could be cut with ease.
So, I have to ask the developers of World of Warcraft this: Where the hell are your priorities? You are supposed to be making a warcraft game here. If you want to do movie parodies so damn badly, give it its own game. A cute in-joke here and there is fine, but when you start putting more effort into the parodies than you are putting into the actual warcraft-related content, you are doing it wrong.

And you know what makes it even worse? It's not even a good parody. In fact, it may be one of the worst parodies I've ever seen. And believe me, I've seen a lot of bad parodies. I have also seen a lot of good parodies. Let's talk about what differentiates a good parody and a bad parody.

A good parody is an extension of the original work. Its humor is derived from actually analyzing the elements of the original work, and subverting them in a clever way. Questionable elements are exaggerated, popular tropes are deconstructed and audience expectations are played around with

A bad parody is not an extension of the original work. Its 'humor' is not derived from any form of analysis of the original work, but just inserting random elements without rhyme or reason under the pretense of being silly.

A terrible parody is when you just smash some works together with no rhyme, reason or regards of forming a coherent narrative. Instead of actually having jokes, these 'parodies' just has references. The Harrison Jones questline fits into this category.

For a good example, let's take the first real 'joke' in the questline. Harrison Jones went back to the entrance of Uldum to take revenge on the pygmies. However, he got distracted by a cool-looking tomb, and placed some bombs around the entrance to blow it up. However, the bombs are activated prematurely, and the player and harrison jones jump into boxes to escape the explosion, with the boxes crushing a pygmy as they land.

Obviously, this is a reference to the infamous 'nuking the fridge' scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where indiana jones survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridge. And there's quite a lot of potential for a parody there. The problem here however is that the 'parody' seen here is less ridiculous than the original work was. For one, the explosion is much, much weaker. In this case, hiding in a box actually is something that would increase your survival odds, depending on how sturdy the box is. Second, this is world of warcraft. Having a bomb explode in your face and coming out without a scratch is something that's fairly mundane. As a result, I'm honestly not even sure you can call this 'joke' a parody.

Second problem; it's just harrison jones and the player. One of the prime ingredients of comedy is interaction between the characters, having divergent personalities play off of one another. Harrison Jones is convinced that he's the true adventurer here, not the player. It's a staple of comedy, and one that can lead to a lot of good jokes. The problem is that it's not the guy himself that makes it funny (in fact, he's usually more annoying than funny), but the way it affects the people around him. However, during the entire questline, the only person Jones interacts with is the player, who has no personality, no way of showing any emotion, no way of replying and, just in general, no way of making this tired act funny.

Enough complaints about the concept. Let's move on to the actual plot. After the bombing of the box, the player finds a small stone disc that was originally fitted on a staff. The staff is in possession of Sultan Oogah, the pygmy who originally led the attack against you. The player kills Oogah, taking the staff and recombining it with the tip, forming the shaft of the stars (So I guess blizzard really gave their players the shaft, didn't they? What? if the game isn't going to be put any effort in its humor, neither am I). The player also recovers several tablets, which reveal that the nearby Obelisk of Stars is part of the titan defense mechanism that got disabled in the cataclysm. With Sultan Oogah carrying around part of the staff that was a necessary component of the obelisk of stars, and the actual cloaking mechanism completely undamaged, the implication seems to be that the forces of Deathwing deliberately sabotaged the cloaking mechanism.

At least, that's what I think is happening. Despite the evidence, no one in-game ever seems to comment on it. With the staff in hand, the player and Harrison descend into the underground chamber beneath the obelisk. The underground chamber actually looks really impressive, though when I played through it, there was a weird visual glitch with ropes hanging in mid-air and nearly spanning the width of the room. It's a real shame, because it's the environment designers that are basically carrying this stupid, stupid storyline, and now I can't even see their hard work properly.

And that's where you realize the worst part of this questline: The titan devices are absolutely gloriously awesome, and the ideas in their design are brilliant. If you only look at these devices, and the quests where you interact with them, you'd have the single best questline in the entirety of cataclysm. But no. We had to ruin that by slamming indiana jones references and stupid jokes everywhere. Not only is this questline the worst in the entire expansion, it also destroyed the potential of what could have been the single best questline in the game.

It's also really surprising to me just how much filler there is in these quests. As I said, Uldum likely had quite a lot of cut content. And yet, in this questline, they find room for pointless quests like “Hyenas are nasty, kill them.” and “you can always use more rope! Go grab some.”. For those of you who don't play WoW anymore, I have to clarify: I am not exaggerating those quest descriptions. There's not even a questgiver or anything. The quests just pop out of nowhere.

Okay, back to the “plot”. Harrison Jones sends you to investigate the hieroglyphs in the chamber of the stars beneath the obelisk of the stars. During this, you stumble upon the corpse of a “Schnottz Scout”, who has a journal with a cryptic message: “Through the eyes of blue is starlight revealed. Ten shards, one rod, and the veil disappears.“ And when the journal says ten, it means seven, because the quest was altered later on but they forgot to update the journal because cataclysm == incompetence. And when the journal says disappears, it means reappears. At least, that's what I think is going on, but I'm honestly not sure. More on that later.

Anyway, what does that message mean? Well, the eyes of blue are blue goggles, so you take the ones from the schnottz scout. Wearing these goggles, you can see suspended bits of starlight hanging in the room. You gather te... seven shards of this starlight, use it to repower the shaft of the stars. The staff is placed at the center of the chamber, with beams of light emerging from three of the four colossi standing around the room. Okay, so there's something about that fourth colossus and... oh no, wait, it's a graphic glitch. Light was supposed to come from all four statues, indicating each of them has something necessary for activation inside of them.

Now here's another weird side-step in design logic. The most obvious thing to do would have been to have the colossi awaken, and attack the player. However, instead, we have a weird cutscene where harrison jones jumps on one statue, slings from the outstretched arm to get the statue off-balance, and causing it to tip over. And then the other three statues fall over for no apparent reason. Plus, I was kinda expecting colossi to be a bit sturdier than that. And more responsive to threats. In fact, that entire sequence was the most idiotic design decision I've ever seen. Then again, the questline isn't over yet.

You place the four orbs and the obelisk begins to glow. You and Harrison Jones move to the next obelisk, the obelisk of the sun. It's around here that you begin to notice something really odd. Namely, that Harrison Jones is entirely superfluous to the questline. Despite him being shoved in our faces at every opportunity, he almost never does anything relevant to the questline, and when he does, it's either non-nonsensical or unnecessary.

Imagine, if you will, what would have happened if, instead of meeting with Harrison Jones, we'd have been sent to kill Sultan Oogah directly. We'd have found him carrying the shaft of the stars and realize something that cool could never have been created by those dirty, stupid pygmies. The shaft would obviously have been missing its tip (which makes more sense than the other way around, like it is in the actual questline), which the player finds near the entrance to the chamber of stars. Entering the chamber, he'd find the dead schnottz trooper with his journal, put on his goggles, empower the shaft of stars with suspended starlight, fight the colossi and activate the obelisk. This entire thing has peaked the player's interest, and he decides to check out the other obelisks. Bam, you've just made this questline a hundred times better!

Harrison Jones' superfluousness only becomes more obvious at the next obelisk. The entire time you're there, he spends fighting a single enemy mob. Again, you could just remove him from the game, and you'd only have to change a tiny bit from the questline (which, again, improves it). The player arrives at the obelisk, notices that the schnottz troopers are looting the place, steals the loot from the troopers, finds they have parts of a titan device, reassembles the device, activates it, hears something from the chamber beneath the obelisk, sees the colossus there, fights the colossus to retrieve the item necessary to activate the obelisk, does so, moves on to next obelisk. Simple but efficient story, that follows a natural logical sequence and actually gives the player some initiative for once. But instead, we have to keep getting quests from Harrison Jones, despite the fact that he shouldn't have the information necessary to offer us those quests.

So, what's the tiny bit of the questline that you need to actually alter if you wanted to remove Harrison Jones? Well, at the end of the questline, you and Harrison jones make your escape by stealing an airplane. With harrison jones as the pilot performing daring stunts, and you as the tailgunner cutting down swaths of enemy ships, you make your way back to Ramkahen. “Wait a minute”, you may be saying, “that actually sounds rather cool. Why would removing that improve the questline?”
Answer is simple; the quest was slapped onto the game unfinished. Nothing the player does has any effect. If you shoot down an enemy plane, its immediately replaced. The enemy planes can't actually do anything to yours. If you don't do anything during the quest, the result is the exact same as if you were trying your hardest. Basically, it's a long, boring cutscene that you can't skip.
Also, its placement in the questline is asinine. Near the obelisk of the sun, the player recovered a book written by Schnottz, which gives you the quest to go to his camp and start the next bit in the questline. However, Schnottz's camp is in the exact opposite direction that Jones' escape takes you.

At the schnottz camp, the player encounters Belloc Brightblade and... WAIT, WHAT? How...? Why? No, seriously. Belloc was the NPC that gave horde players the quests in Deepholm that led to Uldum. Schnottz was already in the region before the player arrived. How the hell is Belloc part of Schnottz's expedition? Why is he suddenly Schnottz's second-in-command? Why doesn't he show any kind of reaction to seeing the horde player again? If Belloc is here, why aren't there any other reliquary forces?

And then we're suddenly working for Schnottz for no reason. This is also where the quest switches to full-on “we're a parody, we don't have to try and make sense.” Though the definition of parody they seem to be using is “series of references”, rather than “comedic twist”. At this point, I'm honestly considering calling Epic Movie a better parody. Oh sure, it's a terrible, terrible, terrible, horrid, disgusting movie, but at the very least, it (usually) altered the source material to try and be comedic. Of course, it failed terribly, but at the very least it's trying to be a parody. I can't say the same for Uldum.

Anyway, back to the not making sense part. This entire sequence just doesn't work in the world of Azeroth. For example, one character remarks that it's odd that Schnottz would need so much weaponry for his guards on a mere archaeological dig. Well, that would be a good point if this were anything close to the setting you're trying to imitate. But it's not. There's a world-war going on, a local war going on, cults are going crazy and titan archaeological stuff has a nasty habit of coming alive and having enough firepower to annihilate continents. If anything, schnottz's troops seem a bit underwhelming due to a lack of any kind of magical support.

You do some stupid things to get in the graces of Schnottz (before I forget, he's a hitler expy, and therefore speaks with a stupid german accent. If they were clever, they'd at least connect him to that other random usage of a german accent in ashenvale, but alas, this is cataclysm), with tons of references to Nazi germany with no added jokes. Yes, that mob you need to capture has the same nickname as Erwin Rommel. What's the joke? Hell, even as part of the questline that one's completely random, out of nowhere and goes nowhere. Okay, I'll be fair, there were at least a few stupid puns on führer and fascism as added jokes. These single puns both get an entire quest dedicated to them. Guys, it's World of Warcraft, not World of Failed Parodies. Make that game some other time.

So you do some random stuff so that Schnottz can turn his hexed friend back into a person. Yes, we're helping the hitler expy. For no reason. This is beginning to remind me a lot of Tribunal for some reason. Okay, that's cruel. Tribunal might have had a terrible unprofessional end-product, misses the entire point of its game series and had a main questline that made no sense on any level, but at least its story had a strong core concept. At least it did something interesting with the setting. At least, it didn't remove any content from existence.

Hrm, that's two comparisons with non-warcraft stuff in only a few paragraphs. I think I'm trying to escape the franchise. Anyone mind if I go review Digimon zero two, or maybe F.E.A.R. 3? Or maybe start blogging about literary analysis or my political ideals? But no, I have to return to the crappy questline.

You grab some statues from some ruins (and no, we're not given any backstory for the ruins) for Schnottz so he can complete the ritual. During the ritual he notices that you only brought him eight statues instead of the nine he asked for, just so he can make another hitler reference. Entire sequence could have worked as a joke if Schnottz had actually asked for a specific number of statues in the quest, rather than just 'several'. According to any sane playtester, this entire sequence should just have been cut, because it adds nothing to the plot, and only detracts from the setting.

At Schnottz's camp, Ambassador Laurent has been killed. Despite talking to him in an earlier quest, I still have no idea what the hell he is the ambassador of. For that matter, I still have no idea what exactly the deal is with Schnottz' troops. We learn that they're working for the black dragonflight (one of whom killed Laurent, though I have no idea why. Plus, this only raises further questions about how Belloc became the second in command), but why? Is Schnottz like a twilight cultist, using his riches to grab unknowing mercenaries in yet another plot to destroy the world? In that case, why go to the trouble of inviting an ambassador and various other guests? Maybe Schnottz is just another stooge. But in that case, why would he even want to help people destroy the world? Hell, why would he even be working for the black dragonflight? It's not like they actually appear to be aiding him with his work.

The camp suddenly gets attacked by colossi. Since the colossi are doing a good job at killing the people the player was opposing, the player of course helps destroy the colossi. I mean, why wouldn't he? When he returns to Schnottz, the hut suddenly explodes! Le Gasp! Someone has tried to kill Schnottz! Who could it possibly be? Well, I'm guessing it was Belloc Brightblade, since he vanished during the attack, but that just makes me wonder why he bothered to wait for so long. Or, for that matter, why he didn't bother informing the horde player not to return to the hut.

Then, after a convoluted series of events that I don't quite get (Schnottz tells the player to go with him, orders him to kill some disgruntled workers, and then suddenly Schnottz thinks that the player (the only person with a solid alibi) was behind the attack, using the killing of the workers as evidence. I really don't get it.), Schnottz says the player will die by “firink sqvad”. Naturally, the player isn't able to do anything, though Harrison Jones shows up just in time to safe him. Wait, how did Harrison Jones know we were here? Why didn't he go to the final obelisk? How wasn't he spotted by the dragons that just flew away? Why did he show up at this exact second? Was he behind the bombing? So many questions, just to force another cliché into the plotline. Writers, this cliché generally only works if you follow the people who suddenly show up, not the people who need to be rescued.

Okay, we head for the final obelisk, the obelisk of the moon. This is where the entire questline falls apart. Remember how earlier in the questline, the obelisks were responsible for cloaking the entire zone, before they were disabled by Deathwing? Now, they're suddenly responsible for shielding a single object, and the obelisks need to be activated to access that object, which is what Deathwing's minions were trying to do all along. Guys, these two storylines aren't compatible. You can't have Deathwing's minions both working to disable and working to re-enable the same damn objects, at the same damn time.

Actually, seems like I forgot something. You don't head for the final obelisk. No, you first need to do a series of pointless quests to help out a few human friends of Harrison Jones that are native to the region... the region that was locked away since before humanity even came into existence, on a continent that humans have only lived on for eight years. I don't even know what the hell the point of these quests was, or how they didn't get cut.
What makes this entire thing even worse is that one of the quests involves capturing pygmies to display them in a circus. Mind you, this is something that actually happened to the real life pygmies. They were hunted down, captured and kept in circuses for people to gawk at, basically treating them as animals. Seriously, designers, what the hell is wrong with you?

After that you head for the final obelisk... to try and activate it. Considering that's what the villains want, that's just idiotic. Why not just destroy the vital parts of the obelisk? Hell, fly back to the obelisk of the stars, where the Schnottz troops have no presence at all, and just take away the unguarded orbs and staff. There, problem solved! You can move on to a better story! You are free, little adventurer, free!

But no, we're stuck in this stupid, STUPID plot, where we need to reactivate the obelisk. Remember how the entire plot somehow changed between the obelisk of the sun and the obelisk of the moon? It's not just what the obelisks do, but also how they work. For the first two obelisks, the items needed to activate them were inside colossi. However, here, the activation is done through a computer (which Harrison Jones knows how to work, what with only having experience with troll architecture and all that), and the colossus only shows up as a guardian. It's a minor point, I know, but it's a weird discrepancy nonetheless.

So, because the player was stupid enough to activate the three obelisks, he now needs to get the coffer of origination before Schnottz can get his hands on it. Turns out, the coffer of origination is hidden in the temple of Uldum. Get it? Sounds like the temple of doom? Yeah, it'd been a lot funnier IF IT HAD BEEN AN ACTUAL TEMPLE. For ****'s sake.

So, you do an (admittedly cool) fight against the guardians of the “temple”, as well as Schnottz' troopers, before finally getting to the coffer. So you open it and... Brann Bronzebeard is inside. Brann Bronzebeard is inside? Brann Bronzebeard is inside. BRANN BRONZEBEARD IS INSIDE! BRANN BRONZEBEARD IS IN... IN...

Wow, everything went blue there for a minute. Anyway, where was I? Let's see, got to the temple, opened the coffer, found Brann Bronzebeard. Wait, Brann Bronzebeard? How... How did he... wha? No. I call bull**** on this. One, the coffer wasn't actually accessible until we activated the third obelisk. Are you telling me that those stupid quests for Harrison's friends caused enough of a delay that Brann found it before us? Two, the coffer was shielded while we arrived. The controls for the shield are outside the coffer. HOW DID BRANN GET IN, YET LEAVE THE SHIELD ACTIVE? Three. The coffer just fired a deadly laser cannon at Schnottz and his dragons to kill them while Brann was inside. He should be fried. Four. YOU'RE TELLING ME THAT I'VE BEEN SPENDING THIS ENTIRE ****ING TIME WITH HARRISON JONES AND A STUPID INDIANA JONES RIP-OFF WHEN I COULD HAVE BEEN WORKING WITH BRANN BRONZEBEARD INSTEAD? RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!

Seriously. This questline pisses me off so much. I know, it's just a game, nothing to get upset over. But frankly, my work ethics got the better of me here. I had to redo the entire questline if I was to give a fair review. Which also happens to be the reason that this review is so delayed.

And the worst part is that the questline is not even over. Hell, I would argue that the worst is yet to come, because I can't even follow the story after this point. First, Brann says that he knows how to use the coffer to stop Deathwing's plans in Ulduar. Considering his plans were to get the coffer... I'm not entirely sure you can still stop them. Y'know, since you already stopped them. So, for some reason, you travel to a dead oasis with the coffer. There, you place it at an ancient titan door. Brann says that he'll activate the coffer, so the player can get at the discs inside that tell of its purpose. Here's another bit that I don't get. The coffer can apparently only be opened at this specific patch of dead oases, since a laser beam comes from the door that opens the coffer. However, why would that be the case? I though the coffer was meant for global re-origination, like stated earlier in the quest. What is it's purpose at this gate? Okay, it rejuvenates the oasis when activated, but that can't be its purpose, because the coffer has been at the other end of the zone for thousands of years. No way the dying trees in a dead oases last that long. Plus, I'd hope that the grand artifact of doom had some sort of bigger purpose than that.

And it does. We just never learn what exactly that purpose is. No, seriously. We grab the discs that contain the purpose. Brann says he'll meet us at the halls of origination as soon as he's translated the discs. He does and... he doesn't tell us what the purpose is. I SPEND 59 JOKES IN UTTER AGONY FOR THIS REVELATION! TELL ME, DAMMIT!

Okay, the halls of origination. Earlier in the quest, it was established that Deathwing's plans was to bring the coffer to the halls, so he could initiate planetary re-origination. First of all, that's idiotic. The entire point of the planetary re-origination is to stop the old gods when they've got too much of a foothold on the planet. Considering that's the current situation, I'm really not seeing how triggering the re-origination is going to be in the old gods' favor. Hell, with the later retcon regarding the hour of twilight (which we'll get to), it's likely that the entire reason this re-orientation exists is precisely to be used this very moment to stop the plans of the old gods. Deathwing is quite literally executing a plan whose whole purpose is to stop itself from working. It's amazing.

Second, part of this plan was corrupting the titan watchers of Uldum, who I mentioned before. This is even stupider. It took Yogg-Saron, an old god himself, in extremely close vicinity, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years to corrupt even a single watcher. Deathwing, who's not exactly known as a great corrupter, corrupting four at once? That's gonna take a while.

However, this is where things get really weird. Remember, it's been established that the coffer is needed to execute the re-origination, and it's pretty clear that the watchers haven't been corrupted yet. And yet, the halls of origination is a dungeon where you have to kill every titan guardian. Why? Seriously, what's the point of this? What do we have to gain from doing this dungeon? Okay, yeah, Brann wants to shove the halls of origination discs in a titan repository, but there's plenty of those around, even in this very zone. In fact, there actually is no titan repository inside the halls of origination at all, or if there is, it acts completely different to the previous repositories (named beings who spoke to the user). Brann also mentions that we need to disable the reorigination mechanism, but that's a stupid reason, since we have already disabled it by taking away the coffer (and if you want permanence, we can just destroy that. Seems like it would be harder to replace than some wiring in the halls as well)

But still, let's pretend that we have a good reason to be in the dungeon. Then why are we killing the inhabitants? Brann Bronzebeard and the player have worked with watchers before this. Just walk up to the first pack of trash, say “Hey, dudes, we be friends of the watchers. Call Ulduar, the guys there will totally vouch for us.” and bam! You've saved yourself an entire dungeon.

Even the ending to the dungeon is stupid. Brann inserts the discs in what is apparently supposed to be a titan repository to permanently deactivate the reorigination device. At least, that's what I think is happening. Really, I have no idea why such an option would even exist. The only other explanation is that Brann is stopping the reorigination device from going off, but that's silly, because it can't go off. The watchers needed to channel the power are dead, and the coffer of reorigination isn't present. While inserting the discs, Brann accidentally activates the reorigination mechanism. Hello, didn't you hear me? I just told you that the reorigination mechanism can't work. However, Brann manages to disable the mechanism in time and that entire stupidity turned out to be completely pointless. A problem brought up and resolved in a single cutscene.

Thank the watchers (except, y'know, the ones I just brutally murdered for no reason), I'm done.

What else is there to say
Let's see, what else is there in the zone? Well, I skipped over a subplot where it turns out the gnomes launched a massive expedition to Uldum, but were all taken over by some sort of curse. The AI of one of their submarines then conscripts the player to take them out. Y'know, I only just noticed this, but between the submarine AI, Harrison Jones and Brann Bronzebeard, a lot of these supposedly neutral quests are being handed out by alliance characters. I'm not complaining, but it does amaze me how central the faction war is in the revamped zones, and how it is pretty much completely dropped in the end-game zones. I guess even the writers got bored with the faction war.

The gnome-killing quests are pretty decent, though I can't help but be a bit disappointed that this would have been the perfect place to finally resolve what exactly happened to Lieutenant Alverold's fleet.

There's also two dungeons and a raid in this zone. The first is the Lost City of the Tol'vir, because the Ramkahen were too lazy to actually help take the most tactically important stronghold in the war themselves. Aside from that, it's a pretty fun dungeon.

The final dungeon and raid both take place in the skywall, the realm of air. They're both really, really underwhelming. First of all, the design is really underwhelming. Sure, the flying citadels are cool, but doodads are so incredibly sparse you'd think that you're walking through an unfinished zone.

The raid is even worse. At least the dungeon had some interesting ideas for its trash mobs. The raid? Doesn't have any. Al'akir and his three lieutenants are completely and utterly unguarded in a painfully underwhelming area, before you unceremoniously kill them. Which is really a theme of cataclysm: Remove as much potential stories as possible. It's honestly like I'm watching the setting self-destruct, or the writers thinking this is the last expansion and desperately trying to resolve every little plot strand that's ever been mentioned. Al'akir is completely superfluous to this expansion, and his death is a disgrace to worldbuilders everywhere.

Final Thoughts
So, final verdict on Uldum? It's terrible. The tol'vir war had some interesting ideas, but was really disappointingly executed. The Harrison Jones stuff was just horrid, and I'm never, EVER going to play through it again. The dungeons were all incredibly wasteful with the setting, killing the uldum watchers for no reason and killing Al'akir and his lieutenants before they had any chance to shine.

The guys who did the visuals did do pretty good though. You can clearly see the first hints of the Mists of Pandaria zone design philosophy being displayed here. I'll even give the harrison jones questline some props for improving on fights in solo content, which will also be used a lot in MoP. Still, it's not enough to save the zone from its faith as the WORST OF CATACLYSM. And considering just how bad Cataclysm is... that's saying a lot.

Next review: Nothing related to cataclysm.

1 comment:

  1. SO this is random, but I found the restoration of Descolace by Alexstrasa, in the book Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, much more interesting and compelling than LAND CHANGEZ SO WATER POURS INTO DESCOLACE.