Theramore, Tides of War, and Missed Opportunities

(For those of you following me on twitter, this is going to sound a lot like a rant you may have heard.)

Warlords of Draenor is approaching. Slowly. Very slowly. Despite its lack of visible speed,t here is a notable release soon, and that’s the upcoming War Crimes novel, written by Christie Golden (responsible for Twilight of the Aspects, Arthas, Rise of the Horde, Tides of War, etcetera). This is a novel around Garrosh, though it purports to deal with a lot of the main faction leaders and the actions of the Horde in recent years.

This is an incredible opportunity to get a lot of story into the game before the expansion, and it mirrors an opportunity missed entirely two years ago when Mists of Pandaria was approaching. At that time, Tides of War was released, centring around Jaina Proudmoore in the build-up to an all-out war between the Horde and Alliance characterised by the brutal destruction of her home city, Theramore.

This missed opportunity played a massive role in the misrepresentation of Jaina in following patches and the misunderstanding of her by a lot of the player base as ‘evil’, ‘crazy’ and all those other tags which just get added onto characters in order to shove them onto the formerly-good-boss-character assembly line. It’s a worrying prospect that one of the most influential female characters in Warcraft and one of the characters with the most potential could accidentally be endbossed because of this.

Had the campaign leading up to and including the Battle for Theramore been properly included as a pre-launch quest chain, it would be much, much easier to understand Jaina’s sudden characterisation shift from an in-game perspective without having to rely on external lore.

There was so much missed out of Jaina’s in-game characterisation as a result of omitting the key aspects of this campaign. Horde players (unless they detour into the tower) do not see any of the relevant characters in the Battle for Theramore scenario, and it stands to reason that a large section of Horde-only players would not know who was there and who died at all. Similarly, Alliance players do not see any of the Horde leadership or minor characters involved in the campaign – in fact, neither faction sees more than Jaina, Kalec, Rhonin and Thalen Songweaver. You’d be surprised to learn that Garrosh was involved at all.

But an incredible amount of characterisation goes on during the battle. No players get to see the intrigue between Malkorok, Garrosh, Baine and Vol’jin. No one sees Jaina literally break down after the event (in fact, she’s fighting with steely determination in the scenario) because everyone in Theramore that she knew is dead.

Pained, her bodyguard, advisor, friend. Dead.
Tervosh, her right-hand Mage. Dead.
Kinndy, the apprentice that Jaina had had for a week. Dead.
And it goes on. Rhonin, dead, Marcus Johnathon, dead, warriors donated to Jaina by the Kirin Tor and Sha’tar, also dead.

Can you even imagine how devastating that would be to have one one person’s conscience? Jaina has to go for the rest of her life (and mages are longer-lived than most) knowing that everything she did for peace was in vain, that all of those lives were lost because she was the one person to think positively of the Horde. She had to tell Kinndy’s father that she had died under Jaina’s protection, she had to see Kinndy and Pained and Tervosh’s corpses shatter into dust because of the effects of the mana bomb.

All of her closest friends died and she didn’t get to say goodbye, she didn’t get a funeral, and quite likely she thought that it was all her fault for being too trusting. I defy anyone to think that, in that context, Jaina’s change of direction in Mists was a surprise.

And therein lies the problem. It’s not a surprise at all, but none of what I just said happened in game. A vast amount of the playerbase will know little to nothing about these events. And so, really, Jaina gets short shrift. She and Kalec are the only ones to survive that bombing, and the Alliance remains reluctant to stop the Horde being able to do it again. And it is not only understandable, but agreeable, that Jaina is so angry at the Horde and the Alliance.

There is, of course, an easy way to resolve this. All that needs to happen is a monologue, a speech, a couple of flashback quests where it is actually said what happened in full. This brings me onto War Crimes and its relevance in light of Warlords’ eventual launch.

Garrosh Hellscream is put on trial, a trial in which his and others’ past deeds are shown via the Bronze Dragonflight and the Timewalkers. This is a way to literally show any and every piece of relevant lore to the factional conflict in one place, and it oh so desperately needs to be used especially to show what happened at Theramore.

It wouldn’t be the launch that Theramore deserved to be a part of. There should have definitely been a 4.4 with players sent between the capital cities, seeing the molten giants crush the alliance keeps in the Barrens, seeing the intrigue, participating in the whole battle for Theramore, seeing every detail and all of the events that happened afterwards (there’s little reason that it couldn’t have incorporated several scenarios a la thunder isle) That would have been better, and it would have gone some way to silencing the ‘nothing but cute pandas’ naysayers with a dramatic bang to start off Mists.

Consider the opening cinematics of the Jade Forest that you see on either faction. They set the tone for the rest of the expansion, but with a successful pre-launch and a more detailed Battle for Theramore, they would have been appropriate, stoked the tension and integrated Pandaria into a theme which already was geared for factional conflict. In fact, I’d argue that the destruction of Theramore should have been a selling point of Mists at Blizzcon way more than it ended up being, as it would have tied the story in.

A missed opportunity, but as I will stress again, one that doesn’t need to be repeated with War Crimes and Warlords. There is still a a chance to use the Warlords pre-launch event to incorporate the important and wide-reaching plot of War Crimes in a way that the Theramore scenario and the Mists pre-launch failed entirely to, especially as Blizzard is more skilled now at integrating scenarios, questing and unique events into one experience.

We don’t yet know what happens in War Crimes. But Blizzard do, and they should definitely be using it in-game. They cannot create an engaging story if they keep the best story moments outside the game, and with Warlords taking longer than expected to hit beta, they need to be keeping players engaged by integrating the upcoming story into the game rather than waiting until Warlords hits and just having Anduin send us a letter saying ‘oops, Garrosh escaped when he was on trial, sorry you weren’t invited!’ Because, really, it would be a public trial.

This is Blizzard’s opportunity to stop wasting story by restricting it to novels and it is a method by which they can ease the criticism of Warlords so far – by showing that the story is worth it. And it’s going to be their only opportunity to do so. They can’t launch Warlords twice.

On Torture

The last war taught me a lot. Certainly more than I ever thought war would teach me. The importance of friends. Family. Unity among whole peoples is necessary if we are to ever develop. It’s what allowed the triumph over Garrosh and his forces.

But too many died, and unless we go forward as changed people, too many will keep dying. I have learned, at great cost, the importance of maintaining one’s calm and focus, and of the necessities of hope, humility, and mercy, even in the heat of the strongest battles.

Mercy and understanding. There have been those in the past that defied mercy, that took victory at all costs and revelled in death and pain. Some say that such people do not deserve mercy.

I disagree. Some have committed horrible crimes, and it is these crimes to which I turn next. But if we commit horrible acts on these criminals – what makes us different? How do we rise above them? How can we claim a moral high ground?

There is inspiration for these thoughts. Recently, as part of an operation wrapping up Garrosh’s crimes, the Convocation of Elrendar – the organisation to which I belong – began a search for the Arcweaver Genmal, who under Garrosh had led a project known as Grom’s Blood, which had created a brand of orcish supersoldier.

As resources had become scarce, these orcs had become increasingly volatile and unstable, with random powers and hugely shortened lifespans. A heightened agility and resistance to magic turned into vulnerability to fire, and hugely unpredictable forces.

The project had been closed after Garrosh’s defeat, but Genmal had fled before the assault on Orgrimmar had even begun, and taken refuge within a goblin corporation responsible for a slave-trade which supplied Genmal with orcish refugees in exchange for soldiers. Exposing this trade after a skirmish with Kor’kron loyalists took us from the Barrens to Booty Bay. Genmal’s creations littered Jaguero Isle and the Ruins of Zul’kunda. Hastily allying with defectors from the ethereal prince Lexxal (former supplier of the Crimson Hand) and a nationalist group of ex-Hellscream’s Reach soldiers, we uncovered Genmal’s hiding spot at the Crystalvein Mine.

While we cleared Zul’kunda of the remaining orcs and set about destroying Genmal’s work, the Reach instead set about the troublesome task of breaking into Genmal’s hiding place – an initiative that resulted in all their deaths.

Eventually, we captured Genmal. But the charges stacked high against him, easily as high as those of Sorlain.

Torture, given the immense physical pain his test subjects suffered – all unwilling after Garrosh’s power system collapsed. Murder, certainly, and coercion, and his support of Hellscream through his projects.

But what punishment do his crimes deserve? I am hesitant to call for death. To one who has done so much evil, death is a form of mercy, a form of vindication – the kind of people who commit these crimes do not care whether they live or die. Death will not make someone understand their trespass.

But we cannot just do to them as they do to us. I have learnt enough from Pandaria, from Garrosh, to know that such an option is never right. There needs to be a separation between judge and culprit, or the judge becomes just as guilty.

It’s disappointing to know that so few among my colleagues agree. That they would put Genmal through intense mental pain, intense physical pain and intense emotional pain all at once – and that they did so without hesitation in the heat of battle. In the aftermath, Genmal looks like any old orc war survivor – beaten, broken, aged.

But I have to live with the fact that, when faced with him, my colleagues crushed his creations – potentially redeemable orcs – to break his spirit. That they broke his legs with magma to stop him getting away. That they inflicted intense hallucinations of pain on him to drain him mentally.

It is unacceptable, and it is unforgivable that I did not stop them.

To move forward, we have to know that we are better than those we fight – and act like it. As horrifying as war is, I cannot excuse torture, even in the face of all the suffering Genmal inflicted on dozens of orcs who we were forced to kill out of mercy. Genmal does not understand his crimes. But making him understand through making him a victim of similar crimes? How can anyone condone that?

So I am resolved. I was resolved when I left Booty Bay to find Liferoot to make into a poultice for Genmal’s legs. I was resolved when I induced sleep to try and ease his pain. And I will be resolved in resisting every attempt to further harm him.

I will not be damned to repeat the crimes I fought so hard against, and I will not let my friends and colleagues damn themselves by partaking in these crimes – or by looking the other way. If we ever learn anything from war, it must be how to improve.

Otherwise, what did we fight for?

Shattered Heart: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Rapture

Cimmeria

Cimmeria looked out over the forest. Thanks to the efforts of the Evergrove druids, it had steadily expanded in recent years – which meant more hunting grounds for her brood. She was thankful. The brood had suffered hard times since the War in Outland had concluded, but things were beginning to pick up. It was a welcome boon, especially with Sabellian’s malaise.

A bright flash of light caught her eye from the canyon below, distracting her from a rather tasty basilisk. Opting to swallow it whole, she licked her lips and sauntered over to the edge, peering into the depths of the Bladespire territory.

An unusually large group of smaller humanoids gave her pause for thought. Figures in dusty twilight robes circled around a large procession of ogres, surrounded by tendrils of shadow magic.

They’re heading the same way as the gronn Sabellian noticed. And those are Twilight robes. Cultists. This is too coincidental to just leave uninvestigated.

“Nighteye, lead the others back to Sabellian when you are finished eating. I need to see what’s going on in the canyon.” Cimmeria barked her orders at the nearest drake, who nodded before turning back to a stag corpse. Cimmeria charged off the edge, gliding into a shaded gulch, where she landed and assumed her mortal form, a thin draenei with pupil-less eyes. She moved closer to the group, keeping to the shadows afforded by the large spires above.

Maybe Sabellian was right. I wonder if vindication might get him to stop his sleeping all day.

Although she did not let on, Cimmeria was concerned for Sabellian. They had been clutch-brother and clutch-sister, but since the freeing of Outland and the death of Gruul, Sabellian had… lacked purpose. Few required black dragons on the shattered world, and fewer wanted them.

Now, more often than not, Cimmeria had to direct and care for her brothers and sisters. Cimmeria suited leadership, but she would have preferred to have not taken over alone. On a good day, he had been the most energetic and logical of all the dragons on Outland, though his aggressive leadership style had left a lot to be desired.

This isn’t the future I had in mind either, brother. But if we don’t seize opportunity, what else is there?

The nonsensical proselytisation of the cultists was a dim murmur as Cimmeria followed, while all eyes were rapt upon the ogres. One, in particular, a two-headed mage wielding an elementium staff, held the group’s attention. The twisted and sickly metal hurt to look at, and Cimmeria glanced down, noticing a tome by the ogre’s feet. It was positively ancient, and the power it radiated made the young dragon feel sickly.

She was quickly getting a bad feeling about this situation.

Then the earth cracked.

Sabellian

Uninterested in the hunt, Sabellian remained atop the bluff, occasionally turning his head to shield his eyes against the dusty wind. His scales baked in the unending heat. A considerable number of his scales were cracked or scuffed, and his whole manner showed signs of a lack of personal attendance. There was no trace of a proud black dragon where he lay.

Once, Sabellian had aimed to free his brethren from the gronn and their overlord, Gruul. Thousands had died at their hands, and their corpses littered the mountains for years. But after the final victory, Sabellian felt empty. He had no more goals. No more aims. The only point of the black dragonflight now was to exist. Tales from Azeroth spoke of the evil of his flight, of how it served to destroy everything. That had only made him feel worse.

But one tale caught his ear. That of the noble dragons of old, who protected the earth and served the mortals. It was a distant hope. But it was hope.

The powers of the earth. The powers of Neltharion. The Earth-Warder of old. Sabellian scratched at the dirt with a claw, wondering. How does one claim such a power? Can it be claimed at all?

Sabellian had no idea. But he knew he had to try and understand the earth, to try and reclaim what the dragons had once been. The only problem was how to go about it, and so he remained where he lay, unsure of what path to take.

Several hours after they had left to hunt, with the evening sky now cool, the brood began to return, landing in small groups with their various meals. Sabellian counted them, as usual. He could name each as they flew overhead just from their scales. He had seen most of them hatch, and raised far more. He knew something was amiss from the anxious fluttering of the wingtips. Around ten minutes after the last batch flew in, he grew concerned.

Cimmeria’s not here.

Sabellian glanced around several more times, as half an hour passed without her return. The other drakes continued to eat, but glanced around warily. She had not said specifically what she was doing, and had given no indication of when she might return. Sabellian pushed himself to his feet, intending to go search for her.

Then the earth cracked.

Obessia

They took refuge in the mountains north of the Dark Portal. A majority of them had survived, but at a steep cost: They had lost two of their wisest and strongest fighters, and many more were injured.

Outland. This should be different. This should be what saves us.

The harsh red soil of Hellfire Peninsula was unlike anything Obessia had encountered in her short years. The earth did not cower or bend before her kind; if anything, she could feel its strength, constantly pushing back against the forces that could never quite tear it apart. It was as though her spirit was butting heads with the earth itself, an earth that was so strong it would not let a single speck of dust go.

It felt… liberating. The earth here was not her enemy – every day in Azeroth it had felt like she were destined to fight the earth. Within Draenor lay a new being, a foreign being – and it was a worthy opponent. She had never encountered the feelings of mingling with the earth spirits this way – though she doubted that any of her contemporaries saw the spirits in such a way. She was unsure if any of them could feel the spirits at all. It certainly didn’t seem like they cared for them.

Then the earth cracked. She could feel it gasp in pain, seeing the paper-thin rivulets opening between her feet as her vision expanded in a way she’d never known was possible. Her head felt like it was under extreme pressure.

The earth is crying out… in pain.