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.

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