WoW! Thoughts! — On the Updated Introduction to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms
October 4, 2013
One of the features of patch 5.4 that I was looking forward to was the updated questing experience leading players into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. Since Blizzard decided not to phase the Vale, the introductory quests were going to be changed to reflect that players were entering a zone that was no longer the legendary Pandaren paradise. Sadly, the end result of Blizzard’s efforts is more confusing and disappointing than if they had just left the introduction alone and deposited players into the ruins of the Vale without any explanation.
Prior to 5.4 players would be summoned to a meeting between Xu’en the White Tiger, Zhi the Harmonious, Taran Zhu, Anduin Wrynn, and Sunwalker Dezco. Xu’en was judging whether to let players into the Vale. Taran Zhu was the prosecution, arguing they should not, based on the destruction they caused in the Jade Forest, while Anduin lobbied that the players had learned from their mistakes and could do good. Xu’en pitted the player in a series of challenges, after which he decided that players should be allowed into the Vale. He and the other celestials head over to the Gate of the August Celestials, and a cinematic features Pandaren refugees streaming into the Vale full of hope.
Post-5.4, players receive the same summons to meet Xu’en and company. The topic of discussion is re-opening the Vale and allowing the Horde and Alliance back into the now desecrated grounds. While the dialogue was amended to reflect the Vale’s destruction, apparently nothing else was changed. That is a problem because Zhi the Harmonious is still in the room. Zhi is the leader of the Golden Lotus. Before 5.4 he would help the player on a series of quests against the Mogu incursions into the Vale. Ultimately, in an attempt to prevent the Mogu from claiming the Thunder King’s weapons and helmet, he is killed. Zhi does not live to see Garrosh destroy the Vale, yet he is standing in the room when Taran Zhu and Xu’en explicitly talk about that event.
At this point, Anduin mentions that he is lobbying for players to be allowed back into the Vale to fix the wrongs that have been committed. Taran Zhu lectures about the destruction in the Jade Forest, and the player is given three challenges to defeat. Again, Xu’en relents and everyone heads to the Celestial Gates.
At the Gates, members of the Golden Lotus sit waiting to be granted entry. It would be heartbreaking, yet riveting, to know that some of them survived the obliteration of the Golden Pagoda and were ready to return to the Vale, but members, like He Softfoot who were affected by the Sha of Pride (and now serve as raid bosses) were present. The cinematic plays unchanged, showing refugees walking into the Vale; and as the player enters the Vale the refugees fade away, and all that is left is destruction.
One can argue that for Blizzard to spend time fixing a quest only completionists will pay attention to is a waste of development time. Normally that would be correct, but this is an important quest that everyone levelling through Pandaria is going to do, as it grants access to the Vale and the Horde and Alliance shrines contained within at level 87. Instead of having to route travels to Orgrimmar and Stormwind through the Pandaren cities in the Jade Forest, access to the shrine allows players to remain in Pandaria instead of having to return to the capital cities for services (with the exception of the Auction House). This is a high profile quest, and it is a shame that it didn’t get high profile attention.
The problem with these incongruities is that Blizzard did such a good job implementing quests throughout Pandaria that errors like this standout in comparison. These subpar edits are blemishes on an otherwise compelling narrative, and it is disappointing that their usual high standards were not met.
The saddest part of the whole experience, though, was what was once my favorite part. After Xu’en decides to (re)open the Vale, Dezco challenges Anduin’s support of the Horde, asking the prince, “Have you met our warchief?” It’s a valid question, as Anduin’s faith in the goodwill of orcs is misplaced with respect to Garrosh. And prior to the Vale’s explosion, Anduin did indeed encounter Garrosh when he destroyed the Divine Bell. In the process, Anduin was nearly killed under the rubble. So while Dezco’s question was purely rhetorical pre-5.4, Anduin can legimately respond to the Tauren, “Yes, and he almost killed me,” post-5.4. The fact that the exchange remained constant should have signaled to me that I was going to be disappointed by what was to follow.
As much as time and space may be linked in our reality, it is even moreso in virtual worlds. Zones are designed to show endless conflict, and while the narrative may advance, those zones remain trapped in a temporal limbo. Outland will always feature Illidan’s forces, Northrend will showcase Arthas’ downfall, and the rest of Azeroth will be as it was after the Cataclysm. Incongruities are to be expected. But it’s a shame that Blizzard knew they would be changing the Vale in such an impactful manner and could not adjust the quests any more than they did. When Garrosh destroyed the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, he didn’t just destroy the pristine home of the Pandaren, he destroyed Blizzard’s pristine questing experience.
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