Warning: This articles may contain spoilers.
For months we’ve heard about how Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War and the Fall of Theramore scenario would unite to provide the introduction to the Mists of Pandaria expansion. Christie Golden has even spoken how this is the closest she’s worked with quest designers to make sure that her descriptions matched in-game events as closely as possible. Now that the Fall of Theramore scenarios are live, we can see just how misinformed we were.
Golden had said there are references in the novel of the player characters and their actions, and there are. After the Horde army initially breaches Theramore, a small Horde party is mentioned having infiltrated the city to kill all the Gryphons and free Thalen Songweaver: the Kirin Tor traitor. The Horde scenario allows these events to play out within the realm of possibility. As players, the scope of our mission keeps us from the Northern gate where the bulk of the fighting occurs during the siege. To this extent, Golden and the quest team’s united efforts are fairly cohesive.
After the Horde retreat from the city and the Alliance has time to begin tending to the wounded, the Goblin Zeppelin carrying the mana bomb appears. At this point, Jaina directs a group of unnamed compatriots to find Rhonin. This party does, and Rhonin immediately sends the group back to Jaina to bring her to the top of the tower. Once everyone reconvenes in the tower, Rhonin opens a portal through which Jaina’s five friends are ferried. Jaina are Rhonin argue briefly before he pushes her through the portal just in time for her to see him disintegrated by the bomb as the portal fades. Jaina finds herself alone on a nearby beach, and loses consciousness. She awakens the following morning, argues with Kalecgos, and then returns to Theramore, where she begins working out her aggression on a squad of Kor’kron. Those she doesn’t incinerate, she freezes in blocks of ice. Finally, she reclaims the Focusing Iris in secret and departs.
It is the Alliance scenario where continuity falls apart. In game, the Alliance scenario starts with the party sent into a post-bomb Theramore. As they venture into the devastation, players combat an invading force of Rok’nah orcs. Eventually the group locates Jaina in the midst of her mission to recover the Focusing Iris. She is surrounded by frozen orcs, and after battling Rok’nah himself, Jaina departs with the Focusing Iris and the Alliance players receive their rewards. Outside of the detail of the frozen orcs, this fails to correlate to the events of the novel.
It’s not clear when Christie Golden and the quest team worked together to delineate the events in the novel, but we can surmise the information that Golden was provided. Rhonin specifically listens to the “pleas of five [people] Jaina had sent.” The Scenario would involve five players. Was it even intended to be a scenario, or was this possibly originally conceived as a small five-man dungeon? As implemented, we are a party of three. Golden was clearly told the scenario would encapsulate the time from the Horde retreat until just before the bomb was detonated, and this is not what we see. Other than Jaina and the orcs looters that she encounters, everyone in Theramore is dead. There are no witnesses to her theft of the Iris.
Instead, Alliance players are given a situation that mirrors that of their Horde counterparts. The order of the encounters is: 1. Assault and destroy several ships. 2. Fight a totem-wielding NPC and his winged minions (Gash’nul for the Alliance or Baldruc for the Horde). 3. Destroy a seige engine. 4. Kill the final boss (Rok’nah for the Alliance or Evercane for the Horde). 5. Speak to an NPC (Jaina for Alliance or Thalen for Horde) and portal away. Whenever the decision was made to change the Alliance scenario, it seems that the Horde scenario was co-opted to be used for both factions, either to ensure an equivalent experience for all players, or to ensure that both scenarios would be ready for public release prior to Mists going live.
The most disappointing aspect of this alteration is that producing a novel wound so tightly with the gameplay is an accomplishment worth seeking. Blizzard is always trying to make us, as players, feel like we are an active part of the world; to the point of having us interact with major NPC’s such as our faction leaders on a regular basis. But the novels, where a large amount of story occurs, can only reference us obliquely at best. Any time there is an opportunity to merge the actions of our characters within the narrative being told, it needs to be capitalized on. Blizzard strove to give us an experience that would place us in the fiction. Instead, the only fiction was Blizzard’s insistence that we would see events from the novel play out in game.
The poor implementation of the Alliance scenario is an ominous sign. For an event that is supposed to mark the start of the next expansion, Blizzard should be getting players excited about the new content and coming story. Instead, we are wondering about this slight misstep. Hopefully this is an aberration, and the rest of the Mists launch will be fine. Otherwise, Blizzard might be faced with real losses, rather than just the loss of a fictional city.