Patch 6.0.2 was released a few weeks ago, and with it, the Iron Tide has come to Azeroth. The Blasted Lands have been lost in an impressive array of Orcish might, but overall, the introductory quests for Warlords of Draenor have been underwhelming.
I did not get the chance to play the events that introduced Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King (which from what I can tell is the gold standard of launch events). I returned to World of Warcraft mid-way through the Cataclysm launch events, which featured random elemental outbursts and a sequence of quests around Orgrimmar involving the Twilight Cultists. Since then, pre-launch events have clearly been deprioritized as part of Blizzard’s development planning.
The preparations for Mists of Pandaria were surprisingly lackluster. The Attack on Theramore scenario was introduced, which depicted either the Horde attacking the city to prepare for Garrosh deploying the mana bomb, or the Alliance scouring the wreckage from the resulting explosion. Despite the Alliance’s tasks of aiding Jaina in the crater seeming to be non-canon, both scenarios played exactly the same to provide factionally balanced gameplay. While that may have been a necessary concession from the lore to the game, the problem most players had was that the scenario was short and provided little in the way of exposition to tie into Pandaria. Alliance players especially were disgruntled because it seemed they lost Theramore just so everyone could see what these new scenarios would be like. It was a misstep that Blizzard promised they would not repeat.
To their credit, the introductory quests to Warlords of Draenor are better implemented than the Theramore scenario. There is a clear story of an invasion that we confirm and then rally against as the orcs pour out of the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands. I first played it as Alliance on the beta, and while brief, I enjoyed it. Vindicator Maraad finally makes his proper in game introduction as he leads Alliance players in fighting the Iron Horde. Nethergarde Keep has fallen, so Alliance players rush in and reclaim the keep by planting banners while tending to the dead by collecting their items. Anyone familiar with Nethergarde Keep would find the state of disarray especially jarring. We then attacked the ogres nearby, who had allied with the Iron Horde, and killed the orc commander at Orkril’lon Hold, which had been claimed by the Iron Horde. Finally, we were sent to Varian Wrynn to report our success and claim our reward.
Having played the Alliance story, I was intrigued to finally play the Horde perspective. Imagine my surprise when the Horde questline followed the Alliance questline beat for beat, with the only exception being Thrall was the primary quest-giver instead of Maraad. Rather than being disheartened at the ransacking of the Blasted Lands, I was disturbed that the quest experiences were so similar. The Alliance quest had the emotional punch of players having to go through the ruins of a city they once used as a base, and interacting with the ruins and also with dead NPC’s to illustrate their loss at the hands of the Iron Horde. The Horde is also sent to Nethergarde Keep to recover their dead from the fortress, but because this was hostile ground previously, the emotional effect is muted. It is outright weird that Horde NPC’s died defending an Alliance city, and the weirdness is compounded by Horde players planting their banners to rally the troops. Is the Horde claiming Nethergarde Keep since the Alliance failed to hold it? Is the Horde simply going to give it back since there was apparently some sort of mutual defense pact for the Blasted Lands?
Furthermore, the Horde makes no moves to reclaim Orkril’lon Hold. Thrall and the player assault the structure and kill the leader of the Iron Horde forces, but they do not try to evict the Iron Horde, or even discuss such an option. Okrilla, who previously oversaw the fortress, never expresses any desire to retake her domain. As an Alliance quest, these attitudes work fine, because Maraad would have no interest in overtaking Orkril’lon. But this feels like a massive logic gap for the Horde.
It appears that the inverse of the Mists of Pandaria situation happened. Whereas for Mists, the Horde scenario seemed to have been composed first and then force-fitted for the Alliance (presumably due to time), now the Alliance questline appears to have been written first, and then the Horde was shoe-horned into the experience. The end result is an awkward Horde storyline.
Warlords development has been notoriouslyl behind schedule, and Blizzard may have been looking for a quick solution they could implement for both sides. It is concerning that this has now happened twice in a row. Blizzard has been developing and balancing different quests for the factions for ten years. They should know better than to simply force one faction to work with another faction’s story. Regardless of whatever reason Thrall can provide for recovering the items from the dead of Nethergarde Keep, those NPC’s should never have been there in the first place. If Blizzard could only provide one experience for both factions, then a neutral NPC (Khadgar?) should be running the operation, or the Iron Horde should have destroyed Orkril’lon and Nethergarde Keep and then players should have tracked the orc commander to a third location.
It’s easy to see that Blizzard attempted to maintain factional equality by giving both sides the same experience. Yet asking different groups to do the same thing is not equivalent. Despite the faulty start, Blizzard’s storytelling was masterful in Mists of Pandaria, and while this is just a pre-patch event, it is discouraging that they did not give these quests, which serve as our introduction to the new content, more attention. Thankfully, there is little reason to think this lack of quality will follow us through the Red Portal and into Draenor.
DON’T WATCH THE WARCRAFT Q&A FROM BLIZZCON IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS. SERIOUSLY, YOU TEN YEAR OLD BRAT! I DON’T CARE HOW CUTE YOU ARE IN THAT ORC MAKE-UP!!! LEARN SOME MANNERS. http://wow.joystiq.com/2014/11/08/blizzcon-2014-world-of-warcraft-qanda-liveblog/
The movie panel at Blizzcon revealed much of the cast, and Rob Kazinsky proved his nerd cred and did the Orgrim walk. Legendary doesn’t want any movie footage going up online yet, so we’ll still have to wait for that. http://wow.joystiq.com/2014/11/07/blizzcon-warcraft-movie-panel-liveblog/
Blizzard is doing a developer Q&A on Wednesday. Expect questions to include, “Why did the Blizzcon Q&A suck?” https://twitter.com/CM_Lore/status/531583101747888128