Thursday, October 27, 2011

Missteps in Cataclysm: Misfired Story Arcs, Blizzard's Failures at Understanding the Medium of a Narrative

A recent interview with Tom Chilton has revealed Blizzard's intentions for the opening event for the Mists of Pandaria expansion. The Horde is going to destroy Theramore. This will be the next in a long line of defeats for the Alliance at the hands of the Horde, dating back the very first zone of Wrath of the Lich King. This has created a significant uproar on the official forums, with over 150 pages of posts debating the merits of this choice of action. Many players, and the CM Zarhym, have begged the players understanding to allow blizzard to tell their story in what they feel is the most effective manner. I feel that this choice of action is the next step in a line of missteps that dates back to Cataclysm Beta that shows a fundamentally flawed understanding of the requirements of storytelling within the constraints of the WoW model.

In any immersive model of story telling there are three fundamental rules, while there are niche games that flaunt some of these rules, WoW is not one of them. You don't build 13 million subscribers by aiming at niches.

Rule 1: The majority of people do not like playing the villain.

This is evidenced by the outcry from Horde players over their sudden turn towards Saturday morning cartoon style villainy. The torture quests, pretty much the entirety of the new storylines for the Forsaken, and major horde questlines in stonetalon have caused quite the uproar, and while there are some players who revel in the role of the villain, most players who have commented on the change have found the Horde's turn to an unabashedly evil faction to be disturbing.

Rule 2: The majority of people do not like playing the victim.

This is evidenced by the amount of rage that's been emanating from the Alliance players in the aftermath of Blizzcon. The Horde has inflicted a chain of atrocities on the Alliance dating back to Howling Fjord. Alliance players have too often wound up the designated losers and through no choice of their own get handed defeat after defeat. With the leaked plans to raze the Alliance's non capital portal city, and primary port to the continent of Kalimdor, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight for their suffering.

Rule 3: No one likes inconclusive endings.

Cliffhangers and Bolivian Army endings are all well and good in passive media such as movies and books. It's a legitimate tool to craft the narrative. However, in immersive media, the hero is you, and when they're dissatisfied, you're dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction is not a good emotion to try and elicit from people you're trying to get to play the game. This can easily be seen from the frustration that stemmed from the ending of the Throne of the Tides instance. Neptulon gets kidnapped by the Kraken, and when pressed on the issue at Blizzcon, Chris Metzen merely remarked "What happens in Throne stays in Throne. There are no plans to continue that storyline." No one was satisfied with that answer.

These rules apply to the overwhelming majority of games. There are also a three rules that apply to persistent story driven dual faction worlds like World of Warcraft.

Rule 1: Victories over player characters cannot be final.

The day either the Horde or the Alliance actually win the war is the day WoW dies. Everyone knows this. All storylines must be sustainable. The player might wipe, but the boss is still there waiting for him, the lockouts always reset. Likewise, aside from the inconclusive end to Throne of the Tides, even on the quests where the player is duped into helping the enemy, you still come out on top. You help Gorefiend break out? Kill him in BT. You help Loken capture Thorim? Kill Loken in HoL, Kill Thorim's mount and free Thorim in Ulduar. You helped Drakuru enslave DTK? Kill him in Zul'Drak. Play directly into the Lich Kings hands? Deliver 25 champions to become his strongest warriors in history? A dead king will return to break the grip of final death upon you. That's how far the story will go to protect you. The story always has you win in the end.

Rule 2: Both factions must be interesting and engaging to play.

Zarhym mentioned this specifically in his commentary about the debacle surrounding Theramore. The player base generally splits down between faction lines fairly close to 50/50 overall in terms of total population. Alienating a significant portion of either faction would be a catastrophic loss on Blizzard's part.

Rule 3: The story must unfold in a manner that is possible within the budgetary constraints of the project.

This is the one that a lot of players forget about when they make outlandish demands of where they think the story should go. Zones that were just recently updated will not be overhauled again to update the conflict in real time. Unfortunately, this does lead to a lot of situations like the Wolfheart novel, where the Alliance breaks the back of the Horde assault into Ashenvale. This, unfortunately, is completely invisible within the game world. It will probably never be seen, and as such, it doesn't motivate the majority of players.

Thus far, Blizzard has made several major mistakes with the direction of the narrative. They have failed to make the Alliance a very compelling faction to play. A lot of effort went into the horde storylines in cataclysm. Noticeably less effort went into the Alliance storylines. Goblins get a cool starting area, and once they leave it, they go to Azshara, a zone custom built to continue the goblin experience. Worgen players get a cool starting area, and once they leave it, they're shunted off to Darnasus where they follow the same story pattern as the Night Elf players, aside from a couple minor quests, there's no Worgen designed content in the main game at all. Even where the Alliance has new content, it's a drastically different tone that those the Horde enjoy. A new undead player moving into Silverpine Forest will enter a phased Gilneas and get to go toe to toe with the 7th Legion, the Elite soldiers of the Alliance, and win. A new human player goes to Westfall and gets to see five years of work on Sentinel Hill get burned to the ground by a homeless mob in five minutes. It's a well done storyline, and it does a good job introducing the new Deadmines, although it doesn't actually give you any quests to go into Deadmines, strangely. But at the same time, where the Forsaken player gets a very empowering storyline, Human players get a very demoralizing storyline.

The Horde gets two new storylines where they win WSG by capturing Silverwing Post, and win AV by nuking the Stormpike Brigade. The Alliance gets a new storyline about how they lost WSG. In Twilight Highlands the Horde get several storylines about taking the fight to the Alliance in the new region. The Alliance gets quests about the Horde trying to steal, or in some cases, simply burn, our beer. Even in the new region where the Alliance was supposed to be taking the fight to the Horde, in South Barrens, the Alliance players arive to find Camp Turajo in flames, and we get quests explaining about how the General didn't intend for it to be such a bloodbath, and then we go arrest criminals trying to loot the ruins. This is framed by a run in with a Horde general who wears Alliance Worgen scalps as a hat, and the Horde assassinating the general who tried to help them and blowing up the oldest Dwarf settlement on the continent. Even when the Alliance is supposed to win, they wind up getting guilt tripped and defeated.

This train of events makes the Alliance perspective a very dull one to play through, and is a problem via rule 2 of persistent game narratives. Blizzard has lost nearly a million subscriptions since Cataclysm came out, and I'd be willing to bet a good chunk of those subscriptions were Alliance players who simply didn't like the leveling experience.

This leads into the second major mistake that Blizzard has made with the narrative. Rather than focusing the story on a villain, which has been the standard throughout the game thus far, they have decided to make the conflict between the Alliance and Horde the focus of the upcoming expansion. This is a mistake for several reasons. First a faction conflict centered story is a model that has been tried before, and failed many times. Warhammer online tried it, and their subscription numbers plummeted to the point where the game had to go free to play. All Points Bulletin tried it, and the game folded completely within 6 months. That's because making the focus on the conflict between two player factions becomes a lame duck due to rules 1 and 2. Niether faction can actually lose the war. The Horde isn't going to burn Stormwind down like they did in WC1, nor are the Alliance going to wipe the Horde out like they did in WCII. It's going to end in a stalemate. That's not a major issue when people are focused on the Burning Legion invasion, or the war on the Lich King, or the fact that Deathwing just rearranged the face of Azeroth. But when you put it front and center, it's like watching a show in HD TV, you can see every crack and flaw in the actor's face.

The razing of Theramore will exacerbate this problem because of the way it interacts with several missteps that Blizzard made in the Cataclysm Beta. There were three ways that a faction could lose territory in the Cataclysm. It could be destroyed in cataclysm, like Kargath or Auberdine. It could be seized by a third party, like the Defias in Westfall, or the Grimtotem in Stonetalon. The final method was it could be destroyed by the opposing faction, like Southshore, or Camp Turajo. Southshore in particular is important because all the way through the Alpha and most of Beta, the story was that Southshore was taken out by a tidal wave in the Catalysm. Come release, it turns out that that was changed in favor of the Horde and their penchant for biological weapons. Instead of losing something to Deathwing, the villain we all know we get to kill, they lost it to the Horde, whom we all know we won't get to wipe out. That became one more notch in the Horde's belt for things that they've siezed from the Alliance. It's become a very long list, and the list of things the Alliance took from the Horde is a very short one. This gives the Horde a lot of momentum going into MoP.

Zarhym has asked players to look at the Razing of Theramore as the opening move of the war, and many players have likened it to the Alliance's Pearl Harbor. It's supposed to fit in the context of the story as the impetus for the Alliance to go to war. The problem with that is that the War has been here for going on 4 years and 3 expansions now. This isn't so much Pearl Harbor as it is Dunkirk.

The WWII references being thrown around within the thread are very telling. A lot of games are set in WWII. It's a very compelling story. It is however, a story that cannot be replicated in WoW. In WWII, the US turned the tide after Pearl Harbor at the Battle of Midway, and pushed on to purge the Japanese home islands with nuclear fire. Japan was disarmed, occupied for years, and has American soldiers stationed there almost 70 years after the fact. Likewise, in Europe, after being pushed out of Europe at Dunkirk, the British held on for two years until the 2nd Battle of El-Alamein and the entry of the US and USSR into the war allowed them to turn the tide on the german war machine. Germany was literally hung, drawn, and quartered. The leadership of the government was tried and executed, the infrastructure of the nation was gutted to the point where tens of thousands of Germans starved in 1946 because the country couldn't feed itself, and the nation itself was partitioned into 4 quarters that were each given to a different allied power to rule over. In both theaters, WWII is the story of the heros being pushed to the brink by unadulterated villains, and overcoming all odds to win a complete victory. People eat stories like that up.

The problem with ramping the stakes in the Alliance/Horde conflict up to WWII levels is rule 1. Because neither faction can actually lose the conflict, a WWII ending is impossible. The orcs aren't going back to internment camps, and the humans aren't fleeing the remains of SW again. It'd be the death of the game. So ultimately, the best we can hope for is a WWI armistice style ending. Do you ever wonder why there are so few games set in WWI? Because it's a terrible story. Millions dead in a futile effort that left no winner, just Germany sulking for 20 years, and the allied powers becoming complacent. No one was happy at the end of WWI. As such it's a weak model to emulate.

This leaves Blizzard in a very rough position. Right now the Alliance looks uninspired and defeated, and the Horde looks unstoppable. Because we know the Alliance can't actually lose, they're going to have to turn the tables. Because Blizzard needs to make the Alliance look interesting, it can't be the result of the internal strife storylines that have been running through the Horde as of late. If the Alliance gets saved by Vol'jin assassinating Garrosh, or Thrall returning to demote the rash warchief, the Alliance is pretty much permanently emasculated. So the Alliance has to come up with a legitimate military strategy that will allow them to overcome the momentum built up by the Horde. This in and of itself presents another challenge. While the British went from the brink of Annihilation during the Battle of Britain to breaking the German line at El-Alamein, once El-Alamein took place, the Allies used their new found momentum to crush the German nation. Obviously, this can't happen, so something is going to have to happen to stop the Alliance who will be even more unstoppable than the Horde is now. At this point, we're going to be treading into rediculous Deus Ex Machina territory. Like Rhonin riding on sentient raptors or Varian having a repeat of his unfortunate bout with mercy at the end of the second war levels of unlikeliness. Maybe Thrall shows up in a giant robot forged from the remaining scales of Deathwing and the Shards of Frostmourne? I don't know what it'll be, I just know that it'll be hackneyed, unconvincing, and a complete ass-pull on Blizz's part.

Blizzard already missed the timing to make an actual compelling story out of the conflict. They were setting it up all throughout Wrath, and if they had made a straight up open war, rather than this one sided beating, then they could limit the momentum of either side, and ensure that any actions taken were beleivable. Both sides would be convinced they could win, and both sides would be afraid they might suffer a strategic loss. The Forsaken push through Hillsbrad and into the Arathi Highlands, Danath Trollbane returns, and with help from the Wildhammer Dwarve from the Hinterlands, he reestablishes control of Stromguard, pushes the Horde back into Hillsbrad, and holds the line at Thoradin's wall. While the Alliance would be taking the worse of it in the grand scheme of things, but they'd have a heroic defense to point to. The Horde would be asking just how they were going to break through the defense, rather than their current situation where the big question they're asking is why exactly they stopped at Arathi. Most importantly, it would leave Blizzard in a stable position. There isn't any need for topping things. It's believable that the war bogs down on those lines. The Horde feels good for having taken territory in Hillsbrad, The Alliance feels good about having their hero return and securing Arathi.

It's not too late for Blizzard to repair their flawed course of action. Throw us a Sunwell style emergency tier to tide us over after 4.3, and build an actual villain for MoP, write an opener that doesn't impart more momentum to runaway characters, and work hard to ensure that they don't leave one faction in the dust again.


  1. Excellent analytical post. I hadn't really considered the wider faction vs faction comparison before, though I've done so little leveling content in Cataclysm because they went and made it so easy.

    I think the Alliance have had it rough for a quite a long time, the human models have always looked awful and they just don't have the (*shudders*) cool factor that gets attributed to the Forsaken or Orcs.

    The whole build up to Firelands was Alliance heroes helping to save an Orc Shaman and his lover. Yep sure he's Earthen Ring I suppose but still he was a leader of the Horde so we should hate him regardless, shouldn't we?

  2. Don't get me started on that quest.

    We have to save Go'el!

    "Thrall, really? If you say so."

    Go'el! Go'el! Go'el! Pay attention to me Go'el!

    "Aggra, you're starting to get annoying."

    Go'el! I want to have your babies!

    "Stop embarassing yourself."

    Go'el! There you are!


    "Wait a minute. Why am I helping this guy again?"

  3. MoP does have a main villain, a major threat; Blizzard has said as much. They just haven't told us who it is yet; we'll get to discover ourselves what the great threat is through the quests and the patch cycle. I find this refreshing, honestly, to discover the threat rather than have the main villain show up in the opening cinematic and say, "Haha, I'm doing all this eeeeeeevil stuff, come and get me (except you can't because my temple or castle is conveniently locked until the right patch)!"

  4. That would be a start, but Blizzard still needs to tone down the faction war storyline. Without both of those things happening, the emergence of the villain will simply come across as a cheap Deus Ex Machina to rescue Blizzard from an unsustainable storyline.

    "So, the Aliiance turned the war around, and are marching on the gates of Ogrimmar with all Horde resistance shattered. How's the Horde going to survive this?"

    "Varian finds mercy in his heart?"

    "Too unlikely. No one's gonna believe that."

    "I know! THE SHAH!"

    "WTF is the Shah?"


  5. A good counter to Blizzard's stance on the storytelling issues.

  6. This is perfect. Someone has nailed it. Blizzard hire this guy for story direction.

  7. They already told us that the pandaren culture is about balance, and with their adition to each faction ranks the conflict will change forever.
    Perhaps they have planned a good turn in the storytelling...
    Or perhaps is going to be just a bad Deux Ex Machina as the blogger said...
    We'll have to wait.

  8. Excellent analysis. I do hope someone at Blizzard will read this and make some changes in the story for MoP. However, these proposed events haven't dampened my enthusiasm for the expansion one bit.

  9. Obviously written by an expansion kiddie. If you never played Horde in Vanilla then you have no idea what we had to deal with.

  10. I agree with Alanth there. As someone who has played both sides since release, I am so very happy to see the Horde get some honest-to-goodness attention and have there be real quality to their quests. Alliance has ALWAYS had it better, and still does from some perspectives. The Horde certainly has nothing to compare to Stormwind on the majesty scale, that's for sure. Both factions are dealing with terrible leaders, but their peoples deal with it in very different ways. If anything, I'm just glad the Alliance is finally NOT the perfect awesome super special knight-in-shining-armor good guys they were made out to be (at least by a lot of players) back during release. They have more depth now, and that's definitely a plus.

  11. Wow, this one took off. Anyhows...

    Alanth, what you're proposing is basically this. You have two children, you were a bad parent and you neglected one for a period of time. Upon realizing this, do you:

    A) Strive to treat the neglected child equally with the favored child from here on out?


    B) Neglect the favored child as you neglected the neglected child?

    What you're proposing, and what Blizzard has been doing, is taking option B. Now, if this we were talking about actual children, the government probably would have taken your kids away once they found out about that.

    As for the most recent anon, what they've done with the Alliance isn't giving them any depth. It's making them into a 2 dimensional punching bag for the mighty horde. Adding depth requires actually creating storylines that explore that faction, rather than simply writing them off in a storm of pop culture themed distractions.

  12. There's no neglect here from my point of view. In every piece of lore and literature surrounding the two factions the horde has always been the more united and militarily strong faction. Whereas the Alliance have had internal strife to deal with the Orcs and their allies haven't had anything of the sort until the beginning of this expansion.

    There has to be back and forth. It can't always be this carefully balanced state of equilibrium from here until the game ends. It's not entertaining. I more than welcome when the Alliance get us back. In fact, I can't wait for it.

    I summarily disagree with the initial thought that the horde has gone suddenly evil. Outside of Sylvanus (Who has always been sort of horde if you get my meaning) they're just doing what is militarily right for their country. For as neutral or Horde tolerant as Jaina claims to be the fact remains that Theramore is the main access point the Alliance have to the primarily horde dominated continent of Kalimdor.

    It just makes strategic sense to eliminate it.

  13. " If you never played Horde in Vanilla then you have no idea what we had to deal with."

    You'll forgive me for misconstrueing that to read "It's your turn now!" given the context it was written in.

    There does have to be back and forth for the story to be believable, true. But the swings can't be this violent because we know that it has to end in equilibrium. When you start talking about burning cities to the ground, those aren't the kind of wars that end in Stalemates. Those are the kind of wars that end in the subjugation or obliteration of one of the opposing forces.

    The kind of wars that end in stalemates are fought between two evenly powered forces that just feed bodies into the meatgrinder until they both get sick of it to the point where they sign an armistice.

    You don't understand the crux of the issue. It's not the story, it's the medium. They're trying to cram a square peg into a round hole, and the only way that works is when something breaks. Blizzard could easily turn this into the apocalpytic war akin the conflicts in WCI and WCII. I don't think that would be a smart move from a business perspective, and I'd short sell Blizz in a heartbeat if I thought they were seriously considering it. But I'd respect them more if they followed through with that rather than heading in that direction and suddenly pulling out a poorly thought out plot turn to save themselves from the course that they've set for themselves. They need to find a round peg to fit into the round hole.

  14. Honestly? I wouldn't be surprised in the least if this turn of events happens.

    Varian kill Garrosh in single combat. Harkening back to the epic Lothar and Blackhand battle outside of Blackrock mountain. This would lead to a rallying or retreat of the horde during whatever particular battle this takes place at.

    Thrall returns as warchief after this. It eliminates the emasculating of the alliance while allowing a sensible leader to take control.

    At some points both sides realize a sort of "Mutually assured destruction" doctrine but not until several bloody battles are fought. This satisfies those that want blood and PvP, gives the alliance something to hang their very fancy and poofy hats on and allows the game to progress without all out destruction.

    And forgive my first post. Feathermoon has been a very Alliance-centric server since vanilla. We've been outnumbered and crushed repeatedly until the numbers evened up and our more talented PvPers had a level playing ground to work with. We've been dealing with the Alliance bias for seven years and were frankly glad to have a bone thrown our way.

  15. But that's the problem. With a Showdown at Blackrock style rally on the part of the Alliance, why would the Alliance suddenly grow a heart just because Thrall showed up? Once the turning point in a war occurs, theose who formerly had the upper hand get hell rained upon them until they're wiped out. The Lordaeron Alliance, which was a much more merciful group than the current batch of Alliance leadership, shoved the orcs back into the Dark Portal and locked those remaining on Azeroth in internment camps. The Russians didn't just call it a day after Stalingrad, nor did the Americans just say "Well, I think the Japs get our point." after Midway.

    If the death of Garrosh is enough to arrest the Horde's momentum, than the Alliance would logically take advantage of that situation, press their advantage until they've reduced the Horde to something that can never again pose a threat to them. Burn Ogrimmar to the ground, wipe out the Forsaken entirely, depose the Blood Elf government and install the Silver Covenant as the new government. These are the wages of total war. Total destruction of the way of life of the vanquished. Which is why total warfare between player factions is a very poor choice for a motivating storyline. They won't carry it out to its logical conclusion, and they shouldn't start what they can't finish.

  16. You're taking everything to cartoonish extremes.

    The return of thrall would galvanize the Horde and stop whatever forward progress the Alliance was making at the moment. There would be losses, there would territory razed or reclaimed. But rallying around Thrall who has -zero- desire for an all out war caused by his ill chosen successor would fall back to defensive positions and enter into a realm of, yes, stalemate.

    You're seeing everything from this one pre-determined viewpoint you have that I respectfully disagree with. The real world works in very different ways than a fantasy universe so you cannot make 1:1 comparisons between the two. Troops move differently and at different paces, magic plays a much larger role. And with the destruction of Theramore crossing over to assault Orgrimmar directly would take far, far longer than planned. This leaves plenty of time for a reorganization of forces and a strong defense to be established.

  17. Hardly, I'm looking at every example, both real world and fictional. Total war does not end with both sides intact. You can't write it any other way and still have it be an engaging story. Total war, is by definition, the extreme. Once you're torching cities and exterminating populations, you've arrived at the extreme, which is the problem. Blizzard rode this story out two stations too far and they're about to hit the end of the road. Instead of reigning in the story when they should have, they tried to one up themselves, and not only pushed the story out beyond where it should have gone, but completely undermined the overarching narrative of the current expansion and possibly threatens to do so for the upcoming one as well.

    If the Alliance turns the tables on the horde juggernaut, then they would be in posession of a war machine even more powerful than the one that they defeated. That's ok, that has precidence. It can happen.

    A double reversal is completely unheard of without the intervention of much larger outside powers, which would render the entire storyline trivial. No one sees the Korean War as a conflict between North and South Korea, it was just a prominent proxy in the greater scheme of the Cold War. Uninteresting, and instead of emasculating one faction, it would do so for both factions.

    And we're talking about the same Thrall who desires to "split the throne of stormwind in two" and who, when given the chance, electrocuted helpless alliance soldiers and destroyed their life boats? In the real world that's a war crime, and even in fictional worlds, you can't be seeking peace while carrying out actions like that. Thrall's a very poorly written character who honestly needs to be shelved after this expansion.

  18. Chris Metzen reminds me of a novice DM who has let his game world spiral out of control. His faction bias is obvious, and Thrall is his omnipotent NPC hero who always has to save the day at the expense of player satisfaction. Beyond the simple matter of winning and losing, the Horde is simply more fleshed out, and given more to do. The Horde drives the story, and the Alliance follows along as an uninspired afterthought.

    So many of the major Blizzard villains -- Archimonde, Illidan, Arthas, and now Deathwing -- could not be overcome by the efforts of the heroic characters who actually fought them. Every time, a deus ex machina plot twist had some NPC appear to save the players from the big bad they had just defeated. This is horrible storytelling technique in a game where the players are supposed to be the heroes. It leaves players annoyed and unsatisfied, and at the same time shaking their heads at the sudden empowerment of a useless NPC who has stood idly by throughout the story until it was time to cheat the players of their hard-won victory. Again, if a tabletop DM ever ran his game world in this fashion, his campaign would fold and his players would leave.

    Apart from the obvious examples of the necessity of total war to reach a decisive conclusion that the dual faction model can never allow, these storylines simply seem poorly thought out. It's as if every one began with someone at Blizzard saying, "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" and no more thought is given to the matter than that. The game narrative ends up being composed of a series of contrived set pieces that never gel into a meaningful story.

  19. qq more, punk ass useless noob-crybaby bitch who has no realistic sense of long term story development. qq b/c if things don't go your way they must be wrong.

  20. Oh look, a troll who can't figure out how to capitalize letters on his iPhone. Amazing.

    I hate to break it to you, but all those amazing storylines you see this leading into, all the epic battles, and the grand counterthrust of the Alliance war effort... They aren't going to happen, for a number of reasons. The disposition of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms is now more or less locked in for at least the entirety of Mists of Pandaria. Blizzard doesn't have the resources to overhaul the old content every expansion.

    You act as if they have an unlimited horizon to work with. Infinite stories that they can tell. They don't. This story runs on rails by dint of the medium that drives it. It's never made a single deviation that hasn't been seen from months off by every player with a functioning cerebral cortex.

    So go ahead, regale me with tales of the Alliance storming Ogrimmar, or calling in favors from the Bolvar, or siezing Andorhol and Southshore back. I'll let you know why none of those things are going to happen.

  21. Still, Alliance has been feeling slighted by Blizzard for years, the playable-Pandaren option to choose Alliance, has this warcry "We'll keep trying" not to mention a certain corpsegrinder who manage to emasculate almost the entire Alliance fans in Blizzcon with his "joke", bottomline, we're gonna get pissed off more in MoP.

    Give me a break with Thrall and Deathwing(most underwhelmingly pathetic main villain ever), Rhonin(Knaak hatred aside)
    and Khadgar, have pissed off Deathwing more times than Thrall ever did (Day of the Dragon, War of the Ancients trilogy, Night of the Dragon, Beyond the Dark Portal) they get no involvement in the entire fight with Deathwing, yet Thrall, magically became the entire focus for entire damn expansion and Alliance gets shafted with almost 70% of their story line and content cut in Cataclysm....

    1. Khadgar had nothing to do with Deathwing. Maybe you're thinking Krasus the Red Dragon Mage of Dalaran. He went down in a heroic sacrifice nuking the Egg chambers of all the Dragonflights to prevent a new surper surge of Twilight Dragons from the corrupted eggs.

    2. Actually, Khagdar ripped a couple of Deathwing's plates off in a battle at the Blade's Edge Mountains while the Alliance Expeditionary Force was fighting on Draenor.

  22. So do you hate inconclusive endings or do you hate finalized victories? How do you end something without ending it? Rule 3 and the second Rule 1 seem to contradict each other.

    Also, I'm not sure if I agree with the first Rule 1. In my own experiences, nobody likes playing the good guy and everyone finds playing the villain infinitely more enjoyable. You have to play the "good guy" all the time in reality, why would anyone want to be bound to following rules in their escape from reality?

  23. The major issue that plagued Blizzard since before Open Beta was the inter-company divide. While lore and continuity design was not-so-subtly always biased towards Horde (more about that in a second), quest and world development was openly, and unabashedly, pro-Alliance.

    That, in Vanilla, was visible everywhere. No flight path into WPL for Horde? The Barrens one massive walk (CT and Ratchet FP came later to the game), the Onyxia quest chain, the design of Stormwind as a massive fortress with real life in it as opposed to the hovel with little flavor that was Orgrimmar. From gear (PvP gear look in Vanilla was faction-specific in some cases) to quest rewards to just making Horde walk more, pay more, and work harder, quests were pro-Alliance.

    However, lore and continuity, from Metzen onward, always was more pro-Horde. Consider this: Varian betrays his own people (Defias arc) and gets kidnapped for that. Thrall doesn't do anything wrong, still gets enslaved. Undead are recently freed slaves, Night Elves were genocidal maniacs that once tried to cleanse the world from anything but themselves. Tauren suffer from Centaur attacks, Alliance watches. In a nutshell, even where lore and continuity wrote heroic stories for the Alliance they couldn't resist putting a "but in reality they're dumb, evil, and mad" in there.

    The Draenei, "good guys" and all, are written as cowards who run away and essentially eminent domain a world, the Orc homeland. Then, when their pursuer catches up to them, they run away again, crashing into Azeroth, dooming the peaceful Orcs into becoming Blood Cursed killers. And then they have nothing better to do than to judge the uncorrupted 10% of the Orcs, being the uncorrupted 1% of the Draenei themselves, for wanting to have their darn homeland for themselves. It takes some real dislike for the Alliance to write it that way, and so it was written.

    At the same time, quests for Alliance were more fun, the whole leveling experience in Outland was massively pro-Alliance, still. In LK that shifted. Maybe the design team around Kaplan and Afrasiabi got tired? Who knows... but the fact of the matter stands - Alliance was painted as the bad guys until LK and couldn't win after. Horde got the nasty end of the game enjoyment stick until Cataclysm. If anything MoP might just be the great equalizer... I, for one, intend to find out.

  24. You've missed the entire point of the post. The reason why emphasising the Horde vs Alliance storyline in WoW is a bad idea is because it violates all the rules. It can't have a conclusive ending, because to do so would be to end the game, and Blizz's story crew doesn't have the stones to end it here for the sake of telling the story properly. If they aren't going to handle this story arc correctly, then they might as well focus on a different story arc that isn't painting themselves into a corner.

  25. @Rhaawr, I do think that there was a degree of overcompensation in BC, but from a story perspective, both the Horde and the Alliance got compelling storylines in Wrath, they both got face time with the major players of their factions, and they both got a significant amount of polished content.

    I would disagree that the Alliance had the superior leveling experience in Outlands, pretty much the entire expansion was built around the redemption of the blood elves, and the reunion of the Mag'har to the horde. The Horde got a great quest chain in Nagrand that had no real parallel on Alliance side.

    Oh, and Kaplan and Afrasiabi got reassigned to Titan after Wrath launched. They didn't have a hand in Cataclysm.

  26. Here is one disturbing thought: maybe Alliance indeed IS supposed to loose? We assume that it is in Blizzards best interest to keep WoW going for ever - but with Titan on the horizon: why would the cannibalize themselves? They want WoW-players to switch to Titan - they can do that effectively by giving WoW an definite ending (which leads into the next rts). So all-out war with Alliance loosing does not seem to far fetched.

    Another point is: a CEO has the duty to maximize profits for the investors. He can be held accountable if he fails to do so. So why would the Blizzard/Activision-CEO allow Metzen to piss half their client-base in the face unless he thinks it will lead to more profit? I doubt he bases his assessment on the belief that all Alliance-players are masochists and continue to pay for virtual suffering - so there must be something else at play here.

  27. Wow...I just typed up a whole long rant, so of course it got devoured by the internet.

    Here's what it boils down to: People who claim that Blizzard shafted the Horde back in Vanilla simply aren't aware of the game's development history. The truth is that originally all the races and areas on Kalimdor were shafted because KALIMDOR WAS THE FIRST PLACE BLIZZARD BUILT. They'd created two new (and popular) nations in WC3, the New Horde and the Night Elves, and they were chomping at the bit to get started on their content, so they decided to start there first. This is why Kalimdor was so full of vast, empty, monochromatic zones, and why both the Alliance and Horde content there somehow felt less...polished. Night Elves, Orcs/Trolls & Tauren felt underdeveloped because they were the groups Blizzard was most excited to work on. BOTH factions were victims of Blizzard's eagerness to develop the "New World". The counter-claimants somehow seem to ignore (or simply be ignorant of) how boring and rough the NE zones were, and how POINTLESS Theramore really was for the Alliance (until the Dustwallow Marsh content updates began back in Patch 2.3.0, which not-so-coincidentally also added a neutral town).

    The Eastern Kingdoms were built afterwards, and naturally benefited from the lessons Blizzard had learned while building Kalimdor. This is why both factions' Vanilla content felt tighter, better-planned, and more focused in the Eastern Kingdoms, and why both factions had smaller and more varied zones there. Forsaken, Dwarves/Gnomes & Humans all founds themselves the recipients of better content because the designers had worked the kinks out of their content-designing while working on their beloved Kalimdor. Even the Horde camp in Stranglethorn was better off than Theramore, not because of pro-Horde bias (well, maybe a little...), but because Blizzard knew what they were doing by that time. They knew that people generally hated having to run vast distances between towns, knew that people wanted more color-variation in their zones, and knew that people wanted tighter questing experiences. Though I will say, as someone whose first character was a Tauren, that I kind of miss the old Barrens-runs from Mulgore to fostered a sense of community (especially Barrens chat!) that we just don't see anymore.

    The Horde (and the Night Elves!) got shafted in Vanilla because Blizzard was over-eager to design their content, and started building them first; the situation was nearly identical in Cataclysm's development. The only difference is that it worked to the Horde's advantage this time around! Also, I suppose there's no comparable shafting of a single Horde race, the way the Night Elves got shafted back in Vanilla. Nevertheless...