Thursday, March 22, 2012

Siege Addendum: Mistakes of Futures Past

Sometimes, they just don't learn. Some things are like watching a cheap horror movie where everyone repeats the exact same mistakes that got everyone else killed in the previous movie. No, you can't keep your loved one around now that s/he's a zombie, they'll just break loose and eat everybody. No, the bathroom is not the safest place to run from a slasher killer, there's only one way in or out, you'll die in that bathtub. But do they learn? No. They seem like they learn, but they have the memory span of a goldfish, and they constantly repeat the same hackneyed plot scripts with a fresh coat of paint on them.

WoW's story telling is quickly devolving to that level. In the wake of the NDA on the MoP press release, and a shockingly quick turnaround to Beta, there's been a lot of information getting put out. I already spoke about the Siege of Orgrimmar, what it represents, what its flaws are, and what Blizzard should avoid to really fuck things up.
If the raid devolves into "Help Thrall defeat Garrosh!" for Alliance players, then it would be, as I said earlier, the death knell for the Alliance as a interesting faction, they'd be nothing more than foils to help propel Green Jesus to greater glory. It's an incredibly demoralizing prospect.
This was something that Blizzard seemed to have picked up upon during the massive discontent at the direction of the story during patch 4.2. Dave Kosak wrote a blog post attempting to address the discontent, writing most of it off as a byproduct of good storytelling *snicker* There was one thing that made me thing that they had at least an inkling of the actual root of the problem.
If you’re a die-hard Alliance player, I can understand if you feel left out of Thrall’s story arc. Thrall feels like “their guy,” and Thrall’s journey over the last couple of years may not feel like “your” story, even if his mistakes are about to send the whole world into a potential death spiral. Fair enough. Stick with Thrall as he fulfills his destiny at the end of Cataclysm, and I promise we’ll catch up with other characters -- from both factions -- as we pick up the pieces in the aftermath.
So, just tough it out until the end of Cata, and then the focus will be off of Thrall, and onto other characters. Ok, you're asking for a mulligan. Make use of it.

Back to this week, and the flood of information showing that Garrosh was being deposed, and rampant speculation as to who would take the reigns of the Horde. The usual cries for a basic campfire were thrown around, and a lot of people thought that Vol'jin would be a good choice given the foreshadowing from the Troll starting zones where Vol'jin swore that the last thing Garrosh would feel would be Vol'jin's arrow piercing his heart. Others mentioned Overlord Saurfang, Garrosh's mentor in Northrend, who swore to kill Garrosh himself if he began to lead the Horde back down the dark paths that led to their downfall on Draenor. That speculation ended very quickly when Machinima Realm released a video of an interview with J. Allen Brack, WoW producer, who explicitly stated that players are fighting to restore Thrall as the Warchief.

There's another, someone less high profile source that has also been putting out information. At Blizzcon 2010, someone caught Alex Afrasiabi and Chris Metzen in a continuity error on the lore panel for the upcoming Cataclysm expansion. This led to an alteration on the Beta, and ultimately live servers, an that person became a wow celebrity, with his own avatar in game. He's known as the Red Shirt Guy, after the shirt he wore when he caught Blizzard at their own convention. Among the perks he received was a personal interview with Chris Metzen on the path of lore in the upcoming expansion. Now that the Beta has opened up, he's been open about some of the things Metzen told him about. He asked about who gets to kill Garrosh in Mists, and Metzen's quote was "Garrosh's been a bad boy, and Thrall's gonna have to give him a spanking."

*Sigh* Really? This whole expansion, this whole story arc that's been brewing since Burning Crusade is going to culminate in Thrall, again. People didn't like it in Cataclysm, when he was ostensibly, neutral. How bad are you going to have to warp the story to make the Alliance feed into the idea of replacing Garrosh with Thrall and being ok with it? Everything involving the Horde or Alliance directly in the past two expansions is being thrown away for the greater glory of Go'el, just like Staghelm's narrative was chucked aside to puff that orc up a bit more. Cairne's death, Vol'jin's animosity, Saurfang's guilt, Ashenvale, Turajo, King Wrynn's return and rehabilitation, the destruction of Theramore, the Siege of Orgrimmar, the entire war between the Horde and Alliance, none of it matters as anything more than a plot device to allow Thrall to be painted as the messianic bringer of peace in addition to the World Shaman, Aspect of Earth, and the Once and Future Warchief.

Enough is enough. Most of the core of the story is already locked in. WoW is on rails that they can't leave at this point. But the Siege of Orgrimmar is still the final content patch of the expansion, it's at least 18 months away, and there's still time to fix the crescendo of this flawed song. Here's how:

There's several arcs that need to be wrapped up. I mentioned several of them. In order to establish the final raid, both factions have to have a reason for participating. Contrary to Blizzard's thinking, the Alliance actually doesn't need any more motivation to invade, they just need to do so. The content patches leading up to the Siege should feature the Alliance turning the tide and beginning the march towards Orgrimmar. Do not have them just show up overnight. Scenarios will be a powerful tool here, because they will allow the developers to play create additional content in certain zones that they would otherwise no longer attempt to overhaul again.

There needs to be at least three points on the road to Orgrimmar. First is the turning point. The Alliance needs to decisively defeat the Horde, and get them on the run. This could take place on Pandaria. Once the tide has been turned, the pursuit needs to be shown. With the destruction of Theramore, the Alliance two real roads to Orgrimmar, either from the North through Ashenvale, or from the South from Feralas. I prefer the second option, Feralas is closer to Pandaria, and Shandris Feathermoon's sentinel army has been begging for a real use. Show the might of the Alliance on the march, traveling across Feralas, towards thousand needles, where they will cross into the barrens. Horde resistance in this scenario should be guerrilla, tricking the Ogres of Dire Maul into attacking the Alliance flanks, blowing up the roads, and setting up traps. Once the army is established to be on the move, then the next stop is Orgrimmar, pretty easy.

Getting the Horde players to be willing to depose Garrosh is more difficult, especially trying to do so in a manner that doesn't just cut off the hanging plot lines. There needs to be something that Garrosh does that makes Horde players hate him. The answer, in my opinion, lies with his relationship with Varok Saurfang. After taking time to properly mourn the death of his son, Varok returns from Northrend to witness the destruction of Theramore, and as with the lion's share of the Horde military, he travels to fight over Pandaria. As he serves, and sees what Garrosh has created. After the Alliance routes them on Pandaria, Saurfang realizes how close Garrosh has become to the orcs like Orgrim, Blackhand, and Grom, who led the orcs to the brink of extinction, and decides to live up to the promise he made to both Garrosh and himself. He confronts Garrosh, who challenges him to Mak'gora. This mirrors the challenge laid down to Garrosh from Cairne during the Shattering. Garrosh defeats Saurfang, the student surpassing his master, and kills him, much to the outrage of the soldiers present. Saurfang was an old soldier who had served the Horde faithfully his whole life.

Seeing another dedicated elder of the Horde struck down by Garrosh in a duel resonates with Vol'jin and Baine Bloodhoof, who had watched Cairne die in the same manner, fighting for a last chance to keep the Horde away from the monstrosity that it has become. As the full fury of the Alliance reaches the walls of the Horde's capitol, Baine and Vol'jin decide that the time has come for their words to become actions, rather than merely speaking their discontent in shadowed halls, they rise up against the Warchief. In Orgrimmar, the heart of Garrosh's power, Baine and Vol'jin's rebellion is savagely persecuted, and with their backs against the wall, facing both the relentless shelling of the Alliance and the implacable blades of the Kor'kron, they resort to desperate measures. Baine throws open the main gates of Orgrimmar, allowing wrath of the Alliance to flood into the city, creating chaos. Garrosh and his Kor'Kron loyalists find themselves suddenly fighting street to street against two enemies, and the end of his reign is suddenly far closer than he could have ever imagined.

That's how I would like to see it done. It empowers the Alliance, and allows the Horde to reclaim a piece of what it once was while still evolving, rather than devolving into the complacent entity that it was under Thrall. I could flesh this scenario out for days, involving every race in both factions, but I just wanted to get the bare bones out there.

I mentioned that it wasn't too late to change the ending here. Here's how. Blizzard reads the forums. They know when you're angry about something. You lit the forums on fire when you were unhappy, and they responded. You didn't like Garrosh, so they're letting you kill him. Express your displeasure. There's already a thread on the official forums where people are expressing their irritation at this development, and Daxxari is actively asking people if they would rather see someone else as Warchief. Go post in that thread, make other threads discussing potential alterations that you'd like to see made. When those threads cap out, make new ones. Don't let it rest. Keep the fire alive.


  1. I would prefer if the Alliance marched down through Darkshore/Ashenvale, personally, as they could liberate the Night Elven's ancient homeland and break through the rampart on their march to Orgrimmar. Going up through the Southern Barrens would mean having to find away across that giant chasm, that does not seem to have a bridge...

    1. Hell yes. Thrall had his time, let him fade. It's enough!

      Though I see one problem with all that "alliance invading Orgrimmar" that is, the Horde would be defeated. Destroyed. Do you really think Varian would leave after killing Garrosh?

      He might spare Vol'jin and Baine because they helped. But he would never risk that a new Horde would rise. With the Alliance invading, we would have 3 possible outcomes:

      -Orgrimmar burns, the Horde gets destroyed by Varian
      Blizz simply won't do this! Imagine how the forums would blow! That's no option.

      -Varian defeats the Horde, then leaves because some of the Horde helped him and we're back to the state we are now in
      Well that would suck. Never would Varian do this. Why should he? Because he wants peace with Sylvanas and the Orcs? Maybe you know a different Varian than I do...

      -Varian and the Alliance, helped by the Horde rebels, defeat Garrosh and start burning down Org. When all of a sudden Prof. Putricide turns up and.. ahm.. well, maybe not him, but SOMETHING happens that hinders Varian in destroying the Horde completely, smashing his army in pieces and Varian merely escaping the fight. This would restore the Balance, as the Alliances forces would have been destroyed as well as the Horde forces. Factions would be equal, the Horde could start again with Thrall or whoever they want, and the Alliance had losses as well.

      I would really like the third option, as I think it's the only way solving this problem with both factions not losing their faces. The Alliance would have won and defeated the Horde Warchief, yes. But they got destroyed by the Horde shortly after.

      Well I think Blizz is going for the 2nd option though. Thrall will come in and with the help of Jaina Baine and Vol'jin will pursue Varian to leave the city alone and draw back his army. Sucks... but hey Thrall gets to be the hero once more...

    2. Blizzard has unfortunately panted themselves into this corner all through Cataclysm. From a storytelling perspective, they don't have any outs here. If the Alliance doesn't take down Orgrimmar, than the Alliance is permanently castrated as the objectively weaker faction that only survives because the Horde hasn't seen fit to destroy it yet. That's not interesting, and Zharym said they know they need to make both factions interesting. I warned of this happening six months ago.

      You're right that it boils down to three options:

      1) The Alliance wins, game over.
      2) The Alliance picks up the idiot ball and lets the Horde survive for some inexplicable reason.
      3) Hackneyed Deus Ex Machina saves the Horde.

      The only one that really works from a storytelling perspective is the first option. It's the end of WWII, and the Allies have Germany and Japan as occupied client states. That's how these wars end. Once you've begun wiping out populations, that's the only way these wars end.

      However, that's the only ending that's forbidden from a gameplay perspective. The other two might come off as hackneyed, but it still allows the horde to continue. Of those two options, the cleanest break would be investing the mantle of warchief onto Baine Bloodhoof, who can leverage his sympathetic relationship with Jaina and Anduin to soften Varian's stance. This is undermined by Blizzard's decision to destroy Theramore, but it's the least idiotic of all the possible solutions. Vol'jin's another option, given his aid during patch 4.1.

      Blizzard's decision to destroy Theramore is still completely idiotic, because it removes the one moderating influence on King Wrynn, which makes any feasible ending other that the complete obliteration of one side or the other much less believable.

    3. Bridges are a pithy matter, we are talking about a world where mages can teleport things with ease. Hell, that could be another scenario, defending the mages who are attempting to teleport the army across the chasm, and guarding the beachhead on the other side to keep the Horde from using the chokepoint to compensate for there diminished numbers.

      Ashenvale is another option, I personally like Feralas better, but the route is fungible. Although the route is one of the things they're going to have to solidify early on in the planning stages.

    4. I remember reading somewhere there was going to be an azshara bg in MoP (that for some reason they delayed again). If they are still planning to use it, that only means the Alliance will attack from the Ashenvale/Aszhara side of Kalimdoor.
      Great blog post btw, always a pleasure to read it :)

    5. Which makes kinda sense. If you want to make Ogrimmar a full-blown raid with more than 1 or 2 bosses, you might want to enter it from the longest road to the throne room, which is way too close to the main entrance :)

    6. I'm just putting together two quotes of you:

      1. "If the Alliance doesn't take down Orgrimmar, than the Alliance is permanently castrated as the objectively weaker faction that only survives because the Horde hasn't seen fit to destroy it yet."

      2. "Of those two options, the cleanest break would be investing the mantle of warchief onto Baine Bloodhoof, who can leverage his sympathetic relationship with Jaina and Anduin to soften Varian's stance."

      In the first one you say the Alliance would be castrated by not destroying Orgrimmar, but in the 2nd one you think it's good that the Alliance takes down Org. Well, as a Horde player I don't quite agree ;) Because that's castrating the Horde. I mean, lose your capital? That's soooooo close to lose the war. Yes, the Horde could start anew with many people in it, but it would be Outcast and severely damaged. And with Org gone, Durotar under Varians command.. No no no I don't like that at all, that's the home of the Orcs.. Nothing a filthy human should get its hands on ;)

      The best I would see for this situation would be that Garrosh himself became an Outcast, Voljin Sylvanas and Baine (heck even with the aid of Thrall I wouldn't even mind anymore) realize Garrosh is going nuts. They're "invading" and reclaiming the mantle. But because he is the son of Grom he gets to live.

      He packs his stuff and people, leaves and builds a fortress in the Barrens or something like that. I'm happy to kill him after that. And it's ok by me if the Alliance is in there as well.

      But then again... They promised the raid to be in Org. So Thrall taking his followers and leaving Org? Again that's castrating the Horde. The Horde is not able to settle its own business and need the Alliance to get it done. Not satisfying either.

      What do you think on those 2 takes:

      1. Maybe something like the Alliance players get disguised as Horde and help taking down Garrosh? We had this in the CoT instances a lot.

      2. Only an elite troup of Alliance/Horde players sneaking inside Org and taking down Garrosh before the rest of the city noticing it? And then teleporting out or something... That would at least explain why they'd leave Org alone.

      There's a third one approaching in my mind.. THAT would be awesome... So the Alliance invades and kills Garrosh. Thrall wants to negotiate but fails to do so because Varian is Varian. He then summons a giant freakin earthquake to nomnom all the Alliance forces, but dies in the process.

      He'd be the Hero once more but gone afterwards so we catered to Metzen, and balance would be restored.
      And then he ankhs. :D

    7. The problem is that the Alliance hasn't had an unadulterated definitive "Alliance" Moment since WCII. Blizzard's painted themselves into a corner, and their options at this point are to completely ruin the Alliance as an interesting faction, or to have the Horde take a hit for once, and rely on actual decent writing from here on out to keep from doing to the Horde what they did to the Alliance.

      A lot of Horde players said they they're drawn to the Horde because they're the underdogs. They haven't been the underdogs for a long time. If that's what makes the Horde the Horde, then they can pretty spin a loss to put them back into that situation.

      Having the Alliance only there as a token force, or even worse, a Caverns of Time magic trick to literally turn them into Horde characters just cements that the story doesn't actually involve the Alliance. It's a Horde story that they just had to make available to the players who picked the wrong faction. That'd be a fatal flaw.

      I'm not even going to dignify your third approach with a response.

  2. People are so god dam ignorent these days its unbelieveable. Its like nobody has even followed the story in warcraft anymore or even looked at its long history, such as a hordes, and the mistakes that have been made in it.

    Thrall is the only orcish leader who wasn't a despot, or one corrupted by power, because the orcs are a race that becomes corrupted easily if given to much of it. Thrall is the only one who can survive that because he thinks outside the normal orcish way of thinking.

    The ONLY reason people are bitching about Thralls return is because of his development in cataclysm, which I dare say most followed haphazardly, and regard nothing to the fact he was warchief for a long time and kept the horde n solid check. Then, the moment a new warchief comes into it, the horde begins to act like the old selves again, proving the old orcish mentality isn't going to bring the orcs forward.

    Thrall is the only one in lore capable of standing as leader, because he is able to look beyind what other orcs can't, there bloodrage.

    1. "Thrall is the only orcish leader who wasn't ...corrupted by power." Orgrim says 'hi'.

    2. Orgrim, who explicitly approved of genocide, slavery, torture, consorting with demons, and necromancy, and did so without the excuse of drinking Mannorath's blood? He wasn't corrupted by power?

      And Thrall is little better, he's just ignorant instead of unscrupulous. Sylvanas' plague was developed on his watch. He allowed her to keep Varimathras around despite the burning legion nearly destroying the world, he still allows slavery within the horde, he let a demonic incursion into Orgrimmar fester for years, he let Horde forces attack the Alliance in Ashenvale, Alterac, Arathi, and Northrend without so much as offering a pithy censure. When everyone, including Thrall, believed that Garrosh's forces slaughtered innocent druids, he refused to even investigate. He allows the Horde to actively venerate war criminals.

      Thrall's characterization is terrible, and what makes it even worse is that because of his terrible characterization, it damages the believability of every character that interacts with him.

  3. Also, I vote for him as returning warchief. Vol'jin is NOT AN ORC. Saurfang is TO OLD TO LEAD. THERE ARE NO OTHER ORCS CAPABLE OF TAKING THE MANTLE.

    People just can't deal with the fact this was the plan from the get go before cata, and I'm pretty sick of the constant whining from the kids in the wow community over it.

    1. And Jar Jar Binks was in the Star Wars scripts from day one, and the ending of Mass Effect 3 was the plan by Bioware from the get go. I'm not saying that they changed the plan, I'm saying that the plan sucks. There's a difference.

      And honestly, why does there need to be an orc as Warchief? That's like saying the President has to be a white guy. After the invasion of Orgrimmar, the orcs might not even be the core strength of the Horde. The Kor'kron Vanguard will probably be shattered, along with the other loyalists to Garrosh, who are going to be disproportionately orc in representation. If the number of Orcs are cut in half, then why are they still going to be dictating to the other races that now outnumber and overpower them? Changing that outdated law would be an easy way to show the evolution of the Horde, to further distance the current Horde from Orgrim's bloodthirsty band of genocidal monsters.

      Heck, so much was made about Garrosh making Orgrimmar for the orcs, and pushing away his Troll and Tauren allies, what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot? How would orcs react to suddenly being second class citizens in what used to be their own city? How would the Trolls or Tauren react to being the preeminent power. If Baine were made warchief, how would that affect Magatha's machnations with the grimtotem? Would he have enough willpower to hold the Forsaken in check, a feat that not even Thrall could manage?

      Any one of those scenarios is far more interesting and compelling than "Thrall's back! Everything's fine!"

  4. I don't think of Thrall as a bad leader, neither would I see anyone else in the position of the Warchief.

    It's not that I don't like Thrall, in fact I always wished Thrall would come back as Warchief.

    BUT (and that's a quite big but!)

    Blizz decided that Thrall was so freaking awesome, they went literally mindf*cked catering to him. I mean.. Let's take the elemental bonds questline. How does it start?

    There's a summoning of all the aspects, the most powerful shaman on azeroth, and one of the strongest mages for Thralls wedding.
    Then, some druids of the flame invaded and simply tore him apart. Oh well. very realistic, thank you. I mean, if my raidteam would have been there fully prepared and able to attack fandral, we would have just killed him and shrugged. But the aspects can't do anything about it? Alexstrasza who fought Deathwing himself and survived? All of the aspects could have easily taken Fandral out.

    That ruined the entire questline for me!

    The point is, it's not that I don't like Thrall as a character, I don't like that Blizz is ruining everything because they want him to shine...

    1. Which is the problem. What blizzard is doing here breaks two core tenants of storytelling.

      William Faulkner once said that a writer must be willing to murder his darlings. What that means is that once a character has served their purpose in the story, clinging to them will only be detrimental to the quality of the story. You don't have to kill them, but they do have to leave.

      Anton Chekov once said that if a loaded gun was placed on the mantle in the first act, then it must be taken down and fired in the third acts. What that means is that you shouldn't leave hanging plot threads. Having Thrall kill Garrosh renders Vol'jin's prologue in Echo Isles pointless, and it renders' Saurfang's warnings in Northrend pointless. It heavily undermines both characters, and if this was the plan all along, then Blizzard shouldn't have included those scenes.

  5. I like the thought of a three point path to the siege, but I think you're desire to see Saurfang again blinds you from the obvious first point, a massive turn in the tides. Garrosh is naturally a brash arrogant leader, and when retreat would be the best scenario, will tell his armies to charge instead. This of course is the sum up in The Battle of Pandaria (for lack of knowing what the actual battle will be), a move by Garrosh which would be seen by Vol'jin, Baine, and Sylvannas (despite gameplay, it is known fact is that she has started to realize the Forsaken are not just a zombie horde, but rather individual lives). The three decide that Garrosh is going to kill them, but they could not survive without the orcs, leading to the decision to beg Thrall to return. Thrall will say yes, and begin to lead orcs loyal to him out of Orgrimmar, leaving the city a Garrosh-only headquarters ready for siege.

  6. I really wish they'd can this stupid idea of invading Org and taking out Garrosh. Unlike Thrall, the machinations of the Forsaken, and the lack of discipline in Horde troops, and the use of Fel magicks by the Horde is BELIEVABLE with Garrosh at the helm.

    He's a FAR batter warchief than Thrall ever was. (Well, Thrall was good up until the beginning of WoW.) With Garrosh in charge, I finally feel like there is war in WoW.. for the first time EVER. He's someone the Alliance can fight battles with. So what if bad things happen on his watch? The horde aren't good guys, but they're not exclusively bad guys either.

    I mean, I don't mind playing a paragon of virtue in a flawed faction. So what if the Horde commits atrocities? My character doesn't ahve to be involved in them. (Hopefully.) People get so emotionally invested when the Horde does something they morally disagree with... Our characters in this RPG are our avatars.

    To summarize: Stop trying to RP as your whole faction!

    I wish Blizzard would stop trying to make everybody good and noble. I just know Varian will have a moment of stupidity after ousting Garrosh and decide the Alliance should leave in peace. That's not being the good guy, that is as the D&D folks say "Lawful Stupid". If the Alliance goes into Orgrimmar, it's gotta burn...or the story will suck. Ergo, the Alliance shouldn't go into Orgrimmar.

  7. I get the feeling that the Horde and Alliance are going to end this expansion on fairly friendly terms. From what devs have said, the action is going to be ramping up after this expansion so I'm going to guess that we will be taking on the Burning Legion and Old Gods. It would make sense for the two factions to remain (fairly) united, like in Wrath, against a monstrous, overwhelming foe.

    That being said, reinstating Thrall after ALL of the lore surrounding his abdication of Warchief and place as a shaman would be absolutely stupid. I don't see how anyone would see that as a good idea.

  8. First, sorry if my english is bad, it's not my native language.
    I think a solution is to make Thrall refuse to become the warchief. The goal would have been to reinstalling him, but he would refuse because he would have understood that it's not his place anymore.
    On the side of the Alliance, however, I don't see how they can not make the players feel lawful stupid if they help the Horde to do that...
    Unless the Alliance's raid is time-limited because of reinforcement from the Horde.

  9. As an Alliance player, I liked Thrall just fine in Cata... I think his role in the story is used more often as a scapegoat than as a source of legitimate complaint.