Monday, September 17, 2012

Theramore

The worst thing to happen to World of Warcraft were the novels.

Ever since the novels started coming out, the in-game storytelling has been downright shoddy. WoW stories has never been high art, but at least they were more or less cohesive in-game.  Now, nothing really makes sense unless you read the companion book.

Last year, I predicted:

Now, it's probable that, like most major storyline events, [the destruction of Theramore] will happen "off-screen", in a novel or comic, or maybe a cut-scene before Mists of Pandaria comes out.
And that's exactly what happened. Out of nowhere, the Horde nukes Theramore. With an actual nuke mana bomb dropped from a skyship. It's like the Focusing Iris from the Eye of Eternity, or something.

Apparently it makes sense if you read Tides of War. I just wish it made sense in-game.

Stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end. More and more, it seems that Blizzard is putting the beginning and end in a book, and featuring a small part of the middle in-game.  Even a random quest from King Varian Wrynn sending you to Theramore would have added so much.

Onto the actual scenario mechanics, they seem about what you can expect from a 3 dps group. It's a bit of a zerg, with some mechanics and some running around. This particular scenario wasn't very hard, especially if you're in full raid gear. On the whole I think this was a good thing, in order to allow everyone to see the content within a window of only a week.

I started as Holy, got bored of spamming Denounce, and switched to Ret. I did have to heal myself a few times. I do like how Blizzard used swarms of enemies. With three dps, this allows you to split the aggro, and thus split the damage in a sensible way.

On the whole, the scenario mechanics seem okay, and probably as good as non-Trinity content can be. Hopefully the level 90 scenarios are a bit more difficult.

Back to the storyline, one thing I dislike about WoW's current direction is that it's heading in a very technological direction. I blame the goblins. Now, WoW has always had steampunk elements with the gnomes, but lately I think they're going too far. I liked the fantasy style with paladins and dragons. Honestly, I think nuclear weapons being dropped from planes crosses a line.

It's like, what was wrong with an actual siege and battle involving armies? That's traditional fantasy. Why resort to having a nuclear weapon? Or even a warlock/mage ritual.  More fantasy, less technology.

(Yes, I know the mana bombs appeared or were foreshadowed in TBC.)

I did also hope that Theramore would make the players central characters once again. Make them take responsibility for the Horde/Alliance war. Sadly, Blizzard stuck to their current style and had the NPCs do everything, with the players just acting as clean up once again.

I hope that Theramore is not a sample of what we can expect in Pandaria. I fear that it will be, though.

26 comments:

Azuriel said...

That's disappointing.

I wonder if the idea is "nobody reads quest text anyway" or that they simply cannot be asked to program the quests necessary to tell the tale. I mean, Blizzard has crafted some pretty awesome quest-lines in the past, but it is probably easier to spend the 10-15 quests necessary to set this up and use that time instead to craft quests in MoP.

I hope it isn't just a crass means of generating additional revenue. I had thought all the subscriber losses stopped that sort of nonsense design overreach (e.g. notice how the premium subscriptions are gone).

Rohan said...

Premium subscriptions? I'm not sure what you are referring to.

The purpose of scenarios is pretty obvious. It's small pieces of content that the dps can do instead of waiting for a tank or healer.

The "scenario" aspects of this were reasonably interesting. It was a touch too easy. But like I said above, for this particular scenario, better to be too easy than to be too hard.

I just didn't like the fact that you need to read Tides of War in order to understand what's going on, beyond "Horde nuked Theramore, Jaina is very angry."

John Dougan said...

It's like, what was wrong with an actual siege and battle involving armies? That's traditional fantasy. Why resort to having a nuclear weapon? Or even a warlock/mage ritual. More fantasy, less technology.

That is the direct opposite of my complaint about most fantasy: They have Huge Cosmic Power (tm) available to them but they still do dumb things like cavalry charges (Never mind how awful the economics gets). Having that much power on hand will change how you do things but most fantasy is caught in medieval tropes at the cost of consistency and intelligibility.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the novel though, so keep publishing those novels IMO.

Töki said...

While I haven't read any Warcraft novels so far, I like the lore so I think I would also like reading the novels. It is however, indeed a pity that nowadays you need to read something off-screen to understand what is happening in game.

I hadn't really thought about technology vs fantasy, nor have I run the Theramore scenario yet; but from my short time on the beta I had the feeling players will be taking responsibility about the whole Horde/Alliance thing in Pandaria - or, at least, they'll be more instrumental in how the war between the factions (and the consequences it brings forth) develops - but don't take my word for it.

spinksville said...

You'd think they would take the opportunity for pre-expansion content to try to sell people on MoP. I haven't checked out the scenario yet but heard similar things from other people.

Helistar said...

They could have added some pre-requisite quest chain (even if it's only 3 quests) to introduce it. Right now the scenario is meaningless and completely unrelated to anything.

Difficulty-wise, I'll test it on an undergeared toon to see how it's like, we ran it yesterday in full HM gear and we could not pull stuff fast enough to actually risk anything.

Mike Moore said...

I agree that the scenario could have done with a bit more explanation. I have only played the Alliance side. The Horde scenario is earlier, so may explain more from their point of view.
On the other hand, the Alliance didn't see the mana bomb coming, so maybe the element of shock, surprise and confusion was what they were after?
The novels are a good way to get inside the character's heads. You can't do that in game, although you can see the effects of it.

spinksville said...

OK, I tried it now and really hate it. Why? Because you can't boot people from scenario groups and one guy in mine went afk deliberately at the start. So there I was with a shaman who kept saying he was a healer and couldn't dps (and wouldn't try.)

I could happily skip scenarios now. Or scenario PUGs at least.

Ephemeron said...

It's like, what was wrong with an actual siege and battle involving armies? That's traditional fantasy. Why resort to having a nuclear weapon? Or even a warlock/mage ritual. More fantasy, less technology.

Conventional sieges and battles involving armies work well against ordinary opponents. Against an archmage of Ms. Proudmoore's caliber, backed by 7th Legion's finest? Not so much.

And given that Jaina is both a student of Antonidas and a veteran of the Battle for Hyjal, I am quite certain that Theramore is heavily warded against mage/warlock rituals. Furthermore, I don't recall any powerful mages or warlocks among the modern-day Horde who would be able to sunder these protection quickly and easily enough.

A mana bomb, on other hand, is a perfect weapon against such a stronghold. The more mana is invested into Theramore's defenses, the greater the explosion. And it's a battle-tested superweapon, too - as the destruction of Kirin'Var village demonstrated, a sufficiently powerful mana bomb can obliterate an entire settlement of Dalaran-trained wizards led by an archmage.

Redbeard said...

I can understand from a cost standpoint why they moved toward storytelling in the novels: it's cheaper to give a $5k advance to one person who'll write a story than to have devs working on an in-game version.

That said, it smacks of Blizz knowing that they've got a captive audience so they know they'll sell a lot of books.

It's lazy, and for those who don't buy the books for whatever reason, it's an annoyance that smacks of arrogance.

*vlad* said...

I've read a few WoW novels, and without exception they have been badly written tosh. I am not going to waste my money on them to try to make sense of what is going on in-game, nuh-uh.

So, a big bomb is dropped on Theramore, and the whole place is blown to bits. Then there is a big jump in time (I presume), because the place is suddenly overrun with Orcs, and they even have ships docked at the harbour. Then there is an Orc Demolisher there - er? Isn't the place just a pile of rubble now? Or is it making big piles of rubble into smaller piles?

Then we have to defend Jaina while she does something to the bomb- not sure what, but if it blew up why is it still there? Then we get thanked for averting some disaster; again, I'm not sure what we averted, but hey, I will take the kudos, though I don't need a tabard with an anchor on it, I'm not that kind of guy, ok?

Maybe I need to read a book to find out what was going on...

Malchome said...

The Horde uses a super charged Mana Bomb from Outlands. That is super charged with the focusing Iris from the Blue Dragons.

I have read many of the WoW books and while they are not high literature some are pretty good.

While the story telling in WoW has been lack luster in game, I do not blame the books and comics for it. It is squarely on Blizzard, they need 2-5 times the size of an art department to get the content out faster so that larger and more stories can actually be implemented in the game.

Hyperian said...

I read the book was not bad. The Jaina goes “almost” crazy plot line was a tad annoying, reminded me of a kid who did not get the toy they wanted. What I did not like about the book is the complete and utter 180’ Garrosh pulls between say mid Cataclysm to the battle of Theramore. Tons of quest lines had him preaching "Honor" this and “Honor” that, not using extreme measures to win battles and to fight man to man. However, in the book, he enslaves elementals, murders fellow Horde soldiers and does many other spoilerific things. On the flip side, it was nice to see the Blood Elves bringing something to the table... though it was a weapon of mass destruction, but still nice to see them doing something.

Wulfstan said...

Once you have nukes, where does this end?

Why doesn't the horde just nuke the Alliance cities?

Either you end up with a balanced cold war (no "increasing conflict" in MoP), or the technologically superior side wipes out the other in a few days (end of WoW).

There may be a answers in the books, but it left me amazed and sad that the subtle layered story hints of Vanilla (e.g. Darkshire/Worgen quest threads) have become so bizarre....

Anonymous said...

I think the real thing about this is it is there almost as an after thought. It has non of the build up in quests and the like you saw for pre wrath or cata stuff.

I mean yes the pre-launch events of cata could be a hard act to follow, nut it is like they didn't even try. The lack of even a breadcrumb quest really shocked me.

rimecat said...

A few thoughts on this:

I ran it with an iLvl of 367 and lead the DPS, so it was not a geared group. Only one fight was a problem and that was mostly because I wasn't paying attention and didn't use any of my mitigation abilities. Still survived thanks to some clutch healing. It's not really tuned, but that's not a shock - using this scenario at 85 was really just a cost saving measure.

Which is another point, Blizzard threw this at us not to rouse interest in the scenario system but to avoid having to spend the resources on an actual event. Of course, given the pandering theme of MoP I have no idea what they could have done. There is no crisis until we reach the ever-perfect Middle Kingdom and corrupt the natives.

Scenarios in general, as other people have said, are group quests and not mini-dungeons. I can see a definite role for them, and for those of us with sometimes limited time they will work well, but that's all they are. It's a play option but one that's closer to daily quests than anything else.

I disagree on the use of magical technology. One of the problems I've had, from the days of AD&D, is that a magical world doesn't do anything with the magic. I'd like to see more of it and how it changes things - with that many Priests and other healers how many people actually die of injury or disease? What does that do to the culture? Never mind the impact of magic on offensive and defensive military applications.

Finally, you are dead-on about the lore. There is no real foundation to this scenario. I think that the idea is you and your party just arrived at Theramore by boat only to discover the aftermath of the bomb and you are working toward Jaina to discover what occurred. No foundation at all and no explanation.

David Dashifen Kees said...

I think there's another part to this. For years, and I paint with a broad brush here, we've been skipping quest text, skipping in-game cinematics, skipping in game RP or tuning it out, and generally asking Blizz to speed up our progress through the game. Scenarios, to me, seem to be the next part of that process. The minimum amount of cinematic and RP that's in the Theramore scenario has already gotten some QQ in trade on my realm because people want it to go FASTER! In this case, I think we're our own worst enemy and it's hard to balance the goal of sharing lore with players and making sure that that lore is delivered as fast as possible.

Klepsacovic said...

When asking "why don't they use magic more?", keep in mind that both sides have magic. The healer can help, but if the weapons are enchanted, then it is magic vs. magic and the priest may only be able to mitigate the damage, not entirely block it.

On the other side we could look at the world of Harry Potter in which the wizards are so utterly dependent on magic that they cannot conceive of non-magical solutions.

puppybrother said...

"Why doesn't the Horde just nuke the Alliance cities?"

Because they don't really have many. The Focusing Iris appears to have been key to the operation of the Bomb. Without that, they wouldn't've been able to get that one big shot in.

"What was the Horde army doing there anyway?"

I'd hazard a guess that they were waiting outside the city, possibly on those ships (since the towers appear to be intact, and I don't think Theramore had any warning, like, for example, of an army marching overland), to land and occupy the ruins. If Garrosh had *any* sense they'd've also been tasked to secure the Focusing Iris. Which Jaina now has.

Azuriel said...

Premium subscriptions? I'm not sure what you are referring to.

Remember when grouping with Real ID friends came out? The initial idea was that it was going to require a premium subscription to use it. And then you had the Mobile AH/Guild Chat which did require a $2.99/month subscription on top of your WoW account.

The Remote AH thing just went free last month, by the way.

RJ said...

So, what would you propose, then? To have a developing story, things have to happen that a player isn't party to. You, as a character, are not going to be in every war room, at every battlefield, in every house. Sometimes people do things by themselves, or don't need a minion like the player to courier things around the world just to push the plot along.

I don't see a problem with wanting to tell some of the stories, or advance some of the plots, through non-game means. It makes sense in a multitude of ways, not only in the way I mentioned above. Think about it realistically, as well (as realistically as you can get when talking about a fantasy world); how many common adventurers would have some kind of prior knowledge about Horde invasion plans? It actually makes sense from a storytelling perspective for the player to "wake up" one day and find out that Theramore was destroyed, with no other context.

There's already tons of quest content in the game that has you come in to an event half-way, and then learn about it as you progress, like you would if you were just adventuring. I don't see this as all that different.

Given the kind of story that WoW and Warcraft in general tells, I actually would hate it if nothing could progress unless the player was directly involved.

Rohan said...

Well, what if the Horde's scenario was to plant the mana bomb instead of rescue a spy? The Horde have a simultaneous attack on Jaina/Rhonin to distract them.

Alliance scenario starts with Varian sending them to assist Jaina. They fight off the distraction attack, but see the mana bomb too late. It explodes, Rhonin teleports Jaina and the heroes out, and they see Theramore destroyed. Maybe add a little cleanup after.

And that's only if you want the mana bomb, without it, there's a lot of other ways you could go.

It's not really hard to make a cohesive storyline. If there were no novels to act as a crutch, Blizzard would do a better job.

RJ said...

And what if the Horde wanted to send peons to do it instead of known heroes (for plausible deniability), or there was a specific reason that one person was doing it (I'll note here that I haven't read the novel)?

Heck, what do you do when a player decides they don't want to set or stop the bomb? Their story has to be changed regardless, so might as well have it happen behind the scenes.

Again, there's valid reasons to do things without the player's involvement for the advancement of the story.

Anonymous said...

RJ, you seem to be arguing for a more strict first person perspective, whereby a player can only know what happens right in front of them. That's absolutely a route they could go, but the thing is, most people don't want an authentic simulation of what someone might know, they want the overview - the big picture. They want to know what's happening, and often they want to know *why* as well, because placing it in context is what allows you to fill out the characters and understand their motives and their goals.

The problem with the scenario, in my eyes, is that it dumps the playerr into the middle with no idea what's happening. *Vlad*'s comment above is a pretty good summation of how I felt about it as well. I've not read the novel, but I've read a summary of the scene and some of the preview text...Perhaps unfair to judge on that but I think the characters are wooden and without any real life of their own. They're puppets that move as the story dictates, even if that means a sudden personality shift, rather than fleshed out people, and I can't relate to them.

I hope that the storytelling in the game improves, but I fear that people who care about that sort of thing have become a niche group in the community not vocal enough to care about.

RJ said...

I'm not necessarily arguing that, but at the same time, a player who wants to have that full-picture view DOES have means and opportunity to do so. It's in the novels for them to peruse.

My argument is just more that there has to be some parts of the story where the player has literally no right to be there, let alone be a part of, so they need to put the material SOMEWHERE ELSE for those who want to stay in the know. For that reason I feel that the novels and other supplemental materials serve an important role.