Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Introducing New Characters

In the comments to the previous post, Elladrion, makes an interesting point:
They have no depth, and no charisma to back up their lack of depth. Also, specifically from a horde perspective, I will never be able to get past the entire questline where hellscream is moping around being a little defeatist bitch becuase he's not as great as his father and their people are doomed. You do an entire questline helping them out and at the end of it, he gets even more despondant and whiney becuase it was you that did all the work and not him and oh what a worthless creature he is. Then with no warning wrath comes out and he's all gung-ho rip-roaring kill all alliance with no transition story in between. And Varian wrynn doesn't even have that amount of story (in game) going for him, he just shows up out of nowhere trying to start fights.

It's very true. Garrosh and Varian emerge in Wrath almost fully-formed. There is a questline with Garrosh in TBC, but he doesn't play a major part, and Varian just shows up (and takes credit for Onyxia, to boot).

This is in stark contrast to one of the other major characters in Wrath: Tirion Fordring. Unlike Garrosh and Varian, Fordring is introduced in 1.0 in Eastern Plagueline. He has one of the best and most-loved questlines in the game. It's also a very personal questline for the character, and shows the reasons he decides to reforge the Silver Hand. In a lot of ways, Wrath and the Argent Crusade are sequel to those quests.

I think those quests have a lot to do with how popular Tirion Fordring is. We got to see the character at the beginning of the story, to sympathize and empathize with him. By doing the quests, in a way we were responsible for the character, and the way events turned out. We are more invested in the Argent Crusade and Tirion's storyline.

Tirion illustrates how important doing is to a video game. Garrosh and Varian illustrate how weak merely telling is. The strength of games is that we are not passive consumers, we have to do something to advance the story. That has the potential to make us more involved with the story, and make it more important.

In the abstract, I understand Garrosh's and Varian's story. But I am far more interested in Tirion's story, and that is almost entirely due to the original questline in the Plaguelands.

Would Varian have been more successful if there had been a questline to restore him to the throne? I think so. Similarly, a questline showing Garrosh's conversion to a more aggressive stance would have helped a lot.

There are two major lessons here. First, in an MMO, doing is always better than telling. Second, major storyline characters really benefit from being introduced early and fixing the player's sympathy, before they actually undertake a major role.

There are a lot of other examples. For example, consider the player base's attitude towards High Overlord Saurfang, Chromie, or Bolvar Fordragon vs that towards someone like Rhonin. Early exposure in a more trivial setting really benefits the character when it comes time for them to take the spotlight.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. It's a shame Blizzard didn't have the Alliance play a part in the rescue/escape of Varian. That could have been quite the quest. I do recall a small bit of transition with Garrosh, but it was more of a "woe is me" to "maybe we aren't all terrible", so it's still a pretty big jump to "BLOODLUST, KILL EVERYONE!" It would have been nice to at least see an event with more backstory on them, so maybe when garrosh was young he was fiery but it was crushed under the guilt he learned for his father's actions.

  2. The fight with Thrall helped the Garrosh story line a little, even if it was still a fairly fast transition.

    I think really the biggest dislike of Garrosh and Varian is that they both seem like they're being jerks for the sake of being jerks. Sure, they try to justify their hatred and aggressiveness... but really, it's so far against the grain, it's like they're just trying to piss off everyone.

    On another note:

    Saurfang - I think he's badass.
    Chromie - He's kinda lame. What kind of dragon would want to change form into a gnome? Honestly, wtf? ;)

  3. It struck me recently just how much like his father Garrosh is. Yeah, Grom was really awesome and everything, but then I think people also forget just how much of a pain in the butt he was doing WC3.

  4. The lack of fleshing out of Varian and Garrosh's characters is even more disappointing when contrasted to how much attention was clearly paid to the quest system in WotLK. They definitely needed some sort of "restoration" questline for Varian, and a questline explaining Garrosh's newfound ruthlessness more clearly; even if they were optional.

  5. To be fair, though, it's not like these characters just appeared magically in a puff of smoke (though some people might think that). They had their stuff fleshed out in external media (comics, books, etc). Do you really complain that there's no reason to go into Ulduar because there's no quest line for it, even though the basis is fully presented in the patch preview, for example?

    I think it's a little unreasonable to expect that -all- plot events are going to be driven by the same person. Remember that pretty much all of WoW's quests assume that you're the only guy doing these things. The game needs to have things happen that arn't player driven (or are even shown in-game), in order for some events to just simply make sense.

  6. @RJ
    While I get the idea that we can find out more by reading things external to WoW, we shouldn't have to. It's cannebalizing from their primary market to try and create a secondary one.

    Everything needed to make WoW awesome should be contained in WoW.

  7. I've never read the comic, but curiosity got to the best of me and I've been wandering where Blizzard is taking all their characters.

    wowwiki has a bit of synopsis of the wow comic - covering the stories of Wrynn's return (BC through to Wrath).

    On the side note - the latest series seems to be leading onto the "next" guardian of Tirisfal.

    I personally lament that it would be awesome if we get to see some of this lore in the game... But I've come to the conclusion that in the comics these characters seems to have a lot more substance and thus far more likeable.