Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Problems With the Battle for Azeroth Story, Part I

Unlike a lot of forum posters, I actually think WoW's writers are pretty good. There are a lot really well done small stories and small moments in BfA. For example, I loved the work they did with Jaina, at least until the aftermath of attack on Ogrimmar. However, the writers also have a tendency to make really big, bone-headed mistakes. These mistakes are so huge, that they wipe out all the good that has been done, has been built up. This series of posts is a discussion of what I see as the major mistakes in Battle for Azeroth.

The Burning of Teldrassil

I actually liked the Burning of Teldrassil as the initial move in the story. I thought to myself, "Well, the writers promised that this wouldn't be Garrosh 2.0, and now they certainly can't do a Garrosh 2.0 story." The joke was on me, I guess, as BfA soon became Garrosh 2.0.

The Burning of Teldrassil would have been an excellent opener for a story where the war between Horde and Alliance becomes hot, and stays hot for several expansions.

For the type of story BfA wanted to be, it actually would have worked much better without burning Teldrassil. The Horde pre-emptively sweeps through and conquers Ashenvale and Darkshore. The Alliance retaliates by attacking Undercity. After Undercity gets destroyed, both sides pull back and look for allies. Then the Horde attacks Brennadan. Next the Alliance escalates with the raid on Daz'alor and killing Rastakhan. Sylvanas then starts looking to weaponize Derek Proudmoore, and Baine intervenes.

In that story, you actually have an escalating cycle of violence, where breaking it makes sense. However, by starting with Teldrassil, there is no escalation. Everything the Alliance does pales in comparison. The story starts too big, and there's no place for it to go.

Sylvanas Windrunner

The writers clearly want to have Sylvanas to have a plan. To be a mastermind working towards some hidden goal. Unfortunately none of this is coming across. Instead, Sylvanas seems to whiplashing between good and evil, and it is really hurting both her character and the story.

Back when I played D&D, it was really common for me as a DM to construct this intricate plot and world in my head. It took me a long while to truly understand that the players couldn't see that plot. The channel between the DM and player is "lossy". If you're lucky, maybe 25% of what you want to convey will actually make it to the players. In this situation, you're better off being blunt and explicit, and repeating yourself several times. Especially when your story takes place over a long period of time, as players will forget the fine details of events which happened several months ago.

FFXIV is really good at this. If they want the players to know something about a villain or a villain's plans, they'll start hinting at it a couple patches in advance. Then they'll end up explicitly saying it in a few different ways. Maybe they'll show you the villain discussing things with a subordinate. And maybe you and your allies will discuss the villain. Sometimes it can feel like they're being overly blunt, but better too blunt than too subtle.

To Be Continued...


  1. I differ in that I think the folks at Blizzard aren't very good writers. They can do a decent scene here and there (your small stories), but when it comes to putting it all together they fail. A decent writer will have a plot and story that work together to build consistently to a coherent end. You might not like how the story plays out, but you can see how things fit together thematically.

    I think Blizzard's problem is that they can't say no to things that seem cool. From the Wow Diary they've always included things that fit the "Rule of Cool". That worked in the early days when they were world building, but you have to say "No" to many cool things when you're trying to tell a serial, long term story. Otherwise you end up with Galactus at issue 50 (Fantastic Four) and where do you go after defeating a Cosmic entity in medium where you want to keep publishing issues?

    1. Well, I thought the zone stories and initial part of the War Campaign was really good. I loved the work they did with Jaina in Kul Tiras.

      I don't really think "Rule of Cool" is part of their problems. I'm perfectly fine with Jaina on a flying ship, for example. I think there are deeper, more structural, issues. It's the elements I want to discuss in Part II.

    2. When I'm thinking about the "Rule of Cool" it's more the decisions such as to burn Teldrassil or create the Night Warrior, but have Nathanos escape in a really insulting (to the player) fashion. They try to build up these intense moments, but just don't pay them off.

      If the BfA Jaina story had been her main one, I think I would like it. It's just I remember how her character has been jerked around by the writers over the years and now we're right back at her being BFFs with Thrall. I'd rather see her change, grow, but not feel like she's right back in the same place.

      The war campaign had some good spots, but, again for *me*, the burning of Teldrassil / Assault of Lordaeron just left a bad taste in my mouth so it's hard to view the campaign favorably. I'm long since over the faction conflict and am thus unwilling to give the writers any leeway in that story line. Too often the factions came together to beat the Big Bad(tm) for a faction war at this time to be palatable.

  2. The lack of overall vision, combined with the liberal use of nuclear options puts us in the Twilight level of writing ability. I don't mean the tiny detail stuff, I mean being given a carte blanche opportunity (WoD) and managing to paint yourself into a corner so bad you had to scrap half the story.

    This is at the writing team level, surely there are some folks there with some solid skills. But the leadership there is questionable.

    1. I think they have an overall vision. That's my point about Sylvanas. They've been setting 'something' up since Legion. What with Sylvanas making a deal with Helya, etc. They're just doing a poor job with it.

  3. > The Burning of Teldrassil would have been an excellent opener for a story where the war between Horde and Alliance becomes hot, and stays hot for several expansions.

    The problem with that is that humans don't like war - at least not if it happens at their door step. People get tired of war fast because war sucks. If you nuke a city they don't want to fight for decades to go, they will capitulate.

    I can only see 2 options to keep a war for several expansions.

    Either the folk is against war but the leaders have them fight anyway. But that's not how they show the Alliance leaders, they would love peace. And on the horde side they would just kill and replace their leaders.

    Or you have another race who loves war. That's how they showed the Orcs in Warcraft 1. But that has been retconned and they are now a very peaceful nation...

    1. Personally, I think WoW is best when the two factions aren't at peace, but aren't at full-out war either. When they're skirmishing and attacking back-and-forth. A border war, not an "attacking capital cities" war.