Thursday, December 19, 2013

WHYlords of Draenor


Wrathion was right.

Even though we agreed with Tong and nodded our heads collectively and shook a finger at Wrathion for doing things wrong and being so brash, he was still on the right track.
Great danger is coming to Azeroth and our fights are indeed distractions from the real problems that are soon to come.
Yes, they shape and temper us to become better, and no one would deny that Garrosh's actions needed to be dealt with in a timely fashion, but let's not forget our objectives.
And "WE MUST REBUILD THE FINAL TITAN. DO NOT FORGET" sounded kinda urgent and someone should be looking into that... right?...

Right?

Unexpected Lore Detour
That's why the Blizzcon reveal was a true surprise to me.
I felt like raising my hand and asking "Are you guys sure at all we should be going in that direction? Because you've kinda nailed home the facts that things like the Old Gods and the Burning Legion are baddies that we should be addressing ASAP. Like, right now."
We have a stable of enemies, a list of potential enemies, and a few handful of characters that could swing either way - all of them that could make several expansions already and could tie in with each other with a few waves of a writer's magic wand.
However, we're just going to let them sit in the wings for another expansion and leave many questions unanswered, yet again.

I was okay that we let them stew a while as we delved into Mists of Pandaria.
The MoP reveal was not a shocking surprise for me and I totally bought in and accepted that, indeed, we needed to take a trip away from all of our past concerns, and learn what we are fighting for.
However, I was expecting us to return from our vacation to jump back and deal with our issues with our new Pandaria-influenced attitudes and perspectives.
What I got was the impression that we were going to be dodging again our top priorities to go on an errand that is not necessary at all.


WoW is in a good place
I agree with everything else that isn't lore-related : the many quality-of-life changes are excellent (items, raids, stats, etc.), and I would also be ecstatic if they could deliver on that gear collection (at any point in the future, really - even mid-expansion) that Ghostcrawler hinted at in a podcast.
I'm happy with everything else - and I'm not about to go into all that in detail because everyone has been pretty vocal about how happy they are and you can include me in that lot - , though maybe not as raving about garrisons as some people have shown.
Maybe it's because I've played a bit of SWTOR and got a taste of that follower system.
It'll come down to the math of: is "Time Spent on Garrison" more or less than "Time Spent Farming Mats by Myself".
So really, I won't know if it's gonna be worth it until I can see the nitty-gritty of the whole system.

I also feel like the game overall seems to be in a good place.
The systems are cool and are still getting some tweaks, but everything in the game is solid and not crazily imbalanced or lacking of types of gameplay to spend our time on.
All they need to do is feed all the types of gameplay with fresh new challenging content and people will play.
The devs and CMs all seemed to be very happy with everything (as far as I could tell through the live stream, anyways) and always as passionate as ever.
I've always trusted Blizzard to make fun games that I like to play and I still do today.
The gameplay is engaging, the content is always fun, and I'm expecting everything to be at the same quality level as everything that I've seen and experienced throughout the Pandaria expansion.
And I trust them to do the same with Warlords as well.


For the Alliance?
However, I don't trust the part of them that takes care of the story.
Well, I can't go "all in 100%" trusting them, anyways.
Because there's been a disconnect that's happened during the Cataclysm expansion and hasn't been addressed, or even frigging acknowledged (as far as I know).
I speak of course of the inherent depression and frustration of playing as a member of the Alliance.
I don't mind if the people at Blizzard that take care of the story will favor the Horde - just as long as they repay the Alliance in kind.

Players have spoken back and forth about this issue for months and months and I don't want to spark that debate here. (I'll spark that in future posts.)
I just want to establish the fact that I, as an Alliance player, feel like there's still blood to be paid and we haven't been given the opportunity to spill it.
Furthermore, I want to point out that hints of the Alliance having moments to shine during the Pandaria expedition have been few and muted, and again, almost all in books.
Hints were dropped at the previous Blizzcon by the lore team and I was expecting to find those "Fuck yeah Alliance!" moments in-game.
There were TWO.
And no so-called "Trials of the High King".
And no elements of rallying the members as an Alliance throughout the expansion to bring them to the doors of Orgrimmar.
We just played through the raid and all the factions showed up.
And although that was pretty cool to see - all the Alliance leaders showing up for a concerted effort to take down some Horde - I would've liked to know how the heck they managed to all show up and work together.
There was Varian that went "Tyrande, calm down for a second. I think this might be a trap." and then the Alliance showing up in Orgrimmar going "Yep, we're all working together now!".

How? Why? When? Did I miss something?
And I know this statement isn't fair - but it really felt like we were told to shut up and enjoy the fact that the Alliance is invading Orgrimmar.
Meanwhile, I was wondering if that was going to be used as an excuse to make the Horde do something horrible to the Alliance in return.
Because that's the kind of relationship I'm now used to expect.


Blizzcon Jaw Drops
At this latest Blizzcon, Chris Metzen made a rousing speech to the Alliance.
And I loved it!
I was drinking every word, every second of it, thinking "THIS IS IT! We're going to totally fucking RULE this expansion!".
And then he said "Horde - you've been taking a beat down."

No, no they haven't.
They've been winning all the way, and when Garrosh pushed them in an uncomfortable place, they united under Vol'jin and put the beat down on Garrosh.
That's not taking flak for atrocities and abominations or getting attacked by the Alliance.
They just willingly let some Alliance in their hometown to help them get rid of Garrosh.
And the Alliance couldn't turn on them, because Big Bad Vol'jin told them in 5.3 that it wouldn't be wise to try to take advantage of the situation because his Horde would crush them.
Nope - the Horde still had the upper hand throughout the expansion, even while Garrosh was at it's helm.

And then the reveal and explanation of the expansion was all "Orcs, orcs, orcs, orcs, more orcs, savage, orcs, savage orcs, orcs, garrisons, savage."
Let's say my buzz was killed.

And they said in the lore Q&A that Turalyon and Alleria weren't going to be in that expansion.
Happy they have plans for them, which is an improvement.

I'm happy that the Draenei are gonna have something happening for them.
Especially because I play one and have been hoping for this to happen.
(Also, this article from Matthew Rossi has got me pumped up for the future of Draenei, the way that I would've hoped that Blizzcon would've made me feel.)

But my friends who don't play Draenei and are in the Alliance - what's there for them?
To quote my best friend "I like the quality-of-life changes, but there's no story for me to be interested in".

What did they say about the Alliance in their presentations?
They hinted at a lot of issues of Orcs with their ancestors, of Thrall and Garrosh having Daddy issues, and maybe some existential questioning for Vol'jin's Horde.

But besides those nitpicks, of course, as the feedback was coming in, we got Blizzard people letting us know that there are many things about the story that we don't know yet and we shouldn't judge the expansion entirely on the information they gave us.
And that's fine and dandy and logical to me, and I'm intrigued to discover what trip they have planned for us.

So if that's the case, then why did I write that cryptic post about not feeling anything about the announcement?


WHY?
The question that has kept bothering me and nobody seemed to ask.
This is the question that hasn't been answered for me, and I want to repeat it until I get an answer.
Most players seem to be on board with this expansion - maybe someone can explain to me what they're seeing in all of this that gets them excited.

Why take this direction?
To come back to what I was saying earlier: why not address the unanswered questions we already had?
Why do we need to go back in time?
Why was it deemed necessary to take characters from the past and re-write them another arc, another destiny, another end?
Why not move the overall story of Azeroth forward with the elements that we currently have in our possession?

Why decide to continue working with the character of Garrosh Hellscream?
Why take that character and have him drive the whole content of the expansion?
A video they've released explained a bit of the thought process and what they've been aiming for, and they seem to have hit the nail on the head of many players.
Just not me.
Because I don't understand why we're doing all of this.


How will Warlords advance the story of Azeroth?
Not just "Well Garrosh is doing that right now because we said so, and you have to stop him".
But after stopping Garrosh and his shenanigans, how will we end up advancing the future of the game?
Will we be the same, with garrissons built, levels advanced, better gear, heroes gained and heroes lost, more potential enemies - and then nothing to help us deal with all the threats that are looming above our heads or hiding out of reach in the shadows?
Will that not even be adressed at all as we go into expansions that will cover the events of Warcraft 2 and 3?

Again - what is the point of all this?
No, I am not convinced that Warlords of Draenor is the expansion that I need nor the one that I've deserved.
The Beta floodgates will open and we'll see if more justifications will win me over.

Are you done moaning about things that don't matter?
Almost.
What should be taken from all my verbiage is that I feel there's a disconnection here that I don't fully understand or know how to handle.
Yes I'm bringing up petty, nitpicky lore points and they can easily be brushed aside with a simple "lol lore" and I get that.
I think that what I'm experiencing is what some of the player base was feeling when Mists of Pandaria was revealed and they weren't sure of what was in store for them.
I was on board with that sales pitch because I knew of the Pandaren kit and what they've told us about the expansion content was convincing enough that I didn't have any worries.
This time, however, I'm on the other side of the fence.

The sales pitches, both from Metzen at the reveal and from Kosak at the lore panel, didn't win me over - and that's the truth of the matter and the core of this big wordy post.

I'm not sure this is a good idea, I'm not won over, and with the way they seem to portray the current situations of Horde and Alliance, I shouldn't be expecting them to address what's been bothering me about the game.

I just can't tell you that I'm excited about it or that I'm convinced I'm going to enjoy it.
Maybe it's time for bucket lists.
Both for Pandaria and the game.
Maybe.
I'm not sure anymore.


Conclusion: This feedback is not fair
It isn't fair for anyone.
It's not fair for the community managers and the Blizzard devs to be receiving negative feedback about things they didn't address and can't address until the actual expansion is released to the public.
But they work with the feedback we give them and there's been a huge positive feedback for the expansion.
I've just been temporarily stunned by the reveal not being what I was expecting it to be.
My concerns aren't huge and extremely problematic, but they're the things I care about in this game.
And they're also the reason why I feel a gap has been created between Blizzard and me and I don't want our relationship to be falling apart.
The big difference and very positive aspect of Blizzcon 2013 was that the devs showed they were prepared and ready, not only for Warlords of Draenor, but also for many expansions to come.
So my hopes of Blizzard acknowledging my concerns are up.
Just not for Warlords - that's where things are being a bit muggy.

Many podcasts I've listened to - even the ones that had critical concerns about a few aspects of the reveal - are still pretty jazzed about Warlords.
And hearing them be excited makes me want to be excited as they are - but I just can't, right now.
I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not the Post Anyone's Expecting


I've been asked what my thoughts are on the Blizzcon announcement, especially after trumpeting my theories on the subject.

This is not the full blog post about that.

I think I sorta know what I want to address, but right now I HAVE to convey exactly what is going on with me.

After Chris Metzen's shoutout to the Alliance, I was cheering at my screen.
And then the more he talked, the more the happy feelings started fading away.
And then the cinematic happened...
And then...

Nothing.

Then I stared at my screen for a few moments, mumbled a few things to my friends on Teamspeak, then got a glass of water.

I sat down again and half-absently listened to the DirecTV interview.

Then listened to the Warlords panel, expecting explanations.
(I'm happy with what they said about the changes with mechanics and quality-of-life stuff.)

And then the panel ended.

And later I listened to the Lore Q&A panel.

And then that ended.

And after all of that, after all they've said, after the (*groan*) questions from the community, I went to bed.

I've felt the same ever since.

I thought that people would blog and tweet their impressions and feelings, and that they would help me figure out what was wrong with me, but none of what I've come across talked about what I feel. (except my best friend, who's voiced an opinion not similar to mine, but in the same territory)

I feel nothing.


And I think that maybe something's wrong with me.
And it's seriously disturbing me.

There's people that are ecstatic about Warlords, and there's people that have been complaining (for no good reason that couldn't be explained or dismissed).

My mind's not even on the fence - it's just not on the scale at all.

I've been writing a few thoughts and I'm making sense out of everything, but it's gonna take some time.

Maybe it's that the announcement happened in the middle of high-stress work weeks, and I'm emotionally unbalanced, frustrated about things, not getting enough sleep, and needing a few days off.
I'll figure it out.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Blizzcon Q&A (and Drinking Game)

If you're a fan of Blizzard games, this is the big moment of the year.
A weekend where everything Blizzard is gushing out of everyone and we all rejoice and revel in our geekery.

For many reasons (that I will not detail here for fear of derailing this into something else), I thought it would be a good idea to just throw a handful of reminders/pointers to the internet and hope that the lucky people that will be in front of the mics at the different Q&As might have a chance to read all this.

If I've missed something or you've got more suggestions, feel free to comment!

DOs

Stick to the Golden Rule: keep it short, keep it simple
If you can't ask your question in a single sentence with less than 4 commas, you need to simplify your question.
Besides, if it's too complicated, the people answering your question will either focus on some key words of your ramblings and not really answer your question, or will ask you to repeat the parts that they didn't hear properly because they fell asleep in your preamble.
Also, a very long question that makes a lot of twists and turns can either confuse your audience or make you look like you're confused yourself.
Tip: Try to make your question fit in a tweet (or close enough to the length of it).

Do your homework
You don't want to be that person that asks a question and everyone in the audience knows the answer to it.
Check out previous Q&As with dev teams, check the Blue trackers on different sites, read up on the recent interviews that the devs might have done previous to the latest patch.
Or check this thread of player questions.
Heck, you can even find on YouTube some videos of Q&As from past BlizzCons.
And if you're going to ask specific questions (ex: a class-specific ability, or lore), make sure you've double-checked your info!

Come up with a bunch of questions
They'll remind you that it's only one question per person, but there's a strong chance that the person right in front of you will ask the burning question you've wanted to ask.
So have a few more ready and you'll be totally fine in case you're on the spot and need to switch your game.
Try to make them as interesting and as important as that #1 question that you really want to ask the devs.

Stick to a single question
We've got a limited amount of time to ask the devs as many questions as possible and there's people behind you that also want to ask their One Question to the devs.
Some of them have traveled from distant countries and paid hundreds of dollars just to have that chance of looking Ghostcrawler directly in the eye and ask him something about paladins.
You're hogging everyone's time by asking multiple questions, and you're not very polite.

Come prepared
Most of you have smart phones, right?
There's no shame in reading your question directly from it.
It's much better than stepping up to the mic and camera and suddenly discover you've got stage fright and completely forget your question. (Don't laugh - don't think it can't ever happen to you.)
Hey, you might even sound more confident when reading your question from your phone or a notepad rather than trying to recite your question, looking for words, and speaking them with a nervous trembling voice that everyone can hear.
If your question is obscure, try to have some sort of backup.
Remember what Jesse Cox did when he had that Gundrak question about the snake tail that's near the second boss of the instance?


He printed out a big screenshot to bring directly to Metzen and Kozak so they would know what he was talking about.
Yeah people laughed, but we got a definitive answer on a question that bugged a lot of lore buffs and an explanation on what happened there.
That's coming prepared!


DON'Ts

No shoutouts
You're wasting our time and we don't care.
It used to be cute a few years ago.
Now it's just annoying.

No praise of developers
See previous comment.
Try to catch them when they're off-stage.
Or write them tweets.
Or forum posts.
Written words of praise stick with them longer.

No spoilers
There are ways to phrase your questions without spoiling big reveals.
If you're not sure if enough time has passed to consider a reveal to be a spoiler anymore, act as if it's still a spoiler anyways - the dev will decide when answering if it's still info that's worth keeping secret or not.
Don't be like that guy at BlizzCon 2011 that spoiled a character's death in a book that had been released only a few weeks prior to the event.
(Saying "Spoiler alert" 2 seconds before you spoil the info doesn't count, by the way.)
Ex: "What can we expect for the future of Jarod and Maiev Shadowsong after the events of the Wolfheart novel?"
That way, it doesn't say specifically what happened to those characters during the novel and leaves enough space for the dev to answer the way that he wants.

Keep the feedback on the forums
If you're going into a long tirade or asking a question that contains subjective statements (ex: mages are a 2-button class, fix rogues cuz they're bad), keep it for yourself or the forums.
The Q&As are not the right place to start having discussions with the devs - they're there to give quick answers to quick questions.
There's forums, there's Betas, there's PTRs : these are the places to give your feedback directly to Blizzard.
Don't think that they don't see it because they're not acknowledging every bit of feedback.
These are the main feedback places and they have to take account of everything.

"Maybe this time it'll be different"
Sometimes you might think that asking a question at a different time, in a different light, to a different developer, might give you a different answer.
And you might have a chance to do so and actually get a different answer than the hundreds of times it's been asked before.
But probabilities are high that if you're asking about having Vanilla and Burning Crusade servers, you will get the same answer that we are given every single week for the last 5-6 years.
Try asking something different.
Try finding out exactly what you liked about those times and what made them special to you and ask about that instead.

Applies to BlizzCon, whether you're there or you're not
Don't forget that there's also a bunch of live interviews that are always conducted in between panels by the MCs of the live stream.
And if they stick to the usual way of doing things of the past BlizzCons, they'll be taking Twitter questions to throw at whoever they're interviewing.
So have those questions handy and properly twitter-formatted and you can also get a chance to have them answered even if you're at home!

And now, a drinking game
If you're like me and you'll be staying home and watching all the World of Warcraft panels and Q&As, you'll want to spice up the atmosphere and liven up the mood.
So instead of cringing at all the questions that I already know the answers to, or simply the ones that come back year after year, I'm getting wasted. (It certainly was more entertaining when it did that for BlizzCon 2011!)

Nothing complicated or elaborate, of course.
People that make drinking games forget that rules are hard to follow when you're getting less and less sober.

Take a shot if in any Q&As you hear some of the following elements:
  • player housing
  • dance studio
  • legendaries (take 2 if someone mentions that they "promised" a warrior one)
  • shoutouts
  • praise for Ghostcrawler
  • question about Valor capping
  • question about Conquest capping
  • 2 questions instead of one
  • 3 questions instead of one (take two shots)
  • ask to bring back a dead character
  • bring back Arthas (take two shots)
  • bring back Illidan (take two shots)
  • Tyrande as a misinterpreted and/or useless character
  • complaining about dailies
  • mention of Blizzard "forcing" players to do something
  • Horde favoritism
  • not enough content
  • too much content
  • bringing Hearthstone in WoW
  • spending achievement points
  • path of the titans
  • revamping Outland
  • revamping Northrend
  • making Vanilla and/or BC only servers

Feel free to suggest any other topic that will force an eyeroll, a facepalm or a facedesk.

My personal poison will be Fireball Whiskey, because fireballs, cinnamon, and it's probably gonna be cold up here (Montreal) at that time of the year.

Remember that BlizzCon is our celebration and everything should be all in good fun, so have a great time!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lore: The Dwarves' Wasted Opportunities

After witnessing so much story and political turmoil being added into the majority of the Horde races in the Cataclysm expansion, I take a look at the wasted opportunities that the Alliance races could've been developed by Blizzard.
"In the power vacuum that followed, his estranged daughter, Moira, who had married into the much despised Dark Iron clan, briefly claimed Ironforge’s throne and effectively locked down the city. If not for the intervention of King Varian Wrynn of Stormwind and his son, Prince Anduin, her brash actions might have sparked another civil war. With Varian’s guidance, control of Ironforge has since been divided equally among the Bronzebeard, Wildhammer, and Dark Iron clans through the Council of Three Hammers. Yet as bitterness and prejudice fester among the clans, the council’s ability to govern as one remains uncertain."

- excerpt of Blizzard's description of the Dwarf race.
Oh really?

Take a trip to Ironforge.
Look around.

Oh yeah, that looks like civil unrest.
The place and characters really feel like they were on the brink of a civil war.
I mean with all of those Dark Iron dwarves walking around like they own the place or at least show their presence...

/end sarcasm


The Shattering... of NOTHING
Ironforge in-game should not be like it currently is.
You should have dialogue between the NPCs.
They should be worried, mistrusting, shushing when patrols are about to walk by them.
You should see bunches of different clans of dwarves gathered in all different corners of the city.
Certain corners and walls and bridges should be showing signs of the Cataclysm.
But if that's asking for too much, then at least Ironforge should shows the signs that the Dark Irons have stepped in the place.
That The Shattering novel happened.
That their short story happened.
The Dark Irons held the city under siege.
They kidnapped and beat up other dwarves, killed gryphons, started fires.
People were being paranoid and scared during that time and don't you think for a second that the founding of the Council of Three Hammers totally makes all of that okay in people's minds.
They don't trust the Dark Irons - with reason.


Divide and Conquer
Moira Bronzebeard is a wonderful character to work with, from a writer's perspective.
She's shown that she's a schemer, a skilled politician, and a backstabber.
After her failed coup in trying to crown herself Queen/Empress of the Dwarves, she tried a different tactic, trying to gather the dwarves and sway them in her favor.
Instead of denying the rumors concerning the Dark Irons, she spread false rumors about the Bronzebeards and the Wildhammers, quite successfully.
And although the objective of her plan was literally shattered by Kurdran Wildhammer, the side effects of her maneuvering the dwarven clans still remain.
"The city of Kurdran’s ancestors was a simmering cauldron of old prejudice. It churned endlessly, its toxic fumes dissolving whatever logic and reason remained within the Bronzebeard, Wildhammer, and Dark Iron dwarves living together in Ironforge for the first time in over two centuries. And Kurdran was standing at the edge of it all, gazing into its fiery heart with confusion as it grew closer and closer to erupting."
"By the following week, the tension among the clans had become a smoldering coal; it was still present, but the threat of violence seemed distant."

- excerpts of The Council of Three Hammers: Fire and Iron
So the rumors and mistrust should still somewhat be there.
The atmosphere of Ironforge should be slightly less grim than at the time of that event, but it should still be there.
The fate of the dwarves is clouded by uncertainty.
If it's not by rumors concerning each other, their crystallized leader should be enough of a reminder of their current situation.

Moira still has some explaining to do
She says with full honesty that the Dark Irons have changed and will now work alongside the Alliance.
The ones that have followed her, of course, not the other ones that are still out there.
Then how can anyone tell if ANY Dark Iron they encounter is a "bad" Dark Iron or one of Moira's "good" Dark Irons doing something bad?
It's clearly shown in a low-level quest that the other dwarves can only take her on her own word, for what that's worth.
Which really means, given the pile of negatives that she's accumulated so far, that it's better not to trust her at all.

Which brings me to a point I want to briefly mention...


Bulls**t in the Snow
Ok so you've all ran the Blood in the Snow scenario, right?
You've listened to the prologue from Lorewalker Cho.


So now if you've read The Shattering and the dwarves' short story, you should be aware - as I've stated just a minute ago, that you cannot trust the political maneuverings of Moira Bronzebeard.
In other words, the Bronzebeards and the Wildhammers know in their right minds that the Dark Irons should not be left alone without supervision, and whoever is doing the supervision needs a good backup.
Of course, this gives Moira the perfect opportunity to show that the Dark Irons are the goody-two-shoes she's always claimed they were, while Varian, completely blind to the whole situation, scolds the other dwarves for not wanting to help.
And because the operation is successful, Varian's all happy with the Dark Irons and now trusts them entirely. (Or at least, the scenario is showing that to be the case, whatever his previous thoughts on the matter of the Dark Irons and Moira were.)
King Varian Wrynn says: Well fought. I see the Dark Irons are as formidable as ever.
Moira Thaurissan says: That they are, King Varian. And at the service of the Alliance, I might add.
King Varian Wrynn says: Hah! For that, I'm glad. The Bronzebeards and Wildhammers will regret not having been here to share in your glory.
Moira Thaurissan says: Better they're grateful for the clansmen spared death on this miserable hilllock. We sought to protect and impress, not to shame.
King Varian Wrynn says: Well, you've done just that. Come: let us return to Ironforge, and announce your victory to the Council.
NOT.
BUYING.
IT.

Either this is a clever move on the story department at Blizzard, or they nullified what they had been previously building.
Also, Varian going from "almost assassinating Moira Bronzebeard in cold blood and telling her right to her face that her doesn't trust her and will be sure to keep a watch on her each and every mood" to "hey you killed a bunch of trolls - we sure could use good people like you in the Alliance" seems like some kind of oversight - or maybe we'll learn later that he was just playacting for the sake of appearances and also to see the Dark Irons in action.

Bring back Ironforge and move it forward
Again, after all I've explained here.
Take a trip to Ironforge.
Look around.
Nothing transpires into the game.
But hey the Horde got changes on their end due to political turmoil...

Ironforge is still a heck of a city.
It still looks great after all these years and I could understand on the developers' end why they wouldn't fix something that's not broken.
But a few updates would be nice.
Just enough to bring some attention back to the place, other than during the World Events, where people are reminded that there are other capital cities for their factions.


I've mentioned in my Gnomes article that they could help with the Explorer's League.
It should be something that lore-wise would also be something to bring forward even more.
The Hall of Explorers (Library and Museum) should have grown bigger and bigger and should be comprising more and more of elements they've discovered and studied in every new continent that's being "revealed".
Just remodel that whole section.
Show that their exploring has been progressing.
They've discovered so much about themselves and their origins.
You could even have sections for the main Titan facilities, just to get players interested to figure out what all this Titan business is all about.
Because they've started to put their efforts on all this fairly recently at the behest of Magni Bronzebeard, you could even show some of the other clans approve or not of this activity.


Another thing.
You know how a ton of players really loved the Lorewalkers and Lorewalker Cho's reenactments and Blizzard agreed they would move forward with that?
Put it there!
The question with implementing good ideas from a continent back into the staples of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms is where are you going to add them.
Have another big space in between some bookshelves or tables and you can have some of the Explorers do their in-game cinematic storytelling there!

It all works together, guys.

The Frost Who?
Might as well throw another tidbit in there while I have the chance to do it.

What's happening with the Frostborn?
...remember them?


Should they be accepted as a part of the Ironforge dwarves?
Should they have a seat in the Council?
What happens if they don't?
Muradin would be representing 2 dwarf clans, now.
What about the Bronzebeards that are happy/not happy with the decision (whichever sides it goes)?
Surely, with Muradin's help and return to his brothers, and him being a part of the Council of Three Hammers, their existence should be of great interest and also a source of contention.
...

We need to dig deeper
We're not done with Dwarves.
There's plenty left to do with them.
But there's a lot of the internal tension that's missing.
There's this drama inside the faction and the city that could bring Ironforge and the Dwarves back into the spotlight if it could only be reflected in the game.
And that would make it wonderful for the player who discovers that even after all the feuding and the mistrust and the clashes of the three (four?) types of dwarves, that even through all of this, the Alliance still manages to pull through whatever the universe has to throw at them.
And that is what makes your character truly heroic.

One of the effects of the Cataclysm has been to bring insecurity to all characters, to know that the world is changing and people are changing with it.
And also that the place we call home is not safe from harm, be it from a rising of the elements or the inner turmoil of a society that is trying to keep their cauldron of emotions from tipping over.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lore: The Gnomes' Wasted Opportunities

After witnessing so much story and political turmoil being added into the majority of the Horde races in the Cataclysm expansion, I take a look at the wasted opportunities that the Alliance races could've been developed by Blizzard.

"This was hard. Hard returning to his study. His nook. This was the place he'd pictured whenever he'd heard the word home, even after so many years away. Years living under the charity and forbearance of allies who, for all their noble sentiment, still looked upon him with pity.

The pity—ah, that was the hardest part. For a race of ambitious folk whose lives were validated by a masterful command of the scientific laws of the universe, to be pitied was unbearable. To be pitied was to be insulted. Gelbin chafed under the sympathy, and he knew that his people did too: as a leader, he had learned that it was wise to spare some thought for his own emotions since they often reflected what the rest of the Gnomes felt, to some degree."

- excerpt from Gelbin Mekkatorque: Cut Short by Cameron Dayton

"Gnomes are so incredibly underused" is a statement that will go around in the Alliance.
And despite actually seeing them more and more used for questing and as general NPCs that walk around or act as vendors, that statement still holds true.
Now don't get me wrong - Blizzard has been doing a fantastic job with representing all the members of the Alliance in Pandaria.
They're all there helping out and there's a good number of each race very equally spread around and it's been great to see the Alliance acting like an alliance.

And yet...
And yet you get the feeling that the Gnomes, despite being the comic relief characters of the Alliance, are just... there...
They're stuck in the mud and not moving much and they're without the prospect of moving further anytime soon.
Yes, they've had Operation: Gnomeregan to finally give them a new starting zone and a bit more lore to boost up and refresh their current situation and existence in-game.
But that was it.
Nothing since.

And it's a shame because there were many possibilities to expand the Gnomes and get them on the path of actually advancing and evolving along with the World of Warcraft.

Currently their situation as a race is: they're still trying to reclaim Gnomeregan.
You know that storyline isn't going to advance because Blizzard isn't going to reboot the Gnomes' starting experience yet again for quite some time.

Outside of that situation, the other Gnomes are merely sent to join the Dwarves and then join the Alliance in whatever cause they might be helpful to further their support.


Short and sweet - like a Gnome dipped in chocolate
Compare them with the Horde counterpart : the Goblins.
They have flavor and a good angle to give some body to their existence - they're in it for the profit.
Every venture they take part in for the Horde, it's to make money.
It makes them take on a more active role in almost all situations.
They've learned that nothing happens if they don't make things happen by themselves.
They're out in the world, exploring and pocketing every thing they can get their hands on that could be of value.

In contrast, the Gnomes are kooky and have these crazy experiments, and overall they're not forgotten and that's cool.
However, they're falling into the lab scientist category - mousy, anti-social, locked in their own heads, and just usually keep to themselves.
Except for the few times when they ask you to test out their experiments and gadgets, they don't really have a motive for existing.
They're insular characters that just make gadgets and they're nuttier than squirrel poo, but that's all they do.


But, but, but...
They've learned SO MUCH about themselves in Northrend, you'd expect some of them doing research on that.
You'd expect them to be fascinated by what the encounter with Mechazod has taught them about their origins.
He left a book behind - shouldn't you have scholars arguing about the meaning of the revelations that are inside that book?
You'd imagine them maybe getting more and more Gnomes into the Explorer's League, suddenly getting as invested as their Dwarven cousins in digging up as many artifacts as possible.
What if Blizzard decides to revamp Uldaman and some previously locked doors reveal more things about the Titans, Dwarves and Gnomes?

You'd expect them to consult with Mimiron (who's suspected of being the "father" of them).
You'd expect them to bring back a few mechagnomes from Storm Peaks to watch them walk around and study them.
You'd expect them to capture and study the heck out of some databanks. (And they would make cool pets!)
You'd expect them trying to figure out - and they're the most qualified race to do this - what are the technical or magical aspects of the Curse of Flesh.
They should be studying it, figuring out how it works, what different aspects it could take.
Hey some of them had it purged from them!
They could also probably build more Gnomes out in Northrend and replicate the Curse of Flesh onto them, and build themselves an army of Gnomes!
With an army, they could easily retake Gnomeregan AND provide much more help on the various fronts that the Alliance is engaged.


And if they could do that, maybe there's the possibility that they could reverse the spell that Magni Bronzebeard put upon himself!
Or, at least, the promise of a cure could be the main reason to get the Dwarves to respect the Gnomes much more than they currently do and you'd have the Dwarves supply the Gnomes with everything they could want, including access to special digsites and expeditions.
And then suddenly the Gnomes are advancing their own story and are getting a bit more relevancy in the Alliance by having an actual stake that they can be actively evolve around.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
This is just working from story lines that were already in the game, and not the other stories that the Blizzard team could've come up and tie into the development of tensions rising in the Alliance.

You could have all this good stuff about the Gnomes trying to help the Dwarves, but those efforts could be constantly halted by the heated politics of the Council of Three Hammers.

Blizzard has a handle on the original kit of the Gnomes and they're using that kit well.
However it seems like they can't find a way to look beyond that kit or to find ways to expand it in order to give the Gnomes a little bit more of relevancy in the game, give that race some weight and the possibility that they could be useful allies beyond their crazy gadgets.
They could be active members of the Alliance that help make it stronger.
But the way they are currently, it seems they're stuck being what they were designed to be: just a joke that's getting old.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dead Numbers Tell No Tales

Okay this time I have to jump in and give my knee-jerk reaction.

Originally, this was supposed to be a response I was going to leave on @Xsinthis ' blog, but it was starting to get so ridiculously long that I'd thought just to post it here.
The post in question: http://xsinthis.net/2013/07/a-look-at-world-of-warcraft-subscription-numbers/
Very good post, by the way.

I'm still not ready to jump on the bandwagon of joining free-to-play with WoW.
Like Xsinthis, I'm not sure if it's going to "save" it or not, but I think the problem I'm seeing is that people are completely blinded by the subscription numbers and forget to look at what drives those numbers.
Or, at least, I'm not seeing anyone talk about it.
I'm seeing posts about business models, cash shops, history of subscription-based games, etc.

Here's my 2 copper:
 
It's a tough year for WoW because of the competition

There's a ton of great games that were coming out in 2013 and I think Blizzard did the smart move of making a push in 2012 for all their products before the next slew of games were out.
And each Blizzard IP has a handful of reasons why it's better and more convenient not to have anything out this year.
It's not a competition they would be able to fight, not without high caliber "gaming ammo" to drop in the gaming pond.
They knew this would happen and it's why they're talking about it very matter-of-fact, almost nonchalantly, in the conference calls.



The problem: WoW nostalgia is depleted
Remember that most of World of Warcraft is based on the Warcraft RTS series, which were wildly popular.
Simply based on the fact that Warcraft became an MMO, the people that played the RTS followed where Blizzard was taking the franchise.
The growing popularity of World of Warcraft started spreading and more and more of the people that were originally reticent to play the game joined in, from vanilla through Burning Crusade.
But the crowning jewel was Wrath of the Lich King.


Wrath of the Warcraft III
If you've followed the RTS, you should know that Warcraft III was the most popular, and it was quickly followed by its expansion pack The Frozen Throne.
Warcraft III offered a compelling story of different races caught in wars - against themselves, against other factions, and against the Burning Legion.
But you started right out the gate with the young paladin Arthas Menethil on his quest to figure out what's happening to his kingdom.
And throughout the game, you followed his quest, his dark turn into a death knight, and his ascent to the Frozen Throne, leaving you with a big "To Be Continued" feeling that this was not over.
And so after years of waiting, people gathered to discover the next chapter to the story.
It's no wonder why Wrath was the peak of WoW, is what I'm saying.


DeathWho ?
After that, Cataclysm brought Deathwing forward.
Now don't get me wrong: Deathwing was one of the Big Bads of Warcraft and many people knew who he was.
Unfortunately, not enough people.
Warcraft III was one of the most played games of it's time, but you rarely saw people decide to "downplay" their gaming experience and play Warcraft II - which is when Deathwing was introduced to players.
He also was introduced in books, namely "Day of the Dragon" and the "War of the Ancients" trilogy, but tie-in books could never be as popular as the games themselves.
So Deathwing was not a character that the players knew enough to keep them interested in the game.
Worse: Blizzard did an incredibly poor job at introducing the Villain to the players.
They should've given them a reason to fight him, a list of reasons why he's incredibly dangerous, some more motivation to want to go stick a sword in him.
And in that way - as much as people complained that the Lich King was too much "in our face" throughout his expansion - they should've put Deathwing front-and-center to keep players in line with what should have been their big target for the expansion.
But, of course, interest dropped because of this and a plethora of other reasons.


Pandas in the Mists
With Pandaria, before we even knew that Pandaria was the continent would be explored, lore buffs were baffled (myself included) because the major plot points of the Warcraft RTS had been addressed.
So there was no logical direction to take.
Sure, we could come up with different big, major, evil threats that need to be dealt with, but there were none that could be as Big and Bad as the ones we've already killed before.
Players were drawn to this mostly because no one knew what to expect. 
Pandaria still took off very well with an expansion that was lauded as being the most solid and the most nostalgic kind that players had ever seen.
The lasting power, however, didn't last, as the "box content" was consumed and the technical faults made players hit a wall.
Players had a choice: spend their time and money on climbing that wall or go look at all the games that were starting to come out because 2013 had just arrived.


Screaming at something won't make you kill it
So in the end, all this is not surprising.
My point is: Blizzard doesn't have to go free-to-play with World of Warcraft if there isn't any interest in playing the game at all.
What they need to do is combine aspects of the old and new and push forward some content that will interest people and make sure that no big walls will hinder people's progression through the game.
I'm not saying that they will reach the magical number of 12 million subscribers again, but I'm saying that they will try to do everything that they can to resuscitate the populace's interest in the game.
I'm saying that contrarily to what the birds of doom are writing and commenting and tweeting, World of Warcraft will not bow to these people's cynical whims and lie down and simply wait to die.
There's still a ton of stories, a ton of bad guys, a ton of juice still left in this IP to let it drop.
We just need a good reason, a good Bad Guy, and every step of our way should be a step closer to its' doom.

All eyes on BlizzCon.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Modelling for WoW (All Hail the New Flesh)


Amidst the cries and gnashing of teeth that arose from the masses following the announcement of the Blizzard Store transmogrification helms, I couldn't help but notice a repeated "argument" against such a feature, that went something a little like this:

"Instead of spending time on ugly, useless, expensive helms, why don't you give us our updated character models ?!"

While that statement might be argued vs the aforementioned helms (which I won't delve into), there's the subtle implication or suggested thought that the developers have been holding on to the updated models or that they could've simply released updated models at this point in time in the history of WoW or that updating the models is a simple task.
None of it is the case, and that's what this article is about: updating models is not an easy or simple task.

Why you choose/don't choose a character
Just think about all the current characters in WoW.
I hear most of the complaints about Worgen being about the way their arms move, whether they're running or they're casting spells.
That's the main reason why most players won't play Worgen.
Simple as that. (Oh and that sniffing/snarling sound.)
I kinda hear the same thing concerning Goblins, the way they move being the 2nd complaint why people don't play them, right after the way they talk (the accent gets old really fast for most people).
Pandaren?
The main reason I hear from people that don't play them is that they're too silly, that the way they move and emote isn't aggressive enough, isn't what you'd expect from a character that is battle-hardened, that would seem like a threat to others (ie: doesn't look, act, sound like a badass).

So it IS important.
It is why we choose some characters over some others in the Character Creation screen.
Yeah there's other reasons like the lore or the racial buffs, but a majority of players will follow their first impressions of the character models before deciding to play them (or play them longer than the first 10 levels, anyway).


People are attached to their characters
Hey do you remember when they slightly updated the Human Females and it created some ruckus?
It was a minor change, a change that most players wouldn't notice.
And yet, a handful of players couldn't play their Human Female character anymore and played another toon.
This might seem like nothing to most players - it was just the eyes on a character that you spend most of your time looking at from the back!
But then think what would happen if all the character models got updated - and we're not just a change to the face right there : we're talking the way they move, the way they cast spells, the way they're idle, etc.
Players are WAY more picky than you suspect about the way their characters move - you might even be more than you think!

You're used to see your character emote a certain way.
What if they bring up your character to the Pandaren level of top animation and end up having so many different facial expressions that go way beyond everything you've ever seen?
















































I'm used to my Draenei looking stern and almost expressionless.
In my head, I've associated his demeanor to his race - a proud and battle-hardened people, living on solid principles, with a staunch belief in the Light.
Now what will I think when I see him with a face-full of expressions?
Will the stern Draenei disappear and instead I'll have a character that's WAY more emotional that I've been used to?
Will he smile the very wide smile that the Pandaren have?
Will his demeanor be a little bit more bouncy, giving his walk a humorous attitude rather than the serious and determined, almost military way they walk currently?

What I'm trying to say here is that people may not be aware of it, but they've grown used to the way their characters move, and the slightest change brought in by the updated models might be something that enhances your notions of that race or completely destroy them.
It's a fine line to define on the developer's end and it's not something they can treat lightly.

 

Yes, Blizzard is working on updating the character models
In case some people might've missed the news, Blizzard has said they've been working on updating the models. (I still see people asking why they're not doing it - they are. You just haven't seen them yet.)
As a matter of fact, here's them at Blizzcon 2011 confirming it:



The question is all about Blizzard doing it right.
However, for them, "doing it right" goes beyond simply updating the models to the new level of cool.
A good developer knows that sometimes the best way to not code themselves in a corner, especially for a program that will continue being developed, is to leave a bunch of options to further expand on the work they're doing right now.
So they have to consider not just what they're doing right now with the character models, but what they might do with them in future expansions.
Maybe the guys have crazy design ideas for gear sets and weapons and they've been hindered all this time by the limitations of our current character models.
But now they have the opportunity to throw ideas at the devs and see if there's anything that's viable, anything that would generate enough interest from players, or just anything that would make other NPCs cooler than cool.
So they've probably spent a lot of time on the drawing boards and in meetings trying to plan all this out as meticulously as possible because it's not just about updating characters.

Actually, let's make a list of the probable things they have to worry about.

A list of possible WoW dev tasks
  • Update the models. That's the skeleton of the characters. It's what the textures are being applied on. They have to make sure that all the articulations work correctly, that all the possible moves by all the classes and all the emotes can be performed correctly, on top of making sure that all the movements still fit the design and signature of all the races.

  • Fix existing model problems. Some models have problems with the way they interact with the world. Mostly clipping issues. I'm sure players would be happy to see their weapons and off-hands not to disappear inside their characters once in a while.

  • Make sure that the gear actually fits all the possible new models. That means going through all of the gear in game and coming up with a solution to the problem of finding some pieces of gear that aren't looking silly when worn by certain characters (mostly the more bulky ones, or the ones with special features). That also means probably having to come up with new models for some pieces of gear. Also make sure that it'll fit with what they're working on in the other cubicles at Blizzard HQ.

  • Make sure as well that textures match the updated models and updated gear. Or else transmogrification and armor sets will look ridiculous. Or else we might have that whole "Human Female eyes" situation all over again - except spread across everything you meet in-game.
  • Then, after the player characters have been taken care of, you have to make sure that all the same types of changes are also applied to every single NPC that is in-game. Think about that. Also, they'll probably have to take a look at all the little in-game events and interactions of all the NPCs to be sure that everything is still all right.

When all that is done (whenever it gets done), they have to find the right time to apply those changes to the game.
If you take into account everything that I've listed, you would probably come to the conclusion that this isn't just "a few little changes".
So they would need a serious big patch to incorporate this to the game, like an expansion, or a pre-expansion patch.

And that, my friends, is one of the big announcements that I'm expecting to hear and see at Blizzcon 2013.


And if someone has the temerity (aka "balls") to ask the devs if they're going to apply those changes to the in-game cinematics, don't be surprised if they answer you with the angriest and biggest middle finger you've ever seen.
The cinematics are fine the way they are.
You'll have to deal with the fact that the cinematics are displaying the "old" models, just like you currently have to deal with the fact that Outland and Northrend are fixed in the "past", and they won't update those unless they really need to.
They'll tell you to at least be happy with the work they've done - the work that you've been requesting so angrily for so long.
You've been requesting this and they've worked very hard and very long to present you with the best they've got.

Enjoy what you have before it's gone and embrace the incoming changes with open arms.

All hail the new flesh.

EDIT: Forgot to mention something that a few people might find important.
With new models comes also the possibility to get new character movements for the class abilities, better emoting, new emotes and new dances.
And you thought that the Dance Studio was a joke.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Warcraft's Ends (Part 3): One Step Closer


In Part Two, I've glossed over what I think we can expect from the next expansion from a technical viewpoint. Now we're looking into the lore possibilities.
 
Blizzard has always worked with the idea that the story must come first.
The lore dictates the journey our characters will take.
First, create the continent; then break that down into zones that each have their own flavor, friends, enemies; and then add the quests that mark the road our heroes will step onto.
That's how you create a world that feels like it has a story to tell you.
You step into a zone and wonder "what the heck is happening here?" and you pick up a quest and start.

So, with the intent of continuing what I've pointed out in my post, and also taking into account I'm not the only one that feels that it's time to get back to the serious matters of unresolved lore, I've come up with 3 possibilities of expansions we might be presented at Blizzcon 2013.


But before I get into this, there's one issue that has been evident throughout Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria and Blizzard will have to comply with players' demands on it: the next expansion will feature a stronger and more present Alliance.
They HAVE to.
This isn't just my personal preference, this isn't just me reacting with the vocal minority that have been requesting this since the beginning of Cataclysm - this is the feedback I'm getting from people who don't even care about the lore of the game and find that playing as Alliance is getting more and more depressing.
Expect this to happen and also expect Horde players to whine about it like little spoiled brats.

Moving on!

What's up with them?

Option 1 - The re-re-return of the Burning Legion
I've covered this before and was fortunately wrong and we got Pandaria instead.
But everything that was mentioned in that post still stands. (Except the timely things that did or did not happen - just forget about all that *Jedi hand wave*)

In terms of unfinished stories, there's of course the question of Kil'Jaeden and what he's been up to since we forced him back down the Sunwell toilet.
He could choose to mass up his forces and stage an up-front attack like he's done so many times before with other planets.
He could also reenact his invasion of Draenor by influencing someone powerful enough on Azeroth to set the stage for an attack by creating enough chaos between his opponents.
Or find a contact that could discretely sneak in enough of his forces to summon him to us (see: Azshara, Kael'thas, Varimathras).
He could find also another way, but let's just say that it seems that his options are limited and history tends to repeat itself.
The other possibility would be that we take the fight to him, and I would like that very much.


Of course, moving against Kil'Jaeden means having to deal with more story with the lore-deprived family of Velen, the Broken and the Draenei.
Velen's prophecies are enigmas still unsolved.
While we're on the subject - a few more prophecies wouldn't hurt.
Even if Blizzard isn't going in the direction of the Burning Legion.
Just whet our appetites.
Just make him more active.

We could get a glimpse of their home world of Argus and see what it's turned into.
Chris Metzen mentioned his interest to maybe discover a fleet of other Draenei that might've gone in a different direction and that have also been on the run from the Legion.
Last but not least, it is general knowledge that a step towards the Legion means a step closer to the story of Sargeras, which means a step forward in the Titan story, which are all overarching threads that need to be fed a bit of lore to keep alive.

Hey you know who would be perfect to help us fight the Legion?
Turalyon and Alleria!
We fight the Legion - they hate the Legion.
They may even be ahead of us in the fight, actually.
While he's in his transformation to become the Greatest Alliance Leader, Varian would learn much from Turalyon, whose leader skills are legendary.
Alleria and him will be glad to have reinforcements, skilled fighters.
And their son will be happy to see them too.
So will Khadgar, so will Kurdran Wildhammer, and so will... Veressa.


If you don't know anything about Alleria Windrunner, know just one thing: she HATES the Orcs.
Of all the people that hate Orcs, she's at the top of the list.
Varian really doesn't like them, but she's made it a life dedication ever since they've invaded Azeroth and killed her friends and allies.
She'd get along very well with Varian.
She'd also get along with her sister Veressa who, because of recent events, and especially because she still yearns to avenge the death of her mate in the Theramore incident, feels her efforts with the Silver Covenant were justified.

And who has Veressa been on the same wavelength these days?
Why that's Jaina "Horde Must Die" Proudmoore!

If they all get together, Orcs better watch themselves.


Two other interesting events could come up with the return of Alleria.
The first would be the culture clash she would have when she learns of Thrall's New Horde.
An Orc that wants peace? I don't think she's ever encountered Orcs that weren't tainted by demon blood.
The second event would be the long-awaited Windrunner sisters reunion that the fandom has been waiting for so long.
That might also let us know what Sylvanas has been up to recently.
Will her current plans disgust her sisters?
Or will it be what she's turned into?
Or would it be that's she's in the Horde, working in collaboration with the Orcs?
Will she ask for forgiveness from her sisters or will she turn on them?
The potential for drama is extremely high.
Bittersweet feelings would happen, however the reunion would turn out.

Bonus: ethereals!
We haven't seen them in a long while!
They've got cartels, their business still has to continue moving on.
Plus, I'd be very interested to see them and the Goblins interact with each other, whether it's to sabotage each others' operations or to work together or to constantly one-up each other!


What is she up to?

Option 2 - Azshara's Revenge
We got a little taste of her when we traveled back in time to her palace, but what we saw there was just a sliver of the whole character.
She was the best spellcaster of her era, revered for her power and beauty, and every Night Elf, Highborne and denizen of Azeroth should fear her return.
Before her palace collapsed into the Well of Eternity and sank in the darkest depths of the sea, she sealed the fate of her followers and herself by accepting the "help" of the Old Gods and got turned into the infamous Naga.
The question is: what has she been planning all this time ?
We've seen her Naga come up to the surface in search of artifacts and knowledge of Azeroth, but to what purpose ?
She is cunning, incredibly intelligent, deceitful, powerful, has armies of devoted followers ready to gladly die for her, and is empowered by the Old Gods and Titans know what else.

We've seen her make a little cameo in the Cataclysm revamp - just enough to remind us that she has not forgotten and not forgiven what Malfurion Stromrage did to her.
So it's certain she has something special planned for him and the Night Elves.
The reaction of the Highborne to the news of the reappearance of their old mistress will be interesting to witness. They likely won't have forgotten either.

Abyssal Maw
Okay let's get something out of the way : the gaping plot hole of the Abyssal Maw.
Yes, it can be rescued, if some players would kindly forget that it was originally planned for the Firelands patch, got fumbled, got shelved.
The story still holds up without it.
All the Elemental Planes started collapsing into Azeroth because of the Cataclysm, and everyone wanted to do something about it, for every Plane.
Fire assaulted Hyjal; Air tried to take Uldum; Earth got attacked and rescued; Water was attacked, invaders were repelled, but the situation was left unfinished.
And they can integrate that into the bigger picture of Azshara's schemes.
Once we figure out what she's trying to accomplish, it's going to make sense.
What I'm saying is: yes, that story is totally salvageable, and Blizzard never destroys the work they've done, even if it's never seen the light of day.


Nazjatar
The capital city of the Naga, a mix of formerly Azshara's palace and possibly parts of Zin-Azshari, has sunk deep in the Great Sea, way below the Maelstrom.
You're probably thinking like the majority of WoW players "Not another underwater zone!".
And the Blizzard devs heard that in Cataclysm and they'll cook up ways to make it "not underwater" for us to travel through the area.
And one thing that they could do would be to make Azshara raise Nazjatar from the depths of the sea.
We've seen other powerful people do something like this before.

Speaking of which, there's another few zones that involve water, islands, the sea, and a potential for the Naga to be integrated in the stories.
After all, the sea is seemingly theirs to command.

The Broken Isles
Located nearby the Maelstrom, they were twice raised from the sea by powerful individuals : first by Aegwynn when she buried the remains of the Avatar of Sargeras; secondly by Gul'dan who tried to retrieve those remains.
And even though Illidan's incursion to successfully retrieve the Eye of Sargeras has collapsed the building, there's still hope for us to possibly raid the Tomb of Sargeras. (Yep, raid, calling it)

Also, Malfurion and Tyrande's home city of Suramar, while in ruins, is on one of those islands.
Ah, fond memories...
Night Elves and Highborne might find things from their past, good and bad.
It's also the city where the nathrezim used the first magics of necromancy on Azeroth, during the War of the Ancients.
Old experiments still lying around?
Interested parties finding bits and parts of the experiments and want to take on the mantle?


Zandalar Isle
Ya didn't think you were done wit' da trolls, mon?
After all the efforts they've made to turn the Zandalari into a race with a plan?
A big plan wit' some big bad voodoo.
Okay so their plan help the Mogu and Lei Shen so they would help them reclaim Azeroth for themselves... didn't quite work out.
But we know (through the bits and pieces of lore you can find on the Isle of Thunder) two important details about what's currently happening with them: the Prophet Zul is behind all of the trolls' actions and their actions are all aimed at bringing back the Troll Empires, and Zandalari Isle was hit by the Cataclysm and has since been very very very slowly sinking in the Great Sea.

Would Zul be clever enough to make some sort of pact/deal with the people who rule the seas?
What price would he be willing to pay?

Kul Tiras
Hey it's been a while, but all this Jaina talk over the last year has made me painfully aware that they're still on the radar of lore buffs, so sure, let's throw them on the pile of ideas of this type of expansion!
They could prove to be helpful, I guess.
(Sorry I don't have much info or interest in them.)


The Pearl of Pandaria
Okay this may be a long shot, but I think it's worth noting.
In the comic Pearl of Pandaria, Li Li is captured by a Naga that interrogates her on the whereabouts of the Pearl of Pandaria.
And after she reported her progress, her superior says : "If there is truth in the legends, Pandaria holds the key to the future of our world. This is a key we must possess."
What she referring to the world as Azeroth or to the Naga empire?
We know from the short stories of Li Li that the Pearl gives visions of the future, but were the Naga simply going to use it for that purpose or for some other usage?
The Pearl is currently in the hands of Elder Sage Rain-Zhu, but it's possible that the Naga discover that information at some point.
Anyways, it might be a lead to a storyline that could tie the Naga with the Pandaren at some point.


What is he up to?

Option 3 - Something else...
*SIGH*
It could be possible - there's a lot of open-ended story threads in the World of Warcraft and it's quite possible they manage to bundle up some of them into a big new theme.
They could use that new direction as a guide for the further expansions - it depends exactly how they want to introduce the continuations of the other stories or how they want to end them.
Like they've done with game mechanics, Blizzard has been getting much more experimental with its characters and storylines, so it could very well be that they find a way to surprise us yet again with a new direction.
And the way they've been handling Mists of Pandaria makes me hopeful for whatever they'll give us.

What is she up to?

However.
Unless it's something that really blows my socks off, I'll start inching my way to the nearest exit and wait outside until Option 1 or 2 actually happens.
These are the 2 things that really interest me and if they're not what we're getting, I'll feel let down.

The Emerald Dream? It's a dream
Some people still hold on to the possibility of an Emerald Dream expansion, but not only do I think they won't go there, I also don't want us to go there.
Yeah, it's an unexplored territory and they could pull another Mists of Pandaria and more or less pull an entirely new story with continents and twists and turns and we fight Old Gods at the end because it turns out they're at the origin of the Nightmare.
But they've already done that.


All of the open stories concerning the Emerald Dream were resolved in that novel.
And so I'd rather go get answers to other more important questions of WoW lore instead.
The novel left us with 2 very important situations to remember:
  1. Ysera taught all that she could to Malfurion, even telling him that he has surpassed her in terms of mastering the powers of the Emerald Dream (which is very convenient because then she became Ysera the Awakened and then lost her Aspect powers). And so the dragons are powerless, but they still have knowledge of the Dream that they can pass on to other druids.
  2. Though the Nightmare War is over, we have a tiny part that is still corrupted in the Rift of Aln, which is where the corruption comes from, and it goes deep, deep into the earth. So basically, like a bad movie studio decision, they killed off the entire threat, but left an open end for the possibility of a sequel...
So yes, it is possible that we might have an Emerald Dream expansion, but I think it would turn out to be quite lame.
Yeah they've thrown a few new threads at us in the Cataclysm revamp, but I've felt like they were totally unnecessary and were threatening to undermine all the questions the Stormrage novel had tried to answer.
I'd rather have an Azshara expansion where you discover that she's been directing the Old Gods to corrupt the Emerald Dream through the Rift of Aln because she hates those pesky night elves that ruined her plans back in the War of the Ancients.
That sounds like something she would totally do.

At The End Of It All
Blizzard is in a good spot right now.
They aren't trying to regain our confidence like they did after Cataclysm.
With a strong expansion like Mists of Pandaria, with their new tech that's been helping them create better content at a much more faster pace, with a strong player base and community that are still there after so many years, I think we can allow ourselves to look at the future of Warcraft with the hope of great content to come.
I just hope that the next step will be one that brings us closer to the end of some of the established lore and not further away, leaving us with many more questions and not enough answers.

Drumroll, please... *crosses fingers*