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.

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...
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?

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*

Warcraft's Ends (Part 2): At The End Of It All

After my last post on ending stories in Warcraft, we're looking into what we can expect technically for the next expansion.

Let's get down to brass tacks because I've got a lot to cover.

What's next for WoW ?
One does not need to be an oracle to get a vague idea of what's coming our way.
What we cannot divine are the precise shapes these ideas will finally turn into when they become real.
The answer's always in the way the game is progressing, in the feedback from the community, in the direction the story of the game is taking us.
So to divine the future, we have to study the past and examine what brought us here.
Hint: It's mostly because of causality.

Typical Blood Elf...

The Sha of Dailies
The epitome of success with dailies has always been the Isle of Quel'danas.
Players ate those, the rewards were varied and interesting enough, the dailies were all over the island and were generally considered to be rather fun.
Every since, Blizzard has tried to experiment and develop the concept into various forms and types of dailies to create engaging content that could appeal to as many types of gameplays that the game offers.
Before Pandaria, the biggest daily hub was the Molten Front. (Don't shiver all at once)
A phased daily hub was interesting and the tiered unlocking of content was an interesting experiment, as was as the one-day choice of a set of dailies you could do.
The problem was that players burnt themselves out on them because the rewards were locked behind a very high number of dailies, so the feedback was kinda negative.

On top of that, people were also doing other dailies, whether they were from current content or from past content (a lot were catching up on Argent Tournament for mount and pet collecting), and were hitting the maximum cap of 25 dailies per day, and were not happy about that.

So for Pandaria, they decided:
  • to have multiple daily hubs
  • for each daily hub to have sets of rotating quests (and even the Celestials were in different zones), so you have a large roster of dailies you could do without getting bored of them
  • to remove the daily cap.

Other Cataclysm complaint: Valor points were restricted to very specific activities and you were forced to only do them, which meant that Blizzard was 'forcing' players to repeat those activities even if they didn't feel like doing those activities.
Answer to that: Put small amounts of valor points in dailies and spread them around with all the other activities, with the rule of "the more effort is required of you, the more Valor points you will gain in the end".

Other Cataclysm complaint: Players missed reputations. More specifically : reputations that you can grind for a long time, and that have satisfying rewards at the end.
Their answer to that: Reputations all around, with most of them tied to dailies.

Other Cataclysm complaint: More varied mounts, with less re-colorized versions of same mounts.
Answer to that: Varied mounts at the end of all the different reputations.

Note that all of the answers to these player demands were originally met with answers of pure joy and happiness and everything.

The problem with Mists of Pandaria dailies: they put gear at different tiers of the reputations, and they could only be bought with valor points.
That was the crucial mistake, as everyone already knows.
It made everyone 'have' to grind dailies to get their reputation levels and their Valor points to get their gear to start raiding.
The result: people got sick of dailies and everything that came with them.
The sad part was that the players that asked for all the other previously mentioned requests didn't have any fun doing dailies because everyone 'had to' rather than them being something that you could do at their leisure.
The sadder part: because there was no more limit on the number of dailies, players that felt they 'had to' do dailies also felt they 'had to' do them all, and they burnt out very very quickly.
The even sadder part: all the fun aspect of dailies tied to reputations was lost on most players because they were angry, tired and burnt out.

What to expect in the next expansion
Gear not tied to daily quests, obviously.
Everything else was perfect, except for that part.
Daily quests are here to stay, but what comes with them will change.
I think they're not going to put a daily limit cap again.
The lid's been blown off and there's no way of putting it back, because when Blizzard usually take a step in one direction, they usually don't back down but instead try to find another way to veer the situation in the right course while owning up to their choices.
Ghostcrawler has admitted that this also played a big part in the player burnout and probably shouldn't have been done.
So they will have to find another way to limit the number of dailies that will be more hardwired in the next system of dailies they're working on for the next expansion.
What will it be? It's anyone's guess.

But look at what they've done for the Isle of Thunder and the Darkspear Revolution.
The Isle of Thunder dailies is quite closer to the model of Quel'danas than it's ever been in any other iteration of a daily hub, and in my opinion it's almost perfect.
Hubs were not tiered behind reputations, but behind server progression, which feels like a more "healthier" solution.
Maybe they need to have multiple quest hubs like Isle of Thunder in the next expansion ? (I'm just throwing that out there.)
Interesting fact: What people forget - because they feel they were 'forced' to do them - is that the Golden Lotus dailies worked pretty much the same, just with a little less dramatic feeling (I mean come on - the Thunder dailies were set in war skirmishes).

And with the 5.3 patch, they've added even more quality-of-life changes that can let you totally avoid doing the daily quests prior to the Isle of Thunder dailies.
And Darkspear Revolution introduced the Weekly quest, which involves group and solo options to complete the quest, with esthetic and fun rewards at the end of them.
You have a whole week to get it done, you can chill, relax, not be stressed about it.
My guess is you'll see many more weekly quests in the next expansion.

My point is: every major complaint that will arise from the community will be addressed.
The way they address those concerns is their own to decide, depending of what projects they've got cooking on their end.
Remember that the World of Warcraft development team is thinking ahead, but they can only work with the feedback and tools they can get their hands on.
So they have many pots and kettles and recipes in their kitchen and sometimes it's just a question of letting an idea stew long enough, or waiting until you manage to find the right spices, the right ingredients, the right time of the day, before they decide it's time to present you with your next meal.

Also, every new system that's added to the game is an experiment, and the success or failure of the system, is a test, a prototype for an even bigger idea they might have.
But all of that is to provide solutions to players' concerns about the game and how they're having fun or not and they will respond to that.
Every new thing they've added in the game in terms of systems since the Wrath expansion is a direct response to community feedback.

So that's why I say it's not that complicated to see what issues are going to be addressed in the next expansion, because players have been very vocal about what they liked and what they didn't like in the Mists of Pandaria expansion.
What we don't know is how they will do it; what shape will those changes form into when we log into the next expansion.
They've been getting really experimental with the game and I like it.

I remember someone asking Ghostcrawler over Twitter what we should expect in the next expansion, and his answer was "Continuation of what worked: The new talent tree and glyph design. Challenge Modes. Wrathion. Cho. Less teleporting; the world feels like a world. Bonus rolls. Large raids. The farm. Brawler's Guild. Pet battles."
This sums up pretty much everything I like about Pandaria, plus Scenarios.
(I wish I could say Challenge Modes myself, but I've only stepped in one so far. But hey I totally loved the 45min Baron runs, so I'm on the bandwagon.)

So what can we expect to get in the next expansion?
The same thing, but better.
Yes, as simple as that.
It's getting really hard to think you know what they're going to do, because they're getting quicker in their response times in regards to player feedback, and they're pulling some stunts that we would've never thought they'd pull two years ago.
They're almost to the point where they can adapt major systems in real time.
That's impressive.

But what really got me interested in Mists of Pandaria is the story.
And I'm really looking forward to what they'll serve us next.

In Part 3, I'm flexing my lore muscles and shaking my magic 8-ball to find out what could be in store for the story of the next expansion.