Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lore: Leader Issues: Thrall Vs Malfurion VS Garrosh Vs Varian

No, this isn't about all the issues that our Green Jeebus has to deal with in his new Hyjal quest chain. (Blizzard has been setting him up in the Shattering book to become the emotional wreck that he's turned out to be. I know they'll do him good and he'll be back as a total badass in the Deathwing Patch.)

I mean to talk about the "Leader Issue" with the Horde and Alliance and how people perceive them.
Since the Cataclysm launched, people have had mixed feelings about them and I want to sort it out a bit.

Lore-wise, the de facto leaders are Garrosh and Varian.
Thrall and Malfurion are leaders that left the mantle to someone else and took the roles of ambassadors for their respective factions.
Or if you prefer, the leaders of "Alliance VS Horde" are the PvP leaders, while Thrall and Malfurion are the PvE leaders.
Thrall and Malfurion are characters that have always been looking for a peaceable solution and will go for it if conflicts can be avoided.

So yes, we have 4 different leaders - 2 per faction.
The difference in our attitude towards them as players is very important.
Thrall and Malfurion are our carebear ambassadors and we don't need to feel ambivalent about them because it would mean that we would be rooting for our "enemies".
It's fine to cheer for any of these 2 characters, and technically we should be doing so equally.
The reason why you would not feel the need to do so is because of who writes them.
Thrall is Chris Metzen's dude, Malfurion is Richard Knaak's bitch.
Guess who will be more prevalent in-game because his creator can have a direct hand in the game's production, while the other one is pimped by a writer-for-hire ?

Even though he hasn't done much in WoW, Thrall has been one of the cornerstones of Warcraft.
It's the first character you encounter and control and follow through his adventures in the first part of Warcraft III.
It's the guy you keep hearing about in game as being the Warchief of the Horde.
He was the first character to have an epic story written about his life and he's in cinematics.
People remember that guy.

There's almost the same kind of situation that's happening with Garrosh and Varian.
Soooo many people know about Garrosh, where he comes from, who he comes from, the choices he's made, why he's either loved or hated by people within the Horde - and just plain hated by the Alliance.
On the other side, Varian...
Well, let's see... He gets bubbled by his kid to save his life...
Some people remember that there used to be that Missing Diplomat quest chain and the punch line was that the diplomat was the King of Stormwind.
Horde don't have a reason to hate him - though he's just another boss for the For The Horde achievement.
Yep, that's about it.

The problem is that Thrall and Garrosh are very heavily supported by Blizzard, and Malfurion and Varian have much less of a presence in the game (though they have been working a bit more on Malfurion in the last patch).
No - this isn't one of those ''Blizzard is full of horde-lovers'' rant.

The perfect comparison is between Thrall and Malfurion, how you meet them in Azeroth for the first time.
Malfurion: you meet him in the middle of Darkshore in the Eye of the Vortex, trying to hold the elements together as they are about to tear the whole zone apart.
Thrall: you meet him in the middle of the Maelstrom, trying to keep the rift together as it was threatening to collapse Azeroth and Deepholm.
The Horde won't come across Malfurion.
Everyone will meet Thrall.
Malfurion is trying to save a zone while Thrall is trying to save the planet.
The presence and purpose of both characters doesn't quite balance.
(I know that ultimately both characters are trying to save the planet - I'm trying to make a point here.)

Malfurion's story was present in Warcraft III (it even included his brother Illidan) and some peeps give him respect for that.
After all, he was the architect of the ultimate plan to defeat Archimonde in the final battle that was Eternity's End - aka The Battle of Mount Hyjal. 
But most of his story and background could be found in the War of the Ancients trilogy, in the Stormrage novel and in the comic Curse of the Worgen.
Books. Not in game.
In them, you see him discover druidism, explore the Emerald Dream, uncover the duplicity of the Highborne, understand that he is a total doofus in his personal relationships, know that his is very stubborn in his positions about how night elves should behave but that Tyrande is always there to mellow him out, learn that his leadership was not without conflicts that left him quite bitter, and ultimately hear Ysera declare that he has surpassed her own knowledge in terms of druidism and the Emerald Dream. (In fact, he's quite close to become a demigod, or even to be at the same level as the Ancients.)

Okay - not easy things to translate into the game.

Varian's story was mainly told in the World of Warcraft comic books... which not a lot of people have read.
So unless you've read those, you don't know much about Varian, what kind of man he is, how he got to be an Arena gladiator, what he had to endure, and what a friggin' badass he is.
And unless you've read The Shattering, you don't know how much of a mess he is.
A man torn in two (literally, then figuratively), between the Diplomat and the Gladiator, between a man that is very wise in political games and a beast that wants to resolve political conflicts by drawing his sword.
A man who still grieves his wife and counts a lot on his son to make him snap out of it when the Gladiator is taking over.
He is not an easy character to understand because there are many layers to him.

Garrosh... well, if you've played Horde (especially the famous Nagrand quest chain), you know who he is.
You know of his father because Thrall personally showed you and explained to you the fall and redemption of Grom Hellscream.
You've witnessed the change of the boy drowning in shame to a grown orc that's maybe a bit too proud of his father's heritage.
In Northrend, you've seen the hot-headedness of this character that manages to dodge the blows to his humility with strong strikes of his axe.
You know who Garrosh Hellscream is.
Before Cataclysm, everyone knew.
But now a new Garrosh is surfacing... in a book.

Unless you've read the Shattering novel, you presently can't understand that inside this orc lurks inner turmoil, thoughts that are gnawing at him that he wishes he could get rid of, possibly because he can't figure out what exactly these thoughts are.
Like Varian, he is someone who is torn between his warrior voice and the diplomat he is expected to be.

Varian is more of a diplomat with a warrior inside him, while Garrosh is a warrior who has to be/learn to be a diplomat.
And in that way, he is Garrosh's equivalent.
Except that... all of Varian's story is in books.
And except for implementing an epic quest line, again it's a bit problematic to translate that into the game (and even a bit more because of timeline issues).

To resume: Thrall was already a staple of the game before people set foot in WoW; Garrosh had 2 expansions concentrating on him; Malfurion has been absent for most of World of Warcraft but has been active in books; Varian has been developed in books.

My point is: we can see the theoretical balance between the PvE and PvP leaders, but the Horde have their leader's stories and reputation embedded in the game while the Alliance have to go outside of the game to know about their leaders.
Is it ANY wonder why there is no sense of pride in the Alliance ?
If you don't have strong leaders to lead your faction, your faction will become just a blob mass of people.
Leaders must be strong, must have some sort of story or legend behind them to elevate them over the people, to be called leaders.
The people must tell your story and your deeds and at least some people should be aware of it, reminded of it in some way.
And currently there's no reason in game why anyone should rally behind Varian.
There's no reason that can be found in game as to why we should be proud and in awe when our character is in the presence of an owlbeast Malfurion.

Why must I be tagged a Lore Nerd when I am explaining to my friends how awesome the Alliance leaders are ?
Even for the most basic thing, like explaining who Varian is and why he is considered to be the leader of the Alliance ?
(People know that Thrall grouped everyone together and founded the Horde, but most people don't know how the Alliance was created.)
Why should I be happy to be a part of the Alliance when the Horde is known to be THE faction of proud warriors with a history and strong characters to back that claim ?
It's not like there's no story to be told.
It's not like there's no material that couldn't be easily picked up by Blizzard to turn all of this around.
I'm just stating - like most people of the Alliance who have been overwhelmingly complaining about it since the expansion landed - that Blizzard has a lot to make up for and I hope that the next expansion will be depicting the Alliance as a strong faction that could make Horde players wish they could change their character to.
(Hey, I can dream.)

(Draenei expansion FTW!)

1 comment:

  1. Trust me when I say that nothing goes live or is published in the Warcraft name without Blizzard's permission. So for all this stuff you don't like, you have them to thank for that.