Here we are… the MMOGames resident World of Warcraft lore nerd talking about the Warlords of Draenor story. This will be fun. WoW news has been thin on the ground this week on account of Blizzard seemingly spending all its time making sure 7.2.5 doesn’t catch fire and everyone else spending all their time Farming gold to buy Destiny 2.
The PvP season will end soon, the new raid is out in June, the new Legendary rings are either the good or the bad kind of broken depending on if you’re a holy priest or not. Blizzard finally added the Shoe-Shining kit as a toy for everyone to finally live out their dreams of being a poverty stricken Victorian child. So either this article will be a thousand or so pages of me complaining about how bad the new Trial of Style sets will be or I can dip into my bag of thoughts (a godless and scary place if ever there was one) and look for something that has been bugging me for a while. So here we are, talking about possibly one of the worst things ever added to the game, the story content of the 5th expansion to World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.
Sadly, my editor has politely reminded me this website is for gamers of all ages so I cannot unleash upon you my uncut 100% pure feelings on this subject. Awhile ago, just before the launch of Legion, I wrote a list ranking the Warcraft expansions from best to worst. Normally in articles like that, I get a significant amount of backlash from the usual suspects regarding every placement on that list. Of course, there were the usual gambit of disagreements and threats to burn down my house as the top 4 were debated in full, but strangely there was little controversy surrounding spot 5.
At the bottom of the list lay Warlords of Draenor, and to my honest surprise, no one complained about this. Even Cataclysm had its share of defenders, but WoD stood alone in the total agreement of its poor quality. Even in my rough Twitter poll, only one person ranked it higher than number 5 and even then it came in at number 4 and only seemed to have gained this place because they really hated pandas.
Now, there is a litany of reasons both gameplay and content wise for the poor ranking, but today I want to focus on perhaps the most glaring, especially for someone like myself who is versed in the game’s lore. The storyline of Warlords was terrible, but it could have been a great dive into a part of Warcraft history rarely seen. Players could see the Draenei and the Orcish Clans at the height of their power as well as a Draenor yet to become shattered and broken by the destruction of the dark portal. A chance to see heroes like Doomhammer, Velen and Hellscream up close and maybe even a look into an Alternate Azeroth where Gul’dan’s hordes and their fel corrupted power never had the chance to sour Orcish and Human Relations. A world where a fleeing Ner’zhul was never imprisoned in the Frozen Throne or created the blade that led to the Lich King, where Stormwind never fell and one day Arthas Menethil rules a land never tainted by the Undead plague as a noble King.
But it was not to be. Instead, we got a frayed rope of unfinished story threads woven untidily together. Warlords of Draenor was from structure to tone a fully fledged disaster the kind of which only a few sparks of hope saved me having to reach further into my hyperbole thesaurus to adequately summarize. So here on WoW Wednesday, I will be summing up some of the parts of the Warlords storyline that hurt the game the most over the course of 2 weeks. No, I won’t be mentioning Yrel, possibly one of the few real shining stars in the otherwise overcast sky that was this game, but I do have plans for her at a later date. Oh, And this is not a list of the gameplay or pacing issues with the game; I will not be focusing on the Content drought or the mission hubs that shall not be named.
The City That Never Was
At its announcement, WoD was seen by many as a sort of soft prequel to one of the best WoW expansion: The Burning Crusade. The possibilities with these two pieces working off one another were almost unfathomable showing players snapshots of the broken lands now back to their former glory, and they managed to achieve this to an extent. Seeing the glory of Shadowmoon Valley with its rich and beautiful world of dark purples, abundant life, and starry skies really put into perspective what was lost when it became the broken and corrupted fel fire wasteland of Outland. It showed just how much the Draenei had lost when the Orcs took on the fel and was reinforced by seeing the broken Akuma at his peak of health and power before the genocide of his people turned him into a broken husk.
However, apart from a few shining examples, the rest of the expansion completely dropped the ball. Areas of vast import are introduced and then forgotten about or reduced to small cameo roles in what should be their breakout act. One place this is shown most of all is Gruul, the raid boss of TBC to whom the deaths of many powerful dragons of the Black Dragonflight are attributed, a being of such immense power he scared even Deathwing. He is an incredibly powerful being to which almost a full zone of the game was dedicated to building up, and in Warlords this great beast is captured off screen and turned into an entry level raid boss.
While he should have been in no shape a main protagonist of the story, the tail of his capture and timing could have been at the core of the story within Gorgrond, a zone that had an almost painful lack of anything important to add to the overall arc. Instead the game uses him as a small “Hey remember when!” rather than a good chunk of extra content and world building.
There is no single area that comes close to the levels of failed potential as the city of Shattrath, once the main city and great beacon of hope for the peoples and helpers of Outland. It was reduced to… well, nothing. At the start of the game the area is locked away, covered in a shield that stops any friend or foe from gaining entry. Who put up the shield? Will it be cracked? What lays in this most sacred place to both Draenei kind and to players? We’ll never know. While looking like an area possibly for a new raid or 5-man dungeon, instead Shattrath was left locked away as a large purple dome on the map with only select and frankly boring outside areas ever being used. Shattrath was ignored and forgotten. It could have been am important part of the story, the retaking of the sacred city instead stands as a monument to failed ideas.
A Place(holder) to Call Our Own
We didn’t get a capital city in Warlords, and garrisons were probably to blame for this. With Shattrath lying abandoned, the logical course of action would have been to make two of the main cities for the horde and alliance the new key locations for both factions. This would be the not yet Black Temple of Karabor or the newly captured Bladespire Citadel. Both of these options offer a massive hub for shops, NPC, quests and story progression as you defend and fortify the structures. This would offer a hugely important lore area for players to explore and experience the heart of Draenei culture and faith. Unfortunately, this also wasn’t to be.
Instead, the Horde and Alliance gain the Stormshield and Warspear: two drab garrison copies with no real atmosphere to speak of. They are half built, which made sense at the start of the expansion but soon proved to be a permanent fixture as workers toiled away at the structures for the full 2 years without progress. Although apparently being very important due to their proximity to Ashran, the game decided that rather than showing us why Ashran was so important, that we would stop trying to defeat both the Iron Horde and Gul’dan to have a massive punch up with each other, the game instead just kind of hints at it.
Two NPCs chat about Harrison Jones and Artifacts, one NPC says it’s important we get these and not the other team who are also fighting alongside us. Yes, it’s a battleground and they’re not traditionally layered in deep lore, but if you’re going base the two main hubs there at least give us a reason why we give a damn. In Mists of Pandaria, in order to unlock our new faction hubs, we had to dare to ask permission from a legion of ninja’s and their gods in order to be allowed to set foot on the hallowed ground that leads to the Shrines. In only a few quests, it built up how important the Vale was and how important it was to the Pandaren. It made us care about why we were there and when it is defiled by Garrosh, the kick it delivered felt all the more important.
The Capitols matter; they are where we spend much of our time. When Deathwing attacked Stormwind it had impact, Shattrath felt like a single safe place on a planet of danger, the Ironclad spikes of the New Orgrimmar hinted at the darker turn the Horde were taking with Garrosh on the throne. But in Warlords, we felt nothing. It was somewhere to check your auction house, it was a bank and some vendors. It meant less than nothing and is a prime reason why players rarely left their garrison. It took a great deal of the magic from Draenor and shot itself in the foot to boot.
The Wrath of Wrathion
Oh, Wrathion. Not only does my wife has a slight crush on you, but you are a confusing little man dragon, aren’t you? As of the end of Mists, as told by the book War Crimes, Wrathion is one of the most important and mysterious characters in the lore. He helped players to fortify themselves via the legendary cloaks, formed a friendship with the prince of Stormwind and announced his actions to defeat the Legion at any costs. In the book, he is revealed to be the reason Garrosh was able to escape, seemingly to use him to build an army of non-corrupted orcs to fight the coming Legion invasion.
His plans were a mystery and the Horde and Alliance are both now denied of their justice demanded answers. And they never got them as he was subsequently erased from the story barring two cameos.
Wrathion is in Draenor for the entirety of the expansion. Not only does the diary of Admiral Taylor mention him passing by his Garrison but far enough into the legendary ring storyline you can see him on his whelp flying in circles around a Kirin-tor Tower. That’s it. That is everything he does in this expansion. He freed a genocidal maniac for seemingly unknown reasons and is wanted by the Horde and Alliance, but all we get are 2 sentences and a whelp we cannot even talk too.
Needless to say the storyline of the last of the pure Black dragons (we didn’t know about the one with moose horns yet) was an intriguing one, and if it continued into the expansion would have gone a long way to bridge the gap to explain just how Garrosh escaped, which until this point had only really been explained in the books and one website exclusive short story.
Wrathion’s absence from Warlords could have led into his role in the next expansion, which was tackling the Legion threat he is working so hard to stop, but instead he seems to have not only vanished from Warlords but also Legion, The enemy he feared above all has arrived and the Black Prince has done nothing, leaving it seems all the work to his unknown older brother. A missed opportunity and a waste of a good story, but it would be by no means the last or the worst of these.
Tune in next time as I cover the biggest crimes this expansion had to offer, from the forgotten burdens of the orcs to the Azeroth that never was to the genocidal mad man who just kind of got away.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday