Another month, another Legion Q&A, and another backlash. Ion Hazzikostas, better known as Watcher, took to Twitch this last week to answer several questions from the community about Legion, 7.2 and the upcoming 7.2.5 mini patch. A few burning questions were answered, the next raid Tomb of Sargeras is getting a Mid to late June possible launch window, you won’t need to be exalted with the Armies of Legionfall to earn the class mount just the completion of the Broken Shore quest chain, Timewalking Black Temple will be available during the Burning Crusade Timewalking week, and a new legendary system being added that allows for players with all of their spec’s current legendaries (the bastards) to get a random legendary for one of their other specs without having to change their loot spec.
But one point of the hour long session stuck in mine and more than a few other people’s heads. When asked if we were getting any more story for Vol’jin, the former warchief and racial leader of the trolls who died at the start of the expansion, Ion replied: “Vol’jin is dead, what update do you want?”
No, this is not going to be a rant about Vol’jin dying, I mean, I could, but it’s not that. It is more a look at what Blizzard are so often getting wrong with their storytelling. Not with the quality, but instead where this throwaway comment shows the issues really lie; the pacing and depth.
The Little Things
WoW does big plot swings well, most of the time. Warcraft always has managed an amazing opening chapter to its expansions from two desperate battles through Dark Portals to failed crusades against a demon foothold in its land, only for the later chapters to leave big unresolved chunks and so often just ignore them.
So often where it falls down in this area is in the smaller details, at least as of late. While the main plot line rumbles on, the smaller more unique world building details tend to get one big introduction and are then left by the wayside to wallow in mediocrity. Warlords of Draenor was the rat king of this phenomena but Legion is now fast falling into the same trap with plot threads left dangling with no chance of climax in sight.
These threads, small as they are, make up the core of the world, filling in the gaps of interest that the main storyline cannot possibly fill. They are the little details that make Azeroth feel as alive as it does, and the worst thing is that it’s something that Blizzard has been really good at in the past.
From the quest chain from TBC helping Thrall meet Garrosh, to helping Chen meet his family and ultimately find Evie, a quest chain featuring beer-making bipedal panda bears that has more guttural devastation in a single line of dialog than even the biggest most epic of quests the game has to offer.
These tiny moments, these short quest chains, are some of the most memorable even if they have nothing to do with stopping the big bad or saving the world, but in the end, they equate to the world that is worth saving.
Finding Evie made me hate the mantid, it made me want to stop the Sha, made me realize what pain and devastation we had brought to a peaceful people. A tiny nothing quest chain hidden away in a zone added to the world as much as the biggest sweeping battle or chaotic siege. Lacking these kills a game, it’s what makes the difference between a great game and a storyline, especially in a world as big as Azeroth.
What Update Do We Want?
And therein lies the problem with Watcher’s comment about Vol’jin. We don’t want an update on Vol’jin, he’s dead, we know this, and unless Sylvanus is about to be Garrosh 2.0, he won’t be coming back, barring some kind of Jedi Force ghost.
We want an update on his story, on the Trolls, on the Horde, and on the ramifications of his death. We want an update on the new racial leader, on the orcs guilt over Garrosh, how Sylvanus’ campaign of death and murder is sitting with the trolls and the tauren, with the worries that they might just have another Garrosh on their hands with access to even more chemical weapons. Hell, even what Thrall and Jaina are up to now.
In Legion, the story seems to start and end. No doubt we will have a big final blow off, but without the middle section, the build up, what’s the point? We are constantly being given Act 1, then nothing, then Act 3, when Act 2 is just as important.
I feel bad for the Horde in this, as it’s long been the fate of the storyline for the Alliance; Grand opening, nothing, it ends. We’re left with the nuance and build up being added in the books and little else. The Worgen reintroduction in Cataclysm via their opening quest line was grand and epic in scope, but then suddenly they were dumped fully formed into the Alliance world, Greymane accepted by Varian and the rest of the Alliance, but how? Greymane betrayed the Alliance during its time of need, hiding away behind a wall, only to reemerge when he needed help, why would Varian accept this?
Well, he didn’t. In the book Wolfheart, not only did he reject Greymane but called his people scum. It was only when Greymane helped him tame the wolven powers granted to Varian by Goldwin that he finally accepted him and his people into the Alliance.
A 3 Act Play in 2 Acts
The middle ground, all too often, is relegated to books, barely mentioned in the game if at all. Shadows of the Horde and War Crimes, two of the best books in the warcraft canon are filled with the small world-building nuances that could easily become quests, pre-launch events, or even instances/scenarios. The tiny important details. If you read Shadows of the Horde, Vol’jin becomes a much more rounded character. If you read War Crimes, you understand so much more about the shaky pact the Horde and Alliance made to track down Garrosh. But they remain on paper, lost to all but the most dedicated of fans.
While I am writing this, I am replaying the Witcher 3 and a few assorted Bioware games and the dissonance between these two styles of storytelling is breathtaking. First, No, I cannot 1-for-1 compare these kinds of games as an MMORPG and a singleplayer action RPG are not at all the same and WoW doesn’t have the time or resources to go as deep as they can and do, but lessons can be learned from one to the other.
In The Witcher, the little things and stories are core to the game’s success. While the main campaign has its own narrative twists and turns, the real meat is to be had away from the make or break stuff, in the stories told by smaller people, from hunting a fake witcher giving you a bad name to THAT Bloody Baron quest chain.
The more mundane and simple tales often leave the deepest mark. In Mass Effect, everyone enjoys the big epic battles, but more often they remember annoying fanboys following you about, punching reporters in the face, or a drunk Tali failing to use a straw. Smaller more nuanced details that leave their mark and make the world what it is.
But Legion is of course not without this nuance entirely. Suramar has been one of the best storytelling experiences in WoW history, from its frantic start helping a tiny band of resistance build a foothold, to helping save pockets of refugees and victims, to the final grand attack to take back their city, the tale was a long and expansive 3 Act play with twists and turns and while doing it on every alt is… not advised, its simple slow-paced storytelling won me over easily.
Even with a threat as big as the Legion, WoW needs more time to stop and smell the fel flowers, to let the world sink in a little more. We have so many loose threads of story at the moment that are just dangling, taking time away from the heat of battle to assess the smaller stories rife to be told would no doubt help enrich players’ view of the world. The recent Anduin quest chain for the Alliance was one of these, but how much better would it have landed if we constantly been reminded of people’s worries of the new king or even those of Anduin himself.
The recent Anduin quest chain for the Alliance was one of these, but how much better would it have landed if we were being frequently reminded of people’s worries of the new king, or even those of Anduin himself.
I know Blizzard has these kind of story chops as not only have they done it in the past, but the likes of the Overwatch shorts (especially the Last Bastion) show a studio with an impressive eye for story and character, so let them out. Stop ignoring them for the next big set piece, stop focusing on the payoff and not the build. What update do we want? The smaller more gentle one that makes the world worth living in and fighting for.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Legion, Lore, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday