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Lore > WoWMay 22, 2015 6:00 pm CT

Know Your Lore: Welcome to the machine

Warlords of Draenor

On the border between Silverpine and Hillsbrad Foothills, there’s a quest for Horde players that remains one of my favorite quests in game called Welcome to the Machine. In the quest, you take a seat on a conveniently placed horse and hand out some quests to passers by. Three traveling adventurers eventually come along to take whatever quests you have to dole out, with suitably colorful commentary. What I really enjoyed about this quest is that for a moment it took you out of that role of adventuring hero, and put you in the NPC position. By doing so, it twisted you around and forced you to take a look at yourself as a player, presenting three hysterical caricatures of ‘typical’ players. It also gave you a weird insight into the daily life of an NPC, something that most players don’t really bother thinking about — they just take the quest and move on, most of the time without even reading it. It was an amazing, wonderful, weird quest, and I still consider it one of the highlights of the Cataclysm expansion.

As much as I love the quest, though, I didn’t really want an entire expansion of it.

shadowmoonvalleyLeveling in Draenor

Let’s be clear, here — the leveling experience in Warlords of Draenor is hands down the best leveling experience we’ve ever had in World of Warcraft. Quests are evenly paced, the voice acting is nothing short of phenomenal, overarching zone stories are amazing, and those end of zone cinematics are one of the best additions to the leveling experience we’ve ever seen. Why? Because it pulls everything together into a cohesive story in which you are the star, yes, but you are surrounded by a cast of supporting characters that are well rounded and well written, right down to minor NPCs that you interact with once, maybe twice, and never again. There is a purpose to what you are doing, a direction for you to go, and a host of people to help you along the way.

It could be argued that this falters a little in some zones — Gorgrond in particular is a little chaotic in its presentation. The split at the beginning of the zone sends you in two different directions, and you won’t really play through that second direction on your first run through. This, unfortunately, makes it feel like you’ve only gotten half the story that Gorgrond has to offer — and leaves the impression that in order to experience the entire story, you have to level an alt. That’s not much fun, and it’s not very encouraging. Tanaan Jungle, for all its fast pace, also has the distressing tendency to lag in places — and unfortunately, those places are usually during the Warlord introduction sequences. But overall, the amount of time it takes to get from level 90 to level 100 is just right — not too long, not too short.

And the main reason I was so enchanted with this expansion during beta, the main reason I was incredibly hyped about this expansion was that leveling experience. That’s what we got to play with the most, in beta — testing the leveling zones and making sure quests were working correctly and we had this beautifully seamless experience. I played that leveling experience several times over because the beta kept resetting, and I loved it every single time. Even the bugs that popped up — as bugs often do, in a beta experience — didn’t really detract from just how good this content was. And surely, I thought, if the content was this good while leveling, getting to level 100 was going to be levels of amazing that we’d never seen before.

And I was completely wrong about that.


When you reach level 100 in Warlords of Draenor, you remove yourself entirely from whatever story you had experienced up to that point and start playing a cold, mechanical game of filling bars and sending other people out to do what should, admittedly, be your job. You have been elevated from mere adventuring hero to the person in charge. You hop on the back of that horse, and you start handing out quests — and while that process is amusing for the first week or two, by the time you hit three months out, it is appallingly static and dull. Let me be perfectly clear here: If there is one thing I have learned so far from Warlords, it is that being in charge really, really sucks.

We are no longer given justification or reasons for doing daily quests. Instead, we are given a bar, and we are told to fill it, with the barest of explanations as to why. And lest we think filling this bar is going to have any kind of lasting effect, the quest will reappear to be completed again in a few days time. We leave no lasting mark on the world, save our garrisons — and the majority of our time is spent in our garrisons. Deliberately isolated from the rest of the world, reduced to social interaction via a queue-able interface in which you’ll meet plenty of people you will never remember or likely speak to again.

What endgame in Warlords has done, whether inadvertently or deliberately, is taken the player out of the active role and placed them in a spectator position. It feels entirely like the story is happening around us — we are no longer an integral part of it. What’s sad is that so many familiar faces we’ve met while leveling also seem to slide out of the picture entirely, by and large either reduced to occasional cameo roles during the paltry handful of story quests we get at max level, or new followers for our garrisons. At which point, the game continues on its repetitive course. {PB}

Pivotal story moments take place in quest chains that take no more than an hour at most to complete, and at the end of these chains, we are left to witness what goes on, not participate in it. How confused were you when that final confrontation in the garrison campaign happened? When you were left watching a major character have a face-off with Grommash Hellscream that essentially boiled down to, “Hey, we have the upper hand now and we can totally crush you. Why don’t you run back into Tanaan Jungle and regroup, and we’ll just see you later instead of taking care of the problem right here and now?”

How many times have you brought things back to Khadgar and then patiently waited for him to do something and possibly explain what that thing was? How many times during the garrison campaign quests did you wonder to yourself why exactly you were out in the middle of nowhere taking care of a mission that didn’t really seem to have any sort of importance to the main storyline at all? How many times have you asked yourself what that main storyline was — and more importantly, why you had to ask yourself, why you didn’t immediately know the answer?

garrisonfollowersThe NPC

In vanilla World of Warcraft, we were the fresh young heroes, out to seek our fortunes and correct whatever mishaps we found along the way. In Burning Crusade, we were the bold new wave of explorers, out to adventure through another planet, and we returned home heroes. In Wrath of the Lich King, it was up to us to correct the sins of the past and bring a halt to an iconic villain who had been waiting quietly in the wings since Warcraft III. In Cataclysm, we were the brave explorers fighting to literally pull the world back together again after the explosive return of one of Azeroth’s most ancient villains. In Mists of Pandaria, every side story from every prior expansion came together in an explosive clash on a land once thought lost, and we fought to return peace to the continent — all in the middle of an inter-factional war that struck a devastating blow to the Alliance, and nearly tore the Horde in two.

In Warlords of Draenor, we are the heroes who bravely storm through a portal to another world, another universe, on a suicide mission from which we may never return. We fight our way through throngs of bloodthirsty orcs, form alliances, forge an army worth taking on the rest of the world. And then we become the NPC. We send our army out on missions we do not witness and do not control. We simply reap the rewards they bring back with them. We collect bits and pieces of things to give our armies better gear, and then wave them off out the front gate and wait for them to return. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched my followers walk out those gates, and wished it were me instead.

In the ten years I have been playing this game, I have never felt as detached from the main story of the expansion as I do right now. It’s not a lack of raiding that is doing this — it’s a simple lack of cohesive story. Whatever magic that’s there during the leveling experience quickly evaporates when you hit level 100. And this is incredibly disappointing, because with the ease in which you can level in Draenor, you hit that max level in at most a few weeks, maybe a month if you’re playing very casually. Let’s face it: You spend far more time in any given expansion at max level than you do leveling through it. This has been the case for every expansion from Burning Crusade onward.

The heart

What happened? That’s the question I’ve been repeatedly asking myself, and I still don’t have an answer. But I can, at least, pinpoint part of the problem — we just don’t have enough relevant content to do. A very quick, cursory search on Wowhead shows that at level 90, in Mists of Pandaria, there were 976 quests to do. This does not weed out dailies or repeatable quests. Levels 85 through 89, there were another 851 quests added. In Warlords of Draenor, there are a staggering one thousand quests added for levels 90-99. At level 100, however, there were only 739 added. Only 186 of those quests at max level are part of a series — as in, part of a quest chain. The garrison campaign quests fall under those. Also keep in mind that this is a cursory search — quests are often shown twice, once for Alliance, once for Horde. These aren’t exact numbers, just a general search.

Logically speaking, the numbers indicate that we simply haven’t got anywhere near the endgame quest and story content in Warlords that we had in Mists of Pandaria.

Let’s go back for a minute here — and I mean way, way back. Once of the reasons Warcraft‘s story first caught my attention was the fact that a friend of mine, who wasn’t particularly known for being really enthusiastic about things, was incredibly enthusiastic about Warcraft‘s story. So enthusiastic that when he discovered I was in the World of Warcraft beta, way back when, he chucked Lord of the Clans at me and insisted I read it. So I did. It was a good book, but more importantly between the book and the game itself, and the later sessions showing me what played out in Warcraft II, Warcraft III, I discovered what my friend found so enchanting about all that story — it was the heart poured into it. You could tell that whoever created this thing, whoever wrote these words and put the whole thing together, this group of people absolutely and without question loved what they did. It showed, above and beyond everything else.

That enthusiasm and love has carried this game through every expansion to date. Even when they faltered — and they have faltered from time to time, don’t get me wrong here — you still knew there was someone back there that loved what they did. Those people absolutely put together that leveling experience from 90-100, you can tell with every quest that’s out there. And when the time came to handle the story beyond 100, they vanished. I don’t know where they went, I don’t know what happened, but it doesn’t feel like there’s anyone at the helm right now. It doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything with purpose, and it doesn’t feel like anyone particularly cares that we feel like we’re moving along without purpose. And that’s the part that gets me the most. That heart, the feeling that whoever is creating this thing really cares about it, seems to have been sucked from the game entirely at max level.

This might seem overly critical to some — there are plenty of people out there who are happy with games that don’t really have cohesive stories to them. Heck, I like playing games with no stories every now and again myself. But the reason I’m trying to point this out, and the reason I’m trying to pinpoint it is because the story behind this game has always been one of those cornerstones you could count on. You may or may not like the story being told, but that story was there, full of enthusiasm, emotion, and a zest for the art of storytelling that few games have been able to match. The fact that it is absent now is bizarre and unsettling, and makes me wonder what the future of this game is going to be.

I’ll keep playing — of course I’ll keep playing — and I will continue holding out hope that we’re going to see something utterly amazing at some point in the future. But it’s hard to write about lore when you’ve got almost no lore to write about, and it’s hard to wonder about what’s going to happen next when you don’t really know what’s going on right now, and it’s very hard to care about either one when you’re sitting on the back of that horse, dutifully handing out quests to other NPCs to complete.

In Welcome to the Machine, we eventually get off that horse, go find those guys we sent off in the middle of nowhere, and rescue them. Because that’s what heroes do. I’d like to go be a hero again, please.

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