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Editorial > Hearthstone > WoWMar 22, 2021 10:00 am CT

I miss when World of Warcraft’s story had a smaller scope

As I was reading the card reveals for the upcoming Hearthstone expansion, Forged in the Barrens, I stumbled across this super intriguing background for a new Draenei Priestess called Xyrella:

On the Night of Falling Stars, Xyrella had a vision of a shattered Naaru. “Go to the Barrens,” the being said. “Seek the shards of my broken body. Restore me, and I will restore your daughter.”

It dawned on me just how compelling a single short paragraph can be: I’m actually invested in Xyrella’s story. I want to know what was the Night of Falling Stars. I want to know why the shattered remains of a Naaru are lying on the Barrens. I want to know what happened to Xyrella’s daughter. I want to know why that Naaru entrusted such a quest to that specific Draenei Priestess, and why it seeks to reward her in such a manner.

This got me thinking about World of Warcraft, and how so many of the stories we have been involved in lately are of such a grander scale. For the past several expansions, we have been dealing with antagonists of increasing power, reaching cosmic levels of threat. We have defeated the Burning Legion and imprisoned their leader, Sargeras. We have stopped N’Zoth from bringing forth the Black Empire again. And now we find ourselves attempting to understand what broke the machinery of death itself, reaching not just Azeroth, but every world and reality.

…is it a bit too much?


What made us love the game in the first place?

Let’s dial things back to vanilla WoW. Let’s remember, for a moment, what it was that charmed us about this world of Azeroth and its denizens. It’s true that we had some major enemies who threatened to wipe out everything we held dear, like Ragnaros or Kel’thuzad. But so much of the story had to do with dealing with smaller, local threats. From quillboars in the Barrens to the Defias Brotherhood; from the Scarlet Crusade to the Druids of the Fang, or the Worgen in the woods, or the irradiated Gnomes. So much of it was limited, regional — personal.

I feel like we have lost a lot of that personal touch in the World of Warcraft story lately. So much is now done pitting major cosmological forces against one another, bending time and reality, whether it be an alternate timeline where the Orcs of Draenor refused Gul’dan’s “gift” or the maddening reality of Old Gods materializing itself onto Uldum to take control of a world re-originating machine. We no longer feel the personal touch. We no longer connect with the characters on a deeper level — for the most part.

There are exceptions, of course

That said, the Jaina storyline from Battle for Azeroth was extremely up and close and personal, and it was hailed as one of the strongest story moments of that expansion, by far. And that definitely makes me think that we need more of that. We need much more of that.

We can get to the cosmological threats; of course we can. I’m honestly excited about what are the possible consequences of the Enemy Infiltration book that the Dreadlords left lying about Revendreth — we could be unraveling new, exciting territory. But it will be hard to feel excited about vague concepts of the cosmological realms and these inhuman major forces battling it out if we can’t reach the human component behind it all — the component that is necessary for us to actually feel things for those characters, to get into their skins and minds, and to truly immerse ourselves into those stories.

The concepts can be combined. The prime example is the Rise and Fall of the Lich King, Arthas Menethil. We were placed in his shoes, we saw the human side of Prince Arthas, and we witnessed his corruption and subsequent downfall — culminating into a major threat where the Scourge nearly wiped out life on Azeroth. The small scope story can grow organically, and naturally lead into the grand scope story. But we can’t shortcut into the grand scope story without first caring about the people involved in the situation — which seems to be the case lately.

What do you think? Do you also miss these smaller scale stories where things were often much more personal? Do you enjoy the grander, universe-spanning stories with antagonists that threaten to reshape reality and annihilate planets? Would you prefer to see a mix of both? Or do you feel that either kind of scope can work as long as it’s well-executed?

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