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Old 02-02-2018, 12:06 AM
Undeadprotoss Undeadprotoss is offline

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Blizzard Problems Inherent in WoW Storytelling?

Sometimes I feel like the medium of an MMO (WoW) vs an RTS (Warcraft 3) are the source of a lot of problems with current Warcraft lore. Take the upbringing of major characters for example.

In Warcraft 3, you spent roughly 24 missions with Arthas as the main character. You had him during the Human and Undead campaigns in RoC and then again during the Undead campaign in Frozen Throne. You see things from his perspective, watch him interact with other characters such as Anub'Arak, Kel'Thuzad, Sylvanas, etc and as a result he starts to grow on you. He starts to become a character you can understand, care about, and be invested in.

Fast forward to WoLTK and you don't really get the same treatment. Sure you see Arthas around a far bit, but it's mostly during the ends of questlines were he comes to taunt and/or scare the player. Here what's happening is Blizzard is taking the pre-established image of Arthas and using it for emotional effect. You see the big badass in his Lich King armor and you're more or less working with your memories of WC3 Arthas or the echoes of that character you've heard about via WoW if you didn't play WC3 (or both if you played both games).

I think a problem with Blizzard characters today is that they aren't really given enough time to grow. I can't think of a single major character that got the same kind of treatment Arthas did, except for maybe Garrosh. It's like giving an author who wants to write a medium sized novel only 45 pages to write it. You're going to end up with just the outline of the character and not the fully fleshed out being you would have if it were given enough time to thrive.

Do you guys feel like that has any significant impact on story quality? I feel like it's resulted in this sustainability problem with WoW, wherein the best bits of characters and lore arise from earlier Warcraft RTS games because those games took the time to establish the stories and characters.

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Old 02-02-2018, 11:19 AM
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Storytelling does affect it a lot.

However, the biggest problem is that they failed to make the Scourge menacing, they were laughable mostly.
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Old 02-02-2018, 01:41 PM
Noitora Noitora is offline

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The characters aren't the main characters. We are, so the focus is put more on us than major leaders/villains.
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Old 02-02-2018, 03:38 PM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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I'm not sure if the problems are inherent to an MMO as a medium, but rather, how it has been used, and the caliber of the people writing the story.

Let me nail down the second assertion first: I don't think it's a stretch to claim that StarCraft was narratively superior to StarCraft II. The new generation of writers played on the same field, with bigger budgets and better technology - and they failed to create something as good or better than what their predecessors made... and that is being far too polite about the matter, frankly.

As for the use of the medium, does anyone remember The Legend of Stalvan? What about when we meet Tirion Fordring and see his line wrap up in the "In Dreams" quest? Vanilla gave us detailed and interesting stories all of the time. I would advance that this worked because they understood that the game's subject matter was the world and the people in it, rather than of the smaller cast that we would follow in an RTS. You also had a different viewpoint - the player character, a relatively unimportant, and undefined character who the story wasn't about. Additionally, it was up to the player to explore and to go out of the way to get the whole story. The world was "big" back then, and it had a lot of mystery. It felt like a world.

I would call Wrath the expansion where we started to see this break down. There was some need to make the player character seem more important, and they seemed to want to give the story a more "cinematic" feel. It's also around here that we shift from what I would call a "Mordor" model of big bads to a "Comic Book" model. We weren't coming for the Lich King, he was coming for us in a way that "forced" us to care. Yogg Saron did this too. It wasn't the first time of course, but it marked a shift.

Cataclysm changed many things, but I'll isolate three issues in particular:

- Quests were streamlined. Each zone had it's own narratives designed to quickly shuffle players through. It was less "these characters exist and are doing things" and more "this is chapter 2". It works in a lot of cases, but it also shrinks the world.

- The content was dominated by overarching "expansion narratives" like the faction war or the Twilight's Hammer stuff. To be fair, wrath did this too, but in Cata this gets turned up to eleven with "world characters" like Thrall and Malfurion being omnipresent. It used to be a big deal when a faction leader stepped on to the field. After this point it becomes commonplace.

- They started to think that it was okay to hurt one player's experience for the benefit of another - as if there was not room to find a way to satisfy both. Night Elves are a clear cut example of this, if you'll excuse the phrasing. It's well and good to tell people in an interview "the Horde has happened!" when they ask about what happened to old and beloved environments, but when you bend over backwards to make it so the other side can't fight back, or otherwise refuse to give them moments of pride too, you take away their sense of agency and investment in the story. The Night Elves are in no way the only example of this, of course, but they are probably the worst case of it.

Post Cataclysm, these problems tend to continue or worsen. They weren't so evident for me in the initial releases to MoP and WoD. I felt like here, some of the quest teams got a chance to experiment and play with smaller ideas that revived the size and scale of the world, but the set piece moments and the patches would shrink it again, and make the events in this great big sprawling world revolve around a couple of characters and one story. Entire character arcs, cultures, societies and political divisions are made to bend the knee to the big plot of the expansion. We rightly slam the faction war for this, but every "world plot" is just as guilty, to the point where the biggest things that don't make sense have to do with which "world plot" is more important.

Should you care about the faction war or the fact that Azeroth is literally dying? These plots should never have gotten so big that they suck up literally everything, and are just competing with each other now to see which should overtake the other.

Can it be done better? I think so, but the writers have to go back to understanding that they're not writing an RTS, or a novel, or a comic book. They're writing an MMO. They are writing about a world.
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Old 02-02-2018, 05:36 PM
Undeadprotoss Undeadprotoss is offline

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Let me nail down the second assertion first: I don't think it's a stretch to claim that StarCraft was narratively superior to StarCraft II. The new generation of writers played on the same field, with bigger budgets and better technology - and they failed to create something as good or better than what their predecessors made... and that is being far too polite about the matter, frankly.
I think you're right, but there was also a values problem with SC2. Blizzard's focus with the campaigns was making them mechanically fun to play before it was making a cohesive storyline. They also spent considerably less time building up the characters. In SC1 you had a 3-5 minute mission briefing before you actually went into every meaning with plenty of dialogue. That spanning a smaller roughly 60 missions with a smaller cast of characters to boot, meant they got a lot of "screen-time" so to speak.

Fast forward to SC2, and most of the time you're jsut given the bare minimum context required to actually know why you're doing the mission. Beyond that there is intentionally very little banter. The conversations you have with other characters, while nice and interesting, are designed to be completely optional, and as such they don't really add to the main plotline and the characters you talk to anyway tend to be side-characters (Swann, Horner, Abathur, Izsha, etc) that don't have much real action/development in the plot itself and instead just serve to prop up the protagonist of the expansion such as Raynor or Kerrigan. There were similar problems with LoTV but it wasn't nearly as bad than with HoTS/WoL.

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As for the use of the medium, does anyone remember The Legend of Stalvan? What about when we meet Tirion Fordring and see his line wrap up in the "In Dreams" quest? Vanilla gave us detailed and interesting stories all of the time. I would advance that this worked because they understood that the game's subject matter was the world and the people in it, rather than of the smaller cast that we would follow in an RTS. You also had a different viewpoint - the player character, a relatively unimportant, and undefined character who the story wasn't about. Additionally, it was up to the player to explore and to go out of the way to get the whole story. The world was "big" back then, and it had a lot of mystery. It felt like a world.
Yeah I think a huge strength in MMOs in terms of the medium is worldbuilding. Making stories about smaller stories connected to larger ones that are all a part of a giant world you're supposed to explore.

The funny thing is, that's not totally gone today. You still come across individual quest lines that are well-designed and are both interesting and engaging. Probably because they're on a much smaller, more manageable scale than the massive expansion-long stories we see.

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- They started to think that it was okay to hurt one player's experience for the benefit of another - as if there was not room to find a way to satisfy both. Night Elves are a clear cut example of this, if you'll excuse the phrasing. It's well and good to tell people in an interview "the Horde has happened!" when they ask about what happened to old and beloved environments, but when you bend over backwards to make it so the other side can't fight back, or otherwise refuse to give them moments of pride too, you take away their sense of agency and investment in the story. The Night Elves are in no way the only example of this, of course, but they are probably the worst case of it.
This is also a very good point. It kind of reminds me of how the Forsaken went from morally grey/mildly sympathetic/always plotting in the shadows in Vanilla-WoTLK but then went full, irredeemably evil in Cataclysm. If you play the Worgen starting zone, the Forsaken are completely in the wrong and are killing civilians left and right. This is good in an odd sense for the Worgen player because it allows them to feel like an underdog and then slowly fight back the Forsaken until they have leveled up a bit more, gained in power, and are able to push back the Forsaken and become the "overdog", at least temporarily.

Yet, that story arc does incredible damage to the Forsaken. You've now made a popular player race almost completely evil with no redeeming qualities. The undead guys are evil, who would have thought? That just makes them a lot less interesting and more predictable. In addition to seriously writing the Forsaken into a hole.

But that's just the thing! I think that's seen as something that is tolerable because it provided for good gameplay in the short-term, i.e allowing the Worgen starting area to feel empowering to the player, and to give them an extremely good reason to join the Alliance. The problem with this approach is that 1. It poses a false dichtomy, you don't always need to choose between gameplay in story. I think most of the time if you keep both as concurrent goals you can find a solution that satisfies both. 2. It isn't sustainable, if you do this long enough and enough times you're going to really hurt immersion, faction pride, attachment to stories and characters, etc.

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We rightly slam the faction war for this, but every "world plot" is just as guilty, to the point where the biggest things that don't make sense have to do with which "world plot" is more important.
In Vanilla WoW, 99% of people spent their time leveling and exploring the world. Only a tiny percentage of the playerbase raided or did high-level PvE content. This meant most of the content in the game revolved around an adventure-style game. Like a video-game action DnD where you can actually hit stuff.

Raiding is where plot lines come to be concluded. Arthas, Illidan, Garrosh, Kael'Thas Sunstrider, Lady Vashj, General Nazgrim, etc all died/were defeated in raids. As a result, you almost need giant narratives to drive giant end game content.

Sometimes I wonder if this phenomenon is what caused the shift in Blizzard's storytelling. I wonder if instead of focusing on raiding, the company had focused on the kind of gameplay you saw in Vanilla, would things be different? I don't know, but I do feel like WoW would be better off at least if things swung back in that direction again for just a little bit.
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Old 02-02-2018, 06:20 PM
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NO, in vanilla WOW, your only path is raid or PVP when you reach max level. Nothing else.


WOW's biggest problem is its PC character got nearly 0 characterization, you are not a real character in the story, just a tool to carry the order.

The villains had become laughing stocks as well.
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Old 02-02-2018, 07:09 PM
Undeadprotoss Undeadprotoss is offline

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NO, in vanilla WOW, your only path is raid or PVP when you reach max level. Nothing else.


WOW's biggest problem is its PC character got nearly 0 characterization, you are not a real character in the story, just a tool to carry the order.

The villains had become laughing stocks as well.
We don't have to carbon-copy what vanillia did tho. Just like how we still have raids now, despite them being vastly superior to what vanillia had to offer, we can have high-level quest content that can replicate some aspects of vanilla leveling (dangerous, atmospheric, exploration, social interaction, open-endedness,etc)
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Old 02-02-2018, 07:27 PM
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We don't have to carbon-copy what vanillia did tho. Just like how we still have raids now, despite them being vastly superior to what vanillia had to offer, we can have high-level quest content that can replicate some aspects of vanilla leveling (dangerous, atmospheric, exploration, social interaction, open-endedness,etc)
I think a solo instance would be good to execute the main storyline.
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Old 02-02-2018, 09:00 PM
TerrorhoofMayo TerrorhoofMayo is offline

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WoW definitely has an inherent story telling problem, though I disagree that it's due to the medium. That's like saying film is an inferior medium to books because of certain things books can do.

The lack of story has always been more to do with Blizzard's willingness to focus on it.
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Old 02-03-2018, 09:47 PM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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The characters aren't the main characters. We are, so the focus is put more on us than major leaders/villains.
Hasn't Warcraft been revolving around a bunch of quarelling superheroes and their friends/relatives? I mean, did the faction leaders have to be at Garrosh's trial?
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Old 02-04-2018, 09:19 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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I suppose I ought to reply to some of this:

@ UndeadProtoss

w.r.t. StarCraft 2: I'm sure we could make various arguments with respect to why some of the choices the writers made in StarCraft 2 didn't pan out so well, but my point in bringing it up is just to establish that the current generation of writers isn't as good as the old one. Regardless of what those choices were, Blizzard had the benefit of the same medium, and still didn't do as well.

That's merely to underline that we have a factor other than the medium that's impairing the writing.

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The funny thing is, that's not totally gone today. You still come across individual quest lines that are well-designed and are both interesting and engaging. Probably because they're on a much smaller, more manageable scale than the massive expansion-long stories we see.
Mhm, I'd again point to MoP and WoD's initial release content, which I consider to be the strongest parts of those expansions. I'm repeating myself, but I think that the writing is still at its strongest when they have to write quests that aren't necessarily tied into the "main" story.

Quote:
In Vanilla WoW, 99% of people spent their time leveling and exploring the world. Only a tiny percentage of the playerbase raided or did high-level PvE content. This meant most of the content in the game revolved around an adventure-style game. Like a video-game action DnD where you can actually hit stuff.

Raiding is where plot lines come to be concluded. Arthas, Illidan, Garrosh, Kael'Thas Sunstrider, Lady Vashj, General Nazgrim, etc all died/were defeated in raids. As a result, you almost need giant narratives to drive giant end game content.
I'm not sure that you necessarily need to have "giant" endgame content though. In Vanilla and BC, these were stories that you would encounter and unfurl, but they didn't necessarily intrude on every other aspect of the game. Personally, I liked that the world had its "Mordors" that you had to go encounter and discover.

@ Slowpokeking

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WOW's biggest problem is its PC character got nearly 0 characterization, you are not a real character in the story, just a tool to carry the order.
I won't lay all of my cards out here (I have a thread in the hopper), but I would reply to this by saying that the Mimesis effect is stronger when the player chooses their role rather than having a role assigned to them. In that sense, I don't mind the PC not having characterization. I do mind them trying to make the PC suddenly super important instead of retaining their role as an individual footsoldier/adventurer.
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Old 02-04-2018, 10:49 AM
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You don't have to "choose" your role, you play no real role in the story other than serving as a tool. There is no real choice to let you build your own character.
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Old 02-04-2018, 11:16 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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You don't have to "choose" your role, you play no real role in the story other than serving as a tool. There is no real choice to let you build your own character.
I disagree. The character creation screen offers race and class distinctions that, taken in combination with the quests you choose to perform (assuming that Blizzard gives you that choice and doesn't merely railroad you, see earlier comments), create a unique experience and character role that, as per the Mimesis effect, players will naturally step into. I don't like the idea of taking away this choice in role.
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Old 02-04-2018, 02:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Kyalin V. Raintree View Post
I disagree. The character creation screen offers race and class distinctions that, taken in combination with the quests you choose to perform (assuming that Blizzard gives you that choice and doesn't merely railroad you, see earlier comments), create a unique experience and character role that, as per the Mimesis effect, players will naturally step into. I don't like the idea of taking away this choice in role.
There is no choice, most of the quests are very straightforward, you only got the choice to do what the quest ask you to do, you don't get to say" NO I'm gonna betray one side and get my own good". Most of the main storylines got no difference at all.

Does the story have anything to do with your race and class? No other than the class quests. You play no role in the main storyline other than doing what the NPC ask you to do.

You don't even have a dialogue option to speak about your opinion at all. And in the story who are you? Just a member of your faction, carrying the order of your leader. That's not a real identity, just a tool to move the story forward.
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Old 02-04-2018, 07:36 PM
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Part of the problem is just the way an MMO is developed. If you have a set game like the first three Warcraft games, you develop the game, publish it, and then you can go do something else.

Have a look at the Warcraft game timeline.

You can see there was a shotgun approach with the first two games (and the second game's expansion) being published in 3 consecutive years, but after that... an 8 year gap to WCIII.

You can make a game, go do something else perhaps, and then come back to a sequel afterward with a fresh new perspective from working on other games, among other things.

With an MMO, development is rather constant. As a whole the team can't stop, because they have to work on the next expansion, and then the patches for the expansion, all the while coming up with ideas for the expansion after all those patches, and once the last major patch for an expansion is released you kick the next expansion's development into overdrive.

Beyond that, the other problem is that of point of view. You view things from your player character's perspective, which tends to limit them to seeing characters only from the perspective of them talking to your PC, or talking near your PC. There are times you can see a character talk without your PC's presence being a factor (such as the vision/storytelling quests, or sneaking around), but this doesn't really let you do something like in WCIII where you follow Thrall, Arthas, Tyrande, Sylvanas, etc around their stories.
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Because if a storyteller is doing his job, he makes you care. And if that storyteller then says "I dunno, then they stopped fighting, I guess," without any explanation or clarification, his audience has every right to be pissed off. Because they were given reason to stay interested, reason to keep up with his tale, only to be shut down just as things were getting good. A waste of time, a waste of emotional tension, a waste, if you fail to grasp the significance of narrative, of money.
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Old 02-04-2018, 08:21 PM
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Part of the problem is just the way an MMO is developed. If you have a set game like the first three Warcraft games, you develop the game, publish it, and then you can go do something else.

Have a look at the Warcraft game timeline.

You can see there was a shotgun approach with the first two games (and the second game's expansion) being published in 3 consecutive years, but after that... an 8 year gap to WCIII.

You can make a game, go do something else perhaps, and then come back to a sequel afterward with a fresh new perspective from working on other games, among other things.

With an MMO, development is rather constant. As a whole the team can't stop, because they have to work on the next expansion, and then the patches for the expansion, all the while coming up with ideas for the expansion after all those patches, and once the last major patch for an expansion is released you kick the next expansion's development into overdrive.

Beyond that, the other problem is that of point of view. You view things from your player character's perspective, which tends to limit them to seeing characters only from the perspective of them talking to your PC, or talking near your PC. There are times you can see a character talk without your PC's presence being a factor (such as the vision/storytelling quests, or sneaking around), but this doesn't really let you do something like in WCIII where you follow Thrall, Arthas, Tyrande, Sylvanas, etc around their stories.
Your PC is not a real character, that's the biggest problem.
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Old 02-16-2018, 03:01 AM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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WoW's world would be better if the faction leaders did less and instead had subordinates and subordinates' subordinates do stuff like attend Garrosh's trial.
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Old 02-16-2018, 08:19 AM
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WoW's world would be better if the faction leaders did less and instead had subordinates and subordinates' subordinates do stuff like attend Garrosh's trial.
Yes, but then we'd have less Lorthemar.
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Old 02-17-2018, 11:46 AM
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He was a subordinate.
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Old 02-17-2018, 09:37 PM
Noitora Noitora is offline

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He was a subordinate.
Before we learned about Kael'Thas, sure.
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All this faction bitching and people arguing with each other and it's Fojar of all people that comes in with reasonable positivity.
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Old 02-20-2018, 12:19 AM
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He was a subordinate who got development.
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Old 02-20-2018, 09:14 AM
Noitora Noitora is offline

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I'm saying if Blizz did things your way, we'd have less Lorthemar doing things like Isle of Thunder, or Velen being active in Legion.
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All this faction bitching and people arguing with each other and it's Fojar of all people that comes in with reasonable positivity.
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Old 02-21-2018, 09:35 AM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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Even as a faction leader, Lor'themar was more in the background until a bit recently. That's the point I have.

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Old 02-23-2018, 09:20 AM
Anne_Neritas Anne_Neritas is offline

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I think a lot of the issue is more so inherent with the kind of setting that Warcraft is: high fantasy with lots of various races. It was easier in WC1, 2, and 3 because the scope was much smaller. Not to mention they distilled things down. The human faction had dwarves and elves but was ultimately just about the humans, the Orc faction had trolls and tauren but it was all about the Orcs. We get to WoW and the scope explodes out and all races need to have a place.

Unfortunately it seems that in these sorts of settings, with so much going on, everything falls way to hard into tropism. Everquest, Warhammer, hell, Discworld they all get this issue as the story expands. To much is going on and there's so much variety in things that those things have to stay basic else they end up being something else. Thus we have the hilarious phenomenon at the moment in WoW where, whenever something starts acting outside the baseline of their race they become an "X human" ("Long eared human", "Green skinned human"). Not to mention the bigger the setting the more likely retcons are going to pop up.

Terry Prachett knew this was a problem with the high fantasy setting as a whole. Which is why he prefaces his stories more or less saying "I do whatever I want, fuck the inconsistencies". Even Tolkien fell into this hole as he said himself he didnt know wtf to do with Orcs other than have them evil: he struggled with how to present them for once the Dark Lord fell. Once his setting started expanding out of basic world building he had nothing else to do.
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