Thursday, September 5, 2013

Waiting for Godot WoW-Cthulhu

To say that I'm disappointed the Big Bad at the end of another WoW expac is related to the Old Gods is probably an understatement.

Sure, it's Emo Guy Garrosh Hellscream, but come on.  It is yet another Old God-related ending to a game that simply can't move beyond the Old Gods as a plot device.  About the only expac that didn't have a heavy dose of Old God material in some form was Burning Crusade, and I've often suspected that if Kil'Jaeden wasn't around to provide a convenient villain in the Sunwell, we'd have seen yet another Old God pulling Kael's strings.

By my count, Mists' Y'Shaarj-influenced Siege of Orgrimmar will make three of the five releases (including Vanilla) that was overshadowed with an Old God-esque ending:  Vanilla, Cataclysm, and Mists.  You could also make an argument that the Lich King, while tracing a lineage back to the Burning Legion, is also heavily influenced by Yogg-Saron*; after all, what exactly does Arthas use as a metal for his devices and buildings but Saronite, the blood of Yogg-Saron itself.  And don't forget the Old God influenced quest chain in Icecrown where the ghostly child teaches you about Arthas and his heart; there's a reason why we found Arthas' heart in that strange area in the first place.

What makes the Y'Shaarj  tie-in so disappointing to me was that the entire concept of the Sha was so new and interesting that it seems a shame that Blizzard couldn't let it stand on it's own.  Just like how the Mogu had to have the help of the Zandalari Trolls, the underlying cause of the Sha just had to be the Old Gods.

I suppose you could say that Blizzard has an addiction to conspiracies.  The popular uprising in Westfall characterized by the Defias simply couldn't stand on it's own, it had to tie in to the Twilight's Hammer somehow.  The overeager and blind self righteousness of the Scarlet Crusade couldn't stand on its own as Garithos' racism and arrogance did in Warcraft III, it had to be tied back into the Dreadlords and the Legion.

Maybe that works for a while in a fantasy world, but the problem is that in the real world a lot of stuff just happens.  There is no dark conspiracy behind a lot of criminal activity; a lot of it is a crime of opportunity (or passion).  If there is a plot involved, it is very localized (one spouse hiring a hitman to take out the other spouse, for example).  Sure, there's organized crime, but you can't blame everything on the mob.  If there's a drug turf war, it tends to unfold organically, not manipulated by some master puppeteer in the shadows.

Fantasy lends itself well to that evil overlord, the shadows in the dark controlling our lives.  But when you dip into that same well too often, it starts to feel forced and loses its punch.  The most unique thing about Mists was the Sha, but it turned out to be just more Old God trickery, lessening the impact that it could have had. When all questlines lead to the same ending, all that's left for variety is the kill ten rats.


Perhaps that is why I've seen a lot of griping lately that WoW's high point was Wrath.  Wrath had one raid that was the culmination of a long questline that had absolutely nothing to do with the "Let's Get Arthas!" movement:  Ulduar.  Was it Old God related?  Yes.  Was it a big, tough raid?  Yes.  Did it advance the Arthas story?  No.  Not one bit.

Ulduar was part of a giant three pronged fork in the entire Northrend questline --Arthas and Malygos being the other two-- and it demonstrated that a story didn't have to be part of the main part of the expac to be meaningful.  Blizzard has gotten away from that with Cataclysm and Mists, and to add insult to injury they end up reusing the same old same Old (Gods) as a crutch.

I guess that we're going to be treated to yet another dose of Old Gods fairly soon, assuming that The Dark Below turns out to be the name of the next WoW expac.  After all, what tends to inhabit the dark places of the world but Twilight Hammer and their ilk?

*Certainly in hindsight people still talk about Ulduar as the high point of WoW raiding, and I have to admit I liked Storm Peaks much more than Icecrown.


  1. You have to understand though that the way the story line in WoW for the big bad guys works is that the old Gods make them big bad guys. I don't know how many of the novells you have read (and yes it's sad you would have to read them to get the story), but the Old Gods are THE personification of evil (if we exclude Krasus' theory on that something corrupted the old Gods as well). They corrupted Sargeras and formed the Burning Legion so everything Legion related is up to them. They corrupted the Night Elf society at the onslaught of the War of the Ancients through the Well of Eternity (later the Sunwell). Basicly the concept of Azeroth is that it is a world from which the Titans ousted the Old Gods and their servants (the Elemental lords like Ragnaros and Al'Akir etc.) in order to create harmony and form Azeroth.
    They knew the Old Gods would want to free themselves so they set up Guardians (Dragon Aspects). And from all along that has been the big story line in Azeroth making sure the Old Gods do not escape. Every adversary has always been ultmately a pawn in their plans: Deathwing corruption was them (and Malygos by proxy and the entire black dragonflight), the Emerald Nightmare was them as it was Chancellor Xavius who was the Nightmare's tyrant.
    Yes the previous entries in the Warcraft franchise worked a lot more on the "small" conflict between Horde and Alliance (of which the Horde was an instrument of the Legion and thus an instrument of the Old Gods), but that was also actually just Old God stuff. So by saying you want to move away from the Old Gods without defeating them means that you really just want to change the underlying storyline in Warcraft. Now I do think too that the Old God excuse should be more multilayered and veled like it was before I liked thm more enigmatic like that, but I don't think you can get away from them.
    And that does not mean you can't have stand alone villains like Van Cleef and the Defias or have villains that are unknowingly connected to the Old Gods. For instance the vast majority of the Scarlet Crusade has no idea who their true master in Stratholme is. And Tichondrius does not influence how they think he merely gives orders. So actually the vast mahority of the Scarlet Crusade are just over zealous rascists like you wanted (and I want them to be), they just happen to be a bit more complex than that as well. Same goes for a lot of the villains like the Zandalari. They want to reestablish the Zandalari Empire and Ha'kkar wants to be free; ergo they work together and maybe (probably) if they'd succeed Ha'kkar would betray them at one point.
    As for the Dark Below it could lorewise refer to another portion of the Twistng Nether so yes probably Old Gods and demons.

    1. Sure, there are a lot of individual NPCs that have their own reasons for things, but they are part of a larger chain that leads to the final reveal. The problem with WoW's reliance upon the Old Gods for the big bad is that all of those quest chains that might have been perfectly fine on their own end up pointing back to an Old God as its source.

      WoW's quest lines are such that you could turn them into a drinking game, playing "Spot the connection to the Old Gods." (Actually, that's not a bad idea to consider for the next expac.)