Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The History of the World, Part 2

"Hey, skull. How's it going?" "I'm good, Illidan. How 'bout you?" "I dunno. I'm bored." "Feel like messing with the naaru, maybe?" "Are you sure that's a good  idea?" "Sure. What could go wrong?" "OK, skull. Let's do that." "Alright, let's do a warm-up by corrupting some more orcs first."

For Part 1 of this series, originally written about a year ago, click here.

"The Problems with Elves"

The Burning Crusade felt like a big bait and switch story. What was our primary objective in Outland? Doom Lord Kazzek reopened the Dark Portal so we go running through to deal with the demons...

... Only to find that the most significant power threat in Outland is really Illidan Stormrage. So we refocus and spend A LOT of time taking apart his forces...

...Only to find that somebody had a secret agenda and ZOMG!! Kil'jaden is about to stroll through the front door, back in Azeroth!

But at the heart of this story, we had two elves, Illidan Stormrage and Kael'thas Sunstrider making Dances with Demons like they hadn't seen 10,000 years worth of Kil'jaden stabbing his allies in the back. As much as I basically like "elves" as a concept, they really do sort of win the prize for causing the most amount of trouble in Azeroth.

I still don't understand why Illidan did some of the things he did. He's a tragic figure of arrogance really. He ultimately wanted power, not for the sake of lording over anybody, just... he wanted to be admired.

Generally speaking, he could be called on to do the right then when it really mattered. But, why did he attack the Naaru in Shattrath City? Why enslave the orcs, making them drink up some more demon blood and be "Fel Orcs?" I don't think there was any power there that was very useful to him, and I seriously doubt he would have wanted the headaches that come with really running a kingdom. That was never Illidan's style.

The only theory I have about all this is pretty completely unverified. We must remember that in the trailers as well as when we finally drop in on Illy at the top of the Black Temple, he is deep in revery with the Skull of Gul'dan, an extremely powerful magical artifact that has been known to talk to people and suggest they do things that...really aren't very good ideas. Illidan may have been influenced by that thing and made some poor choices.

Kael'thas, besides his own "wretched" treachery, brought one other significant elvish problem to the World of Warcraft: Blood Elves.

Yes, there are a lot of pretty Belfish things around. The chicks are hot; Quel'thelas is a great place to visit. But there was never a more amoral, smarmy, stuck-up, vile, capricious, spiteful, misguided, lazy, decadent, power-hungry and thoroughly unpleasant race in all of high fantasy.

Recently, I was reading a Warcraft RPG book, "Lands of Conflict," that is a pen and paper players guide to the Eastern Kingdoms. The book is "written by" Brann Bronzebeard and has interesting sidebars that pull directly from lore. For example, Brann found this letter near the burnt up corpse of an elf while trying to cross The Ghostlands:
The surviving elves frighten me. They no longer call themselves high elves. you remember Price Kael'Thas? He leads the elves now, being the last elf of noble birth. He calls his people "blood elves," supposedly in homage of the dead. I am glad they no longer think of themselves as high elves, for they certainly are not. They plan to raze the forest-- all of it! "We will not let the Scourge enjoy their plunder!" declares Kael'Thas. Travesty! I will try to stop this folly, but I doubt that I will be successful. These blood elves are crazed, manic, inflamed by vengeance and fueled by this unnameable need that seethes within our consciousness. They may even try to slay me, yet, I will do what I can.
After about the 500th encounter with that metrosexual cockroach otherwise known as a "Blood Elf Paladin," I sort of wished that the Scourge, or somebody would come back to that peninsula and finish taking it apart.

How screwed up are the Blood Elves?
  • They got pissed off with the Alliance... and joined the Horde, the very entity responsible for a big part of the destruction of their homeland.
  • The rest of the destruction was due to the undead, which explains EXACTLY why they would reach out to the Forsaken for help. I know the Forsaken is more complicated than that, but any non-undead race would look at the Forsaken and the Scourge and see two rival gangs of wretched abominations that need to be exterminated.
  • They capture a being of pure good energy so they can leech power off it at their convenience.
  • It's one thing to defend some of their conquest when the draenei went and stole a part of the Tempest Keep facility so they could just get off the mess that was Outland. It's another thing to sabotage the drive and then set up attacks against draenei survivors after it was all done. That's just mean.
In short, they are just not nice people.

What is the answer to all these problems, I hear you ask? Ha! Isn't it obvious?

Dun duh duh dunnnn.... Draenei.

I am clearly not impartial in my selections here. The drae are my favorite race in Warcraft, but really, for all the bad things Kael'Thas brought to the world, there was a counter to it among the blueskins from the stars. For all the short-sighted foolishness of the Blood Elves, there was the long-planned counter brought with the draenei. When the leaders of the Burning Legion deposited their fel creatures on the face of the world, the Naaru responded with their own minions who shine with The Light.

The draenei bring a scope and history to the Warcraft Universe, as well as an experience that sort of trumps everybody else on Azeroth. The trolls are probably Azeroth's oldest race, but those guys are still stumping around the jungle playing with death gods, 10,000 years after the drae were shooting through the stars in a deadly game of cat and mouse with the Burning Legion.  The Night Elves gained such an intimate fear of arcane magic they can find little way to reconcile it with anything good, yet the draenei, beings of almost pure goodness, wrap the arcane into their society with little effort and no prejudice.

The draenei almost seem like deus ex machina, god-like creatures from some too-perfect society who drop onto Azeroth to show the rest what to do. And yet...

Even with these incredible milestones in society, the draenei are refugees-- driven from every home they know, and slaughtered to a mere fraction of what they once were. The core of the draenei experience is not sweetness and light but desperation, pain, loss, and a grimness towards the future that only comes from having a Prophet in your midst who quite certainly that future is on the way.

The Burning Crusade really saw the ebb of hostilities between the Alliance and the Horde. One could never really say that they were ever working together. But the neutral Shattrath City, and the structures of the Aldor and Scryers really put the opposing factions of Azeroth peaceably in the same space. There were a number of side-plots to the main story of the Burning Crusade going on, but none of them involved the deepening of faction tensions. Subsequent expansions have made sure that this level of grudging temperance won't be happening again any time soon.

Finally, the side plots that did occur in the Burning Crusade didn't have the deep story elements that were applied later on. Arguably, Blizzard's story-telling efforts and techniques have improved since the Burning Crusade but still... many parts are light on lore.

For example, Karazahn was a fantastic raid instance, but really... what was the story there? There were some mages standing outside it saying, "Something funny is going on in here ..." and when we explored, we found a little bit of ... well, everything.  A renegade Twilight Dragon, an Eredar Prince walking around the roof; the dessicated remains of a Blue Dragon; a Titan construct championing "virtue" in a hallway filled with courtesans. What did these things have to do with anything? I don't know. It didn't really detract from the instance, but it didn't make much of a story either.

As another example: I'm not entirely sure why we targetted Gruul. Somebody said we needed to, of course. Gruul was not exactly a nice guy, but he had been an ally of sorts during earlier Alliance visits to the region. I think it had something to do with the liberation of the ogres in the Blades Edge Mountains, though I'm not sure why we did that either.

Ultimately, I think I feel a little sorry for Illidan. It was supposed to be "his" expansion, but he had so very little to do. Many people think Blizzard overcompensated by making Arthas pop up all over Northrend, but too many people I know in WoW never once actually saw Illidan in the game. He never left the Black Temple except for one very brief holographic image of him ordering you killed once you finish infiltrating the Dragonmaw Orcs.  Finally, he wasn't really the end boss of anything since Kil'Jaden tried to push through the Sunwell.


  1. And yet, Merinna had to have a Blood Elf friend buy some Horde cooking recipes for her. Blood Elves do serve a purpose and their jokes are the funniest in the game.

  2. You raise a fine point there, Soma. Next time I need Horde-only goods, I'll ask you to use a troll or an orc or something a little less vile.