Lots of conflict but what happened to the tension?

Wrath of the Lich King had as its prologue a zombie plague followed by skeletal ice dragons assaulting the capitals of both the Horde and Alliance.  Undead abominations rampaged across the cities, and the leaders of each faction gathered to kick ass and defend the cities. While the zombie plague had just been viewed as a new manifestation of the Lich King’s old tricks, the NPCs treated the city invasions as a serious violation. The young hothead Garrosh urged retaliation, war, and challenged Thrall when Thrall suggested caution instead.

Caution seemed like the wise approach. Each cycle of the looping event ended with the Herald of the Lich King taunting us to come to Northrend. It practically screamed THIS IS A TRAP.

The Lich King himself appeared early in quests in Northrend, contemptuous of ourselves, placing his servants where he wanted them to be and sneering at our feeble efforts. He was an awesome bad guy, right up to the end of Wrath Gate, when he ran away. 

I made excuses for him. Villains can flee their weaknesses, after all. And when I explored Icecrown for the first time, well–

Well, they tell you Icecrown Citadel is in Icecrown. It’s behind the Wrath Gate, right there, built into the mountain.

They don’t tell you that the entire zone is a fortress, with many, many gates. Wrath Gate is just named in the same style as the others: Desolation, Death, Horror. They don’t tell you that  there are other citadels scattered throughout the zone. There is no wildlife in Icecrown, only the Scourge and the death cultists. Giants patrol the gates. When I tried to sneak through on my low level rogue, two abominations hooked me to them, instantly killing me, and then a necromancer raised a ghoul from my remains. 

Icecrown is scary. The Horde and Alliance have no base there, only airships on an endless patrol above the zone.

The Argent Crusade, longtime mixed-faction foe of the Scourge, has one base at the edge and early in your sojourn there, it’s possible to help the Knights of the Ebon Blade, the rebel death knights, establish their own base deep inside. And it’s clear that the Horde and the Alliance are still suffering from the effects of Wrath Gate; Hordeside, at least, they’re at least as concerned with beating the Alliance as winning against the Lich King. They seem to only want to beat the Lich King to show the Alliance their dominance. It’s a really disappointing direction, in my opinion.

But meanwhile, the Ebon Blade and the Argent Crusade are staying focused.

And this is where my real worry shows up. You can stop reading here, if you don’t want to know how it’s going up in Icecrown. I’ll be general, not specific, but still… Continue reading Lots of conflict but what happened to the tension?

Oh yeah… fun…

I’ve been working on Icecrown and The Storm Peaks on two separate characters in World of Warcraft. And it’s been an unexpected experience.

I play MMOs because I like RPGs (with their stories and their level-and-equipment-driven hits of dopamine), and because I like to play with my friends, and I like to do stuff in teams. Thus, my pleasure is usually either social, or based on anticipation of the next big number (and the bigger numbers that number will enable) to come my way. Sometimes it’s competence-driven, which is kind of a combination of social and achievement pleasure. The stories themselves provide enjoyment in a very different way, engaging my brain much more completely, under or over the other entertainments.

I’ve been splitting the content between my two high-level characters for a while– originally I wanted to skim the surface only on the character I was playing alongside Kevin, while I’d planned on working through each zone completely on my solo character, in order to get all the achievements. Mmm, dopamine. But it turned out I couldn’t do it. A lot of the quests felt like busywork: go here, kill # monsters, loot, repeat. The story was often decent, but very fresh in my mind, and the mechanics were bland repetitions of grinding mechanics. So finally I gave up on the completion-focused achievements (until the stories had faded in my memory some, at least) and my own desire to do everything ‘in the right order’, and moved on to the two final zones of the expansion, the ones I’d been most anticipating.

The Storm Peaks is full of story: grand epic story about giants and titans and the creators of the world. Near the beginning of the zone there’s a goblin base. In WoW, goblins like to blow things up. Oh boy, do they like to blow things up. Their camp is protected by minefields. I did all the content there on one character, and story-wise, it was all right– just a lead-in to the more epic things deeper in the mountains. I quite enjoyed the mechanics of some of the quests, though.

Really enjoyed, apparently, because last night I wandered over there with my other character, poked at the minefield with her different class abilities, and then played until I was awarded an apparently difficult achievement. Then I went and did some other explosive-related quests I’d done only  a few days before simply because the mechanics were a (ahahahahha) blast. And one of them is available daily.

OK, the achievement was, well, an achievement. I achieved. I felt smug. But as I was bouncing through the minefield, counting explosions, I got so excited by it that I was clapping my hands and shouting at the screen. That’s never happened before!

Later, I was back doing quests in Icecrown. Icecrown is the current final zone, and it’s chock-full of plot and phased events; the player helps build multiple towns while progressing through the zone. The other night I did a quest chain there that kept me up later than I’d planned because I just HAD to find out what was going to happen next. And I’m not going to spoil this for anybody, but last night a quest chain that had otherwise been quite ordinary suddenly took a phased turn for the OMG WTF. I was asked to do something, using ordinary old-fashioned kill-and-loot mechanics, that left me speechless and unable to explain my ‘Are you shitting me??’ reaction to Kevin for at least 60 seconds. And it got more disturbing from there. It wasn’t an ethical question at all. It was just… OMG WTF. Also a reaction I’d never had in WoW before.

It’s an experience I really hope everybody I know who plays WoW gets to have. It was awesome.  Highly recommended.

So, Wrath is doing a pretty good job as a fun game. And setting-wise, it’s doing things I approve of: for example, resurrection is no longer purely a game mechanics. Dead NPCs get resurrected too. Yay mechanics-setting consistency!

I’m a little worried about it as a story, though. I’ll put that in the next post.

Aspect of Freya and Girl Power

But you know what WAS awesome, without a hint of moral ambiguity? The Aspect of Freya questline in Sholazar Basin. Epic quest-giver, epic scale. Of course, the player is mostly just a messenger/enabler, without the sense of personal involvement of Guru of Drakuru, but you know what? Sometimes that’s just fine.

I’m also enjoying a questline in Storm Peaks about a clan of female giants. It does feature egg-smashing, discipline rods and the murder of rebellious but non-aggro slaves, as well as a disguise that suggests future betrayal! But it also features the rescue of prisoners and some serious girl power! So I feel good about it, because I’m kinda sorta a hypocrite when it comes to girl power. We’ll see where it goes.  I do suspect we’re being misled by our primary quest-giver again.


I promised a post about a quest chain I was on that also offered an achievement and seemed to promise dubious moral ground. The achievement is Guru of Drakuru. I’m… not sure if it worked at what it seemed to be trying to do.

You get the achievement for participating in a double quest chain. Wrath of the Lich King has pretty strongly embraced the ‘time is place’ idea that appeared with the Sunwell patch (where an NPC was in two different fixed locations at the same time), and so in this pair of questlines you interact with an NPC in two different phases of his life, in two different zones, and it IS possible to do the questlines out of order just by skipping a zone. I did them in the right order but a guildmate did them reversed and then was very insistent that everybody do both zones involved in the right order.

In the both zones you’re dealing with frost trolls who have made harsh, apocalyptic decisions in the face of, well, the impending Scourge apocalypse. They’re fighting the Scourge, they’re fighting the PCs, they’re fighting each other.

(Aside: It’s amazing how prone to crazy decisions and subsequent power-madness that the NPC trolls are. There’s… a  lot… of troll cities as dungeons where the end boss is so hopped up-mad on whatever he’s been ingesting that he cackles. I suspect there’s probably Plot behind this. In the case of Northrend, what the trolls have been ingesting is their own gods. Which is… awesome.)

Drakuru is first encountered as a troll in a cage who invites you to swear a blood bond with him and then help him finish his research on a ritual that will cleanse the great keep of Drak’theron. It’s not really clear why you decide to swear a blood bond with an imprisoned troll, but hey, you do. Then you go on a series of missions where you travel to different locations and kill trolls in order to harvest their ‘mojo’.

(Aside #2: Mojo. Trolls have it. It’s… also not really clear what mojo is. But you can have frozen mojo, desperate mojo, big mojo, enduring mojo, strange mojo, sacred mojo and mojo elementals…)

Drakuru expresses regret that his compatriots need to die but suggests they’d be happy to sacrifice their mojo for the cause. We, of course, take his word for it, even though one of our victims shouts some interesting things. Eventually we go into Drak’theron Keep and at the end, after we’ve scoured it clean, Drakuru congratulates us and promises us the best of all rewards: revelation. Then he summons his master, the Lich King.

We weren’t really surprised. The wording and some of the victims and their mojo were a little too suspicious for us to be surprised.  But I think it’s fair to claim we were, as characters, tricked. To his credit, Drakuru does not cackle and gloat over his trickery; he praises us and honors us as he is exalted by the Lich King into a big dark supertroll. I think maybe he considered it taking advantage of our mercenary nature rather than trickery, honestly. In any case, he invites us to come work for him later, for further rewards. The quest chain ends.

It was strange. It seemed like the quest should end with him as a final instance boss but it didn’t; he remained friendly and gave us the final quest reward as he invited us to come work for him. Personally, I was pleased that he seemed to value the bond we’d forged enough to stay friendly. It felt like a change of pace. But it was very odd that the decision to shout YOU TRICKED US YOU BASTARD and attack him was taken from us, since it was such a likely reaction.

In the second questline, you find a special choker on a monster. Upon consultation with the Death Knight faction Knights of the Ebon Blade, you discover that the special choker would have instantly turned you into an undead if you’d worn it (which you can’t actually do, mechanics-wise). The Ebon Blade decide to manufacture a convincing magical costume for you and send you undercover to find out who wanted you turned undead so badly that they set up this special trap.

Turns out, it’s Overlord Drakuru, who is delighted to see you in your new form. He is affable, cheerful and efficient. For a while afterwards, you do the bidding of Overlord Drakuru while also sabotaging his campaign at the behest of your Ebon Blade handler. In the end, you do end up confronting Drakuru, using his own enhanced troll weapons against him in a pretty vicious fight. And when it’s over and you haven’t lost, Drakuru summons the Lich King to tattle.

The Lich King informs Drakuru that he’s the failure and gruesomely kills him. He then tells the player, “As for you… I spare your insignificant life as a reward for this amusing betrayal. There may yet be a shred of potential in you. Be warned… When next we meet I shall require much more to justify your life.”

The reward for the quest (which is called ‘Betrayal’) is a good necklace, entitled, variously: Choker of the Betrayer, Betrayer’s Choker and Choker of Betrayal. Gee, maybe Blizzard is trying to make a point?

Except that most people I’ve talked to don’t much feel like they did anything treacherous. I was the only person who was a bit sad to have to kill Drakuru and even I felt like I was always true to my initial goals and no more deceptive to Drakuru than he was initially to me. I think Blizzard tried to make him likable, but I don’t know if ‘likable’ is really enough to make people feel guilty for killing him. I don’t think it’s as strong as ‘baby/innocent’ or ‘on your own side’ or ‘using a really unfair weapon’.

(Aside #3: If a betrayal where we were only faking allegience doesn’t feel like a betrayal, does it follow that it’s only really a betrayal if we once felt loyalty/responsibility for the cause/person?)

So what is Blizzard trying to say here? That whether or not it felt like a betrayal to us, it was a betrayal in the eyes of the Lich King and Drakuru, one of whom we may actually have liked? They’re certainly saying that treachery is a trait the Lich King approves of. I wonder if whatever he expects ‘when next we meet’ has already been injected into unexpected plot.

If this were a single player game, I would totally expect the ‘evil/fallen’ path to end with the player character replacing the Lich King, or joining the Lich King collective. But single player games have a lot more leeway to do that kind of thing, because they end. And while Wrath may end, WoW isn’t likely to, so characters have to persist without becoming unique undead demigods. Problematic!

In any case, while I can’t fully judge a story element until the end of the story, I have to say that Guru of Drakuru didn’t work nearly as well as Hand of Vengeance/Wrathgate. Still, it was a fun time and a good character.

The Perfect Blight (WoW spoilers)


I. The Forsaken
II. Why in the world…?
III. Angrathar the Wrath Gate
IV. Aftermath
V. Misc notes and thoughts


They call themselves the Forsaken, and despite being allied with a number of other groups, they’ve never been shy about their ultimate goal: wiping out everything not-them. The most positive spin I was ever able to put on their quests was ‘they want to turn everybody into free-willed undead rather than mindless undead’. And the New Plague was an endless storyline, showing up almost everywhere the Forsaken appeared. Fetching materials, testing formulas, couriering samples to colleagues. It would, of course, be very useful against the Scourge, which the Forsaken used to be part of, and now hate above all things.  But somehow it was never done. It was like an alchemist’s dream of lead into gold: tomorrow, or the next day, or maybe next week.

In fact, it was the Apothecaries who drove the development of the New Plague, but partially because of the generic greeting and farewell voice messages shared by all Forsaken, it was easy to assign a homogenous character to the entire people. “What would you ask of Death?” “I am Forsaken.” “Trust no-one.” “Watch your back.” “Dark Lady watch over you.” “Beware the living.” “Remember: patience, discipline.” “Our time will come.” “Embrace the shadow.”

This turns out to matter.

It seems that the only reason the Forsaken allies with anybody is because they’re not yet strong enough to achieve their goals alone.

Since the expansion was nigh, I’ve been thinking that if the Lich King is actually destroyed, the story won’t really be complete without also dealing with the Forsaken, because the difference between the goals of the Scourge and the goals of the Forsaken are very slim, and mostly center around the continued existence of the Lich King himself.


Given that the Forsaken have never been secretive about their hatred for the living and will give out New Plague missions to any member of the Horde, why does the Horde tolerate them? 

Mostly, the Horde is a collection of reformed cultures: trolls who have given up cannibalism, orcs recovering from demonic taint, elves coping with a magical addiction (and the desperate choices made by addicts). The one exception to this theme of ‘a second chance at social acceptability’ is the tauren, who seem to specialize in seeing into the heart of things. A city of ex-Scourge whose second-in-command is an actual demon fits right in. Everybody deserves a second chance, right?

But why tolerate this New Plague madness, the promises of death to even their own allies? I think the answer goes like this:

Various advisory figures within the horde strongly believe that the undead state of the Forsaken is a curse or disease that can be cured, returning them to their original state. Basically, they’re very ill people, and if helping them pursue this pipe dream of creating a plague that will destroy both the Scourge and the living keeps them motivated and interested in continued existence, that’s great!  Meanwhile we’ll work on a cure.

and maybe a little like this:

They don’t really mean us!

Besides, it’s not like the Royal Apothecary Society is useless; after all, they thwarted a zombie plague that swept Azeroth shortly before the expedition to Northrend launched.


Angrathar the Wrath Gate, beseiged. To the left, the Alliance forces; to the right, the Horde. After cleaning up a number of little details, including rescuing new allies, cementing other alliances with the red dragons who are the guardians of life, and even helping the Forsaken reach a New Plague formula they were happy with, the player is rewarded with prime seats to watch the fall of Angrathar.

(Here’s the youtube link. I’m going to quote dialogue for people who don’t like videos (like me, often), and because I really like some of it. Indulge me.)

The leaders of the Horde and Alliance ride together, the enmity of the past replaced by, at most, a friendly rivalry. The consequence, perhaps, of the shared achievements in Outland…

And the Scourge guarding the Gate fall.

The leader of the Alliance forces calls out the Lich King. “Arthas! The blood of your father, of your people, demands justice! Come forth, coward, and answer for your crimes!”

Angrathar the Wrath Gate opens. The Lich King walks out, Frostmourne in hand.  His reverberating voice is silky and amused as he says, “You speak of justice? Of cowardice?” An army of ghouls and skeletons crawl out of the ground behind him, replacing the one just destroyed. “I will show you the justice of the grave, and the true meaning of fear.”

The horde leader, the son of the oldest advisor to the Warchief, isn’t intimidated. Unfortunately, he probably should have been. He charges the Lich King, and is instantly struck down. Frostmourne pulls the light from him.

The Alliance leader does the ‘You will pay!” spiel. The Lich King starts to taunt him some more. “Boldly stated but there’s nothing you can d– What?!” Green light flares overhead.

Laughter rolls across the battlefield from on high. There is a single silhouette on the edge of a cliff, and then vehicles roll up behind him. Grand Apothecary Putress, who cured a zombie plague, is having the best day of his unlife. “Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven? Behold now the terrible vengeance of the Forsaken!” Catapults shower barrels of green goo over the battlefield. “Death to the Scourge, and death to the living!” 

The Lich King coughs and gags.

The New Plague works.


The Lich King stalks back behind his gate, muttering about Sylvanas and how this isn’t over yet, as his army falls apart. The Alliance and Horde forces try to flee, but there’s simply no time. Putress turns his back on the dying and walks away. “Now all will see.”

As the leader of the Alliance forces is overcome by the New Plague, he realizes it’s all over. The New Plague is perfect, and it will spread and consume everybody. His last sight is of winged figures approaching.

It’s the red dragons, with their alien eyes, coming with the only thing known to stop a plague: fire. Fire like a hammer, fire like a blade, lifting the plague wagons and breaking them like toys before incinerating their contents, fire charring the flesh from the bones of the undead, dead, and dying.

Afterward, the cut scene ends, and the player is deposited in a changed world. The environs of the Wrath Gate are a burned disaster scene, with the few survivors screaming and fleeing in mindless horror.  The Dragonqueen crouches with her consort on a pile of rubble and melted metal. Her aura prevents any more violence from occurring in that place.

She sends the player to take the armor of the Horde leader to his father, and his father sends the player home to the Warchief. There, it’s revealed that, indeed, the difference between the Forsaken and the Apothecaries is very large indeed, because Putress and his ally, the demon Varimathras, tried to kill Lady Sylvanas in a coup just as they launched their assault at the Wrath Gate. The Forsaken capital fell to the revolutionary forces while Sylvanas fled to the Warchief Thrall.

What follows is an epic sequence where the player accompanies Sylvanas and Thrall on an invasion to retake the Undercity and deal with Varimathras. After the demon is finished off, they’re about to search for Putress to deal with him as well, when the main Alliance leader appears with his own invasion force. They’ve already dealt with Putress, and now they’re ready to get rid of Thrall and the rest of the Horde as well.

After all, now they know what happens when you give people second chances, don’t they? King Varian Wrynn knew they were scum all along.


While I was pretty impressed by the Wrath Gate cinematic, I also found myself deeply involved in the scene after the defeat of Varimathras, when the Horde and Alliance once again return to a state of war.  I was ready to kill King Varian of Stormwind myself after his stream of invective about the orcs and the horde, and it was tragic but inevitable that somebody intervened to try and let people cool off. Oh well.

After a day or so of letting the plot developments sink in, I realized that while of course I was horrified and frustrated by what Putress had done and how it had destroyed years of slow-grown goodwill between the Alliance and the Horde, part of me cheered for him when I rewatched the cinematic.

I think it’s because of just how long they’ve been working on the New Plague. They’d turned a dream into something that made the Lich King himself choke and gag. I think the only thing they hadn’t really planned for was the dragons.

Given my previous post on ethics in WoW, it’s interesting to note that in order to trigger the Wrath Gate event and its followups, you do have to work with the Forsaken in that region to perfect the New Plague. So if you don’t want to dirty your hands with biological warfare, plot simply doesn’t happen and the siege at Angrathar never progresses past that stage. I’ll have to observe if later quests assume it happened and refer to it, or just imply it did. 

But the content designers clearly want to link player involvement with plot and plot consequences, which I think I’m happy about.

I also think it’s interesting how a story can be assembled from bits that don’t directly connect to each other. For example, in the content area after the Wrath Gate area, there’s a lot of pvp conflict between the Horde and Alliance. Nobody refers to Angrathar directly, but if you’ve participated in the event, it’s pretty easy to assume cause and effect. There’s an extra tang of viciousness that I suspect is entirely in my head, and if I hadn’t done the event it wouldn’t stand out any more than previous pvp scenarios.

Finally, I wanted to mention the spoilers I’d had before the event and how they warped my expectations of the event and some of the preceding content. I’d heard that Putress was a traitor, that Varimathras was a traitor, and that Sylvanas was almost killed. And also that there was a cut scene.

The image I built as a result was that Putress was a traitor for the Lich King, and that the cut scene would feature an attack on Sylvanas. So I kept looking for Sylvanas in Northrend, and I was very aware of plotlines about treachery in the preceding content, and I was prone to considering Putress’s attack ‘awesome’ rather than ‘treacherous’. After all, he was just being consistent…

By the way, there’s an Achievement associated with participating in the Wrath Gate event…

I expect my next epic WoW post to be about another plotline that grants an achievement upon completion. It features a troll, and the Lich King, and also seems to revolve around dirty hands and extremely ambiguous ethical choices (based on quest titles). I’m looking forward to it!

Fun and games

I’m still playing World of Warcraft. Disgaea 2 is on hold because Kevin absconded with my PS2 so he could play God of War II. I was not as happy with God of War II as I was with God of War, but it was still worth watching.

Anyhow, my WoW playing is slow, because I mostly play on weekends. It’s so easy to play on weekdays… all day… that I have to be careful and have some disciprine. Plus, I prefer to play with rested XP. But I finally have a character over level 40! That means she can ride around on her riding wolf, and I can play in areas I’ve never seen before. But that’s just my first character, and she’s really only level 40 because she’s been around for a very long time. I’m a wizard at getting characters to level 12 quickly… and then from 12-24 takes forever, and then…. nothing. Well, we’ll see if that remains true. I’ve got this new character, see… and I’m sure she’ll work out! No, really. Because she’s based on a similar character from a different server and a different faction that I actually pushed to level 30 pleasantly. Woohoo level 30!

I wish it wasn’t so expensive to move characters between servers. It costs as much as some game expansions do, and while I suppose it’s an equivalent experience in some ways, it’s just… annoying when you’re trying to save money but you’d also kind of like to see old friends again.

Heavy posting day…

I’ve been playing WoW a lot. I haven’t been working on my novel much. I’m going to have to rebuild my schedule but I hope to still have a finished readable edited first draft by the end of the year, if not sooner.

The reason I’m playing WoW so much is that it’s my current anti-brooding device. I’ve been doing a lot of brooding lately when I’m not involved by an anti-brooding device. A lot of things are going on and most of them are good, but it doesn’t change my circumstances at present.

In some ways, a long descent that I predicted many years ago is reaching its conclusion. As with a diving airplane in a movie, we wonder, Will the plane pull up in time? Will it crash and burn?

We’re getting awfully close to the ground. And it shows. Many things are going well, so since I can’t obssess about my personal life (much), I get irritated by… almost everything. I spend a lot of time hating the state of the world. I develop and nurture new pet peeves. For example, one of my pet peeves is poor reading comprehension. Another pet peeve is the national tendency to prioritize risk-mitigation over… almost everything else. Sometimes, taking a risk is the right thing to do.

Anyhow, I don’t like hating the world, I don’t enjoy being irritated, these are not my preferred states of mind. So I seek constant immersive distraction. It has short-term negative consequences, but, I believe, future positive consequences. Because brooding is bad for me. I pick at scabs and create wounds where once none were. And I have to hold myself together for a while longer yet.