You guys. YOU GUYS. This has got me blogging for the first time in *mumble* months. HUZZAH.
Okay, obligatory warning: HERE BE SPOILERS.
SPOILERS FOR THERAMORE SCENARIO
SPOILERS FOR JAINA PROUDMOORE: TIDES OF WAR
Every day I’m spoilerin’.
Oh, and DISCLAIMER: I don’t have an 85 Hordie to do the scenario, so I’m writing this solely from an Alliance perspective. I know there are issues and shortcomings on the Horde side too, and I’ll try to address some of that, but my primary focus for this entry is on the Alliance-side problems, because that’s what I know.
I also have another bias: I was directly, personally affected by an IRL event we call the Murrah Building bombing, and I have special feels about bombs. Tides of War caused reactions that will be – okay, on rereading my own post, definitely ARE reflected in this post. So, fair warning: emotions and feelings lie ahead.
Got it? Good. Here we go!
Strictly from a gameplay sense, I enjoyed the scenario. I ran it Monday evening when it opened, three times, and didn’t experience any bugs or weirdness. I ran it with friends, so I can’t comment on wait times. The only issue was that it felt slightly undertuned at an iLvl of 365 (I understand the mobs have since been buffed and it’s a bit more challenging now. I don’t see this as a bad thing. Challenge is good.)
The scenario was easy to follow, even without in-place questgivers. The markers were easy to follow, objectives were marked clearly, and the mechanics explained themselves well. Also, well, “(Friend), interact with that Leaking Oil Drum” was a fun command to see pop up in chat, I can’t lie. /easily amused
The voice acting wasn’t half bad – not amazing, but not awful; the exchange between Jaina and Rok’nah actually felt like it had some feeling behind it – and seeing Jaina surrounded by 7 frozen mobs while she sent 3 elementals out against the orcs was kind of a neat hint as to her power. It’s subtle, but it’s there.
In terms of loot, two of my bags gave me fireworks, the third gave me the mail agi helm, which was an upgrade for me. Not bad odds. If the upcoming scenarios in Mists are this compact, I can see myself doing lots of them when I don’t have the time or the inclination to do instances.
Too abrupt. You come in to a cinematic of the bomb being dropped (aside: the goblin accent really, really needs work), and at the end you just port back to Stormwind. There’s no lead-in quest to fill you in on the battle that preceded your entry, no explanation as to why you’re there. Nor is there any follow-up afterward. The battle and its aftermath were very well described in Tides of War, and the abrupt nature of the scenario did the story a huge disservice.
Also, why on earth would Jaina put fireworks in my bag?! They’re pretty, don’t get me wrong, but are we celebrating the magical nuke that just took out a city? I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any times I’ve seen fireworks used in anything but celebration, and WMDs are hardly to be celebrated.
Which brings me to…
The story. Oh, my heavens, the story.
When I read Tides of War, it left me with, for lack of a better phrase, a lot of feelings (which is why I need to read it again before I do a proper review). The book was not what I’d call flawless, but one thing it did very well was capture not only Jaina’s emotional response to what had happened to her city, but also the horrific aftermath of what that weapon did (and it was horrific; it was a weapon of mass destruction, the magical equivalent of a nuclear bomb). From the devastation of the city and landscape itself to the recognition of her friends among the dead, and the “books here, severed body parts there” description of the blast site – there were parts where I had to stop, breathe, and remind myself that I was reading a work of fiction. I don’t know if Christie Golden has ever visited a bomb site, but her writing of the Theramore aftermath, of both the arcane and the physical damage, was very believable, and thus very emotional. Her visit to Dalaran and to a particular gnome family afterward brought the whole thing home, it made it personal, and it had such impact. I was in tears, and I spent the rest of the book wanting to just wrap my arms around Jaina and tell her yes, it’ll be okay, you have the strength to get through this. It’s the first WoW book that has ever actually made me cry.
And we saw none of that impact in the scenario.
Now, I’m not saying we needed to be treated to every gory detail of the battle. I’m not saying we needed a Jaina’s-eye view of the destruction of her city and the deaths of her friends and citizens. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have handled that kind of detail all that well; hell, I had to close my eyes when the bomb dropped in the cinematic, and all they did was fade to white! But come on, Blizzard. This was a HUGE lore event. It led to a change of leadership for the Kirin Tor, established a precedent for the Kirin Tor actually taking non-neutral actions under extraordinary circumstances, and completely changed at least one character forever. It led to active dissent and even more strife within the Horde. It has, or should have, a major story impact on leaders and players of both factions. It deserved to be a self-contained story for both sides. And yet I’m seeing so many complaints – from players of both factions – about how abrupt and unsatisfactory it was, and how little sense it made to people who didn’t read the book?
I understand that an entire book’s contents can’t be squeezed into a 20-minute scenario. But how many Alliance players know what that thing is that’s falling on the city and why Jaina suddenly has white hair if they haven’t read ToW? How many Horde players know who Thalen Songweaver is if they haven’t read ToW? Why on earth didn’t Blizzard stick a few quests in at one end or the other to round out the story?
That, to me, is the one failing of the Theramore scenario – and to me, it’s huge. That, and apparently the Horde scenario is set just before the bomb, while the Alliance version is set just after? That smacks too much of splitting the story so you have to roll a character on the other faction to see the full version – only the scenario doesn’t quite tell the full story, even if you *do* see both sides.
In terms of gameplay, the scenario met expectations. It was a good preview of how they’ll work in Mists, and it got me interested in running more of them: mission accomplished. But the story fell apart; with no quests or intro or follow-up to explain what went on, it’s a underwhelming storywise and ultimately unsatisfying on both sides. Hopefully with other scenarios we’ll have some one-time quests or something to provide context and a more rounded-out story for us lore nerds.
(Fortunately, Blizzard has heard the complaints; they stated in the Best Buy Q&A that they’d heard the concerns about context and planned to carry that lesson forward. Theramore is what it is, but hopefully they’ll keep that problem in mind and give us a bit more context in future scenarios. So, we’ll see what happens!)