I have a lot of things to write about and a few posts working their way around in my head. I’ve leveled a blood elf fire mage (what else?) to 90, getting the Double Agent achievement (but not Terrific Trio, even though I now have four level 90s). My guild has downed Garrosh (twice now), and heroic Norushen. But in that process we had Blizzcon and the new expansion was announced and we got a new trailer and all sorts of goodies to talk about, so I wanted to post while it was still fresh.
My quick reaction: I am disappointed and disheartened by the direction Warcraft is going.
Let’s start with the concept.
As I understand it (and I was not at Blizzcon, so forgive me if I’m wrong but understand that this is my perspective), Garrosh has escaped from his imprisonment and travels backwards in time and space to Draenor to arm the Orc clans there with some sort of new iron technology, forming the “Iron Horde”. Using its new technology, the Iron Horde (seriously, couldn’t they come up with a new name?) will sweep through Draenor and then sweep through Azeroth and destroy everything, unless we go back to stop them.
Let’s stop right there and note a few things. Once again, this is a story about orcs. In Cataclysm, the primary narrative (since Deathwing’s narrative could be described in two words: “destroy everything”) was Thrall and his transformation from Warchief to whatever he is now. In Mists, the primary narrative was Garrosh’s attempt to consolidate power and rule Azeroth. And now in Warlords of Draenor the primary narrative seems to be about the orcish clans forming the Iron Horde.
You know what? I’m tired of orcs. I’m tired of stories about orcs. Orcs are thuggish, brutish creatures that seem to reflect a desire for primal masculinity. They are not generally able to support a story of any real depth (Thrall being, perhaps, the one exception). Further, they are not the race which most players seem to want to build a narrative around: on all realms, only 8% of characters are Orcs, while on RP realms (where personal narratives generally matter more), only 5% of characters are Orcs. (Orcs are less popular than Gnomes, which should tell people something). Why do we get another expansion where Orcs provide the primary impetus to the story?
I want to be absolutely clear here. This is not a Horde versus Alliance thing. If I were a Forsaken player, I’d be upset that the developments that were so strong in WotLK and the beginning of Cataclysm have once again been shunted to the side. This is another tale about orcs, which in my mind are one of the least interesting races in the game.
So why tell another story about orcs? Well, let’s consider the trailer, and the characters shown in the trailer. There are a lot of unidentifiable characters in the various armies, but of the characters I could identify, there were 21 orcs, 3 draenei, 2 dwarfs, and 3 characters I couldn’t identify (two were the ones shown in the player PvP segment and visible for about a second, and one was in the image of the Garrison, IIRC). A lot of orcs, I know. But let’s consider the gender breakdown. 19 of the 21 orcs were male, 2 of the three draenei were male, and both dwarves were male.
Go to Blizzard’s own Warlords of Draenor page. How many male characters are represented on that page? Thirty-one. How many female characters? 4. Two of those are the generic human and forsaken images for the new model preview screen, both helpfully greyed out. Speaking of those new character models, the only ones available for viewing are, you guessed it, male.
World of Warcraft is a game where by design gender does not matter. A human female warrior has the same stats as a human male warrior. A female night elf druid has the same stats as a male night elf druid. And so on. There is no reason to say that “orcs were a primitive, male dominated society” when there is no special characteristic of gender that would allow males to dominate. It is, in a word, idiotic.
This could be lazy, or it could be driven by general sexism. After reading some of the reactions to questions about the lack of women, I’m leaning toward it being genuine sexism by the people involved in crafting the game. There are only so many times you can give us a Ji Firepaw or a portrait of “Tyrande” featuring more Malfurion than Tyrande or a Spicemaster Jin Jao before you lose the benefit of the doubt.
The reason this is bad is not just because you’re putting off half of your user base (plus the portion of men who also care about such things). It’s because the stories become far less interesting without female characters in them. I would enjoy a game far more if I could imagine that, in some major portion, it passed the Bechdel test.
But once again we’ll see a game with a narrative about a primitive male-dominated society because that’s probably all Blizzard is interested or capable of writing about. Consider for a moment the “clangs” that resonate from the logical flaws in the premise to the story. Garrosh—guarded as fiercely as he must be by the Shado Pan—escapes, somehow gets access to technology that he didn’t have during Mists of Pandaria (otherwise he would have one shot us all), somehow takes that technology and instead of using it on Azeroth, travels backwards in time and space to Draenor. He then gives that technology to a primitive male dominated society who, without the benefit of feminine ingenuity somehow manage to apply that technology to their own situation and change the course of history forever.
Whew. I feel contorted just talking about that. Wouldn’t it have been simpler to tell a story about the Emerald Dream, or of Azshara’s rise from the depths of the ocean, or something like that? Something that, you know, might have had major roles for female characters?
Let’s move to the specifics because I think I’ve made my point here.
Updated models, in theory, updated models are great. In practice, this was an absolute requirement. I will reserve judgment until I actually see them. I will note that it is no great thing in 2013 to give a character model working fingers and decent looking hair.
Garrisons: “Yay, player housing!” one would think. But this doesn’t look to me to be player housing at all. It looks to me like an expansion of the Yoon family farm. It will be a nice thing to have, but it doesn’t strike me as a guild meeting hall or a player home or some place where you could actually take other people. I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see this but it strikes me as something that will be built and ignored, as my farms are now for the most part.
Elimination of secondary stats: This also strikes me as a mistake. Yes, the reforge process now is rather tedious, but this strikes me as a reduction in the variety of gear, such that any weapon from any heroic dungeon, for instance, is as good as any other. Some of us like the idea of finding better gear, working with haste caps, and so forth. I for one like there to be a little thought as it comes to gear.
Raid changes: These are going to seriously mess with our guild raid team. I’m not sure that we would, in fact, ever get to Mythic raiding (it strikes me that Mythic is made for the real hard core raiding guilds), but if we do it would mean recruiting ten more people in an environment where people are leaving the game. I think the lack of a size in normal and heroic raids would also make it far harder to refuse a person from coming along or push people to do their best.
Instant 90: For someone who has leveled many characters this is a nice perk. For someone new to the game or returning to the game after a long layoff, this could be extremely dangerous. Any class has quite a bit of complexity at level 90 (except for arcane mages, of course), and part of the leveling process is learning to manage that complexity as little bits are added over time. A person thrown to the wolves with a level 90 would find things very difficult. It’s a nice perk for experienced players but I would caution a new player to start from 1 rather than 90.
(Also, isn’t this a tacit admission by Blizzard that leveling—which used to be the draw of the game—is now something to be avoided?)
In short, I’m very worried. I’m worried that the creative team seems to be inspired by “300” and doesn’t know how to handle a female character. I’m concerned that none of the new changes seem to be of a sort to drive or sustain interest.