The Worst Storyline in Wrath

I know that a lot of players feel that storytelling is a sideshow to the main event in games; it doesn’t involve gameplay, and it’s seen as fluff to keep the punters/ fanfic writers amused. I don’t agree with this view, I think the role of storytelling in games is to make encounters feel meaningful – why else would we care about characters and avatars like Lara Croft, Sonic, sackboy, Commander Shepherd; might as well just represent the player by a  giant blue square.

But like it or not, the quality of storytelling and NPC design has a huge effect on how players respond to different parts of the game. Or in other words, the virtual reward of being able to deliver a good kicking to an NPC who people truly hate is on par with epics for a lot of people. After all, the epics will get replaced soon enough, but the storyline is a lasting memory and experience.

So, in that vein, which is the most unpopular storyline in Wrath? It’s undoubtedly the blue dragonflight – we kill an aspect (that’s like a demi-god) and no one cares. A few completists wonder whether that story was supposed to tail off, and everyone else is glad that Blizzard seems to have buried it. This is partly because of an unpopular raid fight which involved awkward vehicles, but it’s also because the writing didn’t make us care.

Piss him off by killing his consort? That was your entire plan?

malygos

I’ve had the great misfortune to play through Colderra again on an alt recently. It’s a subzone of the Borean Tundra in Northrend (ie. this is Wrath content) and although it’s not horribly painful as an experience, it’s also not a shining beacon of level design. Kill 10 x, collect 10 x, return to quest giver and be told to kill or collect x other things. And so on.

But the low point of the zone is the Keristrazsa questline. A game like Dragon Age would have nailed that storyline, because it has all the right elements. A wronged prisoner seeking righteous revenge, enlisting the PCs help, everything goes pear shaped and she ends up in a worse state than before, doomed to have her mind broken and forced to become Malygos’ new consort.

Now that really should have been good story material. But not in the hands of Blizzard writers, oh no.

What actually happens is this:

You discover the arcane prison and one of the NPCs at the local base is able to unlock it. He tells you to open the prison at your own risk. When you do so, a pretty girl who is really a dragon appears. Malygos (big bad dragon aspect who will die to countless raid groups later on) has imprisoned her – boo. We don’t entirely know why but she’s out for revenge.

You agree to help, having already been told that the blue dragonflight are the bad guys here. She has you gather some stuff so that she can lay a trap for Malygos’ consort, who you later kill on her behalf. OK, so that was kind of random revenge fantasy on the NPCs part but I guess she has been imprisoned for ages and that has to take it out of you.

Then she moves to the next stage of her plan. She has you lay out the consort’s corpse on the ground and she burns it, and calls out to the dragon aspect to come look at what she has done. Now, this really should set danger warnings  because dragon aspects are very badass. In any case, he comes out of the Nexus to mourn? (Well, he laments about the consort so he’s actually got more sympathy at this point than the NPC you’re helping.) Keristrazsa literally flies loops around him for no special reason, she doesn’t seem to want to attack. Then she lands, tells you to run away and … Malygos comes down and spirits her away to an instance. I’m not sure why being frozen in an instance is going to persuade her to be his consort. In any case, when you get to the Nexus, she’ll beg you to kill her so she can hand over some epics … or something.

It’s just that bad. It doesn’t make sense on any level, it’s confused, the characters are stupid and yeah. I got nothing. Dragons have really failed to impress. Again. Except Onyxia.

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19 thoughts on “The Worst Storyline in Wrath

  1. I found that storyline shocking for how horrible the actions are. Imagine it in a movie with humans, they’d all seem so horrible.
    By accident, find and free prisoner.
    Plot with prisoner to kill wife of guy who made prison.
    Burn wife.
    Prisoner is taken prisoner again, apparently with him intended to rape her; unless I’m giving far too much meaning to consort.
    She goes insane.
    I kill her.

  2. Yeah. I thought it was kind of disturbing. With included implied dragon rape.

    That said, Nefarian remains the best dragon. Even though everyone seems to forget about him.

  3. Nefarian had class, definitely, but has anyone noticed that there are *no* bad Troll-based storylines? Granted, you don’t get many on the Alliance side, but whoever writes the stuff for the Trolls should be given an award (Who here hates Drakuru for instance)
    There’s also the unfinished mess of Dustwallow Marsh which was kinda supposed to reveal where Varian had gotten to, but they forgot about it, released a comic and left the marsh to it’s own devices. I can’t remember the last time I felt I had to level there (I can barely remember the level range, I think it’s 40 something). There’s the whole burned-down inn investigation too, which just dies mid-way through. An entire zone that is just one aborted attempt at content.
    Here’s hoping Cataclysm will liven it up a bit.

    • Zul’Farrak was an interesting one because it’s hard to defend anything you did in there on an ethical level. You burst in, killed their god so gnomes could have a faster car, rescued some guys who were being executed because they were robbing graves then killed them anyway, butchered their livestock and then killed their chieftan. There’s also the distinct possibility you did this as part of your quest to unwittingly release an old god and cause the collapse of one of the last remaining outposts of the old troll civilisation.

      Trolls better get to be the good guys in Cataclysm.

  4. You know, I’ve never understood the decision to make Magylos a bad guy. All the fluff around the war of the ancients and the freeing of Alexstraza implied (to me at any rate) that Magylos was getting over that whole “insane for 10,000 years” bit and was finally rebuilding his flight.

    Then wham, he’s a bad guy and you sucessfully take down the Aspect of Magic.

  5. I do not believe WoW is about “good” and “bad”.
    Players are just taking the side the story writers thought we should take. We are not playing the good side, nor the bad side… we are just playing a side.

    Let’s take Warcraft3 for instance. The campaigns and the stories we play follow all sides and the player participates to all the events happening. We guide Arthas into his road to madness following his every step and understanding his motivations up to the summoning of Archimonde and the destruction of Dalaran, next we follow Thrall and the Night Elves into their battle to defend Kalimdor from the Legion.

    In the expansion we also play “the bad guys”. We follow Maiev, Illidan, Kael and Arthas into their stories. If you like, in wow we just take the opposite side, killing many of the heroes we followed in the first game.

    So I believe right and wrong, good or bad is as relative as the side we take. And the writers made a good job at this, making you see the motivations of every side involved and feel like you are entitled to the actions you take no matter the side you find yourself in.

    Malygos is not the bad guy… he’s just someone opposing the side players are on. I agree the story is far fetched and they could have done better. But in the end, we killed a boss, got some loot… well… I dont expect all their stories to have the same quality

  6. OT: I think you need a WoW break. Perhaps try Navy Field and sink ships, it is something entirely different and F2P. :)

    Back on topic:
    There were always some sloppy quests with silly motivation or story, what is really NEW in Wrath is what I also noticed across the whole games industry:

    Tesh once called it “violence porn”. Spilling tons of blood and guts was never really a problem, but it becomes more common. Also, topics like rape, torture (there is also a short torture quest that made Bartle think), death, even sex (the daily walrus quest) are now part of the quest repertoire.

    Nobody should get me wrong, I am not allergic this at all. But if people remember how Warcraft started, it was a quite serious story with a comic style touch to graphics. Then it became more and more comical, with Warcraft III being the culmination, especially when it comes to graphics style.

    I do not recall that the early WoW and even TBC (despite the military ranks of the honor system, which were abolished maybe also for the very reason their inherent quality makes them sound very serious and like military/war, which would not suit Joe Everyone, grandma and little kids, the “everyone” target demographic) had so much total war, torture, crusader mentality and a cruel world as background. The shift to Cataclysm also implies a switch to a much more warlike and hateful world of conflict. More like the RTS titles, armies clashing together.

    Maybe WoW reflects our society, I am not sure if we would have accepted this as easily some years ago. This quest was a bit confusing indeed, especially the part where Malygos gets lured out and then banishes Keri into the instance.

    I also think about Dragon Age – the new trend seems to be darker, more sinister fantasy worlds.

    • I do not recall that the early WoW and even TBC (despite the military ranks of the honor system, which were abolished maybe also for the very reason their inherent quality makes them sound very serious and like military/war, which would not suit Joe Everyone, grandma and little kids, the “everyone” target demographic) had so much total war, torture, crusader mentality and a cruel world as background.
      That sentence should be taken outside and shot.

      Yes, it’s a common misconception that serious means dark, violent and sociopathic. But I don’t think that Blizzard made the same mistake as everyone else. Fans have asked Blizzard to take their own lore seriously for quite some time, and they have staunchly rejected it, saying that gameplay dictates lore, not the other way around. So they’re using the other definition of “serious” to pay lip service to the small but vocal minority.

  7. > why else would we care about characters and avatars like Lara Croft

    That was not a serious question, was it? I doubt it was the story. :-p

    That’s also the questline where you have to torture a prisoner to question him… very bad story line, indeed. (That crap should stay in 24.)

    But it’s not the only problem.

    – Why do we fight Sartharion?
    – Why do we help the black dragonflight? The ambassador at Wyrmrest temple sends us to the cave and we help them. Why?
    – Why doesn’t the world collapse when we kill Yogg Saron? The titans thought that Azeroth would be destroied if they kill an old god.
    – Why doesn’t the world end when we annihilate an aspect? Azeroth just behaves as if it never happend.

    There is the sons of hodir pre quest chain where you slaughter a slave to get the trust of the authority.

    Also very cruel is the drop quest when you kill Em in dragonblight which states that she was forced to work for Malygos and works as an undercover agent against him. You even get a letter from her dad where he congratulates you for killing his daughter and he doesn’t mind because you couldn’t know… something like that.

    • Telling you your character’s name and motivation is definitely part of the story. (Granted, it may not be a very deep in-character motivation but that’s the reason you play as a pregenerated character.)

  8. Yeah that one was pretty bad.

    Let’s also not forget the Bronzebeard storyline. I was very excited when I found out one of my favorite characters from Warcraft III was still alive. But they botched the story.

    First, the background was primarily told through text. You had to read a lot to understand what happened to Muradin. Second, the reunion was ultra-convenient, and despite a momentous occasion, they split off to go do their own thing in literally a split second, which really shattered the immersion. Third, the story used to explain his ascension to the leader of the Frosthold Dwarves was, again, way too convenient.

    Had Bioware done that, you can bet it would have been an epic sage filled with regret, salvation and a fierce determination to squash the ancient evil stirs in the distance.

  9. I’ve found that WoW has always had lackluster storytelling. I love the game, but the narrative drive for me to want to do anything is virtually nonexistant.

    That’s the main reason I look forward to SW:TOR: to see if Bioware can actually create an MMO where I care about what happens in the world.

    You mention Onyxia, but even she is only there to be a lootbag if you ask me. I never once had a reason to care about her taking over Stormwind politics. I only wanted to kill her for my Tier 2 hat. And when I got my moose antlers, I was done with her…except when my guild needed the runs.

    To me, Nefarian was the best dragon they’ve implemented because he had his UBRS story and then you had to work your way through his lair to kill him on his throne. He taunted us in vanilla like Arthas has in WLK, and it made us want to fight him. He might be the only villain like that in the game for me.

    But Maly and Sarth? Who were they and why they gave me loot, I’ll never know. Or care.

    • I think the storytelling in WoW has been very patchy. We remember the good storylines (the ones with the memorable characters or interesting, consistent questlines) as being fun, I think. And some of the work they’ve done in Wrath has been great — for a MMO. I really liked the Sons of Hodir questline and some of the phased stuff in Icecrown, for example, and Howling Fjord does a great job at getting you straight into the Wrath mindset.

      Then there’s some really inconsistent and bad stuff. I’m also looking forwards to seeing what Bioware can do with an MMO though, DAO has really convinced me that they’re serious about the storytelling.

  10. Malygos is insane, and wants to kill all humanoids by using the Nexus to destroy us: sounds like a good reason to kill him. meh.
    Actually your story should be more like:
    got invited to Nexus instance, killed a number of bosses including some frozen dragon. Later did the quests and realised why she got frozen. Completely forgot the reason why I had to use the crystal thing over the abyss, though.

    This happens a lot – old Thorim telling me “I remember you, from the mountains” when I had no clue who he was.
    Later on I did the quests and found out what he was talking about; but of course he was already in Ulduar, so how come I was now talking to him in Icecrown? Then Loken (who I had already killed in HoL)came and took him off to Ulduar. I have a head-ache.

    Like the Professor, I still have no clue who Sartharion is. I suppose I should try and find out.

  11. I’ve always felt dragons should be awesome, hyper-intelligent and mostly alien. Supra-genius Reptile brains have not much in common with the apes…

    Dragonkin sorta ruin that (although Runequest Dragonnewts gotta away with it by being odder than a hatfull of jelly spanners) so yeah….Dragons have just never been done right and their plots just suck in WoW.

    I still recall bumping into that first world -demi-boss dragon north of Tarren mill and having it scare the pants off me…Dragons should inspire respect!

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