Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The True Story of Theramore and Pandaria

Nearly a year ago, Blizzard rolled out a pre-Pandaria special release of the in-game World of Warcraft scenario that destroyed the long-standing Alliance town of Theramore.  My reaction at the time was that the events shown in game made no sense without context provided from the novel, Tides of War, that was released around this time.  I picked up a copy of the novel as part of my pile of offline trip reading, and it turned out that I had only part of the partial story... it's the entire expansion that is only now making sense to me after having read the book. 

In addition to explaining how and why Theramore was wiped off the map, the book describes how numerous Alliance and Kirin Tor NPC's were killed in the bombing.  Their deaths were not immediately apparent in-game, and are a key part of the political context for the entire expansion - why it is such a big deal for both sides when conflict breaks out over the newly discovered continent of Pandaria.  The player finally encounters the survivors of Theramore in the Alliance Thunder Isle storyline (patch 5.2), and is left to piece together what happened to them in the time since last they were seen in game from random snippets of dialog. 

A Blackrock Orc named Malkorok is introduced in the novel as Garrosh's personal enforcer, at a minimum helping to enable the Warchief's fall to the dark side.  His actions - murdering anyone who disagrees with Garrosh and denying the Warchief's most closest advisors access to their leader - are apparently a big part of how the other leaders come to the conclusion that Garrosh must be removed, even if it means working with the Alliance to do it.  In game, this character is a throwaway character in one of the scenarios added in patch 5.3, and in a quest along the Horde storyline.  I guess he'll probably be a raid boss next patch, and most players won't know why. 

More generally, my initial impression of the Pandaria expansion storyline, NOT yet having read the book, was extremely mixed.  I felt that the Pandaren stereotypes (serene but hungry) were jokes that got overused and that the faction tension appeared artificial with the two sides in the conflict somehow taking on the same foes as they work across the continent.  Now I understand the narrative decision that brought us to Pandaria, and the seemingly odd decision to pre-announce that the Horde's own faction leader would be the expansion's final boss. 

The entire continent is a narrative gimmick, used to introduce the concept of "Sha" - physical corruption of people who have negative emotions - to take Garrosh's story to the end of his career as Warchief.  Knowing that this is what the story is about - and knowing all the context that was only available in the book - now makes me much more interested in seeing this seemingly bizarre detour in the story of Azeroth through to its ending.  It also emphasizes how inadequate the in-game treatment of the story was, when a player could go to the level cap, covering a fair amount of the content in the process, and have no idea what was going on. 

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