Observing the current state of Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft is sad and exhausting experience. Saying that there's a lot of people that are rather unsatisfied with how things are going in this franchise would be an understatement. Despite this, I feel like this angle on Warcraft nowadays doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. That's why I thought it would be a great idea to go over some things from present canon that affect story/lore of this series (and not only them). While it's true that Blizzard had a lot of mishaps "in times of Metzen", now I want to focus more on their current era.
WARNING: The goal of this post isn't to ruin someone else's fan. Not to attack anyone from Blizzard/this community for being satisfied with how things are going on at the moment or encourage others to do so. I want to provide a constructive criticism in well-written format instead of indecipherable rant without actual points. Approaching mentioned in this post topics by examine the actual story/lore material, developers quotes and community itself. I hope that I succeed in it at least a little. Because otherwise I put a lot of time and efforts into this post only to fail afterwards, which would be extremely sad and disappointing.
Also, just to make sure that you're aware of this... There're spoilers to Shadowlands.
Reaching the Consistency... again.
Warcraft/World of Warcraft RPG played an interesting part in canon at the time. It wasn't just another Dungeons & Dragons game, but in Warcraft setting. Books from these series provided a lot of interesting story/lore material for this franchise. Various short stories and a lot of story/lore details described many things within Warcraft: characters, races, faction, magic, etc. I never really dived deep into RPG material, but that's definitely something I want to fix as there's really a lot to look at. I mean, Blizzard saw them as an important part of Warcraft's story/lore at the time:
"Want to know more about the lore of World of Warcraft? The game doesn't require any additional reading to play. However, you might enjoy gaining a more detailed knowledge of Warcraft lore. Here are some resources that are available: ...RPGs... Warcraft Role-Playing Games provide a wealth of information about Warcraft lore."
They served that purpose well... until they were claimed as non-canon:
"The RPG books were created to provide an engaging table-top role-playing experience, which sometimes required diverging from the established video game canon. Blizzard helped generate a great deal of the content within the RPG books, so there will be times when ideas from the RPG will make their way into the game and official lore, but you are much better off considering the RPG books non-canonical unless otherwise stated."
Although Blizzard brought back some stuff from RPG books, overall they were abandoned for good and issue of inconsistency and messy story/lore all around Warcraft series was obvious as ever. Then Chris Metzen, Matt Burns and Robert Brooks with help from artists, such as Peter Lee, Joseph Lacroix and Alex Horley, decided to address and ultimately fix this issue once and for all... for now.
It's hard to overstate how excited I was about Chronicle series. Everyone was hyped. Having all elements of Warcraft gathered and organized in one book that serves as the ultimate vault of canon was really amazing. Volume 1 and 2 were really good. Third one... was underwhelming, let's just say that. Of course, Blizzard played some tricks and left out/didn't provide enough information on some things across all books of Chronicle series. Either to work on it and bring up later or to let some of these things remain a mystery because sometimes its best to leave some aspects of lore in the dark. Despite this moment, Chronicle was still a nice definitive source of canon... for a while.
Oh yeah, I'll talk about that statement from Steve Danuser at Blizzcon 2019:
Steve Danuser: "Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, Chr-... Chronicle is something that we worked on. You know, all of us together going through the Warcraft history, but the, the thing to remember about Chronicle, that I what you to thing about, is that, you know, even... Any history, even something that's as encyclopedic as Chronicle is written from certain point of view and if you look at history of Azeroth that was contained in there and even, you know, what it talked about in terms of the cosmos and things like that. Whose point of view would that've been from?"
Scream from crowd: "Titans!"
Steve Danuser: "That's right! The Titans point of view and the people who worked for the Titans..."
You know, that's quite a creative way to avoid saying the word "retcon" or its synonyms. Let's be real, that's what it is. It's their explanation of ignoring Chronicles and add contradictory information. To simple put it, "It's not a retcon. It's just Titans being wrong". And with how Blizzard manage this kind of narrative, I'm sure that's how it's gonna be (If not already). It's not just about switching Chronicle's purpose
into something it was never supposed to be. By turning these books into "honest opinion" of specific entity within that universe, you imply that all information that it contains could be false or incorrect. In other words, we can't trust Chronicles anymore and we shouldn't.
I find this kind of decision to be a very disrespectful act towards all Warcraft story/lore fans. Especially those that actually bought the books themselves instead of learning about its details from Internet. Also, one of the upcoming Warcraft books, Grimoire of the Shadowlands and Beyond, already stated to "follow a Broker through" its narrative. I'm not against the "unreliable narrator" elements in games. Damn, I remember playing a bit of Morrowind and I really like that The Elder Scrolls uses this element to demonstrate a certain event from the perspective of certain authorace.
You know what's the difference between the two? The Elder Scrolls does this kind of stuff in-game. All these books appear in games. I know that three volumes of The Skyrim Library are a thing, but they were stated as the collection of in-game texts since day one. So, why would people dare to buy a book of its favorite franchise that most likely contains a deliberately false information when this kind of literature should be available in the game instead?... I know that many people will buy it anyway.
The Loss of Dread and Mystery.
Let's talk about Old Gods and their development over the course of World of Warcraft and its expansions. They started off pretty good, actually. C'Thun's presence in The Temple of Ahn'Qiraj is excelent. His whispers create a frightening atmosphere within the raid that makes it a fantastic experience. Yogg-Saron followed this tradition in Whisper Gulch and Ahn'Kahet, but in Ulduar he also incorporated three visions from the Azeroth's past. Although only one of them referred to future event (an obvious one), that kicked off a trend that'll affect Old Gods by forcing them into their current state.
Puzzle Box of Yogg-Saron obeyed to already established code of Old God's whisper, but this time also served as another part of N'Zoth's build-up by directly and vaguely mentioning him and Ny'Alotha, "the sleeping city". "The sunken city." That's not a only thing that this puzzle box whispered about. Fallen Old God Y'Shaarj was likely mentioned here for the first time in Warcraft as "a black goat with seven eyes" before his full debut in next expansion, Mists of Pandaria...
There he continued the typical Old God behavior via whispers over the coarse of the fight against Garrosh Hellscream during the Siege of Orgrimmar... and through Xal'atoh, Desecrated Image of Gorehowl. Besides one mentioning of Ny'Alotha, Y'Shaarj's whispers weren't much different from C'Thun's or Yogg-Saron's "common language" of upcoming betrayal and despair... Oh yeah, Blackfathom Deeps was updated in Warlords of Draenor with a few Old God whispers.
Everything changed when Legion came along. It really did change. With arrival of Il'gynoth and Xal'atath, premise of the Old Gods really shifted from being an homage to Cthulhu Mythos to "Magic 8 Balls/fortune cookies". Carry Xal'atath or punch Il'gynoth to get some abstract phrase to theorize on. With both of them, lore speculations really skyrocketed and old depiction of Old Gods died with it.
After all these years, when the time has come for N'Zoth to rise from his prison and unleash himself upon the Azeroth after all build-ups and expectations... It played out differently. Sunken titan complex fused with Black Empire's architecture and filled with nightmarish horrors from dreams? You know, this balance between Ahn'Quraj, Ulduar and Emerald Nightmare that would've been visually as cool as you imagine... How about an alternate reality (or something) that represents the restored Black Empire straight from that Chronicle Volume 1 art? Enormous and monstrous being that's been plotting his plans long before Cataclysm, which was just one of his many schemes? Nah, that's not it. Instead, you'll get a very simplified and downgraded version of this large octopus that'll act like a typical antagonist with genius evil plans only later to be killed in anime fashion with reference to The Lord of the Rings. Great, isn't it? I mean, just look at him
. Design differences speak for itself.
After that, as a final blow, Old Gods of Azeroth were stated to be dead for sure. From hardly defeating a mere manifestation of their immeasurable sides and power to being actually defeated by swords, arrows and magic. In N'Zoth's (and Old Gods as a whole) case, I see it as a sloppy act of "being done with it" to move on to something that interests current story/lore team more without giving it too much thought or respect. That's a part of another big issue within Warcraft that I'll elaborate on later.
Old Gods' retrospective:
C'Thun: "Death is close..."
Yogg-Saron: "There is no escape. Not in this life, not in the next."
Y'Shaarj: "I can taste the essence of your soul... It is sweet..."
Speaking of Old Gods, I would like to take a look at some more crazy couple of things around current Warcraft's story/lore. There's some worrying things when it comes to how both developers and community treat it that I think it's definitely worth expressing. First of all, I want to address how "quantity over quality" approach creates a false sense of expanded lore by referring to recent story/lore interviews as examples of that. Just how large some of these answers are, but without carrying the amount of information that would justify its length. For example:
Lorekeeper: "What happens to the soul in the Shadowlands if someone is raised from the dead?"
Steve Danuser: "Undeath is a force that has definitely touched Azeroth throughout history. Obviously the Scourge, and the storylines from Warcraft III with the Lich King, Arthas and all of that, is a prime example of undeath in Azeroth. But actually undeath on Azeroth dates much, much, much further back. If you go back to books about the Dawn of the Dragon Aspects, you will see Galakrond, and the force he used also had Death magic, necromancy as part of his power.
Like all the cosmic forces, Death has touched Azeroth in numerous ways over the ages. And one of most visible and pronounced in the modern age of Azeroth is the Forsaken and the undead who are animated. That may lead you to the questions: “For people like the Forsaken, are their souls in the Shadowlands? Are their souls in Azeroth?” The active raising of someone like the Forsaken, someone who has intellect and mind intact, means that their soul is being anchored to their body.
In life, for a living being, the soul is anchored to the body through the force of Life. It is a living body, therefore Life is a force that’s holding the soul to it. But in the case of a Forsaken, in the case of someone who is raised from the dead, it’s a different force, because life isn’t present within them. And so that is the force of necromancy, that is anchoring the soul to the body. Now it’s a different process than a living being, than someone who is kind of held together through the power of Life (with a capital L, as one of the Cosmic forces of the universe). So that Forsaken person, that undead person is held together by the power of Death, and that can have an effect on the soul. And we’ve seen that being raised can result in certain different circumstances. One person who’s raised may be very much intact. They may essentially be the same person that they were in life. Others are more aggressive, more hateful or more scornful than they were in life. And part of that has to do with the manner in which they’re raised. There’s all kinds of factors that go into that. So I would say that being raised that way is something of an imperfect process. It’s something that isn’t as defined and easily categorized as the living is. But make no mistake about it: Someone who is Forsaken, someone who is an intelligent undead like that, they do have their soul anchored to the mortal realm. Even if for a time it had crossed over in the Shadowlands and was brought back."
Steve didn't answer the question and there's nothing wrong with that. You don't have to repeat what we already knew in order to avoid this question. Just say something like "We'll explore it later". Some may argue that person is just passionate about his job (and that might be true), but every time when I read this stuff my brain gets so confused due to lack of actual material that it makes me suggest otherwise. I thought I had a blabbermouth issues when it comes to talking and writing, but I guess I could step up my game.
Another topic I want to address are said theorycrafting audience and how Blizzard... interacts with them. Theories aren't necessarily a bad thing, per se. Sometimes they're good for what they're and could serve as a good way of self-entertainment for fans of story/lore of various game or other type of media. But lately I started to notice how people going over-the-top with this kind of leisure and how developers can use that to their own advantage. When person really wants to see a certain picture, be sure that he'll succeed with that no matter what. I think that Battle for Azeroth was a great example of that, where at least half of entertainment were fulfilled by player's speculation. People were overloaded by their own theories while being fed with "clues" by Blizzard. Just remember how Blizzard through Azshara tried to emphasize the importance of speculations by repeating Il'gynoth's "Diamond King has been made a pawn". Like, "She said the line, guys! See? See? This is important".
It's almost like as if Blizzard wants players to make sense of their gibberish while pretending that everything was planned and goes according this plan. It's also weird in a way to watch materials made by this type of lore fans. I'll take Bellular for example, as he's probably the only content creator with this type of content I know. Seeing all these Shadowlands lore videos is... I don't want to use word "cringe", but it feels like I'm watching Ancient and I don't like that analogy either. You know, when I think about it, I seem to notice a lot of similarities between this over-excessive speculations and ufology. Again, I don't want to hurt anyone's feeling about how they love to interact with story/lore of Warcraft. It's fine as long as you have fun with it. Just some interesting and scuffed thought from me.
Fear of Original Ideas.
...or F.O.I. for short, as I don't really know how else I should call that. This terms (that I totally made up) refers to one of the biggest issues Shadowlands has in terms of story/lore. To be specific, how repeated and generic it often feels when you look at it. I'm not talking about the recycling nature of material, but also the obsession with "'true' originality" over continuity and originality of old/well-known parts of Warcraft's canon. Let's take a look at a few examples to see what I'm talking about:
- The First Ones - older "not Titans" that actually shaped the cosmos of Warcraft.
- Oribos - ancient "not Titan" architecture.
- Broker - not ethereals.
- Bastion - original Halls of Valor that were actually copied by Odyn.
- Kyrian - original Val'kyr and spirit healers that, again, were actually copied by Odyn.
- Maldraxxus - original Scourge that was actually copied by Ner'zhul.
- The Lich King - actually wasn't created by Burning Legion, but taken from Shadowlands.
- Ardenweald - not part of Emerald Dream where Wild Gods and other nature spirits are resting.
- People of Fyzandi - not Night Elves.
- Maw - not a fusion of Icecrown and Argus.
- Torghast, Tower of the Damned - original Icecrown Citadel.
- Revendreth - not a lite version of Maw and copy of Suramar with redemption card and vampires.
- Nathrezim - not actually demons that outplayed the whole Universe like they're player characters.
No wonder a lot of people believed in that Jailer's "concept" art and had problems with actual Jailer being a Jailer despite it being obvious since the beginning. Anyway, as you can see, a lot of additions and changes within Shadowlands are positioned as "original/better" versions of old Warcraft stuff. And there's a reason why I mentioned Jailer, as I want to focus on his position within Shadowlands's plot. Yet another typical "evil guy" that did something unspeakable things with master plan and servants all around him. You know, I think that originally in this expansion, being it Shadowlands since the beginning or not, the role of main antagonist was probably planned for... Mueh'zala. I mean, think about it: his build-up in Traveler: The Spiral Path that was abandoned in the next book, taking Odyn's eye, whispering Vol'jin to make Sylvanas warchief, turning Bwonsamdi into Loa of Death and recruit Helya... to Jailer's side. Remove Jailer from Mueh'zala's actions and we have an ancient Death spirit that was proven to be mysterious and powerful. That sounds better than what we got instead to me.
It reminds me about Hakkar as just a dungeon boss in De Other Side and Kel'Thuzad being a Jailer's servant... Seriously, Blizzard? Why not build new lore based on already established details instead of forcing it in by neglecting them? It's easier and supports much needed consistence in the franchise. Let's take Bastion and Maldraxxus, for example:
Within darkness of Shadowlands shines the Bastion, home of mysterious spirit healers. Not all Val'kyr decided to join Helya after Halls of Valor were closed away from Azeroth. They wanted to serve the good cause without interventions into the cycle of life and death. Val'kyr called upon the only soul they thought would be able to help them find a new place in this world. She listened and directed them to Shadowlands, where they build a new fortress similar to Odyn's domain. Since then they watch over spirits of Azeroth, healing those who suffered in their last moment.
Some legends told about spirit healers bringing some unfortunate souls back into the world of living: intervention asked by Azeroth herself. But no one was able to prove such miracle to be real.
When Ner'zhul was building up his Scourge according to Burning Legion's plan, he could access the Azeroth's afterlive with ease. After War of the Spider, he realized that he needs to be ready when something could go wrong. As Kel'Thuzad's Cult of the Damned grew larger and Legion's plans were set in motion, so grew the secret settlement in Shadowlands: Maldraxxus. Many creations of the Lich King were fully realized there, including Scourge's architecture that was adopted from Azjol-Nerub.
In his attempt to destroy Lich King, Illidan Stormrage severely weakened Ner'zhul. Maldraxxus was one of many things he lost control off. That place was supposedly lost in endless darkness of the afterlife even long after Arthas' crowning at the Frozen Throne. That's why Lich King sent Kel'Thuzad to find Maldraxxus after his second defeat in Naxxramas. Something strange has happened during his mission, as Kel'Thuzad lost connection with the Lich King. Despite this, he proceeds to continue his journey. Did he found Maldraxxus? Did he follow Lich King's order or decided to take matters into his own hands?
Of course, this is just an example I came up with in a few minutes and there's definitely better ways to approach it. The idea was to show how simple and right it would be to expand on the old lore instead of twisting it to fit new ideas in. At least it wouldn't be as shallow as Shadowlands turn out to be.
You know, I wouldn't be surprised to see "Black Soulstone-like"
cinematic where Bolvar puts on restored Helm of Domination to face Jailer and his armies at the Maw in a vision that'll be cut short by Taelia (or somebody else) by removing Helm from his head.
Lastly, I want to mention an issue that Shadowlands is sharing with Warcraft 3 Reforged and how it affects the game (and whole franchise). I'll keep this short as I'm not sure if it fits into story/lore theme and some might say that it's just a matter of personal taste. In this shift towards cosmic stuff empowered with such creative ideas, visuals of World of Warcraft that were consistently good all this time started to lose its charm. By looking at locations, models, designs of this expansion, it looks like another eastern MMO instead of Warcraft. Some people compare it to Diablo 3, but I see more of an Allods Online. It's not necessary a bad thing, but it doesn't quite fit for the franchise this game is part of. Which is weird, since World of Warcraft didn't have that issue before. Yes, not even with Pandaria.
But it's definitely not about art team losing their touch. Just look at weapons from... Exile's Reach, I believe? These weapons look awesome and it's the best models I've seen from Shadowlands. I mean, it's not that hard to beat yet another over-the-top "epic hero" type of weapons and armors. To be fair, World of Warcraft suffered from the lack of simple/common options in this field for quite a while.
Music is... fine, I guess? It doesn't sound bad or anything like that, but it's just there. Bolvar's themes from Visions of N'Zoth were neat and when I listen to login screen music... I didn't remember any of the tracks. However, "New Player Experience" or, again, Exile's Reach music doesn't have that issue and it's mostly likely because they sound way too familiar. Still, this situation is just so weird and sad.
Here, my train of weird thoughts is going to end with last one. A lot of story/lore decisions and retcons during World of Warcraft's lifespan were made to be adjusted to gameplay. I wouldn't call myself a great World of Warcraft player with great knowledge in its gameplay, but I can't shake away this feeling of "completed cycle" after looking at all recent controversies surrounding game's systems and their natures of being almost removed or forgotten after release of the next expansion. To me, there's a visible similarity between class overhaul with "main expansion features" and retcons. Quite ironic.
That's about it. Thank you for reading this post and I hope it wasn't a complete waste of your time.
Links to the referred material: