Timewalker Rewards: Conclusion

So let’s run down that original list again to wrap this up. Note that each entry links back to the article where I go into more in-depth analysis about each subject, so if you want to see my work, that’s where to go.

  • GoldRisky as a reward because of the threat of inflation, but a little is unavoidable.
  • Experience: For the scaled character it’s not a reward, but for the player it could be a reward if tailored properly. It’s all you want until you don’t need it anymore.
  • Endgame Gear: Too risky given power-creep at the time it’s introduced; making Timewalkers mandatory for progression supercedes current content too strongly.
  • Gear Tokens a la Timeless Isle: Viable as a catch-up mechanism, especially if a content drought is coming.
  • Cosmetic GearRisky because of the asset cost in creating new cosmetic gear.
  • Loot Rolls: Dubious because it’s just a chance for gear, but also awesome because it’s a chance for gear.
  • Justice/Valor Points: Good night, sweet prince.
  • Unique Currency: As good as whatever the currency buys.
  • Reputation: As good as whatever it gates access to. Only good until you don’t need it.
  • Achievements: Foregone conclusion; everything has achievements.
  • Pets, Toys, and Mounts: Useful for collectors or for people who like the aesthetics, but otherwise useless.

All things considered, I think that the best solution is one that offers a unique gameplay experience, provides players a great deal of choice, but focuses principally on rewarding players by giving them a greater chance at getting rare drops from doing Timewalker dungeons. I think it would be simple to extend a gear strategy to this as well, but let’s cut to the chase and introduce the solution.

Introducing the Timewalkers Faction

Faction Background: Mortals of all races who’ve taken on the duty of aiding the Bronze Dragonflight in protecting the timeways. 

The Timewalkers offer a daily Timewalker dungeon quest to max-level players, directing them to complete a Timewalker dungeon. Completing the quest rewards a [Satchel of Time-Lost Artifacts], which contains the chance to acquire rare drops like mounts, pets, and unique equipment that normally drop in that specific dungeon, but at a higher percentage. For example, completing a Timewalker daily for dead-side Stratholme would give you a satchel that has an increased chance of dropping Rivendare’s Deathcharger.

Completing a Timewalker dungeon always rewards a [Mote of Time] as currency, which are used as a currency with the Timewalkers reputation vendor. Bonus motes are also a consolation prize if you fail to get any rare drops from the satchel.

At Friendly, the Timewalkers reputation vendor Llore offers a [Time-Lost Bag of Treasures] in exchange for motes. Opening this bag grants a chance to acquire a dungeon-dropped mount or pet that you don’t have, similar to the satchel, but drawing from all dungeons. At each successive reputation level, a higher-level version of the Time-Lost Bag is offered at the same price, with an increased chance for you to acquire the most rare mounts. In the event that the Time-Lost bag doesn’t reward a mount or pet, or if you’ve somehow acquired ALL of those mounts/pets available, the Time-Lost bag might reward a Seal of Tempered Fate or a lump of gold.

Hence, motes can be used the following ways:

  • Used to purchase Time-Lost Bags,
  • Used to gain reputation with the Timewalkers,
  • Used to buy unique mounts/pets,
  • Used to buy a Timeless Knowledge token, which when used grants leveling alts across the Battle.net account a 10% increase to XP gain. The mote cost of the token decreases with reputation gains,
  • Used to buy a Grand Commendation that increases reputation gains by 100% for all characters on the account.

This creates a number of interesting choices: you can either choose to gamble your motes on the possibility of getting stuff out of the Friendly-level bag, or use them to gain reputation so that your bag has a greater chance of getting rewards. Unique mounts and pets are there to provide a clear grinding objective (just like the Cloud Serpent mount did with Emperor Shaohao) while the account-wide tokens are there to help mitigate the grind for the reputation itself and for experience for the characters who need it.

Ultimately, at Exalted, characters will still have a use for the motes in the form of spending them exclusively on bags for rare drops. And since the list of rare drops is long enough that it’ll take an excessive string of luck for players to acquire everything, there’s a good incentive to keep running Timewalker dungeons to get motes even once all of the other rewards are exhausted.

I think that it would be easy to add gear into this reward structure by just making it cost motes (in the form of Timeless Isle-like armor tokens), or by making profession recipes that require mote-purchased crafting materials. However, I also think that gear as a reward (in any form aside from cosmetic gear or loot rolls) has the greatest chance of turning Timewalker dungeons from a fun side activity into part of the gear progression curve, which is not where it belongs.

The Wrap

Thanks for hanging out with me while I try to both make a suggestion and show my work while doing it. At the end of the day, this is really something of a hard thing to tackle on my own… it smacks of something that really requires multiple perspectives and a discussion between people to really nail down the best solution. And I have to imagine that boiling things down to a “rep faction with a unique currency that lets you get the mounts/pets from old content” doesn’t sound exciting on its own, but I’d like to think that after reading through all of this, my reasoning for that solution should be more evident.

Tell me what you think. ^_^

Timewalker Rewards: The Rest of the List

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. Let’s look at achievements and vanity items like mounts, pets, and toys, as well as mechanisms like reputation and unique currencies as possible options.

Achievements

All things considered, it’s hard to consider achievements as a reward unto themselves, but it’s important to note the psychological impact of having the achievement toast pop up when you’ve accomplished a thing. You see it, your guildmates see it, players around you see it, and in a lot of cases it should trigger some congratulations getting sent your way. Achievements don’t really get you anything in the game in and of themselves, but they’re designed to give you a good feeling as a reward for accomplishing something, regardless of what that something is.

Since achievements offer nothing, though, there’s no reason not to offer them. They don’t take up space (except in the Achievements UI), they don’t cause player power creep, and it’s generally expected that you’ll get achievements for accomplishing certain things, like hitting Exalted with a faction. When it comes down to it, I suspect that achievements will be an element of whatever rewards you get from Timewalking, but they certainly won’t be the only reward.

Vanity Items

There’s a double-edged sword to vanity items: essentially, if players don’t like the visual aesthetic of the mount, they don’t want the mount, but unlike cosmetic gear, if they need the mount in order to get ANOTHER mount (via the constantly-increasing threshold of mount collection achievements that rewards you with a mount for getting a lot of mounts) then they’ll begrudgingly pursue it.

The same thing goes for pets; even with the Pet Battles system, if you’re not someone who does pet battles but has to fill the achievement requirements of “Collect X pets” because it’s a bar you have to fill, then offering a pet as a reward has at least a certain degree of appeal.

Toys are generally speaking all about doing cosmetic things, but prior to the Toybox weren’t something that had the same broad “must fill this bar” compulsion as mounts and pets had, because toys ate up storage space. Now that toys are joining mounts and pets in that category, though, it’s just a matter of offering relevant toys that players want to put forth effort for.

Still, since vanity items are all effectively about cosmetics, then the cosmetic element has to have a certain level of appeal in order to be worth the investment of effort. And as we know from cosmetic gear, that’s something that’s going to vary wildly from player to player. So offering vanity items is less of a surefire reward on its own, but as an accompaniment to other rewards, especially since they don’t contribute to bank bloat, it’s a solid option if the art assets are there to make them unique.

Reputation

Reputation is actually rather similar to experience as a reward that you want until you don’t need it anymore. The difference is this: experience gates your access to the endgame, while reputation gates your access to one very specific slice of the endgame, which usually takes the form of a vendor who’ll sell you other types of rewards.

There are two ways that Timewalking could theoretically engage reputation: either it can give you rep bonuses with specific factions (much like the bonus reputation/faction championing mechanic works currently), or it can give you reputation with a Timewalkers faction.

  • The problem with the former option is that it misses the point of reputation: the fantasy of reputation as a concept is that you’re representing a particular faction and doing their works in order to grow in their esteem and prove yourself worthy of their secrets. Going through time and space to fix issues somewhere else shouldn’t make the Frostwolf Orcs love you more, especially if those efforts don’t have an impact on them at all. The same holds true for all of the Draenor factions. This was also the inherent problem with tabard championing in Wrath and Cataclysm: it just made the rep bar another XP bar to grind instead of having any meaning behind it.
  • The major concern with a specific faction tied to the system is that how you tune the rep gains and what rewards are available impacts the lifespan of the system itself; for example, if you have an old-school grind like Emperor Shaohao, where the rewards are universally cosmetic and the grind is exceptionally long, it only stretches the content for a certain subset of players.

I think there’s a solid proposal to be made in having a Timewalkers faction with some interesting rewards at each reputation level, but I’ll cover that later. The bottom line is that reputation as a reward only works if the rewards for the reputation itself are worthwhile. And with how rep-gating played out in Mists of Pandaria, I feel like that’s a system people aren’t really going to be excited about.

Unique Currency

I use the term “unique” here to differentiate from generic currencies like Justice/Valor/Honor/Conquest points, which are all acquired from doing various kinds of content. Unique currencies would include Timeless Coins or Marks of the World Tree, which really only work in one specific area of the game: they’re acquired doing content related to that area, and they can only be spent in that area.

To a great extent, the value of a unique currency is going to be measured based off what you can get for that currency. Using Timeless Coins as an example, you could buy vanity items, Burdens of Eternity, iLvl 489 weapons, Timeless Armor caches, juicy trinkets, and even Valor Points. While most of those items become less useful once you’ve outgeared the gear and can’t upgrade via Burdens or Valor, it’s still a sizable but achievable grind if you’re not doing other content.

The Home Stretch

That covers all of the current relevant rewards; we don’t need to cover Justice/Valor Points since they are going the way of the dodo. Tomorrow we review our findings and then talk about a proposal for what rewards could actually look like.

Timewalker Rewards: Gear as a Reward

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. We’re going to get into gear, which is really a big thing on its own.

Before we start off though: let’s be more specific with gear as it pertains to a reward for Timewalker dungeons. I don’t think I need to go into a lot of detail for why players want to get gear; it’s the primary method of character progression once you get to max-level.Yes, some players choose to progress through xmog or pet battles or mount collections or RP, but I don’t think those players inform a majority of the playerbase.

Gear Drops

The general issue with gear drops as a reward is the contribution that gear makes to player power. More specifically, consider the following:

  • If Timewalker dungeons reward loot that’s commensurate with current content dungeons, players will likely take the path of least resistance and run Timewalker dungeons, since they will likely be more familiar or mechanically less challenging than current content.
    • Moreover, if Timewalker dungeons aren’t limited in terms of how frequently they can be run/provide rewards, this contributes to player power creep that has to be factored into overall encounter difficulty. Put another way, if players get too geared too quickly, the encounter designers need to make the encounters harder to prevent raids from blowing past them too quickly.
  • If Timewalker dungeons reward loot that’s less powerful than what’s available in current content (for example, the 496 Timeless gear tokens that were lower iLvl than Raid Finder drops in Siege of Orgrimmar) then Timewalker dungeons work as a catch-up mechanism for lapsed players, but this has a limited shelf-life when players no longer want/need the gear.
  • If Timewalker dungeons don’t reward gear that translates into player power at all, it’s a situation similar to Challenge Modes, where only certain groups of players are interested in using their time in a way that doesn’t help them advance their characters.

On the other hand, you have cosmetic drops, whether that’s in the form of boss-specific drops that have a unique appearance or transmog-specific gear like the Challenge Mode Gold reward armor sets.

  • Boss-specific drops can be interesting if there’s no other way to acquire them, but if they’re more easily acquired just by farming the normal instance at max-level, players again will likely take the path of least resistance.
    • If, on the other hand, you had a greater chance of getting the item in Timewalker mode, that would encourage more players to join that queue, but again has a limited shelf-life as players get what they want and stop queuing.
  • Transmog-specific gear is an interesting reward, but if it’s taking away art assets that would otherwise be used for current content, then that’s a potential issue. Also, it puts the inherent value of the reward up to whether individuals like the appearance of the set, since it doesn’t offer player power. Because appreciating art is a subjective thing, that’s a difficult sell to compel players to take on a challenge.

The other issue with gear drops, especially when it’s cosmetic items, is bank bloat. More than any other reward, cosmetic gear is that thing that sits in your bags/bank/void storage and eats space just so you’ve got the privilege of putting together an outfit. I think that invites a greater discussion about inventory improvements, but for now I think it has to be understood that gear has got an additional cost to it as a reward that most everything else on the list doesn’t have.

When it comes down to it, the biggest issue with offering gear as a reward for Timewalking is how it contributes to power creep. That’s ultimately something that can be tuned, as well as something that can be mitigated depending on when/how Timewalking is made accessible.

Loot Rolls

This is probably the best time to bring up loot rolls, since the chief thing loot rolls are for is getting gear (and not for getting fail bags).

To a certain extent, even with the promise that loot rolls will have more protection for failure, and protection from giving you the same piece of gear multiple times, at the end of the day a loot roll is just a bonus chance to get gear from a boss kill. Meaning you have to be able to kill the boss AND you have to have committed whatever effort was necessary to get the loot roll token. We know from the beta that the list basically boils down to a currency exchange; you can buy your Seals of Tempered Fate through a set of weekly quests that each ask for one of the following currencies:

  • 300 Garrison Resources
  • 100 Apexis Crystals
  • 500 gold
  • 500 Honor Points
  • You can also get a seal each week for free by having a War Mill (Horde) or Dwarven Bunker (Alliance).

Note that Justice/Valor Points are not on that list; we’ll deal with that later.

So the trick of offering Seals of Tempered Fate (or whatever loot roll token we use in later tiers) as a Timewalker reward is that scaled content would be in direct competition with current content for letting you get that roll opportunity. That feels like something that we really shouldn’t do.

There’s a temptation to say “yeah, but what if you needed to run a LOT of Timewalkers to get a seal?” then it starts to feel like the the Justice Trade Goods vendor from Cataclysm: it’s not intended to be a fair exchange, but it’s something you can do if you’ve got a glut of Justice Points. The difference is that Timewalker dungeons are asking you to turn your time into seals, instead of dumping Justice into crafting materials that you could gather on your own.

But the constant counter you can come back to is that loot rolls are only a chance at gear. There’s so many requirements on your ability to actually spend them just for the chance of getting gear that it doesn’t feel like a loot roll should really be weighed so heavily as a reward.

When it comes down to it, the only problem with offering loot rolls is whether or not it’s okay for Timewalker content to compete with current content.

Going Forward

We’ve talked about gold and experience, and with gear out of the way we’re halfway through the list. Am I missing anything?

Timewalker Rewards: Gold and Experience

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. We’re going to start with a couple ubiquitous rewards and get more specific from there.

Experience

I think it’s important to start off with experience as a reward case because it is the chief thing we’re rewarded with while leveling through the game. It’s a great reward, because it gets you closer and closer to the point where you don’t need it anymore, which is max level. However, when it’s relevant to you, you can’t get enough of it.

So with that in mind, let me throw this example out there: say that leveling players receive a 10% increase in XP gains while in a matchmade group with a scaled-down player.

  • Pros: this gives a noticeable benefit to leveling players that helps them get through the XP grind faster.
  • Cons: this doesn’t benefit the scaled player in a noticeable way, unless the sole reason they’re scaling down is so they can assist other players in leveling up. Moreover, this might also be double-dipping for the leveling players; they’re getting a max-level player with more abilities who can probably still mitigate much of the threat of the instance, AND getting an XP buff out of it so that they need fewer runs. It’s a little too good to be true.
  • This also has the potential to generate some odd player behavior, if a max-level player is selling his services to a party of low-level players to grant the buff. Granted, there are already players who offer their services similarly to leveling players, but it feels a little dirty to contribute another method they can use for that purpose.

How could we iterate on that? Instead of a scaled player granting this percentage XP increase to other matchmade players, what if the scaled player gave that buff to his/her own alternate characters on the same Battle.net after clearing a daily Timewalker dungeon? That means there’s an incentive for players to at least step into a Timewalker mode so that they can then boost their own characters. To an extent, it feels like the Valor of the Ancients buff that lets your other characters benefit for one character’s diligence.

The bottom line with experience is that it’s something you can’t get enough of until you don’t need it anymore. Experience doesn’t fly as a reward for max-level characters to scale, because they don’t need it. But it could be tweaked into something that players want to do at least occasionally if they’re trying to boost low-level alts.

Gold

Overall, gold isn’t a very exciting reward because it’s so easy to come by. Also, it has very little direct application in improving player power. Because gear comes from drops and currencies more than it does from gold, the primary use for gold tends to be covering repair costs, buying crafting materials, or buying vanity items like mounts, pets, or xmog gear. The consequence of rewarding players too much gold is economic inflation, where all the stuff that people spend gold on (crafting materials, flasks and item enhancements in a pinch, and vanity items) balloons in price because the average player has so much gold at their disposal.

It’s probably important to note that Blizzard has repeatedly put large gold sinks into the game in order to mitigate gold inflation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but gold inflation has the real-world consequence of driving up the business for gold-sellers; if gold prices get so high that players feel like their only option is to buy gold from the illicit grey market, they’re putting their accounts at risk while also contributing to groups who actively compromise other accounts in order to get their in-game funds. So it is in Blizzard’s best interest to try and keep gold inflation under control in order to keep that from happening (while also, of course, working behind the scenes to locate and shut down these grey marketeers).

It’s also valuable to point out that the bag players get when a loot roll doesn’t deliver gear (a.k.a. “the fail bag”) typically ends up containing gold. This is great for mitigating repairs costs, but most players seem to be developing a negative connotation with gold as a reward because of the sense that “you could have been that BiS piece I needed, and instead you’re a drop in the bucket of gold I already have.”

Gold alone, as such, doesn’t really fly as a reward. Trickling players a little gold to cover incidental repair costs in the individual dungeon is probably enough. Dumping much more into players, especially in a repeatable manner, will probably do more harm than good.

As a counterpoint to experience, though, it’s interesting that there’s not really an upper threshold to a player having gold. Okay, yes, there’s a gold cap, but it’s high enough that players aren’t going to hit it accidentally. Ignoring the inflation problem, gold is a reward that players can usually always find a use for, especially at max-level.

Going Forward

I wanted to start to these two reward avenues because I think they inform the discussion on many of the other possible rewards; gold, for example, is a counterpoint for JP/VP currencies because of the flexibility of expenditure. Experience is a good counterpoint for rewards that have a cap after which the reward is meaningless, like reputation.

We’ll cover those in future installments. For now, is there anything I missed about gold and experience? Is there really a viable way to offer them as rewards for Timewalker dungeons? Let me know.

Timewalker Rewards: The Setup

So awhile back, the concept of Timewalker dungeons got datamined out of the PTR from Patch 5.4, and Game Director Tom Chilton commented at the time (at gamescom 2013) that what held them back from implementation was how to do rewards. I talked a bit back then about what those rewards could look like.

With a new interview at this year’s gamescom, Chilton has got essentially the same reason for why Timewalker dungeons aren’t being included in Warlords of Draenor at launch. So I thought it might be useful to revisit the concept of rewards, especially now that we have more hints about what rewards may look like in the expansion.

Let’s review how players get rewarded for doing PVE content currently:

  • Gold (from using matchmaking tools, directly/indirectly from cash drops, quest rewards, fail bags…)
  • Experience (before the level cap, which gets turned into gold at cap)
  • Gear in the form of drops from bosses and trash mobs
  • Gear in the form of gear tokens (whether it’s tier tokens in raids or Timeless tokens)
  • Gear in the form of transmogrification sources
  • Loot rolls
  • Justice/Valor Points
  • Area-specific currency (like Marks of the World Tree, Timeless Coins, etc.)
  • Reputation
  • Achievements
  • Pets and mounts
  • Toys

When it comes down to it, though, we can’t really consider each of these rewards in a vacuum. They all have impacts on players in different ways, and that’s important in terms of coming up with a reward worthy of the effort. Each of these rewards has different interactions and side-effects that have to be considered.

Moreover, you also have to consider the specific challenges of Timewalker dungeons as content. Timewalker content will be competing with current content for players’ attention, meaning it needs to be rewarding, but it’s also old content, which means it shouldn’t crowd current content out of the spotlight; if it did, it would turn Blizzard’s efforts in making new content into a fruitless exercise. And it can’t be forgotten that there’s been a vocal minority of players who actively disdain any of Blizzard’s historical re-uses of past content, like the dungeon remixes that started in Cataclysm.

At the end of the day, the objective of Timewalker dungeons is to provide max-level players with the ability to run older content at its intended level of difficulty. Whether that’s being done to help low-level guild members get into the endgame with their colleagues, or for the sake of nostalgia, or just to face a wider variety of challenges, Timewalker dungeons should not offer rewards that trivialize or marginalize current content.

Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to write on each of these rewards at length, analyzing how players use them currently and whether or not they would serve as worthwhile rewards for Timewalker dungeons. I welcome your feedback. ^_^

The Objective of the Lore: A Multitude of Voices

There’s a certain degree of entitlement that I often see in the community about people who want novel-grade consistency out of Blizzard Entertainment. I’m saying that you’re demanding to have your cake and eat it too, and I want to disabuse you of that notion.

Here’s the thing about lore in World of Warcraft: while you could conceivably compare the scope of its story or the number of interconnected characters to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings   there isn’t really a lot of ground to stand on for that comparison. The main reason for this is because lore in WoW (and also lore in Starcraft and Diablo, natch) is not written by one person.

Let’s go down the list:

  • Big stakeholders in the company’s overall dedication to story like Chris Metzen.
  • Boss-level producers and the game director Tom Chilton who are invested particular in the movement of Warcraft as a franchise.
  • Creative Development’s rank-and-file, both in the form of writers who generate story content like Micky Neilson, Robert Brooks, Matt Burns, and Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie (there are a lot more of them) and historians like Sean Copeland, Evelyn Fredericksen, and Justin Parker who are intended to keep all of the story agents in line.
  • Narrative Designer Dave Kosak and other game designers who need the story to move in a particular direction to match up with game design assets like raid and dungeon bosses and character/NPC abilities.
  • Quest designers who are tasked with populating the world with relevant quests that accentuate the main story.
  • Professional writers (i.e. Christie Golden, Richard Knaak, Mike Stackpole) external to Blizzard who are contracted to create non-game content like the books, comics, manga, and the Ultimate Visual Guide.
  • Third parties who are adapting Warcraft into other mediums, like Blizzard’s Team 5 making Hearthstone, the now-defunct Cryptozoic crew who was making the WoW TCG, and Legendary Pictures who’s currently making the Warcraft film.

You don’t have a single authoritative personality directing all of these forces simultaneously, and even as much as people THINK it’s Metzen or Kosak at every turn, it’s not. Even with the existence of the historians, it’s an unrealistic expectation for them to pore over every single line of text in every single work to make sure it all serves the meta-narrative of the game consistently. There are dozens of voices all putting their input into the game at once, and they aren’t even doing it by any kind of committee but instead all independently with oversight from CDev.

The game is too large for one person to keep it all straight. And even if it were possible for the historians to ensure that 100% of the outgoing text passes muster, there’s no single authoritative person to say “now that it’s written it cannot be altered under any circumstances.”

This is the reason why there’s no definitive timeline for the in-game history, and why there’s no definitive encyclopedia for all of the in-game subjects that exist: the designers need to have the flexibility to shape the world to suit the design. The story has to be malleable so that it can support the gameplay. This is why the maps keep changing and continents keep on showing up on Azeroth. And when it comes down to it, when you make things concrete and canon, it limits what you’re capable of doing later.

When you’re writing a series of books and you come to the realization that something in Book 1 is holding you back from something you want to do in Book 3, you can’t typically do much about if Book 1 is already out. You deal with it and the rest of the books proceed as best as you can and you take it as a lesson to plan better next time. But the reason for that is because the story is the only thing in books. There’s nothing else other than the story and it’s internal consistency. No one reads ASoIaF if they’re not interested in story. There are people who play WoW who aren’t interested in story, and Blizzard has to design a game that suits them just as much as they need a game world that’s rich in story. That means gameplay first.

The core of all this is that when people accuse Blizzard of laziness or bad writing, I take some umbrage at that. The objective of Blizzard’s lore mission is to support the gameplay. It’s a single facet of the product’s diamond-like surface. It’s like throwing Guardians of the Galaxy under the bus because you’ve got a bad association with “Cherry Bomb.” Maybe a piece of writing isn’t the strongest (I find Kosak’s “Edge of Night” to be problematic) but if it does its intended task than that should garner a little respect.

Anyhow, /rant.

I’ll Bet Cash Money We Get Ogres Next Expansion

In terms of evidence, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Ogres are the only humanoid race that worked for the Horde in WC2 that hasn’t become playable.
  • Metzen wants playable ogres (or at least did once upon a time).
  • Warlords of Draenor has a ton of situations predicated on the existence of a vast ogre civilization that’s so old it’s in decline.
  • Chilton’s recent comments indicated that new races would be a thing in “some other expansion that is coming up.” Combine with the following:
    • Blizzard has stated that Expansion 6 is already in development.
    • They also identified a second continent on Draenor as the ogre homeland.
    • Much lip service has been paid to the idea that the timejump to Draenor was not meant only to set up WoD but to set up future expansions as well.
      • Expansion 6 takes us to the Gorian Empire for blood and glory. QED.
  • The Horde started off with a bunch of brutal monstrous races, and the races they’ve gotten since have either been a stark contrast (blood elves) or only semi-monstrous (goblins) or the pandaren. Adding the ogres to the Horde at long last gives them another bruiser race that fits the savage sentiments of the faction.

Maybe there are some counterarguments out there (“what do you do about two-headed ogres,” “wtf do ogre women look like,” “dammit ogres are stupid,” etc.) but I feel like all of that can be countered by solid design. The bottom line is that the evidence for keeps cropping up and the evidence against is the same as it was ten years ago.

The big issue that comes up for me is what to do for the Alliance.

  • High elves are the only humanoid race that worked for the Alliance in WC2 that hasn’t become playable FOR THE ALLIANCE. They’re playable on the Horde, and quite frankly there’s not enough reason to have identical elf races on both factions; the pandaren are an exception.
  • Assuming that a playable ogre faction would actually be Gorian ogres, arguments could be made that you could have a separate faction of ogres join the Alliance. This also invokes the Pandaren Exception.
  • The expansion races for the Alliance have all been homeless, lost races, with the main difference being whether they had a choice in it. The draenei are exiles hundreds of times removed from their homes, the worgen homeland got blighted by the Forsaken, and the Tushui pandaren chose to leave the Wandering Isle. Another race of exiles (as in a high elf faction, or any other race for that matter) doesn’t compliment the concept of the Alliance as a league of nations in a mutual defense pact.
  • No other race jumps out at me as a playable contender that could meet the following criteria:
    • Is a sovereign kingdom that mostly controls its own borders,
    • Is made up of bipedal humanoids,
    • Has not already been implemented in game using another playable races’ skeleton (which knocks off the jinyu, mogu, saurok, mantid, and various others).

Now, that’s a personal limitation: just because I can’t think of a solution doesn’t mean no solution exists. I just don’t feel like there’s anything for the Alliance that’s as much of a shoe-in as ogres for the Horde.

Before I leave you, one last thing:

The Pandaren Exception

When it comes down to it, the two factions need to have distinct silhouettes. That means having distinct races that, in turn, have distinct silhouettes. It’s not just a matter of being able to identify a player as an enemy or an ally in PVP (people throw out same-faction arena as a typical counter, for example) but also a matter of that silhouette immediately letting you identify a race, and having that race be associated with a faction helps to build the faction identity. So when you break down silhouette as a pillar by putting identical races on both factions, you’re breaking down faction identity.

In a franchise like Warcraft where “orcs vs. humans” is a core aspect of the narrative, breaking down faction identity and uniqueness is bad.

So why do pandaren get a pass? The best answer that’s ever come out of the devs has been that the pandaren were too cool to limit to one faction. Players on both factions would have rioted if they didn’t get the chance to play a pandaren, and all things considered there was nothing about the race that locked them into being one side or the other. There’s also the statement that just doing one playable race and one starting experience let them focus on their efforts and ensure that the starting experience was as awesome as it could possibly be.

Doing another neutral race would chip away at faction identity. The more races who join both factions, the less reason there is for the factions to be distinct, and there’s less defensible reason to keep tauren from joining the Alliance or have dwarves join the Horde.

And yeah, I can hear people saying “but that’s what I want” and my only response is this: you’ll have to convince Blizzard’s devs that this is good for the game as a whole, which is a lot more work than it takes for them to maintain the status quo.

So the pandaren were a special case. I don’t think we’ll see another neutral race again.

The Swordsman’s Lament

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There’s a particular character archetype that I love that I know will likely never be expressed as a character in World of Warcraft: the martial swordsman.

Now the immediate response is that there are plenty of mans who use swords in the game, and that’s true, but none of them match the archetype I’m thinking of. Let’s debunk each:

Warriors: Ultimately, the archetype aligns the most with Warriors, because it’s the concept of using a sword, not magic of any kind, and not shapeshifting, in order to combat your opponents. Each spec clashes with the archetype in different ways.

  • Protection warriors can use a sword, but this is in combination with a shield. That matches up with a different archetype, and is more along the lines of using both the weapon and the shield as the tools of combat. The martial swordsman only uses the sword.
  • Arms warriors use two-handed swords (among other two-handed weapons) and to a great extent, the temperament of the spec gets close to aligning with what I’m thinking of, but it’s a huge weapon being wielded by a huge bruiser in plate armor. This is also what locks out Death Knights.
  • Fury warriors have the same problem as Arms in that respect, and while they can use one-handed swords via Single-Minded Fury, they’re using two.

Rogues: Ultimately, where the rogue similarity comes in is in the use of light armor and a focus on agility over strength, speed over brawn. But that’s where the similarity ends. The dirty tactics, the stealth, the poisons, everything else that’s the hallmark of being a rogue doesn’t mesh for the swordsman archetype.

So that’s what it’s not, but what is it?

It’s easy to just say “dude it’s a samurai” and call it done, because that’s going to call to mind a very particular silhouette of a swordsman that’s not as heavy as a Western knight. But I feel like that does an injustice to samurai; they were experts with a variety of different weaponry, not just the katana.

I’m talking about a guy who’s an expert with a sword, and the sword alone serves as his weapon. The sword is the delivery method of the man’s deadly skill. That’s why huge two-handers don’t fit the design; in those cases, the sword is more dangerous than the man. The man should be the source of the menace, even when the sword is sheathed.

All that being said,  I completely understand that it would take a momentous amount of work to make a swordsman-type character work. Everything from the Blademaster Hero unit in WC3 has already been farmed out to other classes. Coming up with different specs for the class is notably difficult to do, and to a great extent it crowds out rogues in the same way windwalker monks do currently. Because the visual component is so critical, you’re talking about a bunch of new animations for thirteen races to learn how to do iaido. It’s something that’s visually interesting in duels, but once you start adding more combatants (and when the swordsman is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the rogue shoving blades in the boss’ hindquarters) that starts to wear off quickly.

Ultimately, I know this is something I’ll have to go to other games to get. Which, as an aside: it really aggravates me that I can’t do this as a Jedi in Old Republic without being a tank.

Ah well. At least I’ll always have Mitsurugi.

Hellscream and the Orcish Destiny

Parallels are something that I love being able to draw out.

In the WC3 cinematic that showcases Thrall and Grom’s bout with Mannoroth (and Grom’s epic death), the first hint we get of Mannoroth’s presence is him chuckling off-screen. The same thing happens with Mannoroth in the WoD cinematic.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth is expressing his dominance over the orcs; in WC3, he states it plainly, while in WoD, he calls the gathered orcs mongrels and goads Hellscream: “did you bring [the orcs] here just to watch you die?”

In both cinematics, the first attack on Mannoroth fails; in WC3, Thrall’s assault with the Doomhammer gets knocked aside effortlessly, while in WoD, the ballista’d chain meant to pin him down so that the Iron Star could end him gets countered.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth goes down in one hit from Gorehowl. It’s much more believable in WoD, because getting an axe embedded in your skull is more certain of a killing blow than getting it in the chest, especially with as much mass as Mannoroth has. To an extent, this is something that really remarks both on the strength of a weapon like Gorehowl, which has the most mundane of origins, and on the strength of the guys who have wielded Gorehowl.

It’s where the parallels give way to even greater shifts that I get really interested.

In WC3, Grom attacks head-on after he gets taunted by Mannoroth. This sells the idea that Mannoroth knows exactly how to manipulate Grom, and the only thing that goes south for the pit lord is that Grom gets a killing blow in past his defenses. In WoD, if you’re going in with the WC3 cinematic in mind, you expect Grom to do the same thing… but instead he smiles, and you see the catapult fire coming in behind him. This younger, uncorrupted Grom is already acting with greater foresight than his older version; all of this builds to the idea that this Grom is patently more dangerous.

Grom makes sure the Iron Star gets deployed rather than just going toe-to-toe with Mannoroth. Not only does this continue building the “new/improved Grom” concept, but it also demonstrates how the Iron Horde is going to marry the brawn and determination of an uncorrupted Horde with the Blackfuse technology that the Iron Star represents. It’s foreshadowing how much more technological this Iron Horde will be in comparison to the Blackhand/Doomhammer hordes of the past.

Clearly, having Grom get silhouetted against the explosion coming from Mannoroth’s corpse is a callback to the WC3 cinematic, but it’s so important that Garrosh dives in to keep Grom from getting killed. This is a huge expression of the heroic qualities that Garrosh has; your standard villain would probably let Grom die after doing his job, but Garrosh saves him. And while people drawing Back to the Future parallels might argue that Garrosh is only saving Grom in order to ensure his own future conception (which is a self-serving villainous thing to do) that’s dependent on duplicating that franchise’s plot devices.

Garrosh saves Grom because Grom is his father. Garrosh believes in the brotherhood of the orcish people when (and only when) the orcish people are being true to his vision, and that vision is modeled after Garrosh’ perceptions of Grom as his father. Saving Grom from death is emblematic of Garrosh rescuing the orcish people from what he feels was a degradation of their culture.

The other side of it, which some folks have pointed out, is that Garrosh saving Grom represents Garrosh doing something that Thrall failed to do. Thrall’s project in Lord of the Clans was to save the orcs from their bondage, both in terms of the internment camps and the bonds of Mannoroth’s blood curse. Thrall was able to do that, but he failed repeatedly to keep any of the icons of the old Horde alive or on his team; Orgrim died, Grom died, Rend and Maim refused to join him, and the Dragonmaw and Blackrock clans both essentially stayed rogue. More specifically, it took Grom killing Mannoroth to finally free the orcs, since Thrall was demonstrated in the WC3 cinematic to be completely ineffectual against the pit lord.

Garrosh is, to a great extent, the  perfect complement to Thrall. Both of them want to embrace the old ways of the orcish people, but both are focusing on different things: Thrall wants a return to a life guided by the spirits of the ancestors and in harmony with the elemental spirits, while Garrosh wants a return to the life of orcs expressing their worth through acts of strength and valor. Both of these are facets of the pre-Legion way of life for the orcs.

Garrosh is not wrong for wanting what he wants. Where Garrosh goes wrong, and the reason he’s ultimately an antagonist instead of a protagonist, is that he wants the unified orcs to express their strength and valor against other equally heroic races. Moreover, by saving Grom and saving the orcs from enslavement, he’s ensuring that the Iron Horde will be empowered to do just that. Which ties in perfectly with Grom’s final line:

“We will never be slaves, but we will be conquerors.”

Thrall exists because of the enslavement of the orcs. Thrall’s name is a word for “slave.” It can’t get more overt than that; Thrall is a representation of what the orcs inevitably became as a result of drinking the demon blood. Grom’s statement (and you can almost hear Garrosh being the guy who planted the concept in his head, Inception-style) defies that future, defies the very idea that an orc like Thrall could ever come to pass, and instead sets the Iron Horde on the path of strength and strength alone governing their destiny.

There’s an elegance to this that I think a lot of players miss out on, and which Blizzard does little to emphasize by having so much of nuance of the game’s story outsourced to novels and short stories. There’s a nobility in the Iron Horde’s desire for self-determination that I think players are never going to see, because the orcs are going to be self-determining through butchering innocents, and as heroes, our job is to stop them. It’s a really different type of opposition than we’ve ever faced before (though there are hints of something similar with Lei Shen’s death line “I was only trying to do the work of the gods”) but I think it’s a bit sad that players are going to gravitate towards killing these guys because of their fat loot without ever questioning if it’s right to kill them.

 

 

Hellscream’s Unbound Ambition

Back when the trailer for Patch 5.4 came out, (exactly a year ago today, it turns out) I wrote a big piece that dug into Garrosh Hellscream’s motivations as a character and how that’s demonstrated across a wide spread of media. It’s fitting, I think to look at the cinematic trailer for Warlords of Draenor  and consider not only Garrosh’ role in the action (and how he’s developed since the start of 5.4) but also Blizzard’s present characterization of Grom Hellscream.

To really dig into the backstory on Grom, you have to understand the origins of the orcs and where they came from. Without basically sitting down and reading Christie Golden’s Rise of the Horde to you, the short version is like this: the orcs were a loosely-affiliated nation of semi-nomadic individual clans who occasionally tussled with each other over resources, and occasionally traded with the unusual draenei folk who’d appeared some centuries before. They weren’t 100% peaceful, but they had their guidance from their shaman, who got their directions from the spirits of the orcish ancestors. This is a pretty self-sustaining system, in that it conditions the orcs to keep doing what their forebears did, and to eschew revolutionary concepts.

When Ner’zhul unwittingly leads the orcs down a path of war against the draenei, the orcs take to it with gusto. They’re a savage people living in a savage world; their coming-of-age rituals have got a high mortality rate; they are a race that praises strength and fortitude, and going to war against another people, even under false pretenses, is an opportunity to demonstrate that strength. And when Gul’dan wrests control from Ner’zhul, the only thing that really changes is that the shaman are becoming warlocks and everyone’s turning green. Ultimately, the orcs have always been a violent people, but no one ever pointed them all at the same target before.

This is why it’s so critical that the turning point we’re shown in the cinematic is when Gul’dan offers the Cup of Unity to the orcs. Grom is the one who pushes to the front of the pack to drink, even ahead of Blackhand, the Warchief, because Grom is someone who already lacks hesitation. Gul’dan needs Grom to demonstrate to all of the other orcs (not just the ones cowed by Blackhand) that the power promised by the blood of Mannoroth will make even the ideal orc into an even more powerful fighter. In the original timeline, Grom does not ask any questions: he stomps up, takes the cup and drinks it. Yet here, in Warlords, he looks to the Stranger for confirmation, and then asks a question.

“And what, Gul’dan, must we give in return?”

This is when you know that everything will change. Grom is not hesitant, he is not fearful. But he’s been warned ahead of time about what would happen if he drank the blood… something that Durotan himself feared to do in the original timeline. Through his question Grom is demanding that Gul’dan be upfront about the consequences, and while it’s played up much more dramatically here than it was in Rise of the Horde, Gul’dan lifting his hood and revealing his green skin and red eyes tell the whole story of the path the orcs are meant to take from this point.

“Everything.”

As an aside, it should be noted that this is a character moment for Gul’dan just as much as it is for Grom. Gul’dan being willing to sacrifice himself for power feels like a statement he’s making about all orcs: “I’m okay with turning green in order to become a god, isn’t everybody?” The way he replies, the conviction in his voice… Gul’dan flat-out doesn’t care who or what gets doomed so long as he’s more powerful at the end of the day.

And again, it’s so important for GROM to be the one that sells this to the other orcs by example. He’s the ideal orc, and Gul’dan is trusting that he won’t ask questions. So when Grom pours out the cup instead of chugging it, it’s the logical result of him getting confirmation from Gul’dan that this is going to be exactly what the Stranger warned him about.

Now, Mannoroth being on the scene is new, and I think that warrants it’s own post, but let’s focus on what Garrosh, as the Stranger, must have done here:

“Gul’dan is going to promise you something you already have.”

“What he promises will strip away everything that is pure and right with the orcish people.”

“He would turn us into slaves for his masters. Will we gain power? A pittance, and the price we pay for it is our freedom.”

“Drink from the Cup of Unity and we shall be the slaves of monsters.”

When I talked about Garrosh before, I talked about how Malkorok may have sold him a narrative about how badass the Horde was before Thrall’s Shamanistic Repentance Train started up. It could be that Malkorok might not have been too off the mark; if what he said bolstered Garrosh into having a vision for the Horde, and if Grom ends up buying into that same vision, then there’s weight to the idea that the orcs always wanted to be conquerors. They just needed the right push in order to realize that, and once they got going on the conquest train, there really wasn’t any turning back.

So by merely extracting the truth from Gul’dan about what the demon kool-aid would do, and by killing the monster trying to push it, Grom saves his people: as a mirror to how Grom saves his people in the original timeline, you can’t get a more stark reflection, except the twist here is the timing.

I want to talk more extensively about the usage of Mannoroth here, but I think I’ve gone on enough for one day. ^_^