At this time during World of Warcraft’s release schedule it would be typical to feel a certain sensation of pre-expansion excitement. Having played World of Warcraft since The Burning Crusade, I fondly remember being excited about both Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm. However, with under a week left until Mists of Pandaria’s release, my feelings on the expansion can be summed up with “meh.”
I want to be excited about Mists of Pandaria, but I am finding it more and more difficult as the release date gets closer. One of the things that got me hyped about the previous expansions was the pre-expansion world events. The Scourge Invasion preceding Wrath of the Lich King is probably my favorite, but even the Elemental Invasion set the mood for Cataclysm. It seems Mists of Pandaria will not contain any pre-expansion world event. Blizzard has instead opted to use a Scenario called “Theramore’s Fall” to set the stage. Was it enough to bring some needed hype to Mists of Pandaria?
The answer, unfortunately, is no. If anything, “Theramore’s Fall” actually made me less excited about Mists of Pandaria and my feelings seem to be echoed in blogs and on forums. I believe there are two main reasons why I view “Theramore’s Fall” as a failure: it was a poor substitute for a proper pre-launch event and it was poorly executed.
Blizzard set a powerful precedent when The Burning Crusade was to be released by creating the Opening of the Dark Portal event. If players ventured to Blasted Lands they could take part in slaying the horde of demons that began pouring out of the Dark Portal. In addition, Highlord Kruul, a high-level demon, periodically roamed several zones in Azeroth (such as Stranglethorn Vale and Eastern Plaguelands), as well as appearing near the capital cities. For roughly two weeks after the expansion launched, players could visit the Dark Portal and receive a commemorative tabard.
For Wrath of the Lich King, players were treated to some truly unique changes to the world. A plague began to spread which affected players and NPCs alike, turning them into undead scourge. Players across both factions could communicate and trade items while affected by the plague. While unintended, it was still a very cool experience. Necropoles began to appear floating above certain zones taking the combined effort of players to bring down. Additionally, the Lich King sent undead minions to Stormwind and Undercity in a brawl where faction leaders from both sides took part to bring a stop to the attack and figure out how to eliminate the Lich King once and for all.
Prior to Cataclysm being released, the Elemental Invasion took place. Throughout various zones in the world, elementals surrounding a Mysterious Device would attack. Cultists appeared in Orgrimmar and Stormwind, trying to recruit citizens into their worship of Cho’gall. Elementals would also attack the main faction cities. If the elementals were successfully repelled, players could venture into various old instances and fight Kai’ju Gahz’rilla, Crown Princess Theradras, Grand Ambassador Flamelash, or Prince Sarsarun. WoWHead has an excellent synopsis.
Each of those pre-expansion events gave players something new and unique to do in World of Warcraft and, more importantly, it put players in the mindset to face the next challenge. When we compare “Theramore’s Fall” to these events, is it any wonder players feel very disappointed?
But that really is the wrong way to look at “Theramore’s Fall.” It is not a pre-expansion event. It is a Scenario. Community Manager Zarhym confirmed as much on twitter.
@OstietheGnome: Theramore scenario completely underwhelming compared to other pre expansion events. It’s Meh.
@CM_Zarhym: Was never meant to be a world event. It’s the first Scenario of the game. Tons more content coming next week!
When Blizzard announced Scenarios almost a year ago, this is how they were described:
“Scenarios will allow small groups of players to adventure together in short instances, with progressive objectives and a story arc. Scenarios are completely role-less, meaning tanks or healers aren’t necessary to succeed — any class combinations can work. Queues will be fast! Smaller scenarios will play similar to group quests and will help players earn faction reputation, while larger scenarios will play out like epic PvE battlegrounds with major objectives and plenty of scripted events.” Source.
“Theramore’s Fall” fits in perfectly with that description of a small scenario. It feels just like a group quest.
World of Warcraft’s fan base gets a lot of criticism for being too self-entitled. There have certainly been times where that criticism is justified, but I do not believe that is the case now. All of the players expecting a Mists of Pandaria pre-launch event to be on par with previous expansions seems reasonable to me. I cannot understand why Blizzard would opt out of having a true pre-launch event when players remember them so affectionately.
The Art of Storytelling
As I said, “Theramore’s Fall” is so disappointing to so many people because they were expecting a pre-launch event. But does it stand up to critique if it is looked at properly as Scenario? Yet again, “Theramore’s Fall” disappoints.
The obvious problem is the story. Plainly put, it is missing. From the Horde perspective you appear on a ship outside of Theramore and are told to sabotage the Alliance ships. You end up rescuing some Horde spy and then a bomb detonates on Theramore. What? Why? What in the world is going on? Presumably Garrosh has ordered the bomb, but why? What was the failed assault on Theramore to begin with? Did Jaina do something wrong? I hate feeling like some puppet that just takes orders.
When transitioning to Vashj’ir or Twilight Highlands as the Horde, the player is left standing on a ship while some story is played out through dialogue from NPCs. Why did the Theramore Scenario not begin this way? One of the main focuses on Scenarios seems to be telling a story, and this is a terrible way to do it, Blizzard.
The only thing that caused me to feel any emotion during the Scenario had nothing to do with Blizzard and everything to do with a semi-roleplaying Hunter in my guild. He visited Theramore before taking part in the Scenario to have a look at its current state. While there, he came across a dog named Spot and realized that it would be very unlikely that Spot survives the Horde attack on Theramore. He then decided to save the little guy by taming him and bringing him to a stable where he would be safe. I am not a roleplayer and do not play on roleplaying servers, but even I have to admit that his actions were adorable. Why did it take this Hunter to make me feel something? Why was the Scenario so emotionally flat?
I have not read the latest World of Warcraft novel, Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, but based on the comments of those who have, it seems the novel might cause the Scenario to make even less sense because it is inconsistent with the book. Either way, I should not have to read the novel to understand what is going on in a Scenario. The Stormrage novel is a good example of how the books and game should not interfere with one another. The events of the book do not need to be known to understand what is going on in the game. The books should be extra bits of lore for those who are interested and not mandatory.
But again, it seems that even the book does not help players understand the Scenario, so it is a moot point in this context. I think it is a terrible way for Blizzard to begin a new expansion. The lack of a pre-launch event giving context for the expansion is particularly damaging if you consider that Mists of Pandaria has been criticized from day one as lacking any story or “big bad” character to go after. This was Blizzard’s opportunity to get people excited, and I think they dropped the ball.
I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this.