I’ve had mixed feelings about World of Warcraft over the years and I think it mainly has to do with what I get from it. I’m a dreamer and a wanderer, I like being thrust in to a huge open world and given the freedom to explore. So, given the Bartle test I would almost certainly qualify as an ‘Explorer’. And if I encounter flesh-eating lizards while journeying – well, it’ll make for a more interesting trip I suppose. WoW’s popularity can be attributed to a number of factors, and one of them is, precisely that; that it has a lot of attractive aspects to it. Some like to explore, some like to achieve and become more powerful, some like to challenge each other in PVP; hell, some even like just playing with WoW’s economy through the Auction House. Or some like to play with one of these aspects when they get bored with another one, hence its lasting appeal. Its appeal can almost certainly be attributed though to its accessibility and expertly-crafted steady learning curve, encouraging players of many different backgrounds, and some who may have never even played games before.
I was always the ardent explorer, gazing in wonder at the scale of World of Warcraft’s land of Azeroth, eager to explore strange new climes. The problem is that there comes a point where you’ve explored everything; there are no new strange lands to seek out (unless you count the expansions, which don’t take too long to jaunt around) and the whole world seems so much smaller. It’s a little like the state of the real world, our technological advances in both communication and transportation have made the world seem so much smaller, and in some ways we’ve lost some of the childhood wonder of the unknown fringes of Earth. There are exceptions for me of course, such as The Shrine of the Fallen Warrior, an incredibly touching memorial to a young Blizzard employee who died unexpectedly during the development of WoW. Apparently it’s been there since the beta version of the game but I’ve only just discovered it.
I felt like I’d lost some purpose in playing once I’d hit the level cap and discovered everything. I realised that my time in this world was now relegated to simply ‘achieving’, taking endless flights between regions and re-running the same dungeons in the hope of getting better gear. It was like being a bored London cabbie who constantly ferries people back and forth through the same streets he knows so well, but every now and again he’ll stumble across some fancy new headlights or a spoiler. For some, this is their hook; they relish the idea of becoming more powerful; constantly re-running dungeons and raids – or running them at higher difficulties – gaining better gear and a sense of achievement along the way. I take some satisfaction in this but it’s not really my hook in WoW, or other MMOs for that matter.
What has brought me back in to WoW though – with the exception of the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion – is my education in the lore of the world. I, like many others, would skip a lot of text and back story when a quest is given, hitting the accept button before the quest giver had a chance to finish. It’s the in-game equivalent of immediately turning your back on someone a second after they start speaking, running off in to the woods shouting “Okay! On it!”. Fortunately the NPCs in WoW seem to be more than happy to accept this, as if they had all seemed a little bit bored with my presence anyway.
World of Warcraft actually has a fairly rich lore to it, obviously not as much as something like Tolkien’s Middle Earth – to which Warcraft owes a lot of its inspiration through its connection to Games Workshop’s Warhammer lore, itself inspired by Tolkien – but certainly enough to provide a deep background to the world. I’d been aware of it since the days of Warcraft II, but never fully appreciated it until recently when I actively searched for more information about it and came across the Dutch YouTuber, Nobbel87 who produces a lot of videos on the subject.
Nobbel87 produces videos that are designed to bring you up to speed with the history and lore of the Warcraft universe, and he does it very well. He has literally hundreds of videos uploaded to his YouTube channel, most them seemingly dedicated to exploring and explaining the characters and scenarios connected to Warcraft’s land of Azeroth and its universe. The first (and possibly most useful) video I watched was ‘The Story of Warcraft – Full Version [Lore]‘. It’s easy to find by searching on his channel, or just searching straight in to YouTube or Google to be honest. It’s a thorough, yet easy to follow history of the events from the founding of the universe right up to the end of Mists of Pandaria and the start of Warlords of Draenor. It’s full of cutscenes, art and in-game footage from Warcraft III, World of Warcraft and even some of the Warcraft comic book series. It’s all the more impressive given that Nobbel87 – a native to the Netherlands – narrates it all in impeccable English, a language that is not of course, his mother tongue.
Nobbel takes us right from the creation of the universe to events leading up to Warlords of Draenor. We hear how Sargeras, supreme leader of the pantheon Titans – gods created to bring order to the world – fell from grace and spread chaos with the Burning Legion. It moves swiftly through the corruption of the orcs and the events of Warcraft I and II, until it reaches the transformation of Arthas and the formation of the Forsaken in Warcraft III before moving on to World of Warcraft’s narrative. All of this story is pretty vast and deep. There are long videos based on some characters I’d never even heard of before and they all contribute to a rich tapestry of lore that has been ongoing since the early nineties.
It’s this lore and back story that has since piqued my interest again in playing WoW. I’ve long held the belief that the relevance of story in games is dependent, in part, on its genre. Beat ’em ups and their ilk are at one end of the spectrum where story has little importance, and the other end are the traditional adventure games and RPGs. I’ve always placed more importance on play and game mechanics when trying to determine if a game is worth my time or not. However, there is a lot to be said for story, however inane or irrelevant it may be to the game or its mechanics in enhancing the experience. Story helps to immerse us by giving a sense of place. It also helps by giving us a sense of purpose, and it is this purpose that has been reignited in me since educating myself in Warcraft lore.
I now felt much more a part of this world and, interestingly, not as a major character myself, but more as a passive-aggressive observer, and that was absolutely fine. One of the pitfalls of an MMO is obviously the fact that with thousands of players playing at once not everyone can be the one hero that saves the world. Blizzard want to make you feel like that as much as possible by using systems such as ‘Phasing‘ and isolating questlines with major characters for you or a group that make you feel like the centre of attention. However, it doesn’t really bother me too much that I’m not the archetypal hero that saves the world – partly because, to be honest, that trope has become rather worn out. I’m happy to observe the story around me unfolding as I quest along. Previously this would have just involved me killing fifteen trolls or collecting ten mushroom cap spores which would have all seemed rather pointless and soul destroying, but now that I know a lot more about the lore of this world it makes the experience different. You stop focussing on the inane process of slaying twelve of these and collecting twenty of that and instead focus on the history of the world and how its events have lead to the reason for this moment and your actions.
When you understand the drama and history that give this world its identity you become more invested in it. While that may sound obvious, it really is pretty powerful. Prior to this I felt like I’d been, well, just clicking on stuff; now I was clicking on stuff with purpose…