2012 was a bit of an odd year for World of Warcraft. While yes, we did see the successful launch of Mists of Pandaria, that didn't happen until September. Prior to that? There was a whole lot of nothing in game. Patch 4.3 came out in November of 2011, which meant that players had nothing new or exciting to look at for nine months -- an astonishingly long period of time. So why bother doing a top 10 lore developments for 2012, you may ask?
Because the moment Mists of Pandaria hit live servers, we were inundated with so many different lore developments, changes and tweaks that there is more than enough material for this list. Oddly enough, although we definitely spent far more time this year entrenched in Cataclysm, it already feels like there's been more time spent in Pandaria overall. And the changes made to lore development between Cataclysm and Mists are something we should pay attention to, because they spell the beginnings of a very bright future for further Warcraft lore.
10. New lore and the Lorewalkers
The good Mists of Pandaria introduced new lore. A lot of it. In fact, everything about the continent of Pandaria and its residents is brand-spanking-new. Because of the sheer amount of new lore available, Blizzard had to come up with a way to quickly give players enough background information to fill them in on the basics of Pandaria. We saw that come through in a series of new quests, but more importantly through the introduction of a new faction, the Lorewalkers.
The Lorewalkers are quite literally the historians of Pandaria, and are there pretty much for the purpose of filling players in on all that backstory. To make it more appealing to players, the Lorewalkers were introduced as one of several new reputations to nab in Pandaria, and getting reputation with them was incredibly easy to do. Simply find the lore objects scattered around Pandaria, and turn them in for giant chunks of reputation. At the end, you can even purchase a pretty cool mount for your efforts.
And in between all of that hunting and reputation gathering? Players are learning the history of Pandaria. Those that really care about the lore paid attention to the items they were gathering, and the stories told as those items were turned in. Those that didn't care too much about the lore may have skipped the stories and focused on reputation, but just in case they wanted to go back and learn, those stories were filed on a convenient bookshelf for later viewing.
In other words, the Lorewalkers represented a somewhat permanent feature of archiving the history of Pandaria, available for as many repeat viewings as the individual player wanted to see. As a vehicle for offering an overview of all of this new lore, it succeeded with flying colors.
The not-so-good Although the Lorewalkers introduced a ton of past history, there were still gaps in that story, and no timeline really attributed to all of the events that played out. Given that Pandaria is a massive continent that has been hidden for ten thousand years, I'm willing to let that one pass -- particularly since we'll likely be seeing more of those holes filled in as the expansion goes on.
How things can improve While the Lorewalkers were an invaluable tool to give players an overview of Pandaria's history, there's still the matter of Azeroth's history. Vast and far more complicated than Pandaria's tale, the history of Azeroth has been revised and shuffled around numerous times with each iteration of the game. It would be great to see a way to archive the history of Azeroth as well as Pandaria -- and it'd be great to have a place to store all those books that players can read as they travel the world. Why not have the Lorewalkers teach the value of archiving history to other races of Azeroth? Brann's already got his nose in there.
9. Gameplay and print material
The good The trend of trying to integrate lore and print material within the game has continued with Mists of Pandaria, starting with the novel Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War and continuing all the way to the website with offerings like Quest for Pandaria and Li Li's Travel Journal. Much like the written works we saw in Cataclysm, the events that play out in the novels and stories are directly tied into events in game. Long gone are the days of standalone novels that don't really reflect current events at all.
Instead, we've got the game reflected through the eyes of the characters that live in that world. That's the biggest difference with the novels, and the notable change that seems to be staying put. Why would you read a Warcraft novel? Because while it doesn't represent the pinnacle of literary masterpieces, it's still a rollicking good read about a game you love and the characters that live within that game. Sure, it may not be The Hobbit, but it's a peek into the minds of beloved characters, what they are thinking and how different events affect them.
And it's not just that the novels offer a glimpse into character development -- the events in the novels work their way into the game, and the game works its way into the novels as well. This back-and-forth trend has gotten a lot more fluid with Mists of Pandaria, although there's still room for improvement in the relationship between game and print material.
This is doubly the case with Tides of War, because it was made clear where that scenario was supposed to begin and end in the novel itself. There was a scene written especially for Alliance players. Characters were not referred to by name, but they were intended to be the players that took part in the Theramore scenario. The fact that the actual event in game ignored this scene in the book means that the event itself spawned mass confusion.
Those that took the time to read Tides of War are confused, because the scenario didn't accurately portray what they had read. Those that hadn't read the novel are also confused, because the events of the Theramore scenario lack the emotional weight that by all rights should be there.
How things can improve It's just a matter of watching what goes on between book and game, and making sure those two things sync up. The sheer amount of potential in game and book integration is pretty staggering. There's potential there for books and games to be this streamlined, back and forth experience that works seamlessly together or separately. Read the book and play the game and get something really awesome. Play the game and still know what's going on in the book without having to read it. Read the book on its own as a standalone, and have that book draw you into playing the game.
It's a trifecta that needs to be carefully managed. If even one section of that interlocking exchange is out of place, the whole thing falls apart. But if it's carefully kept in balance, you've got this marvelous thing of beauty that serves up the lore in a uniquely elegant fashion. As with any balancing act, this is something that will take practice to perfect. But given the next novel and its Vol'jin-centric theme, it looks like things are on the right track.
8. Instance lore
The good I love it when I pose a question in a review, and it gets answered in spades by development. Last year, I pointed out instance lore as one of the top developments -- specifically the interaction between zone and instance, and how it worked really well together. I also pointed out how it faltered, particularly in low level zones. Players at level 85 weren't about to go back and play through Westfall just to see the story of Deadmines, nor were they going to be happy about an attunement that required you to play through all that introductory lore. So what do you do?
How about making the dungeon a part of the leveling experience itself? In Mists of Pandaria, there's a new and unique twist to some dungeons -- the fact that you play through the dungeons as part of regular gameplay. Say what? It all begins in Jade Forest, where players quest in the Temple of the Jade Serpent as part of the leveling experience. All of the bosses you encounter and the places you go in the Temple dungeon are explored via a series of quests. In a way, you're getting a preview of what that instance is like before you even set foot in it.
And as part of that questing experience, you're also learning the story behind that dungeon, and why you will eventually have to head in there and set things right. This continues with the Stormstout Brewery, where players make not one but two trips into the Brewery, once as Chen, and once accompanied by Chen, Mudmug and Li Li. This natural interaction with the dungeon does much to clarify its purpose in the game, and why the player is running around killing things in there to begin with.
The not-so-good Sadly, this wasn't the case for all of the Mists dungeons on the table at launch. In some cases this was understandable -- the Shado-pan Monastery was part of a series of quests, but those quests ended with the realization that there was something dark going on in the Monastery itself. What exactly was going on and how to resolve it was part of the instance, so it made sense that players didn't get to venture past the Monastery walls prior to entering the dungeon.
How things can improve You see that whole big section labeled "The good?" Give us more of that. Way more of that. In fact, it'd be pretty cool to be able to venture into a raid zone prior to even raiding it, for that matter. Seeing the Terrace of Endless Spring before the Sha of Fear's arrival would have been pretty sweet. Sure, the pandaren aren't exactly likely to let strangers into what is basically a sacred area. But why not have Lorewalker Cho instead tell us the tale of the Terrace, complete with some sort of cinematic walkthrough?
Mogu'shan Vaults was handled pretty well in terms of story -- having Cho along to explain what was going on was helpful. But Mogu'shan Palace didn't quite seem to fit. After all, here is the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, guarded by chosen pandaren for thousands of years, but there's a giant palace with four different tribes of mogu just sitting around inside and discussing what's going on sitting smack in the center of it all? How did they get there? Why haven't the Golden Lotus driven them out?
The line between questing area and dungeon was successfully blurred with Temple of the Jade Serpent and Stormstout Brewery. In their own peculiar way, they prepared players for actually running the dungeons themselves. It wasn't quite a training ground, but it was enough of a glimpse to learn the layout and know where to go next, which is incredibly helpful for players approaching new dungeons. Seeing more of that would be great.
Next week, we'll take a look at more of the highlights of 2012, including a look at a new feature, a look at some fresh new interpretations on old features, and a discussion about one of the more hotly debated features of the new expansion.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
- Wrath Retrospective: Lore and the art of storytelling
- Top 10 lore developments of 2011, part 1
- Top 10 lore developments of 2011, part 2
- Top 10 lore developments of 2011, part 3
- The lost introduction to Theramore's Fall
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.