It's about that time again. The time in which an expansion is waning towards its inevitable end, and a new one sits on the horizon. The time when that expansion isn't quite available for play, but is now the subject of copious amounts of clever datamining to pluck out all those interesting details before they've even had a chance to fully see the light of day.
For most players, it's incredibly fun to see the details as they are released, particularly since Blizzard has been so careful this time around to clarify any changes that may appear a little weird. For fans of the lore, it means one of two things -- a ton of delicious tidbits in regards to story information, or the inevitable launch of a minefield of spoilers that will have to be dodged for the next several months until the expansion is in hand. But is it really worth it to give them a look? Is it worth it to discuss them?
Let's back up for a second -- way, way back and look not at Warlords, or even Warcraft itself, but the nature and construction of a story. When you, as a reader, sit down with a book and crack open that first page, you're presented with a story that has been carefully constructed and edited by the appropriate parties. You're looking at a finished product. It's not malleable, it can't be changed, the choices the author made for that particular tale stand as they are.
Can you be angry about what you've read? Of course! That's the hallmark of a really good story -- that it draws a reaction from the reader. Stories are, in their own way, a reflection of real life. They aren't always light, happy, and fun. Even children's stories aren't always light and happy and fun -- if you don't believe me, try looking at some of the earliest editions of fairy tales. Or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The point of a story is to evoke a reaction, whether that reaction is good or bad. If the author has made you feel, then that story is a success -- sometimes not quite in the way the author intended, but it's still doing its job.
How does this relate to Warcraft? An MMO is a different kind of story. It's a story that doesn't have an end -- just endless chapters, each related to one another in some kind of overall pattern, but chapters that theoretically can stand alone. Blizzard has been quietly refining this process over the years. Mists of Pandaria bears little to no resemblance to vanilla WoW not in terms of characters, but in terms of overall story. Mists had a definitive arc with beginning, middle and end, while vanilla was frankly a little all over the place in terms of where it was going and what the ultimate goal of that first iteration of the game really was.
But the other difference between Warcraft and your typical novel is that we, as readers, actually get to see that story in progress. It's like being fed one finished chapter of a book at a time, a serialized story that we get to read, react to, and then wait for the next section. Not only does that make it entertaining for the player, but it gives the authors the unique perspective of being able to see exactly how that story is being received as it's written. On the one hand, it's pretty awesome to get feedback in that kind of way -- on the other, it's incredibly frustrating for both reader and author at once.
Why? Because we as readers don't have the big picture. We don't know where the story is going to go, we only know what we've been given so far. And when it looks like something isn't going our way, we have the option of voicing our discontent directly to the author -- something that people are really eager to do. For the author, it's doubly frustrating, because these stories are in fact laid out just like the novels you get in the store. They're written in advance. They can't be changed last minute -- to do so would require not just a quick re-write of some text, but an entire restructure of the game itself, something that doesn't just involve authors. It involves the game design team, the art team, pretty much everyone that works at Blizzard.
That train of progression isn't one that can just be turned around at a moment's notice. And that's what makes spoilers so infuriating, because we're seeing a small snapshot of something we don't really understand. We get excited about it and assume it means one thing, when in fact it means the opposite. Or we get upset about it for the same reasons -- because we're assuming from one or two lines of datamined text that we now fully understand all there is to know about a character or a storyline. And frankly ... we don't!
I'm not going to talk spoilers in this column, but I am going to talk reactions. There has been information flying around that looks a little disappointing, a little shocking, or just downright weird out of context. It's fine to look at spoilers if that's your thing, but what you have to keep in mind is what you are seeing is the equivalent of a sentence fragment from a random page somewhere in a book we haven't read. What we're seeing out there right now are segments with no context, characters with no development.
Does that mean it's wrong to get upset about it? No -- there's nothing wrong with feeling what you feel, or noting something that seems just plain wrong. By all means if something is particularly weird, or if it seems to be contradicting existing lore, it's worth talking about. There's certainly nothing wrong with having some concern based on what we know about the story so far, and where it appears to be headed. But you have to keep in mind that we honestly don't know where that story is going to go. Those concerns you're having may have already been addressed at some point in a later chapter we haven't seen. Heck, they might even be addressed in the next paragraph, but we haven't got access to that paragraph yet.
On the other hand, those concerns might just sit where they lie, and yes, be a point worthy of critical analysis. I've been asked a lot about my reactions to various pieces of spoilers we've seen out there, and I certainly have my own opinions regarding that information, but it's not something I'm going to go out of my way to critique until we've got the bigger picture. If it's still a point of contention at that time, you bet I'm going to address it here.
This is why I always say take datamining with a massive grain of salt -- it's neat to see information before it actually becomes a malleable thing we can play at our leisure, but at the same time, it's a double-edged sword. What we're seeing right now is development in process, it's not the finished product. And as we've seen in the past, sometimes that really interesting bit of information never actually makes it to live servers at all -- which means as far as we're concerned, it doesn't exist.
A good example of this are the traitor storylines from Cataclysm. Voice files were datamined that indicated exactly who the villains of those storylines were going to be. One villain actually ended up being revealed as a villain, albeit much later in the expansion than expected. The other, implicating Grand Magister Rommath, never actually ended up happening in game. In fact, the conversation that King Varian had about the reveal of Benedictus as a member of the Twilight Cult never happened, either -- the story in game was changed to the Black Bishop. The voice files, tantalizing as they may have been, were never actually used.
A more recent example is ... well, the entirety of the Jade Forest leveling experience. For those that played early on in the beta, the quests involved with introducing the player to Pandaria were a far cry from what we actually have in the game. The entire zone was shut down on beta servers while the zone was being reworked. Lorewalker Cho's introduction was modified into a far friendlier and more amicable experience.
These are exactly the type of things we're likely to see during the Warlords alpha and beta. What's being datamined right now are early iterations of that content. The lore, while difficult to change, isn't exactly set in stone, and we don't even have the slightest inkling of where that story is going to take us. Keep that in mind while discussing spoilers -- they may be fascinating, they may be worth discussion, but that discussion could be invalidated as quickly as it began.
Editor's note: Let's keep this a spoiler-free column, please, and keep the spoilers out of the comments as well. Thanks!
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.