So... how is Blizzard doing on Lore?
Ever since the Burning Crusade came out, the battle cry of many a disgruntled fan has been "lollore," a cry which signifies a disgust with the direction the story has taken and a belief that many of the twists have betrayed the previous feel of the world or fallen short of some expected level of quality. Now honestly, There have been some lore twists I haven't really liked. Certainly, there were ways to give us the Draenei besides besides massively retconning the back story of the Burning Legion and making Sargeras corrupt them instead of the other way around. That said, I don't really mind that the Draenei came to us on a space ship. After all, the Orcs came to us through a Stargate!
I also appreciate that Blizzard has, in the lore arena, learned where they tripped up and tried to correct it. This is very apparent to me in the differences between the Lore behind Zul'Aman and the Lore behind the Sunwell Plateau. Where Zul'Aman's lore felt lackluster and weak, the lore behind patch 2.4 keeps getting better and better.
To start with, I should say that I don't consider Zul'Aman's lore weak in the same way that many do. I don't have a problem in concept with the Horde fighting Zul'jin. Zul'jin was, after all, part of the old Horde, and has shown no signs of remorse for what he's done while under the command of demons. Furthermore, he has actively opposed Thrall's Horde. Finally, the pact the Horde has made with the Blood Elves is not only something he would see as an insult, but something that would make the Horde bound by word to fight him. The Revantusk Hinterlands Tribe seem almost to worship him as a sort of god, but it seems likely they're considering him as more of an ideal than what he truly was, a bloodthirsty cannibal who fought relentlessly to wipe out all that opposed him and made pacts with the Burning Legion via the old Orcish Horde. However, what I do disagree with is the execution. The motivation given to us to fight him, as well as the specifics of what he is doing, are impossibly murky.
It's true that sometimes many quests are just there so we can make a quick buck. In fact, you can argue that our characters are in many cases just plain outright mercenary. We regularly plunder ruins for treasure and whatnot, and sell what we get to the highest bidder with little consideration for the original owners, or any cultural or historical value. We generally do not care if something belongs in a museum. However, at some point, most of us expect to be doing something more epic. We killed Nefarian and Onyxia to save Azeroth from the grip of the Black Dragonflight. We "killed" Kael'thas because his mad quest for power had caused him to ally with demons, had already destroyed Farahlon (now known as the Netherstorm), and was threatening to go even further. We killed Illidan to save the Ashtongue Broken, the Netherwing flight, and so many others that were enslaved by him, as well as to free Outland and the Black Temple. Zul'jin deserved no less a noble purpose - and yet, the reason we first head out to the Ghostlands is because we're after "shinies."
There, instead of taking arms against a malevolent and powerful warlord, we meet up with a guy who's last name is an anagram of "redneck" and deal with harebrained schemes to create flimsy masks to blend in with the locals and retrieve treasure maps. Sure, there's something about animal gods being summoned, but it's never really clear why they're being summoned or what it could mean for Azeroth if they ARE summoned. In the last Troll dungeon, Zul'Gurub, we knew very well that Hakkar was bad news. We really should have been going to Zul'Aman for a much more noble purpose, and for that to be realized, there needed to be a lot more understanding as to what the animal spirits would mean and how they would be unleashed once summoned.
Certainly, it's also not like it would been hard to find good, solid lore reasons for either side to come assault Zul'Aman, rather than leaving the charge to thieves and treasure hunters with a camp full of bad puns. Anyone who's played a Blood Elf through to level 20 should know what I'm talking about. The Farstriders, the Hunter guild of the Blood Elves, spends most of their time fighting back the Troll menace, even sending people to Stranglethorn Vale to find insights on the Amani by fighting the Jungle Trolls there. It seemed very jarring to me that they were not there at Zul'aman, despite the fact that my Blood Elf Paladin had been fighting Trolls for the Farstriders only a stone's throw away from the dungeon. Not only would having the Farstriders recruit the Horde to fight Zul'jin finish up a lore thread that started as early as level 8 for Blood Elves, but it would have allowed for more insight into the Blood Elf culture, such as an exploration of the rift between the Farstriders and the rest of the Blood Elves.
On the Alliance side, Zul'jin was originally a major enemy of the Alliance, and they have every reason to go after him, to avenge themselves of earlier losses, and to head off what could be a major threat to their holdings in Lordaeron. The League of Arathor or the remanants of Stromgarde would have been perfect candidates for being the ones to go after Zul'jin, since if he started marching south with his spirit-powered army, he would have hit Arathi Basin and the Arathi Highlands very quickly, possibly being reinforced by the Witherbark tribe. Likewise, the Wildhammer could have recruited the Alliance to help them fight Zul'jin as well. My favorite solution would probably be to have some of the High Elf remnant come to Zul'Aman and recruit the Alliance to help. The Blood Elf versus High Elf question is one I've wanted to see addressed in game for a long time, and having the two at Zul'Aman fighting against the same enemy but being on opposite sides of the Horde/Alliance split could lead to some good drama and lore.
So it's pretty fair to say that Blizzard dropped the ball on Zul'Aman lore, making what could have been an epic struggle with an iconic character from previous games into the most blantant bunny-bashing dungeon dive possible. However, I will give them credit for learning, and the way they've handled the lore surrounding the Sunwell Plateau proves to me that while they stumbled in Zul'Aman, they still have chops.
In the Shattered Sun Offensive, the urgency of our mission is never in question. We're not preventing the summoning of some nebulous "animal gods," we're fighting a clear and present danger that threatens to envelop the world. We're not sent to go after "shines," but instead, we are sent to continue a fight that has been brewing for ages. In addition, more lore story lines are bought to fruition and intertwined with the story, giving us connections to the past and hints of the future: The longstanding Aldor and Scryer storyline is finally bought to a clear head, and the nobility of the Scryers and the ability of both sides to cooperate and fight the true enemy is established beyond a doubt. In addition, the Blood Elf storyline evolves even further, setting the stage for them to truly separate from the legacy of Kael'thas and the Burning Legion and establish their own path again, and for their Paladins to put aside thievery and possibly be granted a place in Tirion Fordring's Knights of the Silver Hand when the time comes. Finally, the lore is available to almost all types of play styles at level 70. Casuals have a wide range of daily quests that will allow them to participate in the assault on Kil'jaedan, and the building up of the Shattered Sun base camp means they can see their work have a genuine effect on the battle and the storyline.
It's these type of progressive story lines that could silence the cries of "lollore" forever, and something I believe Blizzard should definitely keep in mind. There's enough room for a bit of punnery, but when it comes time to buckle down and fight the big dudes, give us a good reason for what we do. Let us be the heroes. In addition, let the new lore meld with old lore, so that we can see what's happened with old story lines and feel like things are really changing in the world.
So far, I'd say things are looking up, lore-wise. It seems like Wrath of the Lich King is going to genuinely move the storyline along. It seems like we'll be getting the return of the King of Stormwind. Tirion Fordring will finally be recreating the Knights of the Silver Hand as promised so long ago. There's also promises that people of all play levels will be able to interact with Arthas himself. If 2.4 is a wrapup of the Burning Crusade storyline and a preview of the type of storytelling we can expect in Wrath of the Lich King, I would say that we're in for some fun. I, for one, look forward to it.