The full questing experience in Wrath of the Lich King was vast. Levels 70 to 80, with quests for every zone, instance, and even raid instance, was quite possibly the most complicated total questing experience ever designed for World of Warcraft. Add in the death knight starting experience and the patches that each brought in new content, and you're looking at a real achievement in quest design. Wrath of the Lich King was indisputably the crucible in which Cataclysm's 1-to-60 quest redesign was forged, and it absolutely gave the lie to the misguided idea that the quest design team was somehow coasting on the achievements of the game's original launch.
We talked last week about how questing in Wrath worked up to the "first act" of the Wrathgate and Battle for Undercity, and then we looked at Ulduar and how it managed to integrate a very divergent lore element into the expansion. This week, we'll discuss the Lich King in more detail and how he functioned as a device to get the players involved.
Deception, death and Drakuru
It has long been my contention and I still feel that the Lich King's use in Wrath was far, far superior to how Illidan and then Kil'jaeden were used in The Burning Crusade. There were two entirely different kinds of quest lines that used Arthas/The Lich King, and each showed off a different and excellent use of the character. Both heavily involved players and made their impact and importance clear in different ways.
The first of these quests started in Grizzly Hills, where players met a Troll prisoner named Drakuru. Drakuru, when you first meet him, is locked in a cage in an encampment run by various survivors of the original group attempting to exploit Zul'Aman, including Budd Nedreck. (Budd's not doing too well in Grizzly Hills, but we won't dwell on him.) Drakuru, despite his durance at the hands of incompetents and madpeople, ends up being very helpful and gives you a series of tasks that leads you to enter Drak'tharon Keep. Once you complete the march to the top of the place, killing everything in your path before running into the Drakkari Prophet Tharon'ja and killing him too, Drakuru rewards you and then reveals the awful truth.
You just wiped out the last band of Drakkari resistance to the Scourge in Drak'Tharon and handed the place over to a traitor in service to the Lich King himself. Quite literally, they could not have done it without you. You did what seemed like the right thing at the time, put down berserker Trolls who were murdering their own people and their gods, and it turned out you were doing exactly what the Lich King wanted all along. You not only delivered one of the strategic choke points into Zul'Drak into the Scourge's hands, you destroyed one of the few forces that could have kept them out, to boot.
What I have always loved about this quest chain is the double symmetry of it. Not only do you gain revenge on Drakuru's betrayal and deception of you by deceiving and betraying him, but also in your march through Drak'Tharon Keep, you are following in the Lich King's footsteps, murdering Trolls in a misguided attempt to halt the Scourge that actually furthers their goals, much as Arthas himself did in Stratholme. When seen through that light, it becomes readily apparent what the Lich King's motives were in sparing you after destroying Drakuru. The Lich King would only have ever killed whoever failed him, and in not only retracing his steps in Stratholme but then going to such extreme lengths to avenge yourself on Drakuru that you impersonated a member of the Scourge to do it, you showed a vengeful side similar to that which propelled Prince Arthas to pursue Mal'ganis.
These quests perfectly display what the Lich King was always after. He didn't really care about Zul'Drak at all, because he believed that eventually everything would fall to him anyway. Drakuru, likewise, wasn't particularly valuable to the Lich King, any more than the death knights he so willingly threw away to lure Tirion Fordring to his death. No, the entire gambit was conceived and executed for one reason and one reason only. It was executed so that you, you heroes, would prove him right. And you did him proud in spectacular fashion. You murdered your way through Drak'Tharon, and upon the revelation of the true mastermind of your actions, you pursued revenge with singleminded devotion that ultimately pushed Zul'Drak even closer to the brink.
Why wouldn't the Lich King spare you? It was more than an amusing betrayal; it was more evidence for his unshakable belief that his own fall was inevitable.
A completely different use for the Lich King in quests was the quest line that began with Matthias Lenher. While the Drakuru quests provide players with the chance to experience a form of Arthas' own experiences when Ner'zhul's Scourge first targeted him for corruption, the Lenher quests literally allow players to become the Lich King. Players could see first hand, through his own perspective, how Arthas became a death knight, destroyed his own men, fought Illidan Stormrage at the foot of the Frozen Throne, and even raised Malygos' deceased consort Sindragosa to serve as an unliving weapon.
When you first encounter Matthias, it's after an explosion beneath Icecrown Citadel sends you crashing into Naz'anak, the Forgotten Depths. Contact with a mysterious black artifact causes Matthias' ghostly form to contact you, and he informs you that only the blood of the faceless ones surrounding the place can hide you from "him."
The exact nature of Matthia Lenher is unknown. It's possible he may be linked to the old god Yogg-Saron or perhaps simply the last remnant of anything resembling humanity in Arthas after he tore his own heart out. Yes, the black artifact is Arthas' heart itself, ripped out by the Lich King to remove all human sentiment and weakness. Through the quests Matthias gives you and the culmination of the chain, the quest Tirion's Gambit, you see Arthas' path to ultimate damnation after accepting Frostmourne. You see him destroy and raise his own troops. You see him despoil the last resting ground of tormented dragons destroyed by Deathwing with the Demon Soul, forcing them into unholy mockeries of their former selves. You see his battle with Illidan at the foot of the Throne and learn that not even his essential nature would stand in the way.
What these quests do well is to show how someone who was once a man, like other men with wants and needs and desires, could convince himself step by step that everything he was doing was the right thing to do until he could no longer perceive anything but his own ego. Arthas' destruction of his own humanity eliminated a perceived weakness, yes, specifically that part of him that didn't believe his own hype. Part of him knew he was wrong, and so rather than face that part of him, he ripped it out and cast it aside. When Tirion decided to destroy it, he wasn't wrong to say there was nothing left to redeem, because in order to be redeemed, there needs to be the ability to see that one needs to be redeemed. That's exactly what Arthas tore out.
Both of these quest lines ultimately culminate in the battle atop Icecrown Citadel. The Lich King you fight there is no crazed zealot, but rather a coldly rational evil that has chosen you because he believes that the only path you can choose, ultimately, is the one he chose ... and once you do, you'll turn on your homes and people the same way he did. Having torn out his own heart, he is blind to yours. He no longer understands you. He fails because he can't conceive of any other outcome than the one that led to him.
There's so much more to cover that we could be here literally for weeks discussing it: saronite, the role of Mal'ganis and how it fizzled, the Argent Tournament and why it didn't make sense ... But we will likely move on next week to talk about how Cataclysm redesigned 1-to-60 questing.
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.