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Cataclysm Post-Mortem: Uldum

Alex Ziebart and Mathew McCurley (that's me) decided to give each Cataclysm zone the once-over now that we're many months out from the release of the expansion. In this post-mortem series, we'll examine what worked and what didn't work in terms of story, quests, and overall feel for the zones and the cool moments that dotted the landscape.

On the southern end of Kalimdor, a forgotten civilization hides behind otherworldly technology, forged by the Titans to protect the great machinery of Reorigination. The tol'vir, great protectors of the ancient machinery, stand stalwart against the corruption and fighting. Some tol'vir have succumbed to the aqir long ago, but the civilization remained unknown to the whole of Azeroth. After Deathwing's violent breach from the Maelstrom changed the world forever, the resulting chaos broke the shield that hid Uldum and revealed its sands. Now, Deathwing and his allies fight to corrupt the tol'vir and bring chaos to Uldum and beyond.

Uldum continued the Cataclysm zone progression by moving you from the rocky, subterranean world of Deepholm into an open-air desert, a welcome change for the claustrophobic adventurer. Giant pyramids, monumental statues, and an Egyptian motif made Uldum one of the most beautiful and well-realized zones in Cataclysm. As players embarked on two very distinct quest lines, the story of Uldum unfolded as the forces of the wind broke the Skywall through the desert sky and into Azeroth's realm. On the other side of the zone, players were sent on a sprawling adventure with fan favorite Harrison Jones on a bumbling expedition to figure out the purpose of the Obelisks of Uldum and get into some wacky trouble.

This is going to be the most controversial of the Cataclysm post-mortems. I can feel it. Uldum was a zone that people either loved or hated during the content push to 85. We are going to try to keep it civil.

Stories from the sands

Mat: The overarching story of Uldum is solid. Deathwing has allied with Al'akir, and the wind elementals are pushing Skywall through to the other side. Siamat is granting the tol'vir powers beyond their curse of flesh and turning them back to stone, only to be imprisoned by his newly created super-tol'vir. The Halls of Origination and the great Obelisks of Uldum turned out to be the doomsday machine Algalon was in charge of in case the planet became too infested with Old God corruption. All well and good. But this was not the whole story of Uldum, and these quest points did not get much play time, as they only amounted to about half of the zone.

I don't like Harrison Jones for as long as we had to deal with him. Harrison Jones is one of those characters that works for a short amount of time, in small bursts, and then disappears. He is, after all, a pop culture reference to Indiana Jones, and pop culture references usually work best in small doses. In Wrath, Harrison Jones was in a few quests in Grizzly Hills in the troll ruins. In The Burning Crusade, he and his band of adventurous losers were intregal to the Zul'Aman raid. In Cataclysm, one of the zone designers decided that he really, really loved Indiana Jones and wanted to retell the entirety of Raiders of the Lost Ark and let you, the player, experience the movie in game.

The only question I have to ask is: Why? Why such a sprawling, epic story with a character who only exists in World of Warcraft as a reference outside of World of Warcraft? Why bring the character along for a ride that ultimately does not exist in WoW, if you get what I'm saying? The question I kept asking myself throughout the entire experience with Harrison Jones was where the hell was Brann Bronzebeard or his counterpart in the Reliquary, High Examiner Tae'thelan Bloodwatcher. Both of these characters are WoW characters and have room to grow. Why did we need someone completely separate from the already established explorers in WoW's universe, as opposed to giving some great characterization and screen time to characters people might not have known of or who needed some characterization. Harrison Jones doesn't need characterization, because the guy already exists, as a whole, outside of World of Warcraft.

And then, as if we were being trolled all along, Brann pops up at the end -- one step ahead of you the whole time. Really? I think I would have rather had the quest designers tell their own Indiana Jones story rather than just shoehorn in scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and retell the movie.

The tol'vir storyline dealing with their politics, march to war against Neferset, and the coming together of the disparate tol'vir all across the desert was vastly more interesting from a game lore perspective. It wasn't cringe-worthy, had some cool new elements like RTS mechanics in WoW, and generally felt more like a Cataclysm experience.

Alex: Before I get into this, I want to apologize: This Cataclysm post-mortem series has stalled as long as it has entirely because of me. I greatly dislike Uldum. So much so that every time I sat down to write this, I became seriously angry and had to step away from it. I don't like just being mad about something and slamming my hand on my keyboard until angry words come out. That isn't constructive. I much prefer to take time to breathe and process my thoughts and be able to discuss it calmly. So here we are, months later.

Still, I avoid Uldum at all costs on all of my post-80 characters because I very much believe that if you don't like something, just don't do it. Now here I am, writing a post-mortem review on the zone I revile most in all of World of Warcraft. Enjoy?

The way I see it, Uldum is cut up into two smaller zones. In one of those zones, it's World of Warcraft. You're aiding the Ramkahen, learning about Deathwing's plots and how Al'Akir's minions fit into it, and generally exploring this new race's society. In the other zone within Uldum, you're in someone's terrible Indiana Jones fanfiction.

The Ramkahen part of the zone is (mostly) great. Delving into Titan creations and learning what crazy things they've made, animate and inanimate, is one of the staples of World of Warcraft. It's something that we've been doing since classic World of Warcraft, and it's always cool to see what crazy things the Titans have been doing. I wish Blizzard would stop regurgitating real-world religions and mythologies to do it, though. I like to believe the storysmiths at Blizzard are capable of more than adding a couple of letters onto the end of real-world gods to create their pantheon. We already put up with Thorim, Loken, and Freya (you didn't even change this one!) in Northrend; now we get Rajh, Setesh, and Isiset? I look forward to fighting Zeusish, Apollom, and Herculesus in the next expansion.

Anyway, the Ramkahen side of the zone is neat. Embroiling yourself in their politics, rallying them against Deathwing sympathizers, putting a stop to Siamat and the Neferset -- that's all neat. I love learning about the cultures and inner workings of the various races of Azeroth, and I enjoyed every moment of these quests.

Then you get into Harrison Jones, and it all goes right to hell. Mat phrased it pretty well: Why? World of Warcraft has plenty of pop culture references in it. Warcraft has always had them. They're fun and we enjoy them, but we enjoy them in small doses. Indiana Jones takes up almost an entire zone to reenact a movie, and poorly at that. I'll get to specific quests down in the next section, but overall the Harrison Jones section just felt like a horrific waste of time. While I was working with this guy, I just kept wondering where Azeroth's explorers were. Where's Brann Bronzebeard and the Explorer's League? Where's the new Reliquary faction Blizzard introduced for the Horde?

The Reliquary never shows up, but Brann sure does. He shows up in the very final quests of the zone, popping up out of nowhere in a move that just made me feel like I was being trolled for a good 40 or 50 quests straight.

Questing for fortune and fun

Alex: Ramkahen? Solid. Good, fun stuff. There isn't a lot to say about things that are just good. A+, would quest again.

Then you move into Indiana Jones and the Unintentionally Racist Quest.

I spend a couple of dozen quests being Hitler's personal enforcer. I try to save the life of a parody of Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich's Minister of Propaganda, a man who successfully sold the Holocaust to the German people, just so someone can get a nein/nine joke in. On Hitler's request, I go capture and kill Erwin Rommel, a man who conspired to assassinate him over in the real world. I also spy on his guests, suppress dissent in his ranks, beat his laborers, and do a myriad of other utterly abhorrent things. Why? Because I found a propaganda pamphlet laying around and decided these Nazis sound like pretty cool guys. Even if the point of signing up with these guys was to dismantle them from the inside, I still do a whole lot of really horrible things that would have ended up with me in the Hague in the real world.

Am I overreacting? It's very possible, but I can't get over the fact that to quest through Uldum, I've been tasked with becoming an errand boy to the Third Reich because they sounded like pretty cool dudes and someone at Blizzard wanted to write Indianda Jones fanfiction.

The things that disgusted me about Uldum don't end there, either. Uldum is what, to me, solidified the pygmy race is a racist caricature. I didn't mind them in the goblin starting area. They were a little weird, but they fit exactly what Blizzard described them as; they're modeled after classic rock roadies. Their tribe is even called the Oomlot Tribe, which if you haven't figured it out, is a nod to the umlaut. They fit that in the goblin starting zone. In Uldum, that goes out the window. Blizzard took this thing that was already racially charged and, instead of taking the high road and doing something cool with them, stayed right down there with everybody's worst expectations and made them a really insensitive thing.

The developers should have stuck with the classic rock roadie motif they had going. It was a silly concept, but this is Warcraft. Silly is OK! Silly is totally cool. Instead, the pygmies went down this really awful path where just questing around them feels scummy. Shouldn't I feel like a hero in Blizzard games? That's what Blizzard claims to be, isn't it? A hero factory? Why, then, are they mass-producing characters who enable systematic racial holocaust? Even in a war between the Alliance and the Horde, we don't stoop to that level. Well, maybe the Forsaken, but even they aren't written as real-world allegory to cultural genocide. They're just big, dumb jerks.


Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Cataclysm

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