2. Zone lore and revamps
The good Oh hello, Cataclysm. This expansion was the first of its kind -- it presented an event that dynamically changed the world, and the world reacted to it accordingly. Instead of being a new set of zones to visit and explore, the actual world of gameplay that we knew from vanilla was completely redesigned. The sheer amount of effort and time it must have taken to accomplish all of this has to be recognized and lauded, because without Cataclysm, we'd still be playing a seven-year-old game every time we rolled an alt.
But Cataclysm didn't just change the vanilla world; it revolutionized it into an interactive story with a cast of thousands. Each zone in Cataclysm has its own unique story behind it, and each story plays out in its own time. Some stories have been resolved, and others have been left to be addressed later -- and that's a good thing in and of itself. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: World of Warcraft at its outset and through the first two expansions was primarily about addressing issues and events from the original RTS games. With the conclusion of Wrath, there was really very little left from those previous games to draw from.
What these zone revamps have done is introduce a whole host of new situations and scenarios to draw from for future content. We are past the point of relying on old games for current content; we are now in a new age of Warcraft, where the stories and events that have yet to be written have to be drawn on from current material. And these zone revamps used every trick of every piece of development that I've covered so far to present a new story that is fresh, dynamic, puzzling and entertaining.
If you have not played through the new 1-to-60 zones, do it. If you do not want to roll an alt, take your level 85 through. It'll be a much faster experience than simply playing through the zones as intended, but I guarantee you, seeing the amount of development that these zones have experienced, playing through these different areas and experiencing the new stories, this is something that should absolutely be on your bucket list of things to do before Mists. If you are at all interested in the lore and what is to come, these zones are a must-see.
The not-so-good This ... is a little touchy, honestly. The inherent problem with these zone revamps is something that is a problem with Cataclysm itself -- they are not required material for max-level players. So players at level 80 have no real reason to go back and play through all of this new content, and they miss out on all of the story and all of the effort that went into redesigning these zones. This is a real pity, because a lot of these new zones offer some of the most innovative and engaging gameplay that WoW has ever seen. This isn't the fault of the development team, or the story team, or anybody else. Cataclysm was a revamp. Players at max level never go back to look at content that won't give them some kind of tangible reward, so they simply ignore these 60 levels of amazing gameplay.
How things can improve You ready for this? This may be the most polarizing statement I'm going to make about World of Warcraft: Blizzard, do not under any circumstances go back and do a revamp of this extent ever again. People begging for Outland updates? Ignore them. People who want to see Northrend reflect the changes that have happened to the rest of the world? Ignore them. Don't bother touching old content ever again. Leave it as it is. The revamp of old-world Azeroth was more than enough; please pat yourselves on the back and hand out cookies where appropriate to the people that worked on all of these zones.
For those wondering why I'm saying ignore the old content, this is why: Think about Cataclysm, and think about it very hard. Think about how much you enjoyed it. Think about what you didn't like about it. Think about all the times you complained that there wasn't enough to do. The reason it seemed like there wasn't enough to do is because a lot of time and effort was put into making the 1-to-60 experience an enjoyable process again and updating all that old content just like you asked.
If the development team were to update Outland, it would require the same amount of time and effort and result in another experience similar to what you've seen in Cataclysm. Ask yourselves: If Outland or Northrend were completely revamped, would you go back and play through it? I don't think there is enough of a call to update these old zones. I don't think there are enough players tromping through that content to warrant the amount of time it would take to update it and to warrant taking those people away from giving us cool and innovative current-level content.
The good The #1 best lore development of 2011, hands down, is the compilation of everything that I've mentioned so far. It's accessibility to lore. Once upon a time, when World of Warcraft was introduced, the only way to really get into the lore was to read all the quest text and go purchase a bunch of novels that had only a marginal relation to what was going on in game. What 2011 has shown us beyond a shadow of a doubt is that those days are long past and will never return. Between all of the revamps and the technology introduced to engage the player in the story in the game, the short stories available freely on the main site, and the new direction of the novels introduced out of the game, the lore of Warcraft has never been so effortlessly accessible to anyone who wants to experience it.
And it's also accessible to those that may not want to experience it, too. Even if you've never picked up a Warcraft novel in your life, you cannot play through these new zones without realizing what is going on around you. You cannot help but become engaged in all of the action; you can't help wondering what's going to happen next. From a lore standpoint, 2011 was the year of story development. It was the year that people started to really stand up and notice what was going on in the world around them.
And even with characters that people are annoyed about, like the overexposure of Thrall, the inactivity of Varian, the mixed opinions of Garrosh -- that negativity should be taken as absolute success. Because in vanilla, nobody was clamoring about what the Alliance or Horde leaders were up to, or how they were treated, or whether or not they had a story worth recognizing. This was because there was no real story to be antagonized about. Now it's become a focus of the millions of players who ordinarily wouldn't have noticed or even paid attention. That's an amazing thing.
The not-so-good The drawback to accessibility is the same thing I'm saying to take as a success. There are now millions of players inexorably drawn into the lore of the game. These players are demanding to see more -- and they aren't getting exactly what they'd like to see. The development's been great so far, but because of all this fantastic development and accessibility, characters and situations that have not been given the same amount of care as others stand out like a sore thumb.
How things can improve Balance, balance, balance. 2011 has made certain that lore is no longer something that is ignored. The key moving forward is to make sure that both sides receive equal amounts of development. There's no need to focus on one character going into Mists; the focus should be spread equally between all. It's about taking time, now -- time to tell the story at its own pace, without rushing one character over another. The story is now Blizzard's to tell, without relying on old RTS games for content. I can't wait to see what it does next.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries.
- Wrath Retrospective: Lore and the art of storytelling
- Story analysis and the misconception of "lolore"
- Lore 101, Part 2: Canon, continuity and retcon
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.