While getting ready to feature Welcome to the Deadmines, Alex Ziebart and I had a brief conversation about the lore of that classic dungeon. We felt it a shame that Vanessa VanCleef was unceremoniously murderized by the players as they completed the storyline. At first, I thought my regrets at Vanessa's death centered on losing a cool NPC. But the conversation's been on my mind and I kept mulling it over. And then the real reason Vanessa's death bothered me finally became clear.
Vanessa VanCleef was the story the Alliance needed, and it was the one we deserved. Vanessa VanCleef's story was amazing. We need the VanCleefs back.
I'll summarize the story for folks who maybe don't read quests or play Alliance. But keep in mind: all of this played out in World of Warcraft. You didn't need to play any game besides WoW or read anything except quests to see this entire story.
All My VanCleefs
The story goes like this. Edwin VanCleef was a genius "roofwalker." A man with exceptional talents for engineering and machinery, Edwin built an amazing reputation. After Stormwind was destroyed, Edwin was to rebuild the city. Edwin was a criminal but dedicated his vast skill to the task. Gathering masons and common person alike, Edwin put Stormwind back together. He did the job, and asked to get paid.
The nobles refused to pay the men and women who did the work. (They may have had their reasons for that, but the fact still is: they refused to pay.) Edwin left and took the people with him, forming the Defias Brotherhood. And while the Defias certainly went rogue, it's easy to see why a betrayed and abused people would end up that way.
The humans basically send the PCs off to murderize Edwin and remove the Defias threat. At this point, we have a solid, compelling story already. A shady man works for his country, gets betrayed, and betrays the country back.
It turns out Edwin had a daughter. After Vanessa's father was killed, she got adopted by the Saldeans. She kept her identity secret, reluctantly killing the local Fulbrow family to prevent discovery. I want to emphasize: the Saldaens and Fulbrows are characters players have known for nearly a decade, just by playing through the Alliance quests. This is one heck of a compelling story. Vanessa takes over the Defias in the name of vengeance for her father, carrying on his work against the nobles of Stormwind.
So what does Stormwind (now ruled by Varian "I love my two swords" Wrynn) do? They send PCs to murderize her. They succeed, as you can tell by the fact that we're now in another expansion.
To sum up: Edwin works on behalf of his country, gets betrayed, and becomes an admittedly-dark Robin Hood. He's killed. His daughter rises up to avenge him, through following another ends-justifies-the-means track.
So why do I want Vanessa back?
Anne does a deeper delve into the nuances of the story and makes a very good case that Vanessa's death symbolizes the loss of hope. It's a powerful metaphor for many parts of the Alliance story. I think she's right but I think Vanessa could have been a much more powerful character with a future ahead of her.
I'm not looking to get into Alliance story complaints, but let's recap some of the most common. The Alliance NPCs aren't proactive, their motivations seem nonsensical or responsive, and they lack a hard, compelling story. They're missing that razer edge that makes them intimidating, that compels you to say "Oh, crap" when they swoop into a room.
Now imagine what Vanessa could have been. A deadly, brilliant woman with a compelling story (that in no way involves weird love triangles or romances) and unmistakable motivation to change the status quo.
Proactive? If Vanessa weren't a mastermind in control of her plans, you'd never have been sent to put the Defias down once more. Hard, compelling story? Vanessa's story has been played out over 7 years of the game, in a zone and dungeon that still remains some of the best the game has presented. Everything about the game's lore -- the orc invasion, dragons, and even your very PC -- has led her to this point.
Intimidating? While no melee combatant, a single vial of her concoction is enough to send players struggling through a maze of insanity. She's a leader who commands enough respect and loyalty that she brought the Defias back from the dead.
So I wish we could have Vanessa back somehow. Not because she's perfect, but because everything about her story was so fantastic. Maybe it's for the best that she died when she did, with meaning, metaphor, and a powerful tale. But I just can't help thinking about what a future world where Vanessa dogged Varian's footsteps and competed against Jaina to lead the humans of Azeroth. Vanessa seemed like a character who would see Garrosh's aggression and said, "I'm not having this." I'd like to have seen it.
Filed under: Analysis / Opinion