Character robustness is something that Blizzard has been honing for a long while. It's a tough deal sometimes, when you're creating a host of citizens and military personnel who exist at some podunk outpost handing out quests to player characters. The changes to the questing paradigms, as well as the new emphasis on the environments of Cataclysm telling the story just as much as the quest text, have placed a new burden on NPCs that might be in the spotlight for moments. There's an expectation that these characters, however minor, are required to have a modicum of depth.
The Southern Barrens takes this expectation to heart and delivers. Both the Horde and the Alliance have de facto leaders, infantrymen, conflicts, and battles that all make sense, given the environment and characters with interesting and robust personalities. General Hawthorne is either a sinner or a saint, depending on your questing experience, as are the hunters of Taurajo that have fled to the hills and are engaging in guerrilla warfare, with a questing hub that geographically defines their fight as well as characters who succinctly give players a glimpse into the conflict. Alliance players are sent straight through Horde territory, over a blockade and behind enemy lines to the Northwatch advance. The story is robust, and the characters are multifaceted.
Cataclysm has given bit players their time in the sun by fleshing out their stories, giving them tasks and information, and using the environment to make even the smallest NPC a robust member of the Alliance or the Horde. Which characters and places in Cataclysm do you think got the robust treatment, and which are your new favorite stories?
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