Friday, March 14, 2008

WoW - Wrath of the Lich King update: Dragonblight

Blizzard Entertainment has updated the Wrath of the Lich King expansion preview on their World of Warcraft website with the latest in a series of zone descriptions, this time focusing on the dragon graveyard known as the Dragonblight.

My initial reaction is that I would be a lot more impressed if dragon skulls and spines weren't already standard palette for zone design in WoW. Instead, there are simply going to be more dragon skeletons in the Dragonblight than there are in any other zone, which I'm sad to say makes me shrug with indifference. The existence of this zone is not a surprise -- it has been included in WoW Roleplaying Game canon for at least two years (Lands of Mystery was published in April of 2006), and one would think that Blizzard could have prepared accordingly. I fully acknowledge that I'm geeking out, here, and that this seems like a fairly minor issue, but the zone seems riddled with similar unusual design choices.

Most notably is the revelation that the first humans to be infected with the Scourge lived in the Dragonblight. The flash video on the website features what seems to be a sizeable abandoned human settlement. It just seems unbelievable to me that the dragons, who are fiercely untrusting and protective of their secrets everywhere else in Azeroth, would allow anyone to settle in their sacred grounds in such numbers. A small tauren settlement does not stretch the limits of the imagination, but a large human town seems very out of place in a zone that is home to the dragonflight shrines and Wyrmrest Keep, and which is presumably littered with the spirits of the draconic dead.

The revelation that the red dragonflight will be joining the bronze as an ally to characters who are willing to do the necessary legwork is very welcome, although the establishment of the blue dragonflight as inimical is yet another disappointment. The lore paints the dragonflights (with the exception of the blacks) as being honorable, if distant, guardians, interested overall in the advancement of life and peace. In game, however, interaction with dragons comes primarily in the form of combat, even with those dragonflights with which occasional interaction of other kinds is possible.

I understand the lore supporting Malygos turning on the mortal races, and obviously, why his dragonflight would follow him. I do not understand why the bronze dragons were hostile to everyone before the Caverns of Time were opened (or, alternately, why they are so "welcoming," now). I don't understand why the red dragons around Grim Batol are hostile to everyone. I gather that the green dragonflight has somehow been corrupted by Hakkar's influence on the Emerald Dream, but that story remains to be told in full, and it will likely remain murky until the Emerald Dream is opened as a playable zone or instance. All in all, I feel as though the issue of draconic involvement in mortal affairs has been schizophrenic at best, and could really have been handled with more grace throughout the evolution of the game. But I'm diverging into another topic -- the handling of factions in general -- and I should save that for another post.

I am made really nervous by the mention of Angrathar, the Wrath Gate, and the Horde and Alliance "gearing up for the siege." This sounds suspiciously like the war effort event that was required to open the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj, which essentially involved the entire server slaving over fetch and gather quests, earning gear rewards, so that a few top-tier 40-man raiding guilds could get their content on. This entire premise seems completely backward to me, since it is the majority of the server population (including raiders, of course) that cares about content, but really just the raiders and PvPers who care about better gear. It seems to me that it would be better to give the raiders epic fetch quests for epic gear, and just make the new content five-mannable. I know that it bothers the designers that so many WoW players never see their work. But I acknowledge that my attitude is a bit radical. Content accessibility is another pet peeve of mine -- I'll leave that for another update, as well.

All in all, I think Wrath of the Lich King is shaping up to be more of the same, which is to say that it will be good stuff -- for a given value of good. Many of the improvements and additions to the way the game is played sound like they are going to be a lot of fun, but the new content is looking increasingly like it will be either irrelevant or inaccessible, which has proven to be par for the course. I look forward to discussing the expansion further as more information is revealed in the coming months.

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