I’ve been told Blizzard finally laid to rest the question of whether or not Night Elves evolved from trolls. I haven’t really looked into what they said, and that’s odd for me. I love lore, have argued in the past that it was a plausible idea, and have roleplayed a character who believed with all her heart that it was true because she found a book once that said so. The truth is, I don’t want to see the comments I’m afraid exist.
There are times I feel like Blizzard has really screwed up, or at least dropped the ball, on delivering the story. There are other times I feel like a vocal (whether or not it’s “large” is harder to judge) segment of the playerbase doesn’t understand how the story is being told. I wonder how much of that is Blizzard dropping the ball and how much of it is the expectations we’ve been given from previous experience with games, books, and movies. Then I wonder if Blizzard should change their storytelling methods to match expectations because if the audience isn’t getting the story, how much good is it doing you to keep telling it?
I never do come up with an answer I’m comfortable with for that. Here’s how the storytelling looks to me…
In most games I’ve played, you only really get to experience the story from one point of view. Even changing the character you play will still give you the same overall point of view, though some details may change. (Note that’s “most games I’ve played”, not “most games that exist”. I can’t speak about the ones I haven’t played.) Even if I do get to see a story from different sides, there’s usually a clear line between “the good guy side” and “the bad guy side”, and it’s the good guys and bad guys who are opposing each other. Really morally simple.
Books and movies often deliver a story from a limited point of view, and there’s often glimpses of other points of view besides that of the main character. I haven’t seen a lot of books and movies that tell the entire story, start to finish, from three or four characters’ unique perspectives, though.
I think we’re trained to expect that the story will be delivered to us, in its entirety, from whichever angle we are looking at it. That the whole point is to make sure you, the reader/viewer/player, get The Story.
In WoW, it seems to me the point is to make sure you, the player, get The Story As Understood By This Character You Are Playing Right Now. Your character is not merely a vehicle to move through the story with, but also a person who lives on Azeroth and has their own personal experiences. Much like people in the real world, they don’t experience everything, don’t always completely understand what they have experienced, and aren’t always aware of not having all the information.
I’m kind of afraid of seeing responses to the Night Elves and trolls thing because I remember seeing some angry responses to the answer about who the first druids were. There were people who felt Blizzard had lied to players who play Tauren druids because, from the point of view they experienced the story from, they’d been told Tauren were the first druids. Similarly, Night Elves haven’t been sitting around all this time saying, “You know, we just don’t know. Maybe it was trolls, maybe it wasn’t… We’ve got nothing solid to go on.” They’ve had a story about their origin all this time. They believe
after Pangu died, the goddess That’s not it. Spider Woman led them That’s not the right one, either. God took one of Adam’s ribs and Elune made them.
Can you honestly tell me you’ve never heard of a culture making up an origin story for themselves?
I usually describe flavor lore as being something that, while it may or may not be canon that this is what happened, it’s often canon that this is what someone believes. Were the Tauren the first druids? Apparently not. But do the Tauren believe that? Yes! So why would they tell their own people something else? The story you’re getting there isn’t “what happened”, it’s “what these people believe”.
For a long time, the story about Night Elves evolving from trolls has been nothing more than flavor lore. Again, I hear Blizzard has confirmed it. That doesn’t change the fact that all we really knew before was that trolls had a story that taught that idea. Even if Blizzard had said, “No. Seriously? C’mon, guys… Elune made them!”, the fact that there were trolls who believed otherwise would not have changed. Even if trolls found out Elune made the Night Elves and it had nothing to do with them, it would not have changed the fact that there had been trolls who had died believing the troll legend.
We, in the real world, often make some kind of discovery and think it’s the final answer to a question. We now know How This Thing Works, or What Really Happened. Someday, more evidence is discovered, and sometimes it means people have to say, “Y’know, funny thing… That story we’ve believed all this time about What Really Happened? Turns out it’s only partially true. Some of that did happen, but not for the reasons we thought, and there’s this other stuff we didn’t know before.” That’s not history being retconned. That’s The Story Unfolding.
Blizzard didn’t lie about Tauren druids, and they didn’t lie about Night Elves. And it’s not a retcon.
There’s also the issue of how the story in Gilneas is told. I’ve seen many people lament having to roll a Horde character to see “the rest of the story”. It was even mentioned in a WoW Insider article today. I think this comes down to whether you’re looking at it as a player who wants to see all of the story, or looking at it from the point of view of a worgen. Again, I don’t think Blizzard is trying to tell you the whole story. They’re trying to tell you what the worgen experienced.
Having played through that content from both sides several times now, I’d say there’s a fair amount of it that is overlapping. It’s hard to say just how long our worgen were running wild in the woods before being caught and rehabilitated, but I’m going to guess the Forsaken story starts while a freshly rolled worgen is still pretty out of it and being kept in the stocks for everyone’s safety. Possibly even while they were still running around in the woods. (I know, I know… the last thing you remember is the windows shattering in Light’s Dawn Cathedral. It’s okay. Drink this potion.) It’s shortly after the freshly rolled worgen regains their senses there that HOLY CRAPNOODLES! THE FORSAKEN ARE ATTACKING! It took the Forsaken a while to get there, but I’m not convinced a freshly rolled Forsaken was working on that back when evacuating people from the feral worgen attacks in Gilneas was starting. I figure Godfrey can’t have been dead for too long (not weeks, or anything) when a new Forsaken assists in collecting his body because A.) THE ARE WORGEN CHASING YOU! and B.) the tide hasn’t washed his body out to sea.
One side is the worgen story. The other side is the Forsaken story. They largely happen at the same time, but from very different point of view. Of course you’d have to play a Forsaken to see what happsn to Godfrey! As a worgen, Genn Greymane told you to get on a horse and you went down to free people from slavery in the mine right after Godfrey jumped.
Could Blizzard have handled explaining to the Alliance why Godfrey is in Shadowfang Keep better? Yes. Hell… they could have done something to handle that AT ALL! There’s a breadcrumb quest that informs you Varian Wrynn has decided Godfrey has to be punished for what he did to the Alliances newest buddies, or you pick up your level 20 weapon quest and just get told you’re collecting the materials. You get to SFK and Ivar Bloodfang’s not really volunteering anything other than the fact that he can smell Godfrey.
So, yes, I’ll agree Blizzard dropped the ball on giving the Alliance an explanation. But I don’t agree that the Forsaken story is “the rest of the worgen story”. It’s the Forsaken story. It makes perfect sense that a worgen doesn’t know what’s happening in places they’ve already left. Just like it makes sense that Forsaken players don’t get to see what’s going on at the tree in the Blackwald or have the origin of worgen druids explained to them.
The Horde, in the context of the story, has every right to feel like “The Butcher of Taurajo” deserved that name. Alliance player characters know something the Horde doesn’t, and that not even all of the Alliance knows. And I’d say Alliance characters, within the context of the story, have every right to be outraged by what “the Horde” did to the druid students in Stonetalon Mountains. Because they don’t know what the Horde character goes through there.
You can roll a character of the other faction and play that content. YOU can know both sides of the story. But your character still won’t know. All they can know is what they experienced, and you couldn’t take the character with you when, as a player, you decided to see the whole story.
I’m just not ready to call this way of storytelling a failure on Blizzard’s part. I admit this is about my personal preferences, and I don’t claim that everyone should recognize it as “a superior storytelling method”, but I like it this way. It gives me a reason to play both sides. Sometimes it even gives me a reason to play multiple races within a faction, instead of just once through as Alliance, once through as Horde. I’m story-oriented, so that’s where the replayability is for me.
I’d like more bear lore, though. Everybody is so excited about bringing the Ancients back! No. We brought some of them back. There’s at least a pig and two bears missing.