UPDATE: It has been mentioned to me that Blizzard never intended the Theramore's Fall scenario to be the pre-Mists event. While I can understand their intent, it's important to realize the community assumptions around a piece of content launched, with great hype, the week before an expansion's launch. It may not have been Blizzard's explicit intent, but I guarantee you that a large portion of the playerbase is treating it as such.
Much to the surprise of many, the Theramore's Fall scenario went live on the World of Warcraft servers yesterday. Originally planned for release today, this scenario gives us the catalyst that sets off the war between the Horde and the Alliance in full force. This is the latest attempt at providing WoW players with a pre-expansion world event that sets the stage for the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion.
For a few months now, Blizzard has been touting their new focus on tightening the integration between external story (novels, graphic novels, etc) and internal story (events found within World of Warcraft itself). This a direct response to player criticism received since the end of Burning Crusade, where we saw Anveena's sacrifice and the effect it had on Kalecgos. Unfortunately, much of the playerbase had little to no knowledge of these characters. Only those of us who knew them through the Sunwell Trilogy manga, a series largely skipped over by the raiders who were plumbing the depths of the Sunwell Plateau, had any idea what was going on.
Theramore's Fall is Blizzard's first true attempt at creating an in-game event that parallels the events of one of their novels (Tides of War, by Christie Golden). Does it resolve the issues that people have with how Blizzard handles their story elements? Does it make sense in the context of the overall WoW story? Is it fun?
Tides of Whaa...?
Unfortunately, while the Theramore scenario proves that this new type of content is viable, it fails to prove that Blizzard can provide a complete story experience for its players. The opening in-game cinematic is perhaps the most shocking event of the entire Tides of War novel. The problem is this: the novel gave us over a hundred pages in build-up to this event. It gave us new characters to love and to hate. It cast known characters in new (or, perhaps, always expected) light. It made us angry when we saw the aftermath, and it charged us up for the expansion-long war that was to come.
The scenario provided none of this. It opens with the horrific act around which this conflict revolves, but provides no context about how or why this was done. None of the villainy is highlighted. Few of the characters from the novel (who are, in turn, known characters from the game) are even present. There are notable NPCs not from Theramore who perish during the event in the novel, but the scenario does not even touch upon them. At best, we'll see a few empty spots in the world where NPCs used to exist. At worst, where the NPCs are located in pre-Cataclysm content, we may not even know they're supposed to be gone!
For many of us on Earthen Ring US, it was the efforts of the roleplaying community that made it worthwhile. Through the use of character journals and in-character updates, a segment of the community was able to build up the anticipation for the battle. There were even attempts to simulate parts of the novel through RP-PvP events. Were I on a server without such a community, I'd be wondering what was going on.
But There's Potential!
This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the scenario experience overall. I found it fun, and the lack of specific roles meant that I could run it with my regular 3-person crew. There wasn't a need to wait on any specific class to participate, and I'm a fan of this idea for this type of content.
However, the actions within the scenario itself felt a little hollow. Because I knew there should have been more build-up, the things we did within the confines of the scenario felt a little too mundane. I know this is a spoiler-free review, but I don't think it's a major disruption to reveal that "kill the enemy" is your focus through out most of the event. And since your objectives are handled through an automatically updating task list instead of a manual gathering / turn-in of quests, it feels a little like you're being lead by the nose.
All that said, I can see how this scenario structure could be used more creatively in the future, and I hope that Blizzard has some interesting things planned for us.
But Was it an EVENT?
I still remember the pre-expansion event for Burning Crusade. I remember donning my RP armor set (which, since I RP a demon hunter, was just a leather kilt, a mask, and a pair of swords) and jumping into the flood of Burning Legion demons pouring through the Dark Portal. Of all the pre-expansion content that's been released, the Burning Crusade invasion was my favorite by far.
The Wrath of the Lich King event was a little more toned down. The spread of the plague and the zombie mechanics were fun, but it all just ended rather abruptly. It helped to spread the activity across the entirety of the known world, which avoided the lag issues we experienced in the Blasted Lands, but it also reduced the overall focus for me.
Cataclysm's event was interesting, but also a little lesser than the Wrath event. The quakes leading up to the release of the "new" old world provided a sense of anticipation, but there was no real anchor around which we could muster ourselves. The world itself just broke, and we were helpless to respond until the expansion itself shipped.
As a precusor to Mists of Pandaria, Theramore's Fall fails. It has the impact of your average leveling dungeon, and that adds little to no weight to the looming expansion. Over the past month, the cry of "Remember Theramore" has been repeated. Even Jaina says it when it's all said and done. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of pre-expansion content, Theramore's Fall is one that'll be forgettable.
I did enjoyed the scenario, despite my criticisms above. It was fun, and there was a lot of potential therein. But after months of anticipation and a well done novel, I do not feel that the scenario itself did the story part of the event justice. Where the novel gave us a villain upon which we could focus and plenty of personal tragedies for various characters, the scenario just felt like every other quest we've already done.
Every pre-expansion event has had its story missteps, but I feel that Theramore's Fall was the biggest. And since it was supposed to be the most tightly integrated, the disparity is glaringly obvious.