NOTE: This article was from the previous incarnation of LoreCrafted. Due to the recent lore discussions surrounding Blizzard's release of the fall of Theramore in World of Warcraft, I felt it important to resurrect it once more. Originally posted on November 15, 2011.
I've been a fan of Warcraft lore for a long while now, but I didn't truly get into it until Warcraft III, when the story truly kicked itself into high gear. When World of Warcraft launched, learning the lore became an outright necessity in order to craft my roleplay characters, especially Tharion Greyseer.
Over the past seven years, I've struggled with many of the story decisions made by Blizzard. Some of them I've enjoyed, but there have been a great many others that have made me raise an eyebrow in questioning disbelief. I realize now that my aversion to some of these ideas spawned from a core misinterpretation of Warcraft's flavor.
You see, sometimes I wanted a complex setting with storylines that avoided all the standard tropes and clichés of the fantasy genre. Other times I wanted a serious portrayal of the subject matter that would truly make me reconsider my outlook on the world in general. There were story arcs that I developed for guild roleplay that traveled depths of darkness akin to the gothic horror setting of Diablo. And sometimes there were ideas I had that would rival the gritty war-like setting of Starcraft. All of these, I thought, were Blizzard franchises, so all of these could, in theory, have interchangeable themes.
However, I soon came to realize that Warcraft has its own distinct flavor. It may echo certain things from other genres, but it's definitely a creature with a unique style. And the best way I can describe that style is by the title of this article: superheroic fantasy.
This struck me hardest during BlizzCon, when Metzen asked whether or not the crowd enjoyed the "far out there" look and feel of Outland during The Burning Crusade. The crowd applaused loudly, even when Metzen admitted that many folk inside Blizzard preferred a more traditional fantasy flavor. I was disappointed to hear that, because I was one who truly loved the unique feel of Burning Crusade. Granted, Warcraft demons and demon hunters have been favorites of mine since Warcraft III, so it's no great revelation.
I began to wonder why the "let's stick to standard fantasy" attitude rubbed me the wrong way, and I came to a simple conclusion: Warcraft is so much MORE than standard fantasy, and narrowing the style would be such a loss.
Warcraft's attitude and style parallels those found in the comic book universes of both Marvel and DC. Warcraft has heroes and villains, many of whom are even costumed. There are superpowers. There are epic characters, weapons, and artifacts. There is science, magic, and technology. There are factions and groups who band together around distinctly identifiable mechanics or themes. Warcraft is also as colorful as its comic book counterparts in both visuals and story.
Most of plotlines that once made me cringe would feel right at home in a Marvel or DC setting. Most of the unbelievable victories and defeats in this universe would be a perfect fit in the hands of the Justice League or the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Superheroes and supervillains are plentiful in Warcraft, just as they are in comic books, and the stories reflect the same overall attitude.
I realized that even the number of retcons and lore adjustments is on par with comic book continuity. Multitudes of writers are all jamming in a singular universe, attempting to write interesting stories that both honor what came before while bringing us, the audience, into the future. They're not trying to craft literature to rival that of Shakespeare or Poe. They're trying to craft events to rival Brubaker, Johns, or Bendis.
The reason this idea overtook my thoughts during the Outland discussion was simple: Outland is Warcraft's "cosmic" setting. Whereas DC has Green Lantern and Marvel has Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Warcraft has the Draenei, the Pantheon, and the Burning Legion. Instead of Darkseid or Galactus, we have Sargeras. Outland and the Twisting Nether are one the same epic scale as the cosmic universes of both companies. And, as such, they have their distinct place in the overall story. I realized that, if Warcraft were to stick wholly to the "traditional fantasy only" milieu, we'd basically lose our sense of scale.
I recently posted an article that explored why game fiction generally has the stigma of low quality. But what I didn't truly touch upon was the idea that sometimes the "lesser quality" is embraced by the creators. It's not that anyone's intending to make "bad" fiction, but there are many who intend to make "popcorn" fiction.
Sometimes George R.R. Martin is too heavy a read; we don't always care about politics or betrayals. Sometimes Tolkien is too thick to enjoy; we don't want to explore the internal struggle of an innocent hobbit seeking to cast an ancient ring into a fiery mountain. Sometimes we really do just want tales of overt heroism, villainy, and kick-assery. Sometimes we want our heroes to wield a giant hammer, axe, or sword and smack down his or her foes in grand epic fashion.
And sometimes that's all the creators are trying to give us.
Overall, this outlook has changed how I judge the fiction for Warcraft in general. I'm not expecting something on par with Brandon Sanderson, George R.R. Martin, or Tolkien. Theirs is a different realm with a weight that I may not always want in my games. Ours, however, is a realm of popcorn and fun; a realm where we can speak about the heavy and the lighthearted with the same breath and still enjoy the ride.
Afterall, didn't Metzen once say that Thrall was his Superman?