I have a confession to make. I really love parts of the Warlords of Draenor opening quest content, for both the Horde and Alliance. I’ve been very critical of Blizzard in the last few months, particularly since Blizzcon’s announcement of Warlords of Draenor. I haven’t just been critical, I’ve been outright mad at several points along the way. In particular, I’ve criticized Blizzard’s male-focused marketing. In particular, rather than highlighting all the great women in Blizzard’s games, they either didn’t highlight them at all, or the only information we had portrayed women in a negative light. My feeling about the marketing flaws is unchanged, but I feel differently about some parts of the early questing experience.
There are some really great attempts at having interesting and diverse characters – even if those characters aren’t important enough to put in the marketing material. However, there are still areas of weakness in the story development that reflect some of the same processes that went into the biased marketing materials. So, in this case, I love a game that is still problematic in some ways. However, there are some really great women in Draenor, and so it seems like Blizzard was listening at least a little bit about what everyone wanted. I’ll explain several examples below.
SPOILER WARNING! This post contains lore spoilers of importance to Warlords of Draenor. You have been warned about SPOILERS.
We meet Draka early in the Horde starting zone. I was somewhat disappointed originally when Durotan ran off and left Draka behind to guard their home area. However, we do have some nice quests in the home area and Draka is involved in some of the quests. In some ways, it bugged me that Draka didn’t fight to stay by her husband’s side. However, splitting them up allows some space for Draka to have her own story pieces, rather than running the risk of being portrayed as a sidekick. At the very least, she is present and accounted for in the Horde starting area.
In the Horde starting area, we are introduced to a new female character: Draka’s Sister, Lokra. She has a really well developed escort quest. This flips the traditional “save the princess” quest on its head, where we escort a female character to rescue a male character. This includes saying “…The Iron Wolf claims our attachments make us weak… that love makes us vulnerable. He is wrong”. This quest chain overall shows a lot of depth of the character as you work together. However, even then, I dislike the phrasing of the way that Durotan reacts once you return from the escort quest. So, in some ways, Durotan turned a great quest into a mediocre quest by being kindof a jerk (in this case, the wowpedia quest “Description” is Lokra’s text, and the “completion” is Durotan pissing on her seemingly unnecessarily if you want to read for yourself). Inspite of Durotan ruining the end of the quest, Lokra’s actual character development across the quest is really well done. I think it’s really Durotan himself who doesn’t live up to my expectations in his interactions within the Horde starting zone.
Yrel’s early quests
The part of Yrel’s story that I criticized in an earlier post seems to come later in the storyline than what I’ve been able to complete thus far in Shadowmoon. We find her in the opening area, kicking ass. Along with Velen, we serve as Yrel’s mentor for a large portion of the questing in the alliance Shadowmoon valley starting area. As of this point, Yrel and Maraad aren’t in a romantic relationship. However, some of the early released scripts referred to events that happened late in the SMV starting area – suggesting that Yrel’s story development may extend long into the expansion (and it’s unclear whether or not Yrel and Maraad will have a relationship – as they didn’t seem to know each other very well in the starting quests). At the very least, if they do develop a relationship, it will be long after we have been introduced to her as a character. At the very least, the current quests are different than what people described in some of the early demos of that starting area. Yrel suffers a great deal of loss in the starting area quests, and they have (so far) done a pretty good job of developing her character. I’m slightly more optimistic about this character now, though there’s plenty of room for Blizzard to mess it up later. Update: Dave Kosak did confirm she’s not in a relationship with maraad.
There are other notable women in the quest chains of the starting zones. One of the notable figures was Rulkan, who was the wife of Ner’Zul (the “big bad” you have to defeat in the SMV starting area). Rulkan helps you find him, and shows you the history of how she refused to follow him to join the Iron Horde. While Rulkan was originally a member of the ‘dead wives club’ in the original storyline, she is alive and has a position of leadership in the WOD alternative timeline, and provides hope that other notable women may play a more prominent role in the new content. These little hidden gems of questlines make the world feel populated by a variety of characters with interesting stories and histories.
While Blizzcon and the subsequent marketing left a bad taste in a lot of our mouthes, the actual quest designers working on the starting area have done a decent job of trying to have diversity in the quest NPCs we encounter. They do this with more or less success in some areas, but the game that I played in Beta is substantially better than the one that was advertised to meat Blizzcon. The developers may not always get things right, but at least it looks like someone is trying. My previous concerns still remain – that video games have a problematic culture that needs to be addressed (see, for example, the recent IeSF e-sports debacle). However, I believe that some people at Blizzard may be working to make their Draenor a world you can believe in. For that much, I’m grateful that our voices have been heard. We may even see Aggra head out to Draenor at some point. I hope that the development of Warlords of Draenor keeps holding up these ideals, and that future promotions can feature some of these great women of Draenor more prominently so that everyone can see them. In the end, diversity of characters makes for a better game.