Here we are again, looking at more motivations of World of Warcraft villains. So far, we have covered the core game (I don’t like calling it Vanilla), The Burning Crusade, and The Wrath of the Lich King. I had planned on talking about Cataclysm last time, but apparently I was…verbose. Rather than make it 4k words, I split it again. Anyway, here we are at the expansion that brought us the most complete game overhaul to date: Cataclysm.
Oh, Cataclysm. It was bold. They tried to redo so much about the game. They spent a ton of time redoing the zones in the world, changing the landscape that had existed for six years. They also did full class redesigns, which is common going into every expansion, and overhauled raiding. Now, 10 man raids and 25 man raids shared the same gear, you just got more from the 25 man raids. You also no longer had the option/obligation to run multiple raids per week. They also didn’t like some of the superhero like play that had emerged from WotLK, with 5-man heroic dungeons being a walk in the park, and tanking not being an issue. They also didn’t care for the huge gap that existed between perfect rotation play and mediocre rotation play. Thus, proc based gameplay was born in full, only to be phased out with Legion. Anyway, Cataclysm, like Wrath of the Lich King before it, set out to tell a clear and concise story. This expansion was about the return of the Dragon Aspect Neltharion as the terror known as Deathwing. This massive dragon had given himself over to the old ones, and become a tool bent on ruling a world in his own image. The game doubled down on the scale of Deathwing, going out of their way to make him as massive as possible in order to impart a sense of wonder. Or maybe they just liked Shadows of the Colossus. Anyway, Cataclysm saw three split raids as the first tier of content, four if you count Tol Barad (Wintergrasp part 2). I tend not to count those, as they are just rewards for pvp dominance where you get a second chance at loot that drops prime elsewhere. However, I will include Halion, the last raid of WotLK. Halion was added as a content stop gap, but was really also an intro to Cataclysm. 4.2 saw the release of Firelands and the return of Ragnaros (ugh from a consumer perspective, but holy shit it’s a good raid), and the battle against Deathwing and the climax of the Dragon Soul story. Cataclysm doubled down on the attempts of WotLK to provide an epic tale. Let’s see how it all shakes out.
- Halion: This is really a standalone discussion of WoW’s content-bridging chops. Instead of just the typical event leading to expansion, we got a new raid to pre-dated it by like, 6 months? Wait, really? I guess so, though it seemed much closer. Mainly because of the massive content dearth, I guess. Anyway, this is a standalone thing and isn’t tied to Cataclysm. It’s the bridge. Halion is the boss of the Ruby Sanctum, where the black dragonflight has sent a raid to…uh, weaken the red dragonflight and maybe steal their eggs to make them into twilight drakes? I think this is true, because Deathwing mentions it in Dragon Soul. I dunno, they just raid it. Halion is the twilight destroyer, also, the name of a love staff. It would be funnier to fight Jaana’s animated love staff. Anyway, this plan is sorta dumb. It’s just a war party raid on the sanctum. Storywise, they succeed because dragons can’t be assed to pay attention. Seriously, that’s two raids under the dragon stronghold about the evil black dragonflight. You’d think they’d be like, “Oh shit, black dragons, they are probably up to evil.” That’s the entire story. It introduces the twilight realm, twilight realm mechanics, and he spends an inordinate amount of time being Deathwing’s hype man. I applaud the attempt to provide connective tissue between the expansion, but this wasn’t a successful attempt. WoW hasn’t quite nailed this, but it’s a production cycle thing. Overall, D.
On to Cataclsym!
- Al’Akir: I love Al’Akir for no good reason. His raid is ok, and I love a good short raid as part of a tier, and his dungeons are annoying. I don’t have any reason to love Al’Akir, yet I totally do. He’s the Elemental Lord of Air, a peer of Ragnaros, and is totally a bro of the old ones. He was a big part of their armies way back when, and ends up on the side of Deathwing as a result. Black Empire for life! He rules from Skywall, his portion of the Elemental Plane of Air, which players get into by flying into the portals to it in the sky over Uldum, which they got into thanks to a crack in the wall (and kidnapping, I guess). He enslaves the tol’vir, because he hates them from back in the Black Empire days. His plan is just to conquer all of Uldum, and then go out from there, presumably to start to re-establish the Black Empire on behalf of Deathwing. His plan is mostly underway when you are doing the story of Uldum, but you fight back pretty easily, and then just fly to where he lives and smash him in the face until he dies. In terms of scale, it’s a smaller plan, but one he hasn’t quite executed to perfection. I like the personal nature of it, and the tie to his lore. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have gotten very far, as the tol’vir aren’t even all under his control. Though, I guess they MOSTLY are. It’s definitely one of the more identifiable plans, since it hinges on past grudges, and anger that the tol’vir rejected his magnanimous gift of having their Curse of Flesh cured. It’s petty, but it’s identifiable. Overall, B+.
- Nefarian: I’m on record as liking Nefarian. Dude is an dragon mad scientist who’s also a smart ass. Who doesn’t love getting the “Slayer of Stupid, Incompetent, and Disappointing Minions” title? His whole deal is making super soldiers. That’s always been his deal. He is actually dead going into the events of Cataclysm. Saurfang talks about how he puts his head on a pike and everything. However, he’s back as an undead in Cataclysm! How? Uh…fuck you, that’s how! Seriously, it’s not really explained. It’s assumed Deathwing does it, I guess? Let’s put a pin in that. He returns to Blackwing Lair, and ventures deeper inside, into Blackwing Descent. There, it’s implied he resumes his experiences from his previous life, with the help of Maloriak. He still just wants to create super soldiers, including the resurrection of Onyxia as a Frankenstein’s Monster like horror. His plan has not changed. As before, he’s succeeding in his plans before pesky adventurers show up. Dragon supersoldiers made of mad science are much cooler, though I guess less effective and more costly, than twilight dragons. His plan is just rad, ok? However, it’s just a repeat of the previous plan, which failed, so he loses some points. Overall, C.
- Cho’gall: One of two end-bosses within Bastion of Twilight, Cho’gall is great. He’s an identifiable figure from lore, at least to old Warcraft players, and he’s a two-headed ogre, meaning he’s weird, funny, and bizarre. He was a disciple of Gul’dan, and became a powerful warlock, joining the Shadow Council. However, after Gul’dan was killed, he fled to the ruins of Ahn’Qiraj and became infected by the Words and Will of C’Thun. As he grew more and more insane, he took control of the Twilight’s Hammer, and they became the doomsday cult we know and love. He’s also responsible for helping with the creation of death knight, the Altar of Storms, and ogre magi. Now, the most interesting thing about all of this is really the implications of C’thun in this scenario. Like Yogg-Saron, C’thun is dead by the time all of this occurs. This goes to further lengths to confirm that the Old Gods don’t actually die when on Azeroth, for whatever reason, instead only ceasing to have a physical presence until resurrected. Now more or less and avatar for C’thun, or at the very least a champion, Cho’gall and the Twilight’s Hammer adjorn to taking over Twilight Highlands, even as they are losing ground in Ahn’Qiraj. They abandon Ahn’Qiraj completely, but do a good job of controlling Twilight Highlands, establishing a bizarre extradimensional tower, and summoning Forgotten Ones. C’thun has set him on the path of assisting Deathwing in his goals, as is the desire of the Old Gods. Well, he’s got a tower, it’s hard to get into, he’s mostly conquered the land around him, and he’s guarding the future of Deathwing’s plans (albeit you only know this if you defeat it on Heroic, which seems to state Heroic is the default prime timeline for all stories in WoW). It’s not a complex plan, but he’s doing his best, especially given his…”special”…status. He gets some leniency for being utterly insane. Overall, B.
- Sinestra/Sintharia: Ah, another instance where you only get the story if you complete it on a higher difficulty. This continues the trend of “hardmode is truth mode” that dates back really to Vanilla. After all, you only knew the story of what was going on with the lore if you killed a green dragon and completed the ring quest. While this isn’t really hard mode, it was limited duration content that most people did not see. It amounts to the same thing. After you kill Cho’gall on heroic, the floor falls away and you plummet down the tower’s shaft into a lava cave, and there you find a bunch of eggs and a massive dragon. Sinestra was Deathwing’s primary consort, and is the broodmother of the Twilight Dragonflight. Sinestra’s story is pretty fucked up. How fucked up? Well, Deathwing goes back and rapes her after he becomes horribly disfigured, and leaving burning wounds in her that never heal. If that isn’t enough, he infect her mind with the idea of the Twilight Dragonflight, letting her believe she was acting on her own and was free from his influence, only to reveal it was him all along. When you encounter her, she has been resurrected by the Old Gods after having died previously, and is now kept beneath Bastion of Twilight as an enslaved broodmother. Where Alexstrasza once stood, she now stands – forced to give birth to eggs and change them to Twilight Dragons. It’s super fucked up. However, this is all glossed over with nary a whisper. In fact, she has no plan. She possesses no agency. Sinestra is someone to be immensely pitied. Overall, F.
- Ragnaros: By fire be purged…again! Our favorite Firelord is back, and more fiery than ever. Now that he is finally back home, he’s pissed as shit that people sent him back there, even though he wanted to go home before. I guess the loss just throws off his record and his MMR or Elo tanked. Anyway, now he’s aligned with the forces of Deathwing, even though he hated Nefarian and constantly warred with him in Blackrock, and he wants to punish Azeroth! Ragnaros has chosen to begin his invasion at Mount Hyjal, in order to burn the regrowing World Tree to ashes. He is aided in this quest by the Druids of the Flame, druids who have turned to Ragnaros for power, believing the world to be doomed and becoming determined to be on the winning team. Ragnaros continues to expand his dominance in Hyjal, finally so much so that the Elemental Fire spills over, and an entrance to Sulfuron Keep, the domain of Ragnaros within Elemental Fire, is now manifest and accessible on Azeroth. So, we heroes storm the Firelands, having fought back and established a foothold against his forces on Azeroth, and attempt to lay him low. However, this expansion really loved gating story behind heroic mode! So, on normal mode, Ragnaros escapes at 10% remaining, saying that you have once again come too soon. Coming too soon seems to be a big problem of Ragnaros. He should get some professional help. On heroic mode, Cenarius, Malfurion, and Hamuul show up, throw some nature vine shit at him, and he is forced out of the lava. You are able to continue fighting him, as you mock his skipping leg day for the last millennia. Anyway, you kill him here, and you discover that you killed this elemental lord, but that the power must go to another blah blah blah more cycle shit that they love, because it’s never-ending content creation. However, it wears on me as an adventurer. No victory ever matters. This aside, his plan doesn’t make a lot of sense. He teams up with people he hated and fought against, just to get some help in Azeroth, to take revenge against people that helped him achieve his previous goal. Still, he’s done an ok job at it, and is slowly taking over Hyjal until such time as you get there and start changing shit. He’s well on his way to completing his goal of burning the World Tree. He loses points before he joins forces with people he has no reason aligning with, and for essentially being a repeat in most senses. That all said, Firelands was a really fun raid. It just wasn’t a great story. Overall, D.
- Deathwing: Finally we are at ol’ Steamshovel Jaw himself. His goal is pretty simple, he wants to bring about the Hour of Twilight, which sees (good news, everyone) the final end to all life on Azeroth. In order to defeat this master plan, you are forced to travel in time by the Dragon Aspects that remain, dealing with a lot of bullshit. You go get the Demon Soul, which was the Dragon Soul, and then was again later, but after that was the Demon Soul again, and you work to turn it into the Dragon Soul one final time. Along the way, Nozdormu goes emo and you have to calm a bro down at the end of the universe or whatever, and then make the Infinite Dragonflight not exist, I guess? Time plot. It’s not WoW’s strong suit, you know? It’s heavily implied that Deathwing was manipulated by Yogg-saron onto his current path, but what’s outright shown is that he’s been rolling around in Old God stew, and is tentacled-as-fuck. He uses the Twilight Dragonflight to combat the Aspects physically and psychologically, as many are Alexstrasza’s brood, and is prideful enough to believe he can just mash all of the remaining Aspects all at one, and also kill Thrall, who is hanging out there as the main dude of the expansion. Not hero, since his leadership decisions are miserable. You spend your time fighting earthen stuff, powerful faceless ones, Deathwing’s warped creations, and then climbing all over Deathwing to fight him. Then you blast him with the Dragon Laser or whatever, and he falls into the Maelstrom, then you crawl around fighting giant tentacle dragon. His plan is really super simple, for all of it’s supposed trickery and complexity in the game. He wants to make a super dragonflight, he wants to scour Azeroth, and then…glory to the Black Empire. I get it. He’s the Destroyer, after all. He is the Cataclysm and whatnot. He’s the glorious champion turned against the land he once protected. It’s classic and whatever, but it’s not exactly a great plan. Once again, he has a history of being a loser. This time, he preps a bit more, but he’s still barreling straight forward into his own doom, even if the NPCs are extra-angsty about it. On a personal note, world-saving plot can only be done so much. I can relate to Al’Akir wanting to take revenge on those who spurned him, ya know? My point here is that he’s done this and failed. You can’t teach an old tentacle Aspect new tricks. Overall, C-.
Summary: You can’t really argue against the cohesive story attempting to be presented in Cataclysm. I took a long break during the expansion, and didn’t care for actually playing large portions of it, but it continues the trend of presenting a single theme and attempting to execute it. The story isn’t the best, and the writing really meanders and does what it can to de-power you through narrative. I get kidnapped more than any hero should, usually after I completely demolish the encounter first, too. I was also a bit annoyed at this expansion reselling me content that I was either already promised for free and never received (Uldum), or content I had already completed and was being featured (Ragnaros) rather than provided for free (WotLK Onyxia). That all said, it did a lot of cool things. The rogue legendary quest is flat out amazing, no joke. I am so glad I did that. Firelands is a great raid, story and consumer complaints aside. They introduced Raid Finder (who cares what Ghostcrawler says?) and made strides for inclusion. It’s still not a beloved expansion or anything, but it’s miles ahead of Burning Crusade on just about all fronts. There is no doubt the story is stronger, at any rate.