Tobold (which is a blog blocked by my work firewall and that makes me a very sad, sad panda) recently posted a post (which I saw via my cell phone's internet) titled "Game design beats lore in Cataclysm". In it he details how http://www.wow.com/ is posting a lot about the theoretical new expansion (which, if true, will be announced at BlizzCon).
Tobold goes on to comment about how the Worgen are speculated to be the new race for the Alliance and then quotes the basic info from the WoWWiki article on Worgen which describes them as horrible, bloodthirsty monsters. His next point is that the pretense of the Alliance being the "good guys" and the Horde being the "bad guys" is gone.
Aside: Technically if you do all the quests like I have, you realize the Alliance is no more "good guys" than the Horde are "bad guys". There are very good and very bad people in both factions, but in the end, mostly it's just shades of gray. But that's not the point of this post...
Then he postulates that this is another attempt to balance the factions, giving the Alliance a "monstrous" race while the Horde will get the Goblins, which gives them a cutesy race, broadening their appeal.
Whether this is an attempt to add appeal to the Horde or if it's just an attempt to give some cool new races, the statement that game design is more important than the lore is definitely not something new.
While it didn't show up in RTS games since they could tailor the races to work with where they wanted the story to go, the same doesn't work for an MMO, and especially one like WoW>
First off, even ignoring the potential issue created when they decided to make it Horde vs. Alliance (a design change they made, since some of the original concept art have, for example, Humans, Orcs and Tauren working together), just having to balance the classes against each other made things hard. This DPS and that DPS need to not be too different from each other. One race needs to not be better than another in a given role.
Then mix in the initial issues of Paladins and Shaman on differing sides of the faction divide, not to mention other issues such as the Alliance getting Fear Ward and the Horde not, and it's more than just balancing around the lore. Other issues also popped up, such as the overall faction population imbalance.
Because of this, Blizzard decided to do a retcon. This wasn't the first time they decided to do this... they'd done it before with the storyline for going from WC2 to WC3, but that was done to create a more interesting story, while this was done for more practical reasons.
Draenei were changed from all of them being creepy shaman humanoid... things (See The Broken) to Light worshipping noble relatives of the evil Eredar. This was something that blindsided almost all the lore fans that I knew. There was nothing to back this up. And I remember hearing from a BlizzCon panel that one of the reasons Blood Elves were chosen was to give the Horde a visually appealing race.
Some consider the decision to make Paladins and Shaman playable on both sides the biggest lore travesty, though I viewed it as pretty common sense and less of a big deal. Opening up access to a class makes a lot more sense than changing something's entire history (Draenei). And both races had a precedent for their given "new" class. Elves have always been very magical and the High Elves had priests in WC3, so becoming Paladins is not a huge step. And as I mentioned above, the old Draenei were Shaman to begin with, so... that's fine.
Now, when I found out about Draenei I was livid. I completely quit the game (this was, obviously, prior to me starting this Blog). Eventually I returned, but I returned to play the game, not enjoy the lore as I had before.
Sure, I still did and do all the quests in the game and find them fun, but I'm now far less concerned with the impact of the story since I feel WoW is a game that a story is built around, not a story that a game is built around. And honestly, I'm fine with that. I think it makes for a better game that way, and I'm generally unable to enjoy either half in a vacuum.
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