Guildies Over Game Design (A World of Warcraft Classic Review)

Audio Version

After several minutes of wandering up and down the small stretch of coast where Murlocs appear, I see him – the final Murloc Warrior that I need for my quest. Four types of Murloc have been plaguing Westfall’s beaches and I’ve been tasked with killing seven of each, a task which has taken me about half an hour so far. Targeting the creature, I begin to cook my Fireball – a 3 second long cast – and just as I finally let loose, a Dwarf Hunter from the middle of bumfuck nowhere opens fire and steals the rights to the kill. I seethe.

WoW Classic is a specific experience. If you’re after an MMO which respects your time, which recognises the way players behave and adjusts systems to benefit your average player accordingly, WoW Classic is not the game for you. However, if you’re after an experience which feels like a grand adventure, which creates communities out of the necessity of teaming up and encourages people to explore every avenue of the world including cooking, then WoW Classic is absolutely the game for you.

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This was one layer… of one starting zone… of one realm… of one region.

 

Everyone’s origin story of how they discovered WoW is different, and I’m very lucky in that I get the best of both worlds when it comes to enjoying the game as it used to be. I levelled a Druid up to 20 in the Burning Crusade expansion, which hardly touched the original levelling experience, so I have the nostalgia of returning to a pre-Cataclysm Azeroth and re-discovering the game’s systems as they used to be. At the same time, though, I only properly got into World of Warcraft for good during the Mists of Pandaria expansion, a time long after Looking For Dungeon and other oft-maligned quality of life improvements had been added to the game, so I also get to play the version that hooked so many people and thoroughly explore the pre-Cataclysm world for the first time.

Classic can be frustrating. It was, of course, rather naive of me to try to tag that Murloc Warrior with a 3 second cast during the intensely busy launch period of the game, but having gotten used to the ability to share kill credit with non-party members of the same faction in the modern game, I’ve grown complacent. But the game is often more rewarding than it is frustrating, like that moment the second after that bastard Hunter tagged the Murloc, when I saw the three other Murlocs he had aggroed along the way chase him down and make swift work of him before he could finish the kill. In his hubris to snatch a quest objective from out under my nose he had acted recklessly, and he thoroughly deserved my /applaud before he released his spirit to begin the long corpse run.

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They let me into the city dressed like this?

Most community interactions aren’t ones of conflict, I’m happy to report. Typically in a situation like this, strangers will party up together to share quest objectives, even on quests where you have to loot items from corpses, which take longer in groups due to the way group looting works. On several occasions I’ve had party members stay back and help me finish my quest objective, despite having finished their own, simply because we got to talking and they wanted to be friendly. In fact, at the very start of my WoW Classic journey I found myself re-grouping with a priest from an earlier party to kill kobolds. The area was incredibly over-populated with players, making the quest take far longer than it otherwise would have. During that time I struck up a friendship with the priest and joined her guild, who I am now increasingly familiar with as I log on each day. And that is honestly the quintessential vanilla experience I’ve heard tales of for many years.

The game’s been out for a little over a week now, and I have about 3 days /played… and that’s with a job that I’ve not taken a week off from. And despite all that time playing, I’m only level 23. If I was playing modern WoW for that much time, I’d easily be level 110 or higher already, and I likely wouldn’t have spoken to a single person on the way there. And I feel like it should be said, I do like modern World of Warcraft and I likely will go back to it. I enjoy the narrative, the more thoroughly built world, and the quality of life updates. But while the evolution of the game was cheered on as these features were introduced to ease player frustrations over quest objective stealing, the time it took to form a group for a dungeon, that sort of thing, the community spirit of the game also began to fade, and it sort of happened without most people noticing until later. So while I’ll always be attached to the modern game to see Jaina, Thrall, Baine’s story unfold, I’m also very much attached to Classic, where the focus of the story is about how the highest level player in our guild right now is a Warrior, about one of our officers who got two blue drops in one day, or about how it took forty dead bears to inexplicably drops six bear asses.

Seriously. How many assless bears can exist in one place?

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New Allied Race confirmed.
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My E3 Wishlist 2019

It’s that wonderful time of year again, when videogames are announced, gameplay is shown, and the words “no loot boxes” are plastered across oversized displays as if it wasn’t being stated by the very same people who popularised the money-making scheme in the first place. This is the blog post I use to predict and mostly just live in hope, and if last year’s post is any indication, I’ll get about half of it right. Keep in mind that this is based largely off of what I personally want to see and not stuff that I’ve done buckets of research into, though I do follow gaming news enough to know of some things already are or are not appearing at the show.

I’m currently clicking on every gameplay video I see of Super Mario Maker 2, World of Warcraft Classic, and Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fuelled, so I’m more than happy for some new announcements to come out of the blue and give me something else to focus on while I twiddle my thumbs for those titles.

Just so we’re clear, I’m considering ‘E3’ to comprise of all gaming announcement related shows and streams taking place during this time period, such as EA Play and Nintendo Direct, although I’ve been reading that Sony won’t be doing any adjacent E3 stuff at all. They did just drop a gameplay trailer for Death Stranding though, so I’m going to go ahead and guess that we’ll see a Playstation Direct I mean uhhhhh State of Play livestream in the week before or after E3.


The Sony Playstation

Likelihood: Well, they’ve been leaking details about the Playstation 5 for a while now…

The PS5! It’s a bold prediction I’m coming out of the gates with, but the next generation of consoles looms upon us. But I don’t think it’s actually going to be called the PS5. As much as I loathe modern naming conventions that go against traditional numbering systems, the idea of a ‘Playstation 5’ might seem a little long in the tooth to some marketing-minded manager types. Not just that, but the rise of game streaming services threatens to make actual hardware obsolete. I’m not a huge fan of the idea, but it is the future. The fact that minimal hardware is required to stream cutting-edge gameplay means that making new, more powerful consoles won’t be a thing in the future, and if the timeline on game streaming is progressing as fast as developers want it to, we could see it emerge as the dominant method of gaming towards the typical end of the next console life cycle. So it might make sense to name the Playstation 5 simply the Playstation, if it does indeed transcend the necessity for a successor. Which leads me to…

The Xbox Elite

Likelihood: If Playstation 5 details are already leaking, Microsoft are going to want to get ahead in console news.

So, the Xbox One was already supposed to succeed in some of the philosophies I just pitched for the Playstation – not for streaming games, but for being an all-in-one platform that you kinda… kept. But things didn’t work out that way, and with the less-than-perfect history of the Xbox One, I can see Microsoft wanting to move away from that console. I think the Elite (they love that word so why not) will be similar to the Playstation in that it will adopt the idea of being the final, definitive version of the console. I also think there will be some more synergy with PCs and some sort of Microsoft native VR, with all the right buzzwords.

Hey, maybe the Xbox Elite will be able to play Epic Games Store games now. Har har, exclusives har.

Update: Moments after writing this Xbox announced Game Pass for PC and more Xbox games on Steam. Lol.

The Nintendo Switch Lite

Likelihood: As Thanos once said, “I am… inevitable.”

There’s already a lot of rumours going around for this one, and if you look at Nintendo’s history regarding consoles, it makes a lot of sense. Plus, with Pokemon Sword and Shield coming out this winter, a franchise which is historically a system seller, Nintendo are going to want to double down on the sales effort and make the entry point to those games more accessible for lower-income families. People speculate that the Lite would replace the modular design of the console with an all-in-one design to save on cost, with some going as far as saying that it’ll be handheld only to replace the 3DS, though I can’t see them removing every single thing about the Switch that makes it unique.

People also think a Switch Pro is coming, but all signs point to that being further down the pipeline. Maybe they’ll still announce it, but the release date will just be later. A theoretical Switch Pro would have higher specs and a higher selling price.

Nintendo Switch Online: SNES Games

Likelihood: Man, I don’t know anymore…

In some Nintendo executive’s desk drawer, there sits a machine. It’s a money printing machine, and it is labelled, “Virtual Console.” For whatever goddamn reason, that machine is remaining in that drawer. And man, does that make me sad. NSO comes with a library of NES games as an incentive for single-player gamers to subscribe to the service, with new titles being added each month. Which is nice. It’s better than nothing. And when Nintendo spoke about how they want to incentivise an NSO membership even more, a lot of us got excited about a potential SNES library. Personally, I wish it went all the way up through N64 and Gamecube, too. Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time on Switch? Y E S P L E A S E. But we got Tetris 99. Which is, you know, fun. But man. As someone who skipped the Wii U and was only introduced to Nintendo in 2004, I sure would love some Virtual Console in my life.

Animal Crossing Switch

Likelihood: I’ll probably cry if it’s not shown.

Last year, Nintendo announced Animal Crossing for the Switch shortly after a cheeky fakeout which announced Isabelle for Smash Bros. (I appreciate the reassurance, Nintendo.) Since then, nothing. And that’s, you know, fine. Take your time, polish that world, I’ll be living in it for years. But E3 this fated Nintendo Direct would be the perfect time to hear about it, and what’s nuts is that what originally seemed like it would take up most of the Direct, that being Super Mario Maker 2 and Pokemon Sword and Shield, were each moved to their own Directs. So what does that leave for the E3 Direct? ANIMAL CROSSING THAT’S WHO. And, uh, Switch Lite. They’d pair quite well, actually.

Metroid Prime Trilogy Remastered

Likelihood: Rumours, rumours.

Franchises which I’ve missed growing up: Most of Nintendo’s IPs. I’m educating myself on the Legend of Zelda. I’d like to educate myself on Metroid, too, please! I know virtually nothing about the series bar that it helped to spawn an entire subgenre of platformers. And I quite like that subgenre! Metroid Prime 4’s development got restarted a little while back, so it’d be nice for Metroid fans to have something to tide them over, too.

Super Mario 3D World on Switch

Likelihood: Literally nothing implies this will exist

Okay, now I’m just being greedy. I didn’t know how much I wanted an original 3D Mario game on Switch, until Odyssey blew me away. Then, I hungered for New Super Mario Bros U for the Switch, as I liked the DS and Wii ones – and it arrived! But what I really wanted was Super Mario Maker for the Switch. And boy it’s a-comin’! So really, I should be sated. We even got Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. But you know what? 3D World looks pretty neat! If they gave it a port – or a sequel – Nintendo can have my money. In the meantime, I could probably dust off my 3DS and play some more 3D Land, because I didn’t really touch that game…

More Legend of Zelda Ports and Remakes

Likelihood: Yeah, right.

Speaking of greed, hello, Link’s Awakening looks awesome, can I have more please? Because I never got to play, say, A Link to the Past, which I saw rumoured as a remake, or Wind Waker or Twilight Princess, which I saw rumoured as ports. I don’t really believe these rumours, but they sure would be nice.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Gameplay

Likelihood: Lowkey confirmed

I’ve yet to play a Star Wars game which has really grabbed me. I recognised the scope and authenticity of Knights of the Old Republic when I tried it, but it had already aged to a point by the time I got round to it, so I sort of bounced off of it. I’ve also never really been invested in a spin-off Star Wars story outside of the novels anyway, so Fallen Order will have to be something else to really grab my attention, but who knows, it might be cool.

LEGO Star Wars: The Ultimate Saga

Likelihood: Well, they’re making more LEGO Star Wars, but we don’t know in what form.

The LEGO Star Wars games are my favourite LEGO games of all time, and they were sort of my introduction to the Star Wars franchise when I was a kid. The idea of an Ultimate Saga game which combines Episodes I – IX into one package with ten thousand achievements is mouth watering! Out of all the rumours I’ve heard for this E3 season, I really hope that this one is true. I’m not sure it’s the kind of game which would be announced during a main stage presentation, though.

Halo Infinite

Likelihood: Decently likely? Overdue, at the very least!

This is a weird one for me, because with the announcement of the Master Chief Collection finally coming to PC, I’m suddenly wary of spoilers. Not just that, but it turns my reaction to a Halo Infinite deep dive from a “huh, neat” to an “oh man I can’t wait to play that… eventually.” Still, it’d be nice to bring Halo into mainstream relevance again, for the very least.

Prey 2

Likelihood: Well, it only makes sense.

Prey is visually stunning, narratively intriguing, and published by Bethesda. That is everything I know about that game. But I do own it! And I watched a friend stream some of it, which prompted the aforementioned purchase. It’s one of those games that I’m saving for when I really have time to give it all of my attention. So Prey 2 would be nice.

DOOM Eternal

Likelihood: Well, duh.

I recently learned that the Doom’s title isn’t supposed to be in all caps, that’s just the way it’s stylised in the logo. Ah well.

DOOM Eternal looks dope as hell, and I sit enraptured by it whenever they show new gameplay. I don’t know that they can show much more without getting too much into the meat of the game that the player will want to experience for themselves, but I doubt they’ll omit it. Maybe they’ll show off a new weapon or area, and a release date. Wait, it doesn’t have a solid release date yet?

Morrowind or Oblivion Remake

Likelihood: ednakrabappelha.gif

This is never going to happen. But damnit, I want it to! Not just a nip-and-tuck to the graphics (though you know I’d shit out coins for that too), but a decent overhaul to combat systems and graphical fidelity. Something that a separate team or studio could work on to keep fans happy while Bethesda plugs away at Elder Scrolls VI, and Starfield before it. Both of which have been confirmed not to appear at E3, by the way. Ah well.

Assassin’s Creed: Rome

Likelihood: We’ll see Assassin’s Creed. It won’t be Rome.

The favourite rumour for the next Assassin’s Creed setting is Vikings, but I would fucking love a trip to Ancient Rome. It’s perhaps one of the most famous and interesting eras of history, and it would feel like a natural bow to tie together a trilogy of ancient history Assassin’s Creed RPGs. But it’ll probably be Vikings, because Ubisoft are worried that Ancient Rome is too similar to Ancient Greece. And it’ll probably be cool as hell… whatever I guess… mutter mutter grumble grumble.

More Rayman!

Likelihood: Unlikely, but it’d be one of those reveals that has people going ohhhh yeahhh, nice!

It’s been a hot second since we thought about Rayman. The last Rayman game was Rayman Legends! So maybe another sequel in a similar vein. And you know what? I’d take a remaster trilogy of the older Raymans, too! Though the first game creeps me the hell out for reasons I can’t quite understand.

Dragon Quest Classics

Likelihood: Hey, remasters are all the rage nowadays…

I played some of the old Dragon Quests on my DS, and you know what? I’d play them some more on PC! Or Switch! Final Fantasy has been getting some remasters, remakes and ports – why not Dragon Quest? Though Dragon Quest XI is getting some love with Dragon Quest XI S.


Let’s call it there.

I’m probably forgetting something obvious, but for now that’s everything that I’m hoping to see from E3 2019! And, you know, EA Play and all of that bollocks. Shut up, companies, it’s E3.

Link’s Bad Day [The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild]

Having rescued a stray Goron youth at the end of an arduous day of blowing up tribes of lizalfos at the base of Death Mountain, Link was just about ready to plod off home for some fresh water (so thirsty) when his shrine alarm started beeping. Aw heck, he thought. I’ve just committed lizard genocide. What’s one quick shrine before I call it a day?

Oh, Link. You’re about to find out.

After fearlessly parachuting across an ocean of lava to reach the shrine’s modest island (seriously, dude, don’t be such an adrenaline junkie), Link stood proudly at the start of his latest challenge, chest puffed out, ready for action. This was the “blue flame” shrine, a room of puzzles dedicated to the problem of moving a blue flame from one sconce to the next amidst flowing water and impossible jumps. The guardians of old had generously provided Link with a single torch with which to carry the flame, and as he stopped to ponder what might happen should he have one of his occasional fits of madness where he throws his weapon into the wild blue yonder, he came to realise he would have to sacrifice one his previous weapons in order to hold the torch in the first place. Gently laying his Knight’s Sword down onto a metal platform, he vowed to return for it later, before heading off to complete the first hurdle of the trial.

Lighting the first sconce reset the positioning of the metal platforms, and Link turned just in time to see his trusty sword plummeting into the lava. Ah. Right. Bother. He’d have to be finding a new one of those. Well, at least he had a spare.

The next sconce appeared to be on a vertically moving platform many meters away, well beyond the reach of Link and his one torch. Aha! An easy one! Grinning wryly, Link reached for his handy bow and arrows- arrow. One arrow. One single normal arrow was all Link had left. Grimacing, he remembered his morning sniping at lizalfos with reckless abandon, not stopping to retrieve his arrows before moving on. Well, this vertically sliding platform sconce just got serious. Link squinted, took aim, and…

Aha! Bullseye! Link’s anxiety melted away from him as he charged up the stairs which had been helpfully lowered for him. He was invincible! Infallible! Indomitable! In-

Well, at least he was swiftly rewarded with a badass looking greatsword of flame! One that he’d… hang on… sorry, backup Knight’s Sword, looks like your turn is up. Just gonna… fling you into the lava myself. Right! Onwards, to the next puzzle. It looks like this one is solved by… firing your standard arrow through the blue flame to light up the two sconces ahead. Huh.

For those of you who aren’t aware, there are alternative arrow types in Breath of the Wild. For instance, Link is currently carrying with him some fire arrows, ice arrows, lightning arrows, bomb arrows, and even a rare type of arrow that is extremely powerful and probably not to be used on sconces. Thing is, none of these arrows will carry a blue flame. It has to be a regular arrow, the most common type of arrow, the type which Link acquires by the quiver, and currently has sweet sheiking none of.

Out of options, Link eyed up his only torch.

He eyed up the sconce.

He could hit the sconce from where he was standing, right? Then retrieve it, rinse and repeat.

Well. Time to die. Maybe when Link respawned he’d be given a new torch-

Link sat and meditated on what he had learned. Here he was, far underground, surrounded by lava in a trial built, supposedly, by some precursor race which were judging him based on his performance here. It is not a thought which sat well with his ego. Frowning, resistant to leave knowing the trial would reset when he did, he considered his options. He could… well, he had none. Grumbling, he brought his sheikah tablet up and teleported out. He’d go to the general store and load up on arrows-

Kritigri’s Top Games Played During 2018

Welcome back to Kritigri’s Top 10 Games Played, this time during the 2018th year since some kid was born in a barn or something. Once again I would like to reiterate that since I don’t always play the most recent games, this list is not restricted to games released this year (although to be honest most of them were this time around). I’d also like to clarify that a game previously featured can be featured again if there’s been a major DLC or expansion release, or some other transformative update that has changed the game significantly. Also, I bought a PS4 about a month ago, so that marks three years in a row where I’ve introduced a new console (or PC) to my gaming arsenal.

Let’s begin with not one, but three honorable mentions.


Honorable Mention – Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

A-HA! Caught RED-HANDED, FRATERNISING with CRIMINALS!

The only reason that this isn’t on the list is because, well, I’ve only just started playing it. I’m about five hours in, but I’m already gushing about what a bloody masterpiece it is, and how proud I am of Insomniac for creating yet another brilliant game that’s rocketed to the top of my favourites. The world feels lived-in and vibrant, and the game keeps throwing things to do at you as you progress throughout the campaign (I watched 60% of a playthrough when it released). The unlockable suits and powers are excellently crafted, but most beautifully of all, this game has a story which is every bit as captivating and authentic as any Spider-Man comic or movie I have ever read or watched. Just… bravo, Insomniac. Bravo.


Honorable Mention – Fortnite (PC)

Well I say PC, but my best played game was on the Switch. Go figure.

I played a lot of Fortnite during season 4 with a friend, as I was interested in the Battle Royale experience but not quite willing to shell out money at the time. Plus, I preferred the look of Fortnite’s cartoony aesthetic compared to the gritty military visuals of, say, PUBG. I played a lot of Fortnite when I was invested, and had an unashamedly fantastic time doing so, but the way the Battle Pass system works eventually made the game feel like a bit of a chore for me, as I was determined to unlock the full Omega skin but had a long road ahead of me and little time to accomplish it. Plus, I found myself altering how I played games in the hopes of completing challenges, as opposed to playing it for the enjoyment of it. After unlocking the full Omega skin shortly before the end of season 4 I ultimately felt burnt out, and have only rarely returned to the game since. Still, I can see why the kids love it. Stop mocking them. Let them dance. But remember, this game is more than just memes. Epic have built something really unique here within the Battle Royale subgenre.


Honorable Mention – Runescape (PC)

Wouldn’t be Runescape without a yak in the picture

This game doesn’t qualify for the list as it’s one I’ve been playing on and off for almost half of my life, and it hasn’t had any kind of expansion or game-changing update to warrant inclusion as something new that I’ve played this year. And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if I sunk the most hours into Runescape in 2018 than any other year. This year I finally achieved my first level 99 in Woodcutting (it was an auspicious moment), and then followed it up with 99s in Firemaking, Divination and Fletching, in that order. I also unlocked the endgame city of Prifdinnas, which requires effort enough to be considered a 99 in itself, in my opinion. Crucially, I achieved a high level (70+) in almost every skill, which has opened up so much more of the game for me. Runescape doesn’t attract too many new players these days, but it keeps the ones it has, and therefore most of the updates that are made for it are skewed towards the higher levels so as to be appetising to its active player-base. While you certainly don’t start in a barren wasteland at level 3, it does create this interesting situation where the game just gets bigger and bigger, the higher level you are.

Another important reason for my increased time in Gielinor is my clan. Hi, clan! The game is so much better when you have people to talk to, let alone awesome people such as yourselves.


#10 – Celeste (Switch)

Down I go…

Celeste is a difficult platformer with a heart of gold. I’ve not finished it (or admittedly picked it up in a while), but it nails the level of difficulty required for stubborn players like me who want to bash their heads against a level for a good half an hour if necessary until completion, when the sense of satisfaction becomes palpable. Plus it is not shy about throwing new mechanics at you and moving on, without milking each mechanic for as long as they probably could. The game also lets you know how many times you died on each level, which is always a fun statistic. The Switch’s easy sharing functionalities have made for some fun moments on my Nintigri Twitter feed, too. I’ll be coming back to this one.


#9 – Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Switch)

Have you ever accidentally thrown your key to escape into an endless void? Toad has.

Bloody hell does this game make me smile. I’m not a huge puzzle game kinda guy, but I bought this on a whim during a sale and at the recommendation of a streamer, and boy am I glad I did. The game is bursting with charm, although its bright exterior belies some truly perilous situations in later levels. The level design philosophy seems to be all about packing as much stuff into as small a level as possible and it truly is impressive how successful they were in this endeavour; what at first seems like a simple chunk of world is often home to many nooks and crannies that you’ll need to access if you want to complete every objective. Plus, bonus objectives add replayability post-completion, and the level count is nothing to be sniffed at.

And so it comes to pass that perhaps my favourite puzzle platformer is one that features characters who can’t even jump. (Their backpacks are simply too heavy!)


#8 – Pokemon Let’s Go: Eevee Edition (Switch)

He RIDES on your HEAD

I feel ashamed. I’ve only beaten the first three gyms, and then I got distracted by the PS4 I purchased. But make no mistake, my time in Kanto is far from over. Because holy heck have I had a fantastic time rediscovering all my favourite first generation Pokemon and interacting with a familiar world in new ways. I’ve always favoured the remakes over new games (my favourite Pokemon games peak with Pokemon Soul Silver and Pokemon Leaf Green), because they’ve always felt like a perfection on old ideas, and the Let’s Go games take it one step further by reinventing the nature of capturing and levelling up Pokemon. It’s honestly refreshing, although I’m glad it’s a spin-off and not the prevailing philosophy for the core series.

One gripe I do have is that the game feels somewhat too easy, as the focus is on collecting and levelling rather than battling trainers, but I’m still fairly early in the game and I have noticed a bit more variety being introduced to trainer battles, so maybe that’s not a problem later on.


#7 – World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (PC)

“To find him, drown yourself in a circle of stars.”

Seeing as I expected this to be at the top of this list pre-launch, expect most of this entry to be me exploring why it isn’t. Firstly, though, it is here because the continents of Kul Tiras and Zandalar are beautifully realised, new expansionary features such as Allied Races and the War Campaign were welcome additions, and because ultimately it’s still new content for World of Warcraft, which is ever contesting with the real world for possession of my soul.

To start with, the levelling experience didn’t grip me as much as I’d expected. I feel like this is in part because the story was building up to a war between the Horde and Alliance but focused instead on local issues, in part because Blizzard have jumped the narrative shark of dealing with the Legion, and in part because when stretched across three zones, the pacing of questing felt elongated and never-ending. Stormsong Valley is beautiful, vast, and bloody endless. This isn’t helped by the fact that zones were designed with side-quests in mind, but there was no indication that what you were doing was vital to the story or not until you’d spent half an hour killing quillboars only to check your story progression and find it hadn’t moved an inch. Hence, after cleaning out Tiragarde Sound and Stormsong Valley of every yellow exclamation mark I could find, I only made it a few quests in to the hauntingly atmospheric Drustvar before hitting level 100, and being required to finish the zone to continue the over-arcing narrative without getting any further relevant rewards became a frustrating grind despite the fantastic setting.

At end-game, everything became time-gated. You needed to reach certain levels of reputation with certain factions in order to progress, which was an issue when the only method of earning said reputation was to grind World Quests. Island Expeditions, while delivering on promises of exotic landmasses and a new style of gameplay, actually gave little reward and amounted to little more than a stressful combat rush which didn’t let you stop and take in the setting or provide any sort of narrative. And Warfronts were so impressively time-gated that I actually gave up on waiting.

8.1 may have fixed a lot of these issues, but I’ve not yet returned to have a look, and don’t think I will until I have much more time available to me. There’s no doubt that the expansion is fun and gave me hours of entertainment, but when ranked up against Legion it just doesn’t yet compare.


#6 – Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind (PC)

Who needs Star Wars Droids to project a messenger? Just possess an elf!

Right, so I did include ESO in my 2016 list, but this is about an expansion sorry, chapter, that was released in 2017. Sorry for the confusion. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting too much outside of the ordinary ambling around Tamriel I do in my occasional bouts of playing the game (I’m almost level 50 now, you know), but to my surprise Vvardenfell hooked me in. Before that, I’d spent some time in Coldharbour completing the main quest line, so it helped that I was already immersed in the game, but questing in Vvardenfell was so interesting and fun that it almost reminded me of some of my deepest dives into Skyrim. Not that you should ever compare ESO to Skyrim. They’re different genres, okay? STOP GIVING IT NEGATIVE REVIEWS FOR NOT BEING MULTIPLAYER SKYRIM i’m fine.

Maybe I’ll play Summerset in 2019!


#5 – Assassin’s Creed Origins (PC)

Every game needs a photo mode.

Origins, not Odyssey. I’m a bit behind. But Assassin’s Creed Origins marks the first RPG(ish) that I’ve fallen off of, and successfully returned to six months later without needing to restart the game and subsequently fail at progressing. I’ve still not finished it and I have put it down again for the time being, but I have faith that when I return to Egypt once more it’ll be the game’s refined stealth and combat systems that keep me entertained, while exploring Ptolemaic Egypt will keep me immersed far better than Bayek’s decent-but-meagre personal plot. This game feels like a deep dive into ancient history and my favourite parts are always the things I learn about the contextual world that genuinely fascinate me.

Shooting bandits in the back of the head without alerting the rest of the camp is a close second, of course.


#4 – Spyro Re-Ignited Trilogy (PS4)

I love how the PS4 takes screencaps upon earning trophies. Also, game’s bloody pretty innit.

This game is what caused me to finally buckle and buy a PS4. I have no doubt that it’ll be announced for Switch and PC eventually, but I have no regrets. Reliving my childhood was a complete blast, and the games look absolutely gorgeous in their new rendition by Toys For Bob. I spared no time in getting a Platinum trophy in all three games, and even streamed my playthrough of Year of the Dragon, the game I was most familiar with. The only gripe I have is the Sgt Byrd was a goddamn disgrace to control, but that may have been the case in the original, too, I don’t remember.

I was excited for this game for a long time and after completing all three, I’m still itching to play more Spyro. I could honestly replay the whole trilogy right now, if I didn’t have so much else I wanted to play!


#3 – Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy (PC)

Crash symbolises life. The bear symbolises me.

I just had to choose between Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon and I do not want to talk about how difficult it was to put one above the other. When it comes down to it, though, I love difficult platformers, and while Crash may not have been designed to be difficult for its time it’s certainly aged that way. I’ve gotten every crystal and gem in the first two games, and am very slowly working my way through the relics (speedruns, for the uninitiated). In Warped, it seems that you need to get relics first to unlock every level, so that one is slightly more complex. Regardless, I intend to fully complete them all if I can. I’ve certainly made the most of my many many failures within my playthroughs.


#2 – Ratchet and Clank (PS4)

This legitimately took my breath away.

You didn’t think I was just going to let Naughty Dog beat Insomniac, did you?

Ratchet and Clank was my original reason for wanting a PS4, and the strongest, and holy shit I finally got to play it and it was amazing and Insomniac please marry me. This game was not only a recreation of the original but an improvement upon it, with new areas and a new story, which was incidentally based off the animated film that was also based off the original game! (It was okay). Not only that, but this game feels like an amalgamation of the best parts of the entire series, including favourite guns from previous games such as the Groovitron and Mr Zurkon. Not only that, but Insomniac cooked up some new guns too, such as the brilliantly inventive Pixelizer and the Proton Drum. The game added a set of collectables in the form of Holo-Cards, cards which showcased some of the series’ other guns and characters as well as providing some fun lore about them.

The game is beautiful. The first time I saw Novalis I nearly cried, and I wish I could tell you I’m exaggerating. Seeing something you’re intimately familiar with and have a plethora of childhood memories attached to recreated with such care and skill is an experience that cannot really be summed up in words.

As it stands, I’ve beaten the game’s campaign and its challenge mode, and only have four trophies left: fully upgrade every weapon, fully mod every weapon, fully upgrade Ratchet’s health, and witness the Groovitron animation for every enemy. That last trophy is so easily missable that I legitimately had a bad dream about forgetting to do it last night. If you miss an enemy, you have to redo an entire playthrough. Not cool.


#1 – Destiny 2: Forsaken

I have been ironing some banners recently

I BET THEY DIDN’T EXPECT THAT! – Lord Shaxx

Yes, Destiny 2. I shunned it a little in 2017, but hello, 2018 called and it wants its GOTY back. I’m attributing this to the Forsaken DLC as it is for all intents and purposes a major expansion, but if I’m being honest I started to get back into the game when my friend convinced to give the Warmind DLC a go. Unlike Curse of Osiris it actually had content, and Mars is still my favourite location to this day.

Forsaken, though, added an enthralling campaign, two new locations, a new type of enemy, wove a compelling narrative, redesigned the way gun slots work, and most importantly, added Triumphs and Collections, essentially adding achievements into the game as well as a way to see what gear you’ve earned (and potentially re-acquire it) with ease. These simple features have made the game immediately more quantifiable in scope, and have allowed players to set themselves goals and drive themselves to replay content they otherwise wouldn’t. By players, of course, I mean me.

The bounty system is also a welcome return, as I feel I’m never short on things to do, especially with the release of the Black Forge and its daunting Power Level requirements. (I’m still in the 570s.) Many of the issues that plagued the game in Year 1 have gone, and while Bungie still makes some questionable design decisions, I find that I experience two moments of satisfaction for every one moment of bafflement.

I’m yet to determine whether DLC of the Black Forge variety is particularly lucrative or worth the money, but here’s hoping for more expansions like Forsaken in the future.

Sparks and Embers – A World of Warcraft Story

Note: This is a World of Warcraft story based around the actions of my player characters during the recent narrative event, the Burning of Teldrassil. A basic understanding of World of Warcraft’s world is recommended when reading this, though I will leave a map of Darkshore below for others who may be interested.

Burning of Teldrassil map

Furthermore, I’d recommend reading the first volume of my World of Warcraft Character’s Lore as it features the backstories for many of the characters you’re about to see.


“Zeverys. Thank you for joining me.”

The blood elf demon hunter inclined her head before sitting down awkwardly in the chair across from the druid. He smiled amicably across the table towards her, and she relaxed a little. “Kritigri,” she greeted him.

“I believe I still owe you a drink for the Broken Shore,” he chuckled.

Zeverys was certain that the night elf could have saved himself well enough from the three hulking felguards that had cornered him that day, but she was never one to turn down a free drink. She cast her fel gaze around the Legerdemain Lounge. People of all races sat together and murmured quietly. In the weeks that had passed since the Legion’s defeat, many were still coming to grips with the newfound peace. “What do they even serve here? I admit, this isn’t one of my more frequent locales…”

“Nor mine,” Kritigri admitted, and Zeverys noticed how he was somewhat hunched over in his seat in an attempt to meet the height of the table between them. She stifled a smirk. They’d chosen this inn due to its neutral location in the centre of Dalaran. They had not considered that the place had originally been made to accommodate humans.

“How much longer do you think it’ll be possible to talk like this?” she asked.

Kritigri sighed. “Forever, if I had anything to say about it. But I’m sure some new spat will tear the factions apart once more.” He eyed her curiously. “What do you intend to do now that the Legion is defeated? Will you pledge yourself to the Horde’s efforts?”

It was a big question, but he put it to her so easily. She was caught off guard. “I… suppose I will go to my Warchief.” As if she hadn’t spent every waking moment pondering this.

“Sylvanas,” the druid huffed. He could barely keep the sneer out of his voice. The druid may not have hated the Horde as a whole, but Sylvanas… that one definitely seemed to leave a sour taste in his mouth.

“She was my Ranger General, once. In another lifetime,” Zeverys mused.

“I imagine she is much changed since those days.”

“As am I,” she retorted. Kritigri glanced at her anew, taking in her tall horns, her ruby tattoos and the eerie green that glowed behind her blindfold. He opened his mouth as if he was going to ask a question, but then averted his gaze and frowned. “What?” she prompted.

He looked at her hesitantly. “Is there really no cure to your vengeance and hatred? To live out the rest of your days as-”

“Virizard,” she said. The druid stiffened. “That’s what you were truly going to ask about, wasn’t it? Your brother?”

“How do you-”

“I have fought beside him. He is an exceptional demon hunter.”

“So it’s true.”

Kritigri’s long estranged brother Tolidar had appeared before him one night, not long after the armies of Azeroth had begun their campaign on Argus. The mage had spared no time on pleasantries, nor deigned to make note of their thousands of years of separation. All he had told Kritigri was that their brother, Virizard, long ago captured by the Legion in the War of the Ancients, was alive, was a demon hunter, and was cleaving his way through Argus. It was quite an evening.

“Where can I find him?” The question had passed the druid’s lips before he’d even had a chance to consider it.

Zeverys tilted her head sympathetically. “I do not know. After our return from Argus, he stole away, saying only that he needed time to recall who he was and if he had a place on Azeroth after all these years.” She frowned. “Rather irresponsible, if you ask me. He wasn’t exactly expendable within the Illidari.”

“Darnassus,” Kritgiri muttered. “He’ll have gone to Darnassus. To Teldrassil. He’d want to see the new bastion of night elf civilisation for himself.” He nodded to himself. “Zeverys, would you-”

At that moment a courier arrived, out of breath and wild eyed. “Archdruid,” the young night elf spluttered. She saw Zeverys and her eyes widened in alarm. “I have… sensitive information.”

Kritigri spotted the royal seal on the courier’s letter. His heart sank. “Zeverys,” he began, turning to address her. “It appears-”

But the blood elf was already marching away.


Teldrassil.

The Horde were marching on Teldrassil.

His home.

Kritigri slammed a surge of astral energy into an orc beserker and then turned to evaluate the situation on the beach. He had emerged from a portal into Darkshore, not far from the ruins of Auberdine. He had turned to the mage. “You told me I was needed to defend Ashenvale!” he had roared.

“Ashenvale has fallen! Defend the World Tree!” was the only reply he had gotten before the portal snapped shut again.

And now, it seemed that Darkshore was falling, too.

Kritigri snarled, advancing on a troll and an undead who were closing in on a wounded sentinel. The druid had only ever killed the Horde in defence, and whilst that was true of this situation also, he found himself empty of the quiet remorse he usually felt at snuffing out life. Seething, he threw his arm into the air and called down a beam of lunar magic onto his foes. The undead fell apart like a badly made toy while the troll yelped, shielding his eyes and slapping senselessly at the newly raw flesh on his arms. While he was distracted, the wounded sentinel twisted on the floor and threw her glaive at his throat, killing him instantly. By the time Kritigri reached her, she had died of her wounds.

“Why?” he hissed over her body. “Why are they attacking us now? Why, when we were so close to a lasting peace?”

He knew, obviously. He’d visited Silithus and investigated the emerging Azerite in the area. He knew what power the mysterious new material held, and that there would be opportunists who would seek to destroy the Alliance with it. But he also knew that Azeroth was dying, and that in times like these the Horde and Alliance often came together to overcome whatever existential threat was upon them. So why-

“Brother! Watch out!”

Kritigri snapped out of his reverie just in time to notice the rogue that was almost upon him. He twisted out of the blood elf’s lunge and elbowed him in the throat, dropping him to the beach. The druid pinned him there with a foot and put his hand to the squirming rogue’s head, slowly roasting it with solar energy until the squirming stopped, and the fel green eyes dimmed.

Not a very druidic move. Not one he was proud of. But not one he had time to contemplate right now.

“Brother!” the call came again, this time without the warning. Kritigri lifted his eyes to see Jerrek standing at the edge of the forest, bow in hand, his face wrought with concern and pain. He took one step towards the beach and tilted downwards, crimson spurting out from behind him and onto the grinning orc that had struck him down.

Jerrek!” Kritigri roared, and shifted into cat form to sprint towards him. The orc raised her axe, but before she could complete her kill a nightstalker leaped out of the woods and sunk its teeth into her throat, tugging aggressively left and right. Kritigri felt relief and hope blossom in his heart, and pressed himself even faster to reach his youngest brother. He shifted out of cat form as he skidded to a stop to examine the wound.

The gash was deep, and blood was pooling around his brother at an alarming rate. But the cut had not reached the bone, and while Kritigri was no priest, druids had their own ways of mending wounds. He’d never been all that adept at healing, but he forced himself to soothe, to feel the beating heart of the forest, to call upon the essence of life found within the boughs and branches around him and to channel the essence back into his brother.

It worked. Flesh knit itself together before his eyes, and his brother’s breathing became steady once more. “By Elune’s grace,” he breathed, and slumped down next to him.

His brother groaned and sat up, pale from loss of blood.  “Thank you,” he managed. He cast about him, and his nightstalker came slinking up to him with his lost bow in her bloody jaws. He scratched her affectionately behind the ears, and she dropped it into his lap. “Nala,” he said to her. “You have saved me again. Please keep watch while I recover.” Obediently, the nightstalker faded back into the trees.

“Brother,” Kritigri muttered. “I had hoped you remained in Silithus, with the rest of our misguided forces.”

Jerrek gave him a rueful look. “I was on compassionate leave.”

“Compassionate… Jerrek, what happened?” But his brother’s downcast eyes told him all he needed to know. “Wyllum… your falcon. Jerrek, I’m sorry.” He meant it. A hunter’s bond with their beast was legendary. “Was it quick?”

Jerrek gave a taut smile. “Old age. The old bird lived longer than he had any right to, anyways. But enough idle talk.” His face hardened as he glared down the beach. “We’ve Horde to kill.”


Zeverys dashed between two sentinels, cutting their throats faster than the eye could follow. Alliance blood was indistinguishable from her red garb and ruby tattoos as she darted from foe to foe, a crimson blur on the battlefield. She felled those she vaguely recognised, likely from working together to defeat the Legion mere weeks ago. But unlike some of her order, she hadn’t forgotten her roots. Yes, she was a demon hunter. But she’d been a blood elf first. And so when her warchief had called upon her to join the assault on Darkshore, she had hesitated nary a moment before diving into the fray.

She did not hate the Alliance. She didn’t even think they deserved to die in such a manner. But as her warchief said, they could not be trusted to maintain a presence on this landmass from where Azerite was burgeoning like a plague. They had to nip this arms race in the bud, before a lasting war could truly begin. As a demon hunter, Zeverys was all too used to making hard decisions, and bargaining the value of individual lives against the greater good.

This wasn’t personal. This was necessary.

And the kaldorei had exiled her people and left them for dead all those years ago. Admittedly, that made the job easier.

ZEVERYS!

This roar of outrage came as she was stepping over yet another spasming sentinel, and she might have written it off as some old ally recognising her from Argus. But something in the voice spelled a deep, rending betrayal, and so she turned.

And met Archdruid Kritigri.

In moments he had crossed the battlefield to meet her, and she stood, emotionally disarmed, all of her resolve to fight for the Horde fleeing before the betrayal in his face. “Archdruid-”

“Why?” he implored her. The rage in his face contorted into sadness, bewilderment. “I expect it of them-” he pointed to a screaming orc in the distance – “But not you! I thought the Illidari saw above these petty squabbles? Wasn’t defeating the Legion your goal? To bring peace to Azeroth?”

Zeverys found herself fumbling for words. “I… it is! Your people abandoned us!” she spat clumsily.

It took him a moment to grasp what she meant. “Thousands of years ago! You weren’t even born then, were you?”

As if that exempted her from being affected by their exile. She scowled. “That’s not the only reason…” she saw the fury on his face, and stopped. “You know what? I don’t time to explain this to you. We have our reasons, that’s all you need to know. I’ll explain later, if I can. Now step aside, you’re in my way.” She moved to shoulder past him, but he placed himself in her way. She locked eyes with him. “Move.

He shook his head. “If you were betraying me alone? Sure. But how many more sentinels are you going to kill if I let you pass? How many more of my friends will you butcher for your fallen Ranger General?”

She snarled and whirled, ready to storm away. As she turned, a vine gripped her by the ankle and slammed her to the ground. Before she could yank herself free, more sprung up and began to curl around her.

He’s attacking me. After all the battles we’ve fought together. She immediately reprimanded herself for the thought. She was hardly blameless. But still, for him to turn his rage on her…

Having maintained her grip on her warglaives, she used them to hack at the roots around her. “Is there really no cure to your vengeance and hatred?” she sneered, repeating his words back at him. In return, thorns sprouted from the roots and began digging into her, scratching agonisingly across her flesh.

He’s going to kill me.

Not if we kill him first, a voice growled back at her. Reluctantly, she gave herself to the demon within.


Kritigri continued to will the roots to tighten, the thorns to sprout sharper, ignoring the part of him that was screaming from within. For Darkshore and Darnassus, he repeated to himself, for the sentinels she has killed, for the homes she intends to claim. Tighter, tighter.

Zeverys was darkening.

Too late, Kritigri realised she was transforming. His roots fell away, scorched and withered. A hulking demon now stood before him, warglaives in hand. It was still Zeverys, but her petite blood elf form had given way to a towering, muscled beast wreathed with a smokey darkness. He watched in horror as she unfurled herself, glowered at him… and charged.

Upon later recollection of the fight, Kritigri would admit that he was dead for sure. She was faster than him, within melee range, and empowered to frightening levels by the fel energies that coursed within her veins. He’d unsheathed his staff just in time to parry her first blow, while the second cleaved it in two; this was no Scythe of Elune. The next few moments of their duel had seen the archdruid darting around, getting some weak blasts of solar, lunar or astral magic in while he spent most of his efforts evading her otherworldly agility. Eventually, though, she followed him into a building and pinned him against the side of a wall. She raised her glaive, going for the throat.

The blade stopped a millimetre from his jugular.

The demon form melted away, but her grip did not soften.

They stood there for what felt like hours, her glaive to his throat, his gaze meeting hers. Behind the blindfold, it was impossible to gauge what was going through her mind.

Eventually, she removed her glaive, and simply walked away.

He did not follow.

The sounds of war grew more and more distant, until it became apparent that the fight had overtaken him, moving towards Lor’Danel. Kritigri pushed himself from the wall, hissing at the pain from his wounds, and realised his fight with Zeverys had taken him to the ruins of Auberdine. Around him sprawled the fresh corpses of too many sentinels, and not enough Horde. Wincing, he limped out of the battered inn, and continued limping towards the sound of battle until he had reached the coast. Here, the murlocs of old had long since been driven away by roaming adventurers, leaving only a few crawlers to skitter aimlessly across the beach, oblivious to the cataclysmic events happening around them.

Kritigri continued to limp down the beach. He could no longer hear the sound of battle.

A portal appeared a ways from him and Tolidar stepped out of it, with Jerrek on his shoulder. The youngest brother had overexerted himself after taking his wound from earlier, and Tolidar had clearly decided to pull him from the fight before he became another casualty of war. The pair were arguing – Jerrek was shouting that he should be fighting until the Horde killed him, that this was desertion, that Tolidar would burn for this. The latter brother was quietly but firmly overriding his brother, telling him that he’d been put on evacuation duty, that as far as he was concerned Jerrek was just another lost soul that needed rescuing, that he wasn’t going to leave his brother for dead even if he had abandoned him all those years ago.

“My brothers.”

Jerrek looked up in surprise. Tolidar met his gaze and said grimly, “They have taken Darkshore.”

Kritigri nodded. There was no more room in his heart for horror. He put his grief to the side. “Then take me to Darnassus. I would make sure that their occupation costs as few lives as possible.” Quietly, he feared for Virizard. He had seen no sign of his long lost brother in Darkshore.

“I’m coming too,” Jerrek cut in.

Tolidar nodded sombrely, giving in to his youngest brother. “We’ll all go. I’ll-”

Whatever he was about to say was cut off by the sound of a blast. Slowly, so slowly, Kritigri turned to the source of the explosion. A trebuchet had launched a firebomb into the bough of the World Tree.

Before he could comprehend this, another blow landed, and then another. The flames took hold with frightening efficiency.

“No,” Jerrek breathed.

“They’re… attacking Teldrassil?” Tolidar asked of nobody. “But why? What strategic advantage would that earn them? Don’t they know there’s only innocents left in the tree?” His voice pitched higher. “Elune, do they not know there’s innocents left in the tree?!” He immediately turned to begin working on a new portal.

Kritigri sank to his knees.

“NO,” Jerrek shouted. Nala appeared by his side and whined softly, but nobody heeded her.

A massive branch came loose and began its slow descent to the waters below.

The flames were enrapturing.

“Virizard is in there.”

It wasn’t until Jerrek snapped his head towards Kritigri that he realised he had spoken.

“Virizard’s dead,” Jerrek squinted.

“He’s not,” Tolidar replied dismissvely. “Kritigri, what do you mean? Why is he in Teldrassil?”

“He abandoned the Illidari,” the druid said, his voice hollow, his mouth dry. “Where else would he be?”

“The Illidari?” Jerrek snapped. Neither brother replied.

“We have to do something,” Kritigri muttered, but his body would not move. Jerrek’s own body suddenly slumped down next to him.

“Brothers,” Tolidar said, “I am sorry. I cannot lose any more of you.” And then he vanished, transporting himself to Darnassus and leaving no portal in his wake.


Zeverys stood on the coast of Lor’Danel, her warglaives jutting from the sand, watching with a hollow feeling in her gut as the World Tree burned before her. She could feel its heat from here. It took an effort to stand with the aches that the druid had given her, but she felt she owed him this much. To ache and endure at least a fraction of how he must be feeling right now. If he was even still alive. For his sake, she hoped not.

She did not exactly feel ashamed by her actions. The plan had never been to burn the World Tree or to kill innocents. Indeed, she was quite concerned by the actions her warchief had taken here today, and she did regret that it had come to this. But she had come into this conflict believing that she was serving the greater good, and if she had to see this through to the end to justify her bloodshed today, then… so be it.

“Look what you’ve done to my tree.”

Zeverys whirled – nearly falling – to see a night elf demon hunter approaching her. He had sooty black hair pulled back in a braided tail, and his bare chest bore his glowing purple scars to the world. Zeverys glanced around, but she had been standing here for hours; the rest of the Horde had all left to celebrate, or flee.

“Slayer,” she greeted him. “I had not thought I would see you again.”

“Nor did I, to be honest.”

“Are you here to kill me?”

“I should, shouldn’t I?” he unsheathed a warglaive and studied it for a moment, before snorting and replacing it. “I think not. Demon hunters should not concern themselves with the affairs of squabbling children.”

“So… the deaths that have occurred here mean nothing to you?” she asked carefully.

“Not nothing,” he admitted. “I am far removed from my people, and you and I have seen worse horrors than this. But it is still daunting.” He beheld the burning tree for a moment, and shook his head. “There’s more at play here. I have my suspicions as to what motivates your warchief.” Zeverys winced as he said it. “And, truth be told, my King.”

She eyed him. “Truly?”

“Truly. Or maybe I’m just hoping for some other existential threat to justify these scars and the nagging demon inside my head.” He shrugged. “Who knows. Either way, nothing good can come of demon hunters turning their glaives on one another due to a spat between some undead whore and a chastened boy king. Personally, I’m headed to Silithus.” He grinned. “There’s some bugs to kill down there, that’s for sure. Coming?”

Zeverys felt something odd then, something she’d felt before. It was as if she had come to a crossroads in her life, and her destiny was pulling her in two different directions. She turned once more to the tree, still burning all these hours after the Horde’s onslaught. And she measured her Slayer once more, in all his disturbing amiability. He hadn’t always been like this. Not for the first time, she wondered if the Legion hadn’t driven him mad.

It wouldn’t be the first time, the voice in her head leered.

“Of course I’m with you, Slayer Virizard,” she said, inclining her head. She turned her back on the burning World Tree and followed her mentor down the coast. She did not look back.

My World of Warcraft Characters’ Lore: Volume 3

Moving on from the Night Elf Brothers and the Sisters of Light and Shadow, the following heroes of the Alliance are not related by blood, race, class, or even philosophy. They may have met over the years and formed friendships with one another, fought in separate groups on the same side of a battle, or never heard of one another at all. They share one thing in common: a desire to safeguard Azeroth and the citizens of the Alliance from the threats that seek to end them.

Also I created them, I guess.


Heroes of the Alliance

Grimslash, Worgen Fury Warrior

WoWScrnShot_072318_204718

Archibald Grimslash had spent his formative years watching his father become twisted by the hatreds which fuelled the Gilnean civil war. The gentle-natured father of his youth slowly began to fade away, replaced with a resentful and explosive man who opposed King Genn Greymane’s decision to isolate Gilneas from the Alliance. This opposition began as outrage, and escalated into militant extremism when others took up the cause. Although Archibald didn’t particularly disagree with his father’s cause, all he knew was that the man he had looked up to was gone, consumed by rage, and eventually he succumbed to a heart attack during a particularly violent argument he’d had with a prisoner. Shortly after this incident, Archibald visited his father’s prisoner – a man named Spencer Humphrey – and almost lost his own temper, blaming Spencer for his father’s death. Immediately noting the similarities between him and his father, however, Archibald managed to restrain himself, and vowed never to let rage drive him as it had his father. He later visited Spencer in an attempt to understand his way of thinking, and whilst the two of them disagreed on many political issues, they became unlikely friends.

When Gilneas fell under siege from the crazed worgen, Archibald’s first thought was of Spencer and the prisoners who were unable to escape from their manacles. Upon reaching his friend’s cell, Archibald found that he’d been attacked – and was already turning. Attempting to reason with the rabid prisoner failed, and for the first time, diplomacy was replaced with violence between them. Spencer broke free and struck Archibald hard across the chest, and he slammed into a wall, falling unconscious.

That was the last lucid moment Archibald would experience for a very long time.

Years later, Archibald felt himself struggling to wake, as if from a coma. As his vision swam into view, he found that he was crouched on the forest ground, blood pooling around his claws, a night elf twitching beneath him as the life left her body. Startled, he fell backwards, whimpering. He held his bloodstained paw in front of him, gaping in horror as the fur receded from it and it returned to the form of a human hand – albeit still stained with the blood of his victim.

The remaining night elves who had saved him told him that they had performed something called the Ritual of Balance on him, but he had broken from his restraints shortly before it could be completed, slaying one of his saviours moments before returning to his senses. They told him that he had been turned, along with many other Gilneans, during the fall of their homeland from an invasion of worgen, and that while most had been saved with this ritual, Archibald was one of the few that had evaded them in the years after. He had come to be known as a notorious feral beast of Duskwood, where he had eventually settled to roam and hunt. He had killed many in the region over the years.

The night elves told him that many Gilneans used their worgen abilities for the good of the Alliance, which they had re-joined, but Archibald was disgusted with himself. Vowing never to let his worgen form free again, he abandoned the night elves in the dead of night and headed north, with no real plans other than to try and outpace the unending rage that now flowed through his veins.

Eventually, Archibald entered the frigid dwarven land of Dun Morogh, and encountered a travelling band of pandaren monks who had arrived from across the sea to teach the dwarves and gnomes the way of the monk. Archibald told them his story, and whilst the pandaren had enjoyed little success in training worgen monks beforehand, they agreed to let Archibald join their sessions and try to soothe his raging spirit. Archibald trained with them for some weeks, but found himself feeling clumsy and isolated in lessons.

Eventually, a band of trolls that lived in the region launched a surprise attack on the band of monks, and seeing his tutor struck down before his eyes, Archibald Grimslash lost himself to rage. Before he could think twice he had transformed, and had snatched up a pair of axes from a fallen troll. Grimslash launched his attack; his was a dance of death as he used his enhanced lupine senses and strength to dart from troll and troll, dispatching them with ease. While the monks struck with pinpoint accuracy and careful agility, Grimslash merely cleaved through whatever troll stood before him. When the fight was over he stood victorious in the crimson snow, feeling more at one with himself than he had since Gilneas. The rage had not abated, but his bloodlust was sated. For now.

It became clear to him that he could never be the same person he was before the invasion of Gilneas. Never would he be able to keep his promise of keeping his temper; nor would he let his worgen self sit idly by while his killing edge could be used to save others. Looking at the carnage around him, he knew he should have felt horrified by what he had done, but  found that his view on the world had changed. Abandoning the ways of the monk, Grimslash thanked his remaining tutors and cleaned his axes, leaving to rejoin his people.

Writer’s comments: As World of Warcraft has progressed, Blizzard have given player characters of new races or hero classes more linear origin stories. Due to this, characters like Stalward, Virizard and Grimslash are difficult to come up with unique origins for. I’ve been mostly trying to add flair to their stories either before or after they underwent their respective changes, whilst respecting the game’s own lore for their origins.

Also, if the faction leader can be called ‘Genn Greymane’ despite not being a worgen for most of his life, I can definitely get away with ‘Archibald Grimslash’.

Adamant, Dwarf Retribution Paladin

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Adamant Stoutwhisker enjoyed a typical dwarven upbringing amongst a rowdy, tavern-going family. Many a long and raucous evening was spent drinking away in Kharanos in his adolescence, and when he grew older and yearned for independence, Adamant moved to Loch Modan and took up fishing in-between nights at the tavern. As time passed, many of Adamant’s friends grew troubled with world-shaking events such as the invasion of the Horde and the onslaught of the Scourge, and left to lend their aid to the Alliance. Adamant didn’t begrudge them this, but he preferred the peaceful life of fishing in the Loch and drinking with his friends, so he simply befriended whatever newcomers appeared, and continued as he was.

One night, a grizzled human veteran deigned to suggest that Adamant was too dismissive of the sacrifices made for his way of life, and the drunken dwarf was quick to anger, ending the evening in a bloody brawl with the man. Ashamed – and easily beaten – he tracked the human down the next day to apologise. The old warrior accepted his apology, but added that the Alliance always needed more heroes in an increasingly dangerous world. He extended a hand of friendship. Ashamed, Adamant skulked away.

The following months were a dark time for Adamant. His drinking became less an exercise of leisure and more of a compulsion, an attempt to drive away the nagging feeling that he was every bit the coward that the old man had accused of him. The dwarf found himself listening in on the news of the world – of how a young human Prince had fallen under the sway of the Scourge, how entire cities were falling to the plague of undeath – and the knot of unease in his stomach only grew. Yet still he remained at the Loch.

Eventually, news reached him that the grizzled veteran who Adamant had fought with many months ago had fallen in the fight against the Scourge. A service was to be held at the graveyard south of Andorhal, where Uther himself was buried. Adamant had heard of his friends dying in the line of duty before, but something about this human’s sacrifice affected something deep within him. Sobered, Adamant rose from his stool and abandoned his tankard. The next morning, he set off for the Plaguelands.

When Adamant reached the warrior’s grave to pay his respects, he was horrified by the state of the land around him. He’d heard the tales – heard reports in excruciating detail – but even as the other dwarves were moved into action, Adamant had remained content to drink with his friends, comforted by the notion that the Alliance existed to allow dwarves like him to live unaffected by the perils of the world.

The veteran was right, Adamant realised. He wasn’t just ambivalent. He was complacent, lethargic, and cowardly.

As Adamant rose to leave the grave, he was ambushed by a mindless undead that had ambled unnoticed into the area. With no time to think, Adamant reached for his mace – a family heirloom – and struck the creature down, his simple weapon gleaming with a golden, holy energy.

Astonished, Adamant surveyed his arms, and felt the same holy energy running through his veins, fortifying him and lending to him a vigour that purged the lethargy from his bones. His muscles brimmed with the anticipation of action, with a newfound might, and with the thirst for holy retribution.

The Light had chosen Adamant to be worthy of wielding its power upon sensing his newfound conviction to make amends. Wasting no time gawping, Adamant seized this opportunity and immediately headed north to Hearthglen, to pledge his allegiance to the Argent Crusade and seek tutoring in the ways of the paladin.

Writer’s notes: I’d like to mention that the veteran’s judgement of Adamant as a coward for living a regular life isn’t supposed to apply to situations outside of Warcraft. In Azeroth at this point in time, the entire world was in peril on a regular basis, and it stands to reason that a more militaristic way of thinking would be a popular mindset in this social context, especially among the valorous humans and dwarves towards young and able-bodied people of their race opting to live a peaceful life among the dire conflicts. This mightn’t even be the ruling mindset – simply an interaction between an ageing veteran who has seen his friends die in the field to a worthy cause, and a drunken dwarf who lives in open ingratitude towards the sacrifices of said friends.

On a lighter note, Adamant is the only character I’ve ever paid to change the name of. He spent his first hundred levels as… Smotencore. Ech.

Khallus, Human Assassination Rogue

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After retaking Stormwind during the Second War, King Varian Wrynn employed the Stonemason’s Guild to rebuild the sacked city. When the nobles of Stormwind refused to pay the workers for their labour, the Stonemasons rioted, and after Queen Tiffin was killed during the chaos they retreated to the outskirts of the kingdom, forming the Defias Brotherhood. Khallus was raised within the Brotherhood to believe that the kingdom of Stormwind was a tyrannous empire, and that the Alliance was a malignant and corrupt organisation. He was trained in the ways of assassination by his mother and father, poised to become a sharply honed weapon of the Brotherhood that would infiltrate the city and execute the nobility. Eventually, he grew into adulthood and completed his training, and was sent on his first mission – to execute a heinously corrupt lord currently lodging in the Trade District.

While skulking in the shadows and waiting for the right moment to strike, Khallus was privy to the discussions of lords and ladies, and though he was only in his target’s chambers for a few hours, he learned enough to know that the nobles of Stormwind were not as malicious as he was led to believe. A few conversations weren’t enough to undo years of indoctrination, but they were enough to give him pause, to withdraw and do his own research. Over the following weeks, Khallus discovered that Lady Katrina Prestor – the black dragon Onyxia in disguise – had influenced Stormwind’s nobles into refusing to pay the Stonemasons. It turned out that the lords and ladies weren’t to blame for the tragedy that formed the Defias Brotherhood.

Not entirely.

Returning home to Westfall, Khallus informed his parents of Onyxia’s now-forgotten plot to forge the Brotherhood as a weapon to destabilise the Alliance. To Khallus’ surprise, his parents already knew. Worse still, they didn’t care. They pointed to the ongoing famine in Westfall as one of many signs of Stormwind’s neglect. Khallus didn’t disagree, but he told them that surely it was in their best interests to stop hindering the Alliance so that they might get a better foothold in the region, that perhaps they could then help. But his argument fell on deaf ears. He was being idealistic. He was being ungrateful. If his parents hadn’t scooped him up during the riots, he’d be nothing more than a street urchin, begging for coppers in the streets of Old Town.

Khallus was stunned. He hadn’t known he was adopted – nay, stolen. After weeks of soul searching, he eventually made up his mind and escaped from the Brotherhood in the dead of night. But he would not go to Stormwind; his lack of faith in the Brotherhood did not absolve the human kingdom of its own crimes. Instead, he became a nomad, eavesdropping on rumours of local troubles and using his abilities to assassinate the cause of the issue, efficiently and ruthlessly. He worked not for the Alliance as a whole, but for the individuals who were being affected or sent to fight whatever evil was marked for death. His was a life of isolation, extermination, and a bloody quest for redemption.

Writer’s notes: Khallus is the character I made to level through the game without dungeons or heirlooms, to read the quest text and take note of the story. In light of this, his story is one that fits that of the player character questing through zones, eliminating threats and helping individual peoples in need.

Elismyr, Gnome Windwalker Monk

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Elismyr never found that she never possessed the mirth and bombasity that her race became known for. She was adopted into a family that paid little attention to her, and her shy nature removed her from many possible social groups. As she grew into adulthood she felt as if she were an outcast, and was preparing to leave Gnomeregan and trek for places unknown when an engineer named Fizzik noticed her dour, broken expression. Fizzik summoned up the courage to approach her and ask her why she was heading out of Gnomeregan at this time of night with what appeared to be all her worldly possessions. Having nurtured a growing resentment of her people and their extroverted ways, Elismyr responded harshly, and strode past him out into the frosty wilderness of Dun Morogh.

Fizzik was no lone spirit and was somewhat affronted by Elismyr’s hostility, and so didn’t immediately go after her. But as he continued to work on his mechanostrider by the entrance to Gnomeregan, unease began to settle in his mind, and he imaged the young gnome being assaulted by troggs, or wild boars, or frostmane trolls. Grumbling to himself, he mounted his mechanostrider – he’d only been making some minor modifications – and set out to find her. Not many gnomes left Gnomeregan, let alone at the dead of night. It was a big world for a small people such as they.

Fizzik followed her footsteps through the snow, and eventually found her struggling on through a growing snowstorm. She whirled as she heard his approach, and scowled at him with recognition. And yet, despite her extensive planning she had left with little experience of the outside world, and found that even through her furs, the snow contained an icy bite. Plus, the shadow of a large bear loomed through the fog. Elismyr decided that she’d return to Gnomeregan with the nosy engineer, just for the night. She’d leave in the morning.

But she never did. Despite rocky first impressions, Elismyr and Fizzik grew to be close friends, and eventually fell in love. Fizzik grew to appreciate Elismyr’s quiet persona, a rare trait indeed for a gnome. And in turn, Elismyr learned through Fizzik that despite the cheerfulness and outgoing nature of many gnomes, these traits often belied a more sincere understanding of the world, and an innate desire to invent new and wondrous technologies for the benefit of all. Elismyr no longer resented other gnomes. After a decade together, the two gnomes married in a well-attended ceremony.

They would enjoy their married life for a scant few years before tragedy struck. An ancient menace besieged Gnomeregan during the time of the Third War, and Fizzik and Elismyr decided to retreat to the young settlement of New Tinkertown while the warriors attempted to save Gnomeregan. Fizzik insisted that Elismyr go on ahead with some of his friends, as he believed that one of his devices may prove useful to the defenders. He promised he would join her in New Tinkertown the next day. Reluctantly, she let him go.

Fizzik never returned.

Elismyr was devastated with grief. She felt wronged and abandoned, though she knew Fizzik was not to blame. She felt isolated and bothered by those around her all at once, and began to regress into her former misanthropic ways. These tumultuous feelings did not heal with time, and Elismyr grew to be a bitter, solitary gnome on the edge of New Tinkertown, sometimes going weeks without talking to another soul.

Eventually, talk of a new race of people called the Pandaren came to Elismyr’s attention. The news was old, of course; Elismyr rarely engaged in idle gossip. These Pandaren lived by the way of the monk, an ideology as much as a way of fighting. They believed in a harmony of the soul, the importance of being at peace with oneself. A band of them had recently arrived in Dun Morogh, and were accepting trainees. A few years ago, when her grief was still raw, Elismyr wouldn’t have bothered. But after many years of struggling with her own mind, the idea grabbed hold of her. Without a word to anyone, Elismyr gathered up her meagre possessions and left. She would never turn back.

Writer’s notes: Elismyr is part of the reason why I took so damn long to write this third Volume. I am, historically, a hater of gnomes. They are small and crude and irritating. But monks are not any of these things, bar small, if you so choose. And so I created Elismyr, a gnome in race only. I wanted her to be more of an introvert, an outsider, as I feel any gnome who wishes to pursue the ways of the monk would be. Also, I thought it would be hilarious to kill giant Pit Lords as a tiny, zen-fuelled gnome with some powerful palms.

Coming next: Champions of the Horde, Allied Races and short stories from the perspectives of some of my characters, during the most important moments of their lives. My Druid Kritigri may have something to say about the Burning of Teldrassil.

 

[The History of Glimmerside – A Cities: Skylines Diary] Chapter 1: Economic Ruin

The year is 2018. The governmental forces that be have decided that I am to develop and claim mayor-ship over a new town in the county of Riverrun. I have minimal experience developing towns, but enamoured by the prospect of making my mark on the world, I accept. This can only go well.

I name the town Glimmerside, after the glimmering river beside which the town will be made. I immediately spend three months trying to plan a symmetrical layout with two grids for residential and industry, and eventually give up on perfection. I also neglect to pause the game until houses have been constructed and residents start moving in, complaining at me for the lack of power and water. I set up basic systems for both, almost bankrupting myself in the process, before realising that I have perhaps started too big. Oops.

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Er… room for expansion?

I sustain my industry with the bare necessities and watch as my funds plunge to less than $500 during construction, barely evening out into profitable territory in time. I muddle along at a snail’s pace, my entire town earning as much as maybe one full time employee on minimum wage per day, before the governmental powers that be notice that I’ve reached 460 residents – an apparent milestone – and award me twenty grand, apparently blind to all else that is happening in Glimmerside. I almost choke in relief.

It’s not all sunshine and daisies from there, though. After extending my pipes, building some extra wind turbines, and creating a landfill for the whinging masses, I find myself running low on funds again. I use the last of them to make a long-overdue sewage pipe (down-river from the water intake, I’m not stupid), and sit back while my city turns out enough money for me to progress. Something’s wrong, though. My profits are suddenly dwindling. Glimmerside is losing citizens due to crime. I haven’t hit 900 population yet, so I’m not allowed to build a police station. Glimmerside is essentially a lawless place, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

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You never want to see that much red.

I take out a loan. The crime rate continues to skyrocket. Citizens continue to move away, distancing me from my goals of being able to build a police station. Abandoned houses litter the streets. Desperate, I try to make citizens happier. I build a medical clinic. I build another wind turbine to stop blackouts. I demolish abandoned buildings and add more trees – people like trees, right? But nothing works. The sewage is backing up again. Bandits parade brazenly through the streets. I’m in debt, and utterly unable to pay back my loan. I can’t see that I’m missing anything else; Glimmerside was doomed the moment I built those massive grids. With a smaller population, crime and budget may not be such an issue. But I bit off more than I could chew.

Glimmerside was doomed. Alternative methods would have to found…

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In part 2, I attempt to fix Glimmerside and wean myself off of the Unlimited Money budget, so begrudgingly bestowed upon me by the very realistically generous government.