For many people, World of Warcraft is back on the rise with the advent of Legion. Googling around, you’ll find positive review after positive review and stellar recommendations for WoW’s next expansion. Part of this in my mind is relative to the story; In Legion, the titular army of demons, devils and otherworldly monsters come barreling upon the shores of Azeroth and are here for our heads. This isn’t like Mists of Pandaria, Wrath of the Lich King or Cataclysm. In this expansion, players are on the losing side and are clearly in a fight for survival.
Yet, with this said, it is important to look back on the previous expansion: Warlords of Draenor. For all the flaws the game had, I find that the major one is the story. In the rest of this article you’ll find my thoughts and feelings on exactly why that expansion, from a mere story perspective, failed so many players.
One final word of caution: There will be spoilers, so read at your own risk.
Time travel is a fickle thing in fiction. When done right, it can expand and create fascinating scenarios and meet-ups that should never happen. When done wrong, however, it becomes a messy and confusing connect-the-dots problem. Warlords tends to fall into the second category. Billed as going to the past, the “past” quickly becomes an alternate universe where our actions are placed in a world separate (but similar to) our own.
What’s especially ironic about time travel is that Blizzard had placed a time-travel scenario in Warcraft that actually worked well: The Caverns of Time. Rather than being a past-affecting and confusing event, it is instead tasking you with keeping things on-track and in-canon. Yes, it’s time travel, but it’s not intrusive and doesn’t mess with the order of the world. It’s all about keeping things in check and flowing correctly.
This problem reverberates into the next problem, where players see what their actions accomplish:
Despite expansions trying to tell their own separate stories, there is connections and ties to them. Sylvanas and the forsaken in a post-Arthas world from Wrath. Illidan’s capture and eventual release in Burning Crusade. Garrosh’s path from warchief in Cataclysm to tyrant in Pandaria. Yet when you examine the repercussions of Warlords…you don’t find any.
Warlords ends with the alternate timeline remaining completely separate from our world. We don’t see Grom suddenly come back to life as an older man in the Horde. We don’t see Yrel taking over for Velen. Effectively, this alternate universe has amounted to nothing. This begs the question of what we (the players) really accomplished.
Players become the leader of a garrison, a general of their respective faction and are a spearhead force in this world. Yet once you step out of it, it feels like nothing changed. Nothing happened. Your garrison and accolades all reside in another world. All the people you helped, all the places you went, they don’t exist in this timeline. Unless that person is from the core universe who hopped with you. Even then, little amounts to it.
It felt most egregious to me in the Legion questline where the Exodar naaru is slain when trying to reveal a message. To me, I thought “Oh, hey, we have another timeline where that naaru ISN’T dead!” Instead, it’s completely ignored in favor of another artifact/item of power. If you’re going to ignore an alternate universe when there is such a useful plot point in having it, why even bother having it?
This begs the question of what Warlords is truly good for. The only carry over is that Gul’dan is alive now and that he’s the figurehead for the Legion’s invasion of Azeroth. By comparison, Burning Crusade had Garrosh’s arrival and the other major villain who was affected by the Legion, Arthas. Wrath had the inclusion of the dragon aspects and the reverberations of Arthas’s death, leading to Deathwing and questions that are still relevant to this day with the forsaken. Mists of Pandaria builds further on the Alliance/Horde conflict that was underlying all of Cataclysm now that there’s no major threat.
So what did Warlords give us?
The only holdovers are, at the moment, Gul’dan’s return and Thrall no longer being BFFs with the elements after his duel with Garrosh. There is extremely little to build from the previous expansion. This, in turn, begs the question of why we had the expansion in the first place. The main argument I foresee is people will say they needed Gul’dan back in the picture. Hear me out; What if we push Garrosh further then?
Imagine if instead of Warlords, we moved right into Legion. During his execution, Garrosh is tempted by the Legion to join their ranks. He becomes their figurehead and pawn for the Legion expansion, a fel-infused warrior who forces both the Alliance and Horde to band together. In doing so, there’s now even more reason for these two factions to work together and we avoid the confusing time-travel stuff. The story would read a lot stronger and, overall, a lot more sensibly even if it’s not absolutely perfect.
I’ll admit, I skipped Warlords. I didn’t resub. I did, however, for Legion. In television shows, there are often episodes which hold little plot relevance and next-to-no value to the story or characters. Everyone calls these filler episodes: the filler between important parts. To me, Warlords looks and feels like a filler expansion. The expansion that’s a side-story while Blizzard flexed their creative muscles in prepping for the next major event.
Is the story all there is wrong with Warlords? Of course not, there are certainly many complaints you can find from garrison grinding to irritating reputation boosting to lacking content. However, the story in an MMO is the glue that holds an expansion together. Warlords, sadly, didn’t feel like the next chapter in the saga of the Warcraft universe. It felt like a side-story. A what-if where we looked at another world and an expansion with such little ties to the next one that you could cut it out like an infection with little loss to the next part.
Legion is promising but it’s important to always remember where we go wrong. Otherwise, Warchiefs of the Broken Isles would be just around the corner.