Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War By Christie Golden

In recent days, books published by Blizzard Entertainment are more in line with the pace of the popular online game World of Warcraft‘s lore development.  At the end of Cataclysm, the age of the Dragons has passed.  Now, we are onto the age of the Mortals.  The so-called lesser races have proven themselves that they can and they will rise up and guard this world.  Dragons – the previous guardians since the age of the Titans – have lost their immortality in the battle against Deathwing who was corrupted by the Old God.  They have stepped down from the guardian role.  Slowly but surely, Blue Dragons have lost the notion of a dragonflight and now seek the concept of individuality.  Nexus – home to the blue dragonflight – is turning into a ghost town.  The world is indeed changing.

Human and Orc have been at war with each other for years.  Over time, Human has gathered other races namely Dwarf, Night Elf, Gnome, Draenei, and Worgen and formed the Alliance.  As for the Orc, Horde is formed with Troll, Undead, Tauren, Blood Elf, and Goblin.  The Horde and Alliance are technically at war with each other.  But they have briefly joined force with the Aspects of the dragonflights in the battle against Deathwing who threatened to destroy the world.

Now that Deathwing is vanquished and the world is on the path of healing, Horde is in a much stronger position compares to where they were years before.  No longer the orcs are enslaved by the humans like they have in the past.  Led by Thrall – the ex-Warchief – the peoples of the Horde have left Eastern Kingdoms and settled in the opposite continent, Kalimdor.  Due to Cataclysm, Thrall has answered his calling, dropped his mantle as a Warchief, and has become a shaman who has a key role to play in saving the world.  Before his departure, Thrall has named Garrosh Hellscream – son of Grom Hellscream who once succumbed to the demonic power but died a heroic death – as the new Warchief.

In the Universe of Warcraft, while good and evil is as clear as black and white, it has nothing to do with the races’ appearances.  Horde are as honorable as the Alliance.  They have bad seeds, just like the Alliance do.  During the Cataclysm era, there are disgruntle voices within our online community: Do Blizzard flavor Horde?  Thrall has turned into a savior while his counter part King Varian seems to have been sidelined.  Horde appear to have gained ground against the Alliance across the world.  Supporters of the Alliance have made a long list in justifying their claim that Blizzard has indeed flavored the Horde.

I am concerned, of course.  Because it seems to me that Blizzard is making a U-turn in order to please and retain the fans.  In the online game, we know that the fall of Theramore once ruled by Lady Proudmoore is the trigger of a new war between the Horde and the Alliance.  We also know that at the end of this new Mists of Pandaria expansion, the Horde capital Orgrimmar will be raided and Hellscream will be defeated – by Alliance and Horde alike.  As a keen observer of the lore, this a very bold plot development.  Blizzard is going to upset a lot of people.  This is a big gamble.  But, if played right, this plot twist may well bring the entire franchise back to its very root.

War.

As a fan of this franchise – be it as a Horde or Alliance supporter – I welcome this twist.  Let’s put war back to Warcraft.  In order to fully appreciate this wind of change, Christie Golden has written an excellent book called Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War.  I have read quite a number of her novels.  This book again moves me to tears.  The scale of war is nothing like what I have read before (within this franchise that is).  Garrosh Hellscream has a plan.  He is not agreeable to the ex-Warchief’s vision of peace.  Garrosh wants to bring glory to the Horde.  More specifically, he wants to be the leader who finishes off what Thrall – in his eyes – has failed to do.  Readers of Christie Golden would immediately recognize that while Garrosh is hotheaded, he is one great tactician when it comes to warfare.  He would sacrifice all that he has in order to achieve a goal.  But he would also retreat if the tactical advantage is no longer viable.  He does not listen.  But he values loyalty and he does not hesitate in exerting authority over his people and other Horde races.  Horde leaders such as Baine and Vol’jin do not agree with Garrosh’s thirst for war.  Both have secretly negotiated peace with the Alliance in the past through diplomacy means.  But for their peoples’ survival’s sake, they answer to Garrosh’s call for arm because Horde units, even when it is fragmented within.  Such is the political difference between the two factions.

Jaina Proudmoore’s Theramore is of a strategic military importance to the Alliance.  The city is located by the sea, in Kalimdor, south of Orc Capital Orgrimmar, and has a key route to Night Elf’s home land up north.  Garrosh’s vision is clear.  Destroying Theramore is only the first step.  His military plan is to barraade Kalimdor from Alliance’s reinforcement, and ultimately drive out or exterminate the night elves in the north.  Both the Undead and the Blood Elf are uneasy about Garrosh’s plan.  Because their capitals lie in Eastern Kingdoms.  Alliance will retaliate and they will be the first to suffer.  But like Tauren and Troll, it is either follow Orc’s command or face isolation.  That leaves them little options.

While Garrosh vision is sound, the execution can be less than honorable.  Slowly, we can see how power corrupts Garrosh and turns him into a tyrant, a dictator who will stop at nothing unless his goal is attained.  This time, there is no demonic corruption to be blamed.  Nor the Old Gods.  It is pure greed and ambition of the mortals, which is something new in the lore.

The center figure of this new book is of course Jaina Proudmoore.  I have been following Jaina’s story for years, mainly because in the early days of this online game, I enjoyed role playing as a human.  Jaina is one of the – if not the – most powerful living human mage.  If you roll a mage class like I do, she is the role model to look upon.

Due to her heritage, she rules Theramore and was romantically linked to the then-human prince Arthas who turned into Lich King.  While her family was slaughtered by the Horde, she believes that most Horde are as honorable as the Alliance and that diplomacy is the key to peace.

Imagine her emotional shock when Garrosh has launched an assault to Theramore.  As an attempt to halt the assault, she has to plead for help from the neutral organization Kirin Tor residing in the magical city of Dalaran, from her new friend Kalecgos the ex-Aspect of Blue Dragonflight, and from King Varian the leader of Alliance.  This is one spectacular battle when we get to see first hand the transformation of Jaina as well as King Varian stepping up as a war strategist.  This war does not end when the book does.  It is going to be escalated as more stories unfold in the World of Warcraft.

Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War is a must read for the fans and the lore lovers.

Of Blood and Honor by Chris Metzen

Chronologically speaking, Of Blood and Honor is the last book of the Warcraft: Archive series.  This book is written by the esteemed Chris Metzen, generally regarded as the father (or one of the fathers) of Warcraft.  It is of an honor to finally read his work.

Of Blood and Honor, on the surface, is a rather short story.  Lord Tirion Fordring, a human paladin and a follower of Light, one day finds an old orc in his province.  In his days, every orc is a monster and must be eliminated.  Tirion fights the old orc and is being defeated.  As the tower collapses threatened to kill the unconscious Tirion within, the old orc saves his life, binds him onto his horse, and sends him back to his Keep.

Deeply affected by how the situation turns out, Tirion has decided to return to abandoned tower and confront the old orc once again.  Why would a monster save its enemy’s life?  To his surprise, this old orc speaks his language and has a name.  Eitrigg further enlightens Tirion on how some orcs have decided to leave their ranks because they do not wish to be corrupted by the demonic power and lose their way of life.  Do orcs have honor?  This one seems to have, so thinks Tirion.  In return to Eitrigg’s saving his life, Tirion has vowed to leave Eitrigg in peace and never seek him out.

Unfortunately, words are out and people now know that there are orcs in the area (although there is only one).  Is Tirion willing to risk losing everything he has in order to uphold his honor and his vow with an enemy?  To those of us who have been playing World of Warcraft since the beginning, the interaction between Tirion and Eitrigg marks a pivoting moment in the history of Warcraft – Horde and Alliance can collaborate.  They can fight side by side if a situation calls for.  This is exactly what we do today, when we face the worse adversity the world has yet to face.

Of Blood and Honor may not be rich in complexity.  However, without a doubt, it is a book that is rich in honor and sacrifice.  The path to heroism is not easy.  Especially when most don’t see that you are one.

The Last Guardian By Jeff Grubb

For those who have played Warcraft 3, the real time strategy game released decades ago, you may recall a black raven that transformed into a human prophet at will speaking to both the Horde and Alliance.  It was the prophet’s plan to bring both sides’ attention to the looming danger of the demonic invasion – The Burning Legion.  The game ends with the glorious battle of all races of Azeroth against the demons’ final assault to the World Tree.

Perhaps the name Medivh means something to you.  The Last Guardian tells the story of Medivh, the most powerful mage known in Azeroth, before he has become the raven that some of us are familiar with in Warcraft 3.

To my best knowledge, The Last Guardian is the only Warcraft novel written by Jeff Grubb.  I do not know why he no longer writes for the Warcraft series.  I happen to enjoy his writing style – slower pace no doubt, but with a certain mysterious underlying to the overarching story.  The Last Guardian almost reads like a detective story.  Magic is explained in the finest technical detail.  The entire book is written in such finest detail.  I feel as though I am living inside the tower of Karazhan, together with the visions within and all.

Medivh is an enigmatic character.  His tower of Karazhan holds many secrets of the past and the future.  To tell the story, Jeff Grubb relies on the young Khadgar – a human mage highly recommended by Kirim Tor (an organization of mages residing in Dalaran) to be the apprentice of Medivh.  Khadgar has an inquisition mind and his undying curiosity makes him a perfect spy to learn the secret of the tower.  Medivh knows of Kirim Tor’s intend but is confident that by building trust, Khadgar may one day stand by his side.

The stories told within Karazhan are epic.  It goes all the way when Medivh’s 800 years old mother Aegwynn battled the evil Titan Sargeras.  Throughout my interaction with the Warcraft franchise – be it as in-game or the bits and pieces of lore scattered in books and at Blizzard’s website – it is the closest moment I have read about the Titans.  There are plenty of visions that explain what the past was, and what the future is to be.  The stories further explain Medivh’s background and why the most powerful mage in Azerorth is going insane.

After reading The Last Guardian, there are still many questions in my mind.  If Medivh is the Guardian of Order of Tirisfal, how does he relate to the Aspects of the five dragon flights – who are also named as the Guardians of Azeroth?  If the Aspects are empowered by Titans, what empowered the Guardian of Order of Tirisfal?  Sargeras appears to be one tough Titan to defeat – though it does not seem impossible – would this Titan be the ultimate villain in the online game World of Warcraft?  If so, when would that be?

The Last Guardian is the third book coming from the Warcraft Archive series.  It reads differently from others.  A worthwhile read nonetheless.

6,311 Hours Of Played Time: World Of Warcraft

At times I ask myself: Am I playing too much World of Warcraft?  It is hard to comprehend what 6,311 hours mean without a context.  My record shows that I have played this online game since the beginning of 2005, spent more than US$1,000 on subscription fees.  I don’t play WoW every day.  As of now, I haven’t touched the game for months.  But when I touch it, I could go crazy with it.

Theramore, Destroyed.  Jaina Proudmoore’s hair has turned white.  Hellscream is safe and sound.  What’s next?

Typically for me, a video game takes around 40 hours to consume.  A good game may eat up 80 to 120 hours of my life.  The third expansion Cataclysm was released two year ago.  That expansion alone I have clocked in roughly 1,700 hours –  the most played expansion of all.

There has been great debate on how Cataclysm flares compared with the previous expansions, even with the original game released in 2004.  There are fans who say that it is disappointing.  The sales figure also seems to support that sentiment.  Towards the end of the expansion, even the developers feel the heat and the need to reverse a good portion of their design philosophy.  This clearly has an impact on WoW’s next expansion Mists of Pandaria, which is due to be out in a few days’ time.  The question is: Is Cataclysm all that bad?

Personally, I welcome a better emphasis on skill-based rather than gear-based approach.  The content at the beginning of the expansion was significantly harder than before.  That required us to reexamine our priority system.  I love the challenge, although I must say, Blizzard seems to have over-engineered some of the game mechanics.

The problem of this increased challenge is that some players no matter how hard they tried or read from the Internet simply could not bridge that gap.  In the previous expansions, we could compensate skill with gears earned through persistence.  That did not seem to work for the first year of Cataclysm.  To make it worse, the then-high-end content failed to reward the effort required.  The net result?  People were frustrated.  Relationships were strained because not everyone performed or could perform at the same level.

On the plus side, I like the bite size stories spread across the new zones.  I also like the new dailies hub that evolves as we progress.  The quests do not feel too taxing either.  And I like how Blizzard opens up raiding to the less hardcore players.  Being able to collect an armor set that was used to be exclusive to raiders who invest immense amount of time and sacrifice is one good news (ironically, I do not seem to invest any less played time either).

What’s Next?

Having played the beta of the new expansion Mists of Pandaria and having seen some of the new game updates, I must say that I am underwhelmed.  The graphics look dated.  World of Warcraft indeed plays like an aging game.  Fans would defend this online game by pointing to the fact that game play is the most important aspect of all.  But there is a limit to how far this saying could go.

My friends and I have recently logged back in and tried out the new scenario mode.  That was insanely boring.  Perhaps if we haven’t tried the latest massively multiplayer online game, we could have overlooked these flaws.  Would I continue to pay US$14.99 a month to play this game?  Cynthia’s commitment to the annual pass deal will continue till end of this year.  Hence, we may still get the new expansion and try it out.

This time round, I doubt I would pushed the played time beyond 7,000 hours.  I sure pray that I won’t.

While the scenarios from both the Horde and Alliance perspective are incredibly boring, we took a screenshot nonetheless.

Diablo III Madness – 140 Hours And Counting

This Diablo III madness has no end.  140 hours have passed and I don’t even feel it.  It is like that one scene in Twilight whereby Bella sits by the window observing the change of seasons in one minute.  There are four levels of difficulty in this video game.  It takes me 140 hours to clear the second difficulty level – Nightmare – for all my five classes.  My next milestone is to complete the third difficulty level – Hell – and call it a day.  Inferno difficulty could well be too brutal for me.

Or maybe not.  We shall see.

Heavens burn as we cast the Prime Evil into oblivion.

I will not repeat what has already been said in my last post “Diablo III – First 80 Hours“.  What I said back then is still valid today.  Instead, I will share my experience with the game as I progress through different difficulty levels.  And a short recap on news surrounding the Diablo community from launch till now.

At launch, Diablo III smashed records, sold more than 6 millions copies excluding the 1 million World of Warcraft annual pass subscribers who got the game free.  Due to this unexpected sales record, a game that requires constant connection to the servers became unplayable as the servers were brought down time and time again by the surge in demand.  Onto then second week, when the US servers finally gained stability, reports started to come in as players’ accounts were compromised, in-game progress was lost.  The solution is to use a physical or mobile authenticator that provides an extra layer of protection like how Internet Banking tackles security.  On top of that, Blizzard gives us an option to enable SMS alert whenever account information is modified.  I do not know of any video gaming company that goes into this level of security to protect our accounts.  That could be due to the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) that I will talk about in just a bit.  Back to the first month after launch, the ride was bumpy.

Meanwhile, while the US region cried about the rumored hacks, Blizzard‘s office in Korea responsible in hosting the Asia servers was raided by the local government that sought evidence against Blizzard in their denial of refund requests.  Asia region has its own controversy.  Koreans were given more quotas in accessing the Asian game servers while other locations such as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong needed to queue for hours just to get into the game.  In-game exploitation also ran wild in the Asian servers causing long extended maintenance that denied people from playing the game.  Players in Asia were as unhappy as the US counterparts.  I have no idea how the European players were coping.  I suspect they would have faced similar issues.

RMAH was launched in June.  Those who had high end in-game items made profits due to the initial craze.  One item could be sold for US$250 up.  While minority made money out of playing a game, the community overall appeared to view RMAH as the unnecessary evil.  Couple that with the fact that the game had been exploited by some and the economy imbalance that persists till today, RMAH has become a messy business.  However, if we are to take a step back, with or without RMAH, people trade items – items that they do not create – using real money.  While RMAH provides a safer environment for trading, it also encourages those who would not have traded trade.

To add onto this drama, Blizzard has decided that one of the gear attribute – attack speed – was too high.  Balancing the game means that all in-game items – past and future – have to be adjusted.  To compensate, Blizzard also makes Diablo III‘s inferno difficulty more manageable.  The net result was that those who have spend hundreds of dollars buying gears from RMAH suddenly woke up to the new reality that their gears were less powerful than before.  This seems to have put a brake to RMAH sales.  Are you willing to buy in-game items using real money only to find that one day, the items may be no longer what you wanted them to be?

Tricky situation.

If you read the online professional reviews, Diablo III has done pretty well.  If you crosscheck the scores with user reviews, the two do not tally.  User reviews from Metacritic to Amazon slam down the score to the lowest possible.  Some players from US demanded a full refund after beating the game and strangely, Blizzard has granted their requests.  Official forums continue to be on fire citing Diablo III as the worst game Blizzard has ever produced.  Participation in public games seems to dwindle.  The community seems to thin out.  Perhaps the end game is not quite there yet as we are still waiting for a future patch to address this issue.  Or perhaps action hack-and-slash genre is not something some would enjoy doing for hours.

What about me?

This is the secret level, “pony land”. Rainbow and all. Colorful but deadly.

I love it.  My friends seem to love it too.  Day in day out, I play with my friends online, overcoming challenges.  The contents may be the same.  It is Act One through Act Four.  The story is linear.  But different classes play differently.  Different difficulty levels play differently.  After we have cleared Nightmare difficulty (the second level), Hell plays like a whole new different game.  The challenge requires me to pay attention to mechanics I may have overlooked in the previous difficulty levels.  To me, Diablo III is like Tetris.  The framework and the pieces do not change over different levels.  But the fun stacks up as the pace increases.

How long will I stay with this game?  I am not too sure.  Maybe till the new World of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria is out?