Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Community Blog Topic: The re-retaking of Gnomeregan

I still have a lot I want to say about my D&D campaign, but that series has settled comfortably on the back-burner for now. I've decided it's going to be easier to write about it after it's actually finished, and we'll (hopefully) cross the finish line in September. In the meantime, another communal topic has captured my attention.

The various factions and peoples of Warcraft have had some very interesting and well-told stories. However, some groups are more prominent than others. For example, the orcs and trolls are currently in the midst of a civil war, the completion of which will be the dominant story for the conclusion of the current expansion. Other factions have faded into the background, with little said about their activities for quite some time, at least in-game. The draenei are a frequent example, who practically vanished after the Burning Crusade completed, as are the goblins, who landed on the shores of Orgrimmar only to have their faction leaders vanish into thin air. Players want to see these stories continue, particularly if they play one of these characters and have a vested interest in the outcome.

As for me, I feel there is one race that has received the short end of the stick more than any other. For this faction, Blizzard has truly given their story short-shrift. This short-coming is epitomized in the only real attention they've received, in-game, in the entirety of the game's lifespan so far.

Operation: Gnomeregan - An absolutely wasted opportunity of storytelling on Blizzard's part.

(See the rest below the fold)

If you're not familiar with the story, let's start from the beginning.

The gnomes of Warcraft are tinkers. They were friends and neighbors to the dwarves of Ironforge, living nearby in the underground city of technological wonder known as Gnomeregan. Like the dwarves of Moria, however, they delved too deeply; their subterranean home was invaded from within by a barbaric race known as troggs.

Although the gnomes were part of the Alliance at the time, their allies were otherwise occupied, so the gnomes fought alone. Unfortunately, they were losing, to the point where their leader, High Tinker Mekkatorque, at the behest of his advisor, Mekgineer Thermoplugg, flooded Gnomeregan with an irradiated gas which would drive the troggs out.

This plan failed miserably, but largely because Thermoplugg was a traitor. His plan had been to allow the gas to "leak" into the residential portions of Gnomeregan and kill a small percentage of the population, then swoop in as the hero and fix everything. It's rumored that he knew of, even orchestrated, the trogg invasion. The betrayal backfired, however, and nearly 80% of the gnomish population died. The troggs were barely even affected by the gas. Mekkatorque took what remained of his people and fled to Ironforge to live in exile.
He looks upset. Understandably so.
Many of the gnomes who were left behind didn't die from the toxic gas. Instead, they were mutated and driven mad. Thermoplugg assumed the role of king for the gnomish remnant, rallying them to drive out the troggs.

When WoW first released, the High Tinker would send players down into Gnomeregan with a mission: Assassinate Thermoplugg. The radiation had diminished enough for people to enter the city, at least for short durations. The gnomes couldn't rally a force to drive out Thermoplugg and the troggs, but a small team might be able to slip in and administer some stabby-justice.

When the second expansion of WoW was coming to a close and the forces sent to Northrend were returning home, the gnomes finally had enough and convinced the Alliance to rally to their cause. Operation: Gnomeregan was to be the push to finally retake their home. The Thermoplugg players had been killing over the years turned out to be a doppleganger of some kind. Mekkatorque was ready to rally his people and finish things once and for all. So what happened?

Players who joined Mekkatorque in the assault battled their way past his forces into the first levels of the city, only to find that Thermoplugg had prepared for this moment: A second massive bomb, set to release more deadly neurotoxin, was waiting for the invaders. Mekkatorque attempts to disarm it, but fails; Mekkatorque, his forces, and the players are all teleported out of the city just as the bomb explodes, once again flooding the city with deadly, irradiated gas. After all that build-up, the gnomes are left right where they were before it began.

Well, not exactly. The gnomes are no longer slumming it in a wing of Ironforge. They're now roughing it on the surface just outside of Gnomeregan, continuing to plot the re-retaking of their city.

The entire episode is frustrating. For the first time, the gnomes were finally being given the spotlight with an opportunity to move their story forward, and Blizzard copped out, rendering the entire affair pointless. A faction that desperately needed something to make their story compelling again received nothing.
Gnomes lose! They get nothing! Good day, sir!
When players accuse Blizzard of faction-based favoritism, this is exactly the sort of thing they're referring to. The Horde had an equivalent event at the same time as Operation: Gnomeregan, in which the trolls attempted to take back their home in the Echo Isles from a witch doctor named Zalazane. The trolls, however, killed their crazed ursurper and retook their home. Their story has moved forward in the proceeding expansions, first as they rallied to stave off the advances of the Zandalari trolls in Cataclysm, and then as they started a revolution against the orcs in Mists of Pandaria. The gnomes remain in stasis, Warcraft's collective Sisyphus still attempting to retake their home.

Most of the factions could use some time in the narrative spotlight, but if there is one race in Warcraft that needs a lore update, it's the Gnomes. They are the only race whose status quo has remained unchanged since the opening days of WoW. That's not just faction-bias, that's poor storytelling.

Addendum: Blizzard (And I address the company directly, because why wouldn't they be visiting my little slice of the internet?), the music for Operation: Gnomeregan was one of your best pieces ever. Yet the only way to hear it now is to either visit Tinker Town or to rip the sound file. Why on Earth has this never made it to a soundtrack? Why can we not buy this music from you? It's not like you couldn't use the cash.

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