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Old 12-16-2009, 07:57 PM
Aldrius Aldrius is offline

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Default Founding of Durotar Review

It's pretty messy, but I think it gets my point across. Keep in mind this entire review is merely my opinion.

Taming of Durotar Review

WarCraft 3: The Frozen Throne is a tale of old hatreds and it’s a tale of vendettas. The Warden Maiev was given the task of guarding the betrayer Illidan thousands of years ago, and she swears to bring him to justice. The Blood Elves, formerly known as the High Elves, swore revenge on the Scourge for destroying their homeland and defiling their precious sunwell, while Sylvanas and her band of free-willed Undead Forsaken seek revenge for that same travesty. Illidan himself resents the Undead Scourge for manipulating him into doing their dirty work. Each of these tales is connected to a particular campaign, and is the driving force behind the plot of the game.

When writing the plot for the game, Blizzard, however, ran into a dead end. There was no room for the Orcs. There was no natural way to involve them in the progression of the narrative. They’d cut their ties with the Burning Legion, made peace with the humans, and while they fought them towards the end of WarCraft 3, they had no real knowledge or involvement with the Undead Scourge, who are the main focus of this expansion pack.

So, capitalizing on this opportunity, Blizzard deemed it necessary to create a completely separate campaign for the Orcs in this game. With almost no continuity or ties to the game’s main plot, and a completely different type of gameplay and plot structure.

While the game’s main plot mainly focuses on the machinations of Illidan, and his plan to destroy the Frozen Throne, the heart of the Undead Scourge’s power, and the home of it’s master. The plot of this campaign focuses on a half-Orc half-Ogre beastmaster named Rexxar. Rexxar begins the campaign with a short monologue that he recites to his bear companion, Misha. He talks about how he’s very cynical about the dominant races of the world, and how they’re far too careless and selfish to be worthy of his respect.

Just then, he hears the sounds of battle behind him. An old Orc warrior named Mogrin is doing battle with a group of quilboars. Rexxar quickly joins the battle to help the old orc warrior, but he’s too late and Mogrin is killed. Unfortunately, he’s too late and Mogrin is killed and is unable to finish his final mission: a delivery to Orgrimmar, the Orcs’ capital city. Rexxar, intending to honour the dead warrior’s last wishes, promises to deliver the message in his place.

Rexxar quickly makes his way to the city, where he is stopped by a group of Orc soldiers. They are condescending and curt with him, giving the sense that they are prejudiced against him for his ogre blood, but due to the importance of his message they let him pass. Rexxar meets with the leader of Orgrimmar, Warchief Thrall, the main character of the Orc campaign in Reign of Chaos, the pre-cursor to this game.

Rexxar delivers Mogrin’s report to Thrall and explains what happened to him. Thrall questions Rexxar and discovers that he’s one of the fabled Mok’Nathal (referring to Rexxar’s half-Ogre heritage.) While the city guards found this worthy of contempt, Thrall is very impressed, and invites Rexxar to stay in the city. While it is a little odd that Thrall would invite this guy into his city after only having had a very brief conversation with him, this is not entirely out of character for Thrall, he is a fanboy of anything to do with his Orcish heritage. He also is very accepting and will ally with pretty much anyone who’s willing and able to do so.

Rexxar on the other hand, takes him up on his offer with very little resistance. Merely saying that ‘perhaps I have spent too long in the wilds’. Not repeating or attempting to reconcile the fact that moments ago, in his introductory monologue he was ranting about how beasts are the only trustworthy creatures in the world. It’s extremely jarring, and starts the campaign off on a bad note, in that it’s main character is inconsistent, and hard to define from the second conversation he has in the game. Rexxar goes from something of an anti-war cynic into an every-man RPG hero in the span of what is a few minutes with little provocation or cause for this.

After a brief conversation with Thrall, Rexxar is introduced to Rokhan, the one character in this campaign with less personality than Rexxar himself. Rokhan is introduced as one of Thrall’s best scouts, he greets Rexxar with a quick “How you doin’ mon?” (All the trolls have Caribbean accents) and that’s it. Except for one scene later that’s all this character does. And he’s playable, and he never leaves Rexxar. So he’s in every single scene just sitting in the background, saying and doing nothing.

To start with in this campaign Rexxar does odd-jobs for people around the city. None of the characters he’s dealing with are particularly interesting, and none of the things they’re telling you to do are very relevant to the plot, and don’t really provide any interesting insight into Orcish culture. Collect this, kill that, destroy those, they are all very straight-forward.

After a little while, Rexxar escorts a shaman to discover the source of the unrest amongst the Thunder Lizards of Thunder Ridge. This is the first of the plot-relevant quests as Rexxar and the shaman discover that a group of humans logging operations are driving the Thunder Lizards to madness, forcing them to become more aggressive in turn. Drek’thar informs Rexxar that after the recent Battle of Mount Hyjal, the humans and orcs made a peace treaty, and divvied up the lands of Southern Kalimdor between the two of them, the humans taking Theramore island to the south, the Orcs claiming a large portion of the Northern Barrens. So they should not be so far into Orcish territory.

As Rexxar investigates further into the identity of these humans, things begin to get a bit more complicated. The humans have settled themselves in along the coast, and are attacking orc villages at random. Rokhan makes his only observation in the entire game (also his only other line of dialogue in the entire game) and reminds Thrall that his people will probably be in danger, as they are on the islands off the coast. Thrall is quick to send Rexxar to help his Troll allies and Rexxar saves them and brings them back to Orgrimmar. And that’s about all that happens.

Thrall informs Rexxar that in his absence the humans have sent a message to him, they would like to parlay with Thrall. Rexxar smells a trap and goes in Thrall’s place. Rexxar is proven right, as a human emissary and a band of human soldiers emerge to kill him. Rexxar deals with this nuisance and heads back to Thrall. Thrall is wondering why his friend Jaina, the human’s leader would ever try to kill him, and he sends Rexxar to her to find out.

After some brief, pointless gameplay segments where Rexxar sneaks his way onto Jaina’s home of Theramore Island. These are rather dull and involve a character named Samuro who does nothing more than provide exposition for Rexxar’s dull and pointlessly long mission. Normally, in WarCraft 3 missions, you feel like there is some purpose to what you’re doing, that there’s something at stake. Here, though, the characters involved in these missions have so little personality, and the stakes of these missions or so low, that they feel and seem more like inconveniences rather than proper challenges.

Rexxar makes his way to Theramore Island and meets with Jaina, questioning why her forces are encroaching upon Orcish lands and why she tried to kill Thrall. Jaina, has no clue what Rexxar is talking about, and does not really have any obligation to answer to a random Ogre half-breed who shows up on her doorstep and makes a bunch of random demands of her. But she decides to go with him to see the humans that he’s talking about. This scene of course takes all of ten seconds and contains very little dialogue. She doesn’t question anything Rexxar says, and provides no insight of her own, she simply goes along with him.

Upon arriving back on the shoreline, the human forces that have been based there have been completely wiped out by Naga. Trying to locate any survivors from the attack, the three heroes make their way down the coast to find the Naga’s lair. During this time, Jaina continues to say absolutely nothing. Despite the fact that if Rexxar bothered to mention the anchor symbol on the human’s shields, that he’d mentioned to Thrall, she would know who they were without going to all the trouble of fighting their way through the Naga. Heck, if Jaina bothered to think about it for a second she’d probably figure it out, because to anyone who knows who Admiral Proudmoore is, this ‘mystery’s answer is blatantly obvious. And anyone who doesn’t know who he is won’t even consider him a suspect. This trail of breadcrumbs is completely pointless, except to artificially extend gameplay further.

After discovering that her father is on his way from a dying soldier, Jaina teleports back to her island stronghold and begins to warn him about the impending danger, but before she can finish speaking with him, Admiral Proudmoore bursts onto the scene. He’s glad to see Jaina for all of three seconds before he furiously questions her for having an ‘ogre’ in her throne room.

Jaina immediately changes the subject to Orcs for some reason. Her motivation in this case is clear, but the conversation progresses strangely. They’re not really responding to what the other is saying so much as shouting facts at eachother. It’s very jarring and strange. Essentially, Daelin comes in and questions the presence of Rexxar. Jaina shouts out that the Orcs are no longer a threat, but the subject of Orcs or Daelin attacking them hasn’t even come up. And then, Daelin defends his actions by calling Jaina young and naïve. So Jaina summons a water elemental and goes to attack him, and then in true super-villain style, he sends his thugs in to fight Rexxar while leaving the throne room. Jaina shouts and then opens up a pathway for Rexxar before teleporting away. If that sounded confusing to you, don’t worry, it is.

This scene is just flat out bad. It’s not nearly long enough to showcase the most important thing at this moment: the relationship between Jaina and her father. Honestly, there was more tenderness between Arthas and Terenas when Arthas stabbed him in the neck. Jaina threatens Admiral Proudmoore and his only reaction is to tell her how naïve she is, and how she can’t remember things that practically happened before she was born. And rather than trying to remind her or convince her of these horrible things, he just leaves the room, without another word, truly he is a father to be admired. And Jaina, who seems so devoted and dedicated to helping Rexxar escape, simply teleports away without another word, never to be seen until the next chapter of the campaign. It’s just downright bad writing.

Anyway, to make a long story short Rexxar escapes with his mute side-kick Rokhan and returns to Sen’jin village where he tells Vol’jin about the Admiral and his plans. So Rexxar is sent to gather the allies of the Horde. The Tauren and the Ogres, Rexxar’s half-breed status is brought up a bit more when dealing with the Ogres, but even then it seems mostly like a pretty basic ‘perceived weakling rises above expectations’ plotline. And the Tauren plotline is an even more copy-pasted ‘guy has a problem’, ‘you solve problem’ plot. Involving another supporting cast member who does absolutely nothing in this game other than follow you around, Reign of Chaos character Cairne Bloodhoof, a wizened and old Tauren chieftan who is close friends with the Orc Warchief Thrall. He gives you no advice whatsoever, and says absolutely nothing interesting during Rexxar’s meetings with Thrall.

Eventually, the Orcs gather near Sen’jin village to prepare their defense as the Admiral’s forces come down from the beach to do battle with the Horde. The battle itself is rather dull, and very little happens during it. Rexxar wins, Proudmoore goads them and sails back to Theramore. Which is the rather dull end of act 2. The gameplay just isn’t all that exciting. It’s not like the end of Reign of Chaos where the overwhelming forces of the Burning Legion are destroying your bases one by one. Or the last Orc mission of the Reign of Chaos Orc campaign where your efforts to rescue a friend are hampered by demons raining down from the sky at every turn. You’re battling an enemy. You don’t know much about the enemy and he’s not particularly intimidating,

At the start of the third and final chapter, Thrall’s forces have rallied on an island nearby Theramore, they’re preparing to assault the island when Jaina teleports onto the scene after having disappeared in the last chapter. Was she trying to convince her father to stop attacking? Was she figuring out what to do next? Was she convening with her allies? We don’t know. It’s not that important, but considering how central she is to this story, it’d be nice to see her playing a larger role. Her only real presence here is for Thrall and her to agree that killing her father is the best course of action in this case. Or at least, that Jaina understands that, that’s what needs to be done. As she is portrayed as very pragmatic in Reign of Chaos (basically abandoning Lordaeron to have a chance at defeating the Legion), this is not out of character. However, it is a very sleazy thing to do, and doesn’t reflect on her very well at all. Especially since she won’t even be there when he’s actually killed. She tells Thrall about some warships he can use to defeat her father’s navy, and then teleports away again.

The final mission of the game involves Thrall and his allies beseiging Theramore Isle. The map itself, like most of the major storylines of this campaign, is rather slow and tedious. While there are some impressive visuals (when considering the map editors limited art tools), and the sense of the invasion is rather grand, the gameplay itself is just slow and dull. Every enemy has so many hitpoints it can take almost 3 minutes to destroy a single guard tower (and there are A LOT of guard towers scattered through out the map). It is all rather dull.

When one finally confronts Proudmoore, he and Thrall finally share some words and meet face to face. Proudmoore for the most part simply shouts old-fashioned Alliance platitudes. Mentioning things like Lordaeron, Stormwind, Lothar, simply to remind long-standing fans of what game he’s from so that they know to love him. Eventually Proudmoore is finally brought down, and Jaina makes one final appearance to ask “Father, why wouldn’t you listen?”

And I can think of a few reasons. First of all, the Orcs don’t really provide any proof that they’ve changed. Thrall tells Proudmoore that they’ve paid for their past sins in blood. But this is so vague that it means relatively little. And Proudmoore’s response is fairly typical: the death of Orcs does little to account for their past violence. But if he’d told Proudmoore that his friend Grom had sacrificed himself to free the Orcs of their blood curse, then that same comment by Proudmoore would seem cold. There’d be a more personal element to it, Proudmoore would essentially be spitting in Thrall’s face, and spitting on the name of his dead friend, knowingly. It’d be a much more defining moment for Proudmoore than him simply shouting the same spiel about how Orcs will never change. It would go a long way to showing how personal his battle is.

But at the same time, Thrall can’t really be faulted in this case. Proudmoore is a foreign aggressor, Thrall has little reason to justify himself to a human that he’s never met before. Especially when he wasn’t even five years old when these wars took place.

The real moral failing here is Jaina. Jaina does little to convince her father against his course in the game’s plot. She weakly tries to tell him that the Orcs have their own kingdom now, but she never really bothers to explain why she trusts them. There’s no mention of the Battle of Mount Hyjal, or Medivh, or how they fought side-by-side against the invading Burning Legion. While Proudmoore justifies his stance by saying Jaina is too young to remember what the Orcs did to the human’s homeland, Jaina never bothers to do the same and explain that Proudmoore wasn’t there to see the Orcs defending all of Azeroth.

That’s not to say that Proudmoore has any real ground to stand on, so to speak. At best he is a self-righteous strawman, and at worst he is a raving lunatic. In general Blizzard was just too cautious with this character, as they were with most of the characters in this campaign. They didn’t want to commit to making Proudmoore a straight-villain, or even a conflicted villain, they try to justify his perspective by having Thrall and Jaina do so very little to oppose his viewpoints in their conversations, giving him some validity. There are numerous reasons that the Admiral is wrong about what he’s saying and doing, but Jaina and Thrall never even bother to bring these up.

Garithos, a similar character in the Blood Elf campaign, is much more one-dimensional, but at the same time he’s just such a bastard that he’s an entertaining antagonist. He’s humourous and spiteful, and very, very easy to absolutely despise. I wouldn’t call Proudmoore a racist as I would Garithos, but at the same time, Proudmoore’s not particularly anything. He’s not easy to like, he’s not easy to hate, he’s just sort of there, shouting all the time. He doesn’t really seem bitter, he doesn’t really seem hateful, he just seems vengeful and self-righteous, but he’s so dispassionate about it that it’s hard to hate him or love him for it. But if you read the WarCraft 2 or 3 manual, or if you were paying attention during the WarCraft 2 mission briefings, you’ll know who he’s supposed to be. But in general that just makes him a name, it doesn’t make him an interesting character.

At the same time, our heroes aren’t much better. Rexxar is a very bland RPG hero. Rokhan is barely even a presence in the storyline, he basically says nothing. Cairne is a quest-giver who is transformed into a party member but he says and does so little that he’s practically in the same boat as Rokhan and then there’s Thrall and Jaina.

In Reign of Chaos Thrall is portrayed as a troubled, young, somewhat brash Orc. Who at the same time is fairly intelligent, and very level headed. While he doesn’t have a whole lot of personality, you get a real sense that he cares deeply about his people. He simultaneously berates and idolizes his mentor Grom, he courageously shouts that he’d sooner die than see his people become slaves again. There are things he is passionate about, and he has goals.

In this campaign, though, Thrall is little more than a stodgy bureaucrat. He seems relatively unconcerned that an insane human admiral is coming to destroy his carefully and painfully constructed kingdom. All his lines are delivered as if he were some sort of politician delivering his big speech to the gathering masses. Without the courage and passion that he possessed previously.

Jaina, in Reign of Chaos was portrayed as a very calm and intelligent young woman. While relegated to a supporting role, you get the sense that she is a very moral and inquisitive person. She is bold and courageous without being callous or reckless, and has a very flippant somewhat flirty sense of humour. At the same time, she is portrayed as somewhat naïve and confused about what is happening in her homeland. Not to the point of appearing ignorant or stupid, merely uninformed or inexperienced.

In this campaign she is portrayed as a coward, who runs at the first sign of trouble, and stabs her own father in the back. She is portrayed as weak and an ineffective leader who needs others to fight her battles for her, and who can’t even stand up for something she believes in. While this could all be very interesting, forcing Jaina to choose between what she knows is right and her only remaining family member and her father no less, it is played with all the subtlety of a jackhammer, and is hardly touched upon.

The campaigns biggest problem is it’s total lack of plot, and it’s underdeveloped one-dimensional characters. While a fast-paced exciting action-packed story could make up for this, the story slithers along at a snail’s pace, and I personally find the gameplay itself a chore to play through. It also seems to want to rush through every single cutscene and bit of dialogue as quickly as possible. Scenes that would be allowed a bit of time to extrapolate on an important plot point rush through the most basic important facts of the scene, and don’t spend any time developing the characters.

There are some interesting ideas presented, and frequently the writers and level-designers seem to be onto something interesting, but the reality never seems to match the expectations, and it just seems like there should be so much more in terms of plot than there is.
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