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World of Warcraft Column: The Importance of Story

By Reza Lackey on August 12, 2013

Last week Blizzard started to release a series of dramatic animated shorts, The Burdens of Shaohao. Six new shorts featuring original animation, outstanding music and voice talent that chronicles the story of Shaohao, Pandaria’s last great emperor.  In these shorts, Blizzard has created a wonderful supplement to the richness of the world they created with Mists of Pandaria. Not only did this expansion bring a wealth of new gameplay features but it also delivered a story much deeper than I suspect any of us ever imagined. This week in the WoW Factor we take a look at these new shorts and why story is important for our games.

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Prelude

In the first episode, Prelude: The Vision, we are taken far back in Azeroth's history, over 10,000 years ago where the Great Sundering had yet to break the world. Travel back to the ancient Empire of Pandaria before it was surrounded by mist where we find Shaohao on the day of his coronation:


The story of Shaohao continues on in this exciting series, revealing more about his journey to save Pandaria and its people. The rest of the episodes can be found at World of Warcraft’s official YouTube page here. If you found the prelude above interesting, I highly recommend you watch the rest.

It’s my hope that Blizzard finds great success with these shorts and continues to make more, even if for older content. Perhaps a series for some of the more prominent figures players may have crossed paths with in the past such as Sylvanas Windrunner or any of the Dragon Aspects. These shorts are a great gesture for fans and a tasteful way of enriching the lore of the game. Here’s hoping we see many more.

The Universe of Warcraft

As most of you probably already know, the Warcraft universe is immense. In these animated shorts, Blizzard is icing the Mists of Pandaria cake.

With each World of Warcraft expansion announcement we had a good idea of where the story was going and which characters would be involved. We could formulate fairly accurate assumptions as to what the new lands and environments would look like. That is until Blizzard announced Mists of Pandaria. When we learned of this new expansion, all we really knew was that it would feature the new Pandaren race - we had little knowledge of who they were or how they would relate to everything we have seen thus far in WoW’s life. For those of us who have played through it however, we can truly say how very little we knew about the narrative enormity that that this expansion would bring to the game. More than the just the events that have played out thus far in the expansion cycle but the rich history that Pandaria has revealed about Azeroth and the universe it sits in was unforeseeable. As the story and lore all begin to come into focus, I feel ashamed of the trepidations I once felt about how this expansion would steer the fiction of World of Warcraft. 

Why Story Matters

I am a very large proponent of good storytelling in video games. Not to say that all good games must also have a good story but typically the games that stick with me are those that have a well-constructed narrative that ties everything together. With World of Warcraft and other similar MMO’s, not only do we have a narrative framework giving purpose to what we do but there is also a social structure that allows us to create memories and our own storylines on top of what the developers craft for us. It is within the interesting conflicts that good story and fascinating characters create that players discover a sense of wonder, discovery and a reason to be curious. Take for example the turmoil currently dividing the Horde. With Garrosh at the helm and rebellion at his gates, what will happen to the honor of the Horde when he is dethroned, if at all? Who could take his place? How will the Alliance leverage these events? Thrall. Where is he and his mighty Doomhammer? We can even look at the recently released scenario, The Dark Heart of Pandaria. What the heck have we stumbled upon under the earth in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms? As a player, it is these questions that excite me about content and drive me to play it (as well as the loot, of course).

Seeking answers is rewarding and makes us feel apart of something greater. Just as this is the case in real life, so too is it in World of Warcraft. These shorts create weight and added meaning to the world we play around in evoking a sense of spectacle and relevance. They beautifully illustrate that Mists of Pandaria is one giant slice of lore pie.

The clarity on what Mists has become and its ramifications on the World of Warcraft makes me very excited to see what new questions we’ll be dared to answer. More pie I say.

What do you think about these new shorts and how important is story to you in the games you play? Let us know in the comments below!

This week’s throwback item: Oculus of the Hidden Eye

Follow me on Twitter @rezalackey

Reza Lackey / Reza is a giant nerd who loves video games, board games, film and way too many other things. Works in the film industry, on some startups and thinks science is cool. Also launches rockets.

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