Monday, August 22, 2011

World of Warcraft has Jumped the Undead Shark

Just a little emo.
World of Warcraft has been hemmoraging players since the last expansion, and I was one of them. This week, though, I decided to take them up on a free week of "Please please please come back!" game time, and in doing so I've discovered why I really left.

I am a roleplayer. I know this puts me in a minority of players, so I don't consider my reasons for leaving to be universal. I, personally, can't keep playing a character in WoW unless that character has a compelling story. I like to compare it to romance novels: As a woman, I like a little backstory with my sex gaming.

I'm also a Forsaken roleplayer. I've dabbled in other races, but all the way back to vanilla WoW my mains have been Forsaken. Their history as a race is fraught with terror and psychological trauma. They are dark and maybe a wee bit evil, yes, but it's because of what's been done to them. Their lore is a gold mine of the kind of angst and drama I adore in my own characters. They're an excellent medium for exploring themes of loss and morality and humanity. What's more post-human than sentient undead? The Forsaken are driven by a need for revenge against their former prince and the army he commands, the army that destroyed their home kingdom and enslaved them all as undead monsters. In the Wrath of the Lich King expansion they pushed that drive into the frozen continent of Northrend.  They constructed their own architecture for the first time instead of just squatting in the ruins of their old kingdom. Their leader Sylvanas Windrunner was at the forefront of an all-out assault on their undead prince-king's citadel. There was even betrayal and intrigue as the leader of their Royal Apothecary Society unleashed a horrible toxin called the Blight not only against the Lich King but against both Horde and Alliance forces fighting him as well, turning the Forsaken in pariahs among their allies. It was a good time to be a Forsaken roleplayer.

And then they succeeded.
And the new Lich King is too busy to bother the Forsaken.

There comes a time in the life of a roleplay character where their story arc has reached its end. They may not be dead, but they have reached the personal goal for which they've struggled and are now, to some degree, at peace. The Forsaken as a race reached that point at the end of Wrath when Arthas was defeated. There's a battle raging over Gilneas in Silverpine, but unless you plan to spend your whole endgame in the Gilneas PVP battleground that only motivates your character through level 20 or so. There are still Scourge holdouts in the Plaguelands, but that only gets you to about level 45.

On top of that, most new Forsaken were never Scourge at all. They're humans who were killed in Silverpine or Gilneas or Hillsbrad and trucked north to Deathknell to be raised by Sylvanas' new val'kyr allies. Rather than being freed from the army that killed and raised them, they're now part of it. Apparently they're supposed to be okay with this. Barring those who were a touch evil to begin with, beyond those who just hated their lot in life and their families and their neighbors, why are they okay with this? Perhaps a Gilnean who was killed by worgen before being loaded up on the corpsewagon might be willing to join the Forsaken in assaulting the worgen in Gilneas, but Hillsbrad farmers? I'm not seeing it. If you want to get creative your Forsaken character could be a defeated Scourge minion who was brought to Deathknell, but I never got the impression they were bringing them in from other parts of Lordaeron. They could also be a Forsaken who was once a civilian but has now decided to take up some kind of military training, but really, if you were going to do that, why now? Why not before Arthas was defeated? Forsaken don't exactly come of age. It's not like your character was too young before.

There are still threads dangling out there. What will become of the Scourge under Bolvar Fordragon's control? Will he be able to muster them as a force for good, and if he does, will the Forsaken be willing to work with them? What will become of poor Koltira Deathweaver, tied in Sylvanas' basement? What will be the repercussions of Silvanas' use of necromancy and the Blight in direct opposition of Garrosh's commands? I want to see something come of all this, but until that happens, my account is likely going to stay lapsed. What good is being able to raid in RP armor if I don't care enough to raid?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Give Prime a Chance

That's just...oh, you get the idea.
Transformers Prime had a lot to live up to. Transformers Animated garnered a huge following, many new to Transformers as a whole, due to its creative pedigree. The less reasonable in the fandom (and come on, it's a fandom) have held its premature cancellation against Prime. Even over halfway through the season there are people who refuse to give it a chance, finding any niggling reason to hate the show when its real crime is simply not being Animated.

Well screw them.

Though a little slow to get cranked up, Transformers Prime has developed into a show on par with Beast Wars. I admit to my own prejudices against the show: I was worried that it would hew too close to the movies thanks to the involvement of Kurtzman and Orci, and as a result it would be just as much of a poorly-written mess. I could feel that melting away, though, the moment Bulkhead demanded that Miko look away as he tore a Decepticon apart - and Miko gleefully refused. The show has been full of moments like this: Raf trying to explain to Ratchet the difference between being related and being family, Arcee giving in and racing a bully when he insulted her, June giggling over Optimus Prime, Bumblebee's expression upon finding Arcee beaten by Starscream after being unable to restrain her anger, and Starscream, oh Starscream... Scheming, conniving, simpering Starscream, everything the character is supposed to be distilled down to the essence and played by Steve Blum in one of his best performances.

Okay, okay, I MAY have a crush.
One of the brightest spots for me in Prime, however, is a character who isn't played to type: Arcee. Far from being the Girl Robot, Arcee's only real concession to her "gender" is her body type. She's everything a female character should be and nothing they so often tend to be. Arcee's taken something like the role of (Furman's) Grimlock in this cast, an angry Autobot brawler who walks the line between good and evil, who too often lets her anger get the best of her. One could say she's emotional, but it's an emotion so few female characters get to show. And that anger is justified by the losses she's faced. Far from just being "The Girl", this Arcee has deep, developed characterization that has nothing to do with gender casting.

Another place where they did gender right - and the whole show benefited for it - was forgoing the common assumption that the female characters be paired together and putting Arcee with Jack and Miko with Bulkhead. I couldn't see any of them with anyone else. I can't help but think that Arcee has been a better influence on Jack that any other character could have been, even when she's not being a terribly good influence at all. Jack paired with a male character - say, a Hot Rod/Shot sort of character - would have been boring at best and volatile at worst. And Bulkhead gives Miko a partner as big as her spirit. She's a tiny girl who wants to do everything and be everywhere, and in reigning her in Bulkhead has to reign himself in a little as well. They're at first glance unlikely pairs, but they compliment each other perfectly.

I'll admit it's not a perfect show. Bumblebee and Raf can be a little bland, though they're the perfect pairing that truly is perfect together. Much of that can be blamed on the one conceit that did carry over from the movie, which has left Bumblebee's moments of true characterization few and far between. I was extremely disappointed at seeing a Wheeljack who acted more like Drift and did not at any point Try Science. Optimus Prime is a bit too Optimus Prime at times, to the point where I called ahead of time that he would believe they should give Starscream a chance to change. On the occasions his dialogue doesn't have a swelling of heroic music behind it, it seems like it should. But Transformers Prime has become a show I look forward to, and one of those lately-rare Transformers shows I'll eagerly watch in reruns.