The 8.1 Darkshore Quests are Really Bad
I hate being negative. I especially hate it with just how toxic the community has gotten on places like MMO-Champion, the story forums, or Reddit. However the Darkshore questline, as it exists on the 8.1 PTR, has such bad writing feel I need to bring the issues with it to light. When I say bad writing, I don’t mean the normal “I dislike the story they are telling and/or believe the plot decisions and characterizations are bad,” bad writing, which is always to at least a partial degree subjective. I mean the writing is bad in a structural, mechanical sense. The quest text and spoken dialogue is completely at odds with what’s being shown. This is mostly the case for the Alliance quests, but the Horde version has issues as well. Originally I intended to release this after 8.1 goes live, as there are at least three missing cinematics which could provide some context. After some discussions on twitter, I’ve become convinced that releasing this now would be more useful. I doubt there’s enough time for Blizzard to implement any feedback on these quests, much of the voice acting is done and that’s typically the last thing they do once everything else is locked in, but perhaps it could be helpful input for future content. Let’s dive in.
Warning: the following contains heavy spoilers for Patch 8.1.
Strange Lore Mistakes
If you are unfamiliar with the Darkshore questline, you can get caught up thanks to Medievaldragon’s quest-by-quest coverage right here on Blizzplanet. We’ll begin with some basic lore issues, as those could actually be fixed and are in the grand scheme of things not as consequential, mostly for that former reason. First off, in the quest Waning Hope, Maiev refers to Tyrande as “our queen.” Not only has previous lore shown Tyrande hates being called queen, but she herself says that in this same quest chain:
Nathanos Blightcaller: How uncouth for the… Queen of the Tree Elves, is it? No, I suppose that won’t do… What exactly do you rule over these days?
Tyrande Whisperwind: I am no queen. I am the kaldorei’s vengeance!
This isn’t a case of Blizzard forgetting older lore, that would be understandable though not excusable. This is them contradicting old lore and then showing they remember and stand by it later in the same quest chain. I’ve seen the argument that Maiev is being facetious when she calls Tyrande our queen, but in context with the rest of the quest text it just comes off as a matter of fact statement:
The kaldorei have been steadfast members of the Alliance since the Third War. We have fought in wars on distant shores and even worlds without protest. It is curious that in our moment of need their resources are stretched too thin to lend so much as a single blade. Wrynn has already directly denied our queen aid. Take a look for yourself.
Then, we have Astarii Starseeker present at the ritual to raise Delaryn and Sira. Astarii, both in game and the Elegy novella, stays behind in Teldrassil and is burned alive there.
Strangest of all, this is only true of the Alliance version of this quest. In the Horde counterpart, the dead night elves around Delaryn are generic, unnamed sentinels and archers.
The Horde Questline
Those two issues are the least of the questline’s problems. As I said previously, they’re the only ones that could easily be fixed at this point and I hope they are. Now we have to go into the meat of what’s wrong with the Darkshore quests. Both versions, from the quest text and dialogue, are clearly trying to show their factions as powerful but beset upon by equally powerful enemies to get players excited and ready for the Warfront. This doesn’t happen at all. Horde side, we’re told this is a major defeat that we need to avenge with the tragic loss of a val’kyr as the rallying point for the warfront, but it doesn’t feel like a defeat at all. It seems like an overwhelming victory.
The new “Army of the Black Moon” (which doesn’t appear in the Alliance version) is meant to be scary and threatening. You get a debuff that says you’re being “hunted” and Sira keeps taunting you from the shadows. But when you actually fight the army’s troops, commanders, and ultimate Sira herself, they get taken down without much effort. Every goal in your mission is a complete success. The night elf forces fall before you, all of the targeted night elf corpses are raised into undeath without issue and they all immediately pledge their loyalty to the Horde. Then you and Nathanos face this super dangerous ‘Night Warrior’ Tyrande has become, and you appear to effortlessly beat her. Compared to all that, the one val’kyr dying doesn’t have nearly the impact the dialogue thinks it does. There is an unimplemented cinematic which might help with this. It’s part of the reason I originally wanted to write this after 8.1 was out, but if this article is going to provide any potential feedback its better to focus on what we have available to us now on the PTR.
The Alliance Questline
As for the Alliance quests… that’s going to take a lot longer. The Horde quests try to get players pumped up for the warfront by telling them a dangerous enemy that’s given them serious losses needs to be defeated as soon as possible. Instead the Horde effortlessly succeeds at all their goals. The Alliance quests try to get players pumped up for the warfront by telling them that they’ve gotten a significant power up and have achieved the first steps towards revenge for Teldrassil while showing them being incompetent, less powerful than before and only slightly better off than they were previously. In fact, given how the follower missions describe Darkshore compared to how its seen in 8.1, you could argue the night elves are actually worse off than when they started.
For the first half of the questline, things are actually pretty good. You get an explanation of what this version of the Night Warrior is, see the trail of carnage Tyrande has been carving through Ashenvale and Darkshore, and are continuously told how powerful the Night Warrior ritual will make Tyrande.
Maiev Shadowsong: She is the incarnation of Elune’s wrath. Even witnessing the ritual to become her would put our lives at risk.
Shandris Feathermoon: And the only life Tyrande wishes to risk is her own. Elune watch over her.
Followed later in the scenario by:
Shandris Feathermoon: Maiev. What makes this ritual so dangerous?
Maiev Shadowsong: Legends say that long ago, Elune bestowed her fury upon our greatest warriors to secure Kalimdor.
Maiev Shadowsong: In a sacred ritual, the strongest among them became her avatar–the Night Warrior. Our victory was swift.
Maiev Shadowsong: None who have attempted the ritual since then have survived. Elune’s raw power tears them apart.
So you find Tyrande, who successfully undergoes the ritual with another unimplemented cinematic which might help a little, but its what happens afterwards that breaks the story. After all this build up to how powerful and game-changing becoming the Night Warrior has made Tyrande she follows up with this further hyping declaration:
Tyrande Whisperwind: Teldrassil burned because I chose to spare Saurfang’s life.
Tyrande Whisperwind: Countless innocents were murdered. Entire families erased in moments.
Tyrande Whisperwind: The time for mercy is over.
So with the “time for mercy” over, Tyrande heads to a large Forsaken encampment… and proceeds to spare all of them. Tyrande freezes the Forsaken in place, but whether intentionally or not, gives the impression that she’s only temporarily stunned them. Mainly because Deathstalker Commander Belmont is still able to speak while frozen and doesn’t seem too worried about it. Tyrande even tells Malfurion not to kill him.
You go straight to Nathanos after this. So in this only battle between becoming the Night Warrior and confronting Nathanos, Tyrande manages to be less effective and kill fewer enemies than she did in the part of the quest chain before she became the Night Warrior. It’s obviously not Blizzard’s intent, but for all they’ve told us Tyrande has become infused with godlike power they’re showing us her being weaker than she was before. This is baffling to me. Why not just have Tyrande’s spell kill all the Forsaken instead of freezing them, or at least make it more obvious that freezing them isn’t a minor inconvenience? Her explanation for why Malfurion can’t kill Belmont is “Leave him to rot. He does not deserve a clean death,” but as we just established, that doesn’t come across as what’s happening at all. It just seems like she’s leaving him to inevitably get rescued if not have the spell wear off on its own.
Perhaps instead they could have the spell effect turn them to stone instead of just putting a crescent moon over their heads and some glowy effects around them. That would help Tyrande’s “leave him to rot” comment have more edge. If this is done so Belmont can come back, which I believe is the case, just have her kill the rest but Belmont gets away. That makes the Night Warrior stuff seem powerful, keeps Belmont alive, and his threats would come across as scared posturing as he retreats rather than an implication that whatever this freezing spell is doesn’t have much impact. If Blizzard does want her to come across as sparing them, even that could work if they changed the line to be Tyrande saying she’s leaving them as a warning to the Horde. Or, come to think of it, that actually could work great if she froze (and made the spell look permanent or damaging) the nameless soldiers and told Belmont to run and warn Nathanos that she’s coming for him.
Finally there is the showdown with Nathanos itself. On paper the idea is sound. Obviously Nathanos can’t die in this quest, and killing a val’kyr should be a big victory for the Alliance, but the execution is botched in every way. The battle starts and after only a few seconds, Tyrande is incapacitated by the val’kyr. She breaks free only to hide in shadows until Malfurion arrives to fight Nathanos. The dialogue shows this is a coordinated attack, but it can’t help but look like in her first actual battle as the Night Warrior, Tyrande is immediately outmatched by Nathanos and then has to hide until Malfurion comes in to save her. Then they fight in the background while you and Malfurion fight one of the val’kyr. The ritual succeeds with Sira and Delaryn being raised, the val’kyr dies, and then everyone just stands there while Nathanos, the remaining val’kyr and the newly raised Forsaken night elves just calmly mount up and leave.
Remember that in Legion we saw a fight between Nathanos and Genn Greymane that ends with Genn mauling Nathanos so badly that it takes the Skyfire exploding for him to get away. In the aftermath, Forsaken NPCs even mention how Genn’s attack did so much damage that Nathanos was “even uglier than before” due to his face getting shredded. Meanwhile a questline meant to show how powerful the Night Warrior is, has Tyrande barely hold her own against Nathanos. This has the, I would assume unintentional, effect of portraying Tyrande post power up as still being weaker than a regular worgen. In the aftermath, we get this conversation:
Maiev Shadowsong: Tyrande, what happened?
Tyrande Whisperwind: Blightcaller yet lives, but at the cost of one of his queen’s val’kyr.
Tyrande Whisperwind: The time has come to reclaim our home. Maiev, you will command our forces.
Maiev Shadowsong: You place much faith in me, given our… history.
Tyrande Whisperwind: We cannot dwell in the past… not with our very future at stake. Lead our people to victory as I sate the Night Warrior’s wrath.
As I’ve said, that sounds like an upbeat victory that should make players excited to continue the battle in the warfront, but the events beforehand show the opposite. All that happened before was that Tyrande spared a bunch of Forsaken, then was accidentally portrayed as being less powerful than a regular worgen despite receiving godlike power. Just as the Horde succeeded in all their main goals despite saying it was a loss, the Alliance failed at all their main goals while saying it was a victory. If Blizzard wanted the story to be the Horde continues to press the advantage in Darkshore while Tyrande attempts to get vengeance only to fail, this would be fine. The problem is you can see that’s not what the writers believe they are saying.
To compare, War of the Thorns had serious issues. The most prominent being that the novellas and the in game events are so different as to be irreconcilable. But more importantly, both versions still tell and show the same story. It tells us the Horde is crushing the night elves and that the night elves have lost everything, and shows us exactly that.
I maintain that it is in all likelihood too late to change anything. Once voice acting is added in, that means Blizzard has the story locked down because otherwise you have to call the voice actors in again to re-record lines. That’s cost prohibitive in both time and money. But in constructive criticism, providing examples of how something could have been improved is just as important as explaining what went wrong. I already addressed what could be done with the Belmont scene above, so here I’ll focus on the final battle with Nathanos.
Boiling everything down to basics, the main issue that needs to be fixed is Tyrande appearing weaker and less competent post Night Warrior ritual than she does in the quests prior to the ritual. That solves the Horde’s problem of this threat they’re supposed to be scared of and encouraged to fight against in the warfront coming across as no big deal, and solves the Alliance’s problem which is the same thing that’s wrong with Tyrande in general. I have three ideas on how that could be fixed.
Idea one: Instead of Tyrande appearing to barely hold her own against Nathanos, show her getting the upper hand. She’s winning, using scary Night Warrior powers and stuff (rather than just casting Starfall over and over with no visible effect). A good way to show this would be, instead of having them fight in the background, have the player and Nathanos fighting against her so that we can see his health going down. Then when it seems clear he can’t hold out much longer, the ritual is completed and one val’kry spirits Nathanos, the Horde player, Delaryn and Sira to safety while the other val’kyr stays behind to hold off Tyrande and ultimately gets killed by her. Same outcome, but more in line with what the dialogue is telling us.
Idea two: After the ritual succeeds, outrage over that has Tyrande use her Night Warrior powers to instantly kill Nathanos. One of the val’kyr raises him, but maybe due to that ritual from Dark Mirror, she is destroyed in the process like the three who sacrificed themselves to raise Sylvanas in Cataclysm. Meanwhile, Tyrande is trying to talk down Sira and Delaryn like in the current version, then Nathanos’ revival and that val’kyr’s sacrifice gives them a chance to escape. Again, same outcome but matches the ideas being presented instead of accidentally showing the opposite. This would actually fit Tyrande’s line “Blightcaller yet lives, but at the cost of one of his queen’s val’kyr,” better than what actually happens.
And to conclude this whole dissection, idea three: The easiest to implement, just have the story intentionally be that the Horde continues to have the upper hand in Darkshore and that Tyrande’s Night Warrior plan was a failure. Cut all of the lines about the Night Warrior ritual granting you godlike powers and make it more of a symbolic transformation. Change the end dialogue from the upbeat “now the war really begins” to a grim determination “well we didn’t accomplish much, but we’re still alive and we won’t stop fighting.” On the Horde side just have Nathanos boast about how with the small army of night elf Forsaken they’ve raised, Darkshore is as good as theirs once they just finish off the last of the kaldorei forces in the warfront.
They all provide the same setup and same outcome of who lives and dies and does what, but they fit the story being told.