26 October 2010

[spoilers] Goblin starting zone: critique

I recently finished the goblin starting zone as a female goblin mage named Sprinkie. I have two major critiques about it, and I expect this post to be quite long. 

Your goblin comes into the world already well-known in Kezan. In fact, the entire 1-5 quest line stars you as the potential next Trade Prince. As much as I love my goblin, this seems a little overblown. My theory about quests is that something as personal as this can`t be shared by the entire playerbase (seeing as they are so personal). For instance, events like Wrathgate occur once in the storyline. My reasoning behind that is we all experience it as a group. So, for instance, on my server hundreds and hundreds of us gathered at the Wrathgate and experienced the event together, although not simultaneously from the players` POV. This of course ignores some game mechanics such as cross-faction player cooperation and communication, raid group limits, and physical size limitations.

The Problem
There are quests that lore-wise can only be completed once, and typically by a single character or small group. Take, for instance, The Lady`s Necklace. I highly doubt that Sylvanas makes a habit of returning to her former home and losing a family treasure so that level 13 belf warlocks can conveniently return it to her. This quest, in the lore of that realm, can only be completed by one belf lock, or perhaps a small adventuring party featuring some pallies. This would totally destroy my Trade Prince issue except...

One Point of Contention 
The next Trade Prince
The one reason I think it is still easier to ignore multiple people doing "once only" quests than the goblin Trade Prince quests is because not everyone will complete "once only" quests. However, every single goblin, simply by virtue of being a goblin and advancing through the unavoidable plotline of the starting zone quests, will assume the same role. And these aren`t lowkey roles, either! You aren`t just finding missing people in the woods or killing the evil leader of some level 10 baddies. You`re the chief competition for Trade Prince, the leader of your entire faction!This makes every single goblin automatically well-known to every other goblin. Furthermore, by being the rescuer of Thrall, you are even more publicly recognizable. 

The Trade Prince problem can be solved easily. Make Sassy Hardwrench the candidate, and the PC her helper! The quests can be changed to reflect you doing the work for her rather than yourself. I think that being even one step removed from Nearly Leader of the Goblins makes the plot more available to our not-yet-hero characters.

The player romance with the NPC Chip Endale is a product of poor storytelling and irritating assumptions about the player. For starters, there are a total of 3 quests related to this subplot and they are nearly 10 levels apart.

Story? What story?
Get gussied up
When the first criticisms of the goblin boyfriend/girlfriend questline started showing up, I was expecting it to be closely tied to the plot and resolved quickly. When I first logged in, I didn`t even notice Chip and Candy standing behind Sassy. Then a level or two later, Chip`s giving me a quest to get some new duds, and oh btw I`m your boyfriend. Huh? That`s it? So I did his quest, the end. The entire rest of the time on Kezan, I had no reason to interact with Chip. I took quests from Sassy and other notable NPCs, I tooled around with my friends, and I kept thinking, "When does the rest of this problematic quest happen?"

Let it be known that I have the memory of a goldfish. I can pick up a quest, read it, complete it, and by the time I turn it in I`ve forgotten what it was. So when after Chip`s initial quest you see neither hide nor hair of him until the sandy beaches of the Lost Isles, it`s easy to forget. And even then, there`s no reason to talk to him because he offers no quests. Upon seeing him, I was reminded of that subplot and went to have a chat. That`s when I discovered that Chip had dumped me for Candy. "This is it! Time to take revenge!" I foolishly though, expecting resolution. But no, not yet. Without any acknowledgment of these events by you or anyone else, you move on to bigger and better quests.

I'm with Candy now

But I`m still waiting for the revenge part?
She stole your man!
You spend many levels saving the goblins and generally being an extreme badass. Finally, it`s time for the showdown with Gallywix. Honestly, at this point I was suspecting that they had totally removed the problematic finale with Chip, because there was absolutely no reference to Chip or Candy at all after seeing them on the beach. In my goldfish memory, the pair was ancient history. And for good reason - the quests I`ve been doing are light years cooler. Except - surprise! - before you can go after Gallywix you`re charged with killing Chip. Who? Oh, Chip! That ex-boyfriend guy from 5 levels ago! The reason given is that not only is he working for Gallywix, but he dumped you! Are you gonna stand for that? Apparently not! Not only that, but you have to take out Candy as well, ostensibly for now dating and working for Gallywix, but mostly for dating your ex-boyfriend.

Going out with that tramp!

Heartache and betrayal
From a storytelling point of view, to suddenly bring back two up-to-now totally unmentioned characters and then suggest that their betrayal of you hurts enough to warrant killing them is just lazy. It`s made even worse by the fact that the pair defecting to Gallywix`s side is a much more compelling drive for revenge from a goblin`s perspective. But in both of the quests, that huge fact is mentioned in passing, and the romantic issues are played up. Despite, you know, a complete lack of reaction from you when this first comes up and no mention of the characters to keep them tangentially related to the plot. [troll spoilers] In the troll starting zone, you get a buddy troll who periodically interacts with you. Because he frequently checks in, it establishes consistency and camaraderie, and his quest-related death makes much more of an impact (and also is extremely predictable. Sorry, buddy!).

Yo, baby.
"Baby"? Don`t you "Baby" me
Romantic relationships involving my character are something I never want Blizz scripting. Even if it`s all for appearances and business success, make it strictly about business. By giving my character a boyfriend, Blizz assumes that 1) I want my character in a romantic relationship and 2) my female character wants a male partner. The romance in the relationship is unnecessary and awkwardly executed, and serves only to make presumptions about what players would do with their characters.

Let`s work it out
If Candy/Chip must absolutely be attached to the player character, make them our assistant rather than lover. Hell, let us choose which to work with when we pick up the initial quest! If there must be romantic overtones, let Sassy be the jilted lover. Following along my earlier suggestion, with Sassy as an ousted Trade Prince, now spurned by her lover who does the unthinkable by aiding the competition, it`s now your job as her plucky assistant to take the pair out! They could be sharing your trade secrets, after all! I don`t think killing NPCs for romantic reasons should be off limits, considering just about every problem in game can be solved by killing something. I do, however, think care should be taken to avoid slut-shaming, cuz that shit ain`t cool. I think the fact that you kill both your lover and his lover makes it easier to handle, but I`d like to take out the references to Candy being a tramp, and downplay her romances deserving punishment in favor of emphasizing her associations with Gallywix as deserving of revenge.

To make this a cohesive story, make more overt allusions to the pair`s betrayal as the plot advances. Deep feelings of betrayal after nearly 10 levels of ignoring the betrayers is completely unbelievable.

I think these easy changes could make the goblin plotline a lot more believable lore-wise, while still being fun. The whole experience is a blast, and I didn`t like to be jolted out of it by constantly questioning how every goblin could share Trade Prince and why I needed to kill my pretend ex-boyfriend and some lady I don`t care about.

Stay tuned for a massive picture dump of all the totally awesome stuff goblins can do!

Looks like the Horde...
...just got a new breed of goblins

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