I finished this book about a month ago, and had been intending to write a review for the longest. By far, I think Tides of War is one of the most important books to read in regard to current in-game WoW lore, happenings, and characterization. It explains everything you need to know in regard to the escalated Alliance-Horde conflict pre-Siege of Orgrimmar, why everyone hates Garrosh beyond him being a bigoted war-monger, and why Jaina Proudmore went crazy was so rightfully devastated and infuriated to the point of becoming vengeful against the Horde.

It’s a double edged sword that Blizzard presents the lore of the game in so many formats. On one hand, it’s wonderful that fans can enjoy the Warcraft universe outside of or in addition to the game. For those that want to delve deeper into the storyline, the books, short stories, and comics are there to provide more expansive exploration. Yet on the other hand, I think relying on story and character development outside of the game has highlighted—or perhaps attributed to—the weak writing and lack of story and character development in game.

Tl;dr, as I read the book, I just found myself wondering “Why couldn’t I have experienced this in game?”

Most of the supplemental Warcraft writings are great, if not just really interesting. And while some are superfluous in regard to the significant storyline(s) of the game, some of them leave out a lot of key points, specifics, and story details that could have made the game experience all the more richer and the story developments clearer. Blizzard seems to be spreading the World of Warcraft universe too thinly outside of the game, relying heavily on driving the in-game storylines through other media that players may or may not consume. And, let’s face it, compared to how many people play the game, a very small percentage actually read the books and side stories. So a lot of “supplemental” storyline development is lost on the majority of the player base, hurting their experience and understanding of the characters, story, and world as a whole.

My absolute #1 example of this is Jaina Proudmoore and her character development. The very end of Tides of War are played out in “Theramore’s Fall” the very first scenario that was pre-Mists of Pandaria. And when I mean the end, I mean the very end; only the post-bombing events at Theramore. And being that the content was a scenario, it was completely optional. I didn’t even know it existed until I did some research today. There is, from what I could find, no inclusion of the events that led up to the bombing that were just as vitally important, including why Jaina was so vengeful. Which, frankly, explains why so many people were confused and critical about her new characterization. She got labeled as a crazy, angry bitch, likened to Sylvannas in that Blizzard had just tossed in another pissy female character, and destroyed what made Jaina Proudmoore unique (her strong diplomatic beliefs and sense of sympathy for the Horde.)

However, Jaina’s character shift was entirely justifiable. The book explored her tense relationship with Thrall, and her frustration that he was continuing to be passive to Garrosh’s all too obvious escalation toward more violent Horde-Alliance conflicts. As Kalecgos, the new leader of the Blue Dragonflight, searches for the stolen Focusing Iris on Kalimdor, he and Jaina become closer as Jaina deals with Garrosh’s slow encroachment upon Theramore. There are great interactions between Jaina’s apprentice Kinndy, her guard Pained, and the mage and leader of the Kirin Tor Rhonin, which makes their deaths in the destruction of Theramore all the more devastating. The bombing, in addition to Garrosh’s slow, deceptive, and methodical attack on Northwatch Hold leading up to it and its aftermath, and what Jaina experiences are pivotal to her character change. As a leader of the Alliance who has been criticized for her “soft” regard of the Horde and her staunch belief in diplomacy and peace, she was essentially cast aside by the one that had been her best chance at achieving peace with the Horde (Thrall) and suffered such a significant mental, emotional, physical, and political blow at the hands of Garrosh. How does this not justify her new disdain of the Horde and her movements against them?

I do not blame players finding it difficult to understand and sympathize with new Jaina when so much of her development lies in other media that they may not even be aware of. The only in-game exploration of Jaina’s conflicted feelings toward the Horde I can find was “The Fate of Dalaran,” an Alliance-only quest. Jaina speaks with the player and Anduin Wrynn, and expresses how she continues to wrestle with her anger. She says that it is important to separate Garrosh’s actions from the whole of the Horde and recognize it was not all of them that acted against Theramore. She even says that continued joint efforts between the Horde and the Alliance, like the Sunreavers and Silver Covenant, are important. Yet if you are not aware of/can’t do this quest, then all you get and see is Angry Jaina when she punts the Sunreavers out of Dalaran later on after the Divine Bell is stolen. Which, if you are looking from the prospective of a Horde player, may be appropriate. Yet even still, so much of Jaina’s character development has been glossed over or is absent in game. 

I was very ambivalent toward Jaina before reading Tides of War, yet now I think she is one of the more interesting characters considering where she came from and where she is now. I think the fact that the game tends to be (let’s face it) skewed more toward the Horde and Blizzard doesn’t do very well with writing their female characters only makes this issue worse. But I don’t want to make this an gender issue. This is not the first time Blizzard has hastily summarized or completely left out key plot points from the game in lieu of including them in a book. Varian Wrynn’s merging with his other self and returning to the throne, Carine being defeated by Garrosh and Magatha Grimtotem’s treachery, Vol’jin’s involvement with the war against the Mogu and Zandalari—and now the significant trial presented in War Crimes that ties in directly to the beginning of Warlords of Draenor. I wonder how (if at all) Blizzard will handle all of its details in the pre-patch content beyond “Garrosh escaped!”

The books, short stories, and comics are wonderful, but Blizzard cannot “force” people to read them, nor can they expect them to. If a WoW player wants to indulge in the story and its details without reading the books, they should be able to and get the full scope of WoW’s plots and developments without them. It’s a shame that some of WoW’s best writing exists outside of the game rather than inside, especially when so many players complain about the lack of strong development in-game. Scenarios and additional in-game cinematics are a great start to including more lore, but I think Blizzard needs to evaluate how they’re utilizing them, as well as what is pivotal, important lore and what is “supplemental.”

I think the problem is that none of the stuff being told in these stories makes for compelling gameplay in an MMORPG. Blizzard’s only real means for in-game storytelling is quests and instanced content. And even then questing leaves out a very large part of the story. Just compare the Arthas book to Matthias Lehner’s quest chain.

I think the trial of Garrosh would be even worse. With the amount of exposition that goes on within it and there sheer number of flashbacks due to the vision of  time the player would basically have no agency during it at all. And how many times would you really want to do a “Be the other guy” vehicle quest.