Friday, July 9, 2010

The End of an Era, Part 1

Two years ago at this time the World of the World of Warcraft was abuzz with talk of the coming expansion. The beta was open, talents were previewed, many of the games systems were being consolidated, and classes were being overhauled. Much of the buzz centered on the new ‘hero’ class, the Death Knights, and everyone and his uncle was going to roll one. Wrath of the Lich King was going to be all about the Death Knights.

As Wrath winds down, we find ourselves in a very similar situation. Arthas has been killed by many (though not my guild, not yet, though we did finally kill Sindragosa and took Arthas down to 70% in our one and only half-assed attempt on him the other night. I suspect that the 70% to 10% is going to be much, much harder), the last raid of the expansion is finally open, and Bizzard has been dropping all kinds of bombshells of late. As much as we look forward to the expansion and speculate on what it will bring, we also can’t help but take a look back and reflect on what has been.

And what has it been? As much as Wrath *seemed* to be about Death Knights, the fact is, if you had to put a subtitle on it (which would be pretty silly, when you consider the fact that Wrath of the Lich King is itself a subtitle, and it wouldn’t be good form to have two subtitles for one title), I think that Wrath’s would be The Golden Age of Paladins. The closing of the GAP (see what I did there?) and the overhaul coming with Cataclysm makes me a bit sad, as it will mean the end of the dominance of Paladins, in all likelihood, but it was one hell of a run.

No class, not even Death Knights, dominated in Wrath in terms of lore and gameplay like Paladins. From a lore perspective, the four most dominant figures (in terms of screen time and game importance) were Paladins. Who are they?

Arthas. Before he was the Lich King, before he was a Death Knight, he was a Paladin. Arthas is of course the reason why we’re in Northrend in the first place, and his presence was felt throughout. While we saw him mainly in his current, evil guise, we also got to see Arthas the Paladin in Caverns of Time and in some really cool flashback quests, and even met what was likely the remnant of the innocent child that he once was. The expansion was all about Arthas.

The World’s Greatest (Dead) Paladin, Uther the Lightbringer, makes several appearances in Wrath, two that are critical to the story. Previously seen in WoW as a ghost in the Western Plaguelands (the result of a quest that will be gone come Cataclysm, go get it now if you haven’t done it yet), we get to see the living Uther at his best, and worst, moment in a pivotal scene in Old Stratholme: refusing to carry out Arthas’ order to kill every living man, woman and child in the city, and being sent home in disgrace. This is a pivotal moment in the game’s lore. We later meet up with Uther’s ghost in Halls of Reflection, where he reveals a terrible secret that is then fulfilled by – surprise, surprise -- another Paladin (see further down).

Tirion Fordring quickly took up the mantle of World’s Greatest (Living) Paladin in Wrath, which represents a big step up from where we first meet him: as a lonely hermit living hard by the Thondroril River in the Eastern Plaguelands (this is another questline that will disappear with Cataclysm; grab it now while you can. It starts off slowly, but is well-worth it in the end, and provides a glimpse of how kick-ass Tiron can be when angry). When I say ‘big step up’ I’m not just talking about his height. Evidently, getting off the diet of worm meat did him some good. Tirion has more key moments in the game than anyone, with the exception of Arthas. Not only is Tirion a great fighter, he’s also a visionary, recognizing the importance of uniting Alliance and Horde in the fight against Arthas, and welcoming the Death Knights into the fold after chasing Arthas from Light’s Hope Chapel. Like Dumbledore and Voldemort, Tirion is the only one Arthas fears, and with good reason. Tirion is so cool I can even forgive him for the mess that was the Argent Tournament – even Dumbledore made mistakes -- though that gives him one of the best-delivered voice lines in the game following the Jaraxxus encounter (sorry, can’t find the sound file or I’d link it here).

Finally, there’s the World’s Greatest (Not Quite Dead) Paladin, Bolvar Fordragon. I never did the old Onyxia questlines, so Bolvar was just a guy standing next to the Anduin all that time. Yet Bolvar was central to three of the greatest story-telling moments in an expansion that has been full of them (this is something that I think Blizzard has done exceptionally well in this expansion, and I hope they can keep it up moving forward): Showing up to rally the troops and save the day against Thel’zan in Wintergarde (which I guess Horde players do not get to see); the absolutely epic event at Wrathgate: his ultimate fate atop the Frozen Throne. While the Horde’s hero ultimately became A boss, the Alliance hero ultimately becomes THE Boss, the one who is strong enough to keep a lid on the Scourge (until two expansions or so down the road when we have The Return of the Wrath of the Lich King).

So there are three Paladins and one former Paladin who played key roles in Wrath. But it wasn’t just the NPC section that Paladins ruled. In my next post on the subject, I'll cover briefly where Paladins have excelled as player characters. This was just getting a little too long to survive as one post. The rest will go up early this week. Thanks for reading!

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