One of the major features introduced in Cataclysm is the addition of two new playable races: the worgen and the goblins. Technically, both races are not “new.” And that’s as it should be in WoW. There are so many races established, there’s no need to introduce playable ones from scratch. (Though it’s not implausible, with how well the naga were introduced in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.)
Both the goblins and worgen are generally loved by fans of the series. Love for the goblins is mainly nostalgic. They were first introduced in Warcraft II, way back in 1995. That’s over fifteen years ago. And yet, through all of those years and through the numerous sequels and expansions, they have managed to retain their trademark personality—defined by greed and a comic destructiveness. Love for the worgen is more difficult to place, though it’s likely caused by the curiosity most people had when they first encountered the worgen back in the earliest days of WoW. Or it could just be because “they’re frikkin’ werewolves, man!”
Blizzard definitely made the right decision choosing these races. Goblins were already well-established and many players have wanted to play one for a long time. They also fit in with the Horde nicely, since they’d already sided with the orcs once before. The inclusion of the worgen allows Blizzard to push the development of their story forward, and it also gives Blizzard an excuse to include a more monstrous race as part of the Alliance. Furthermore, these races are interesting and don’t feel as though they have been included just because they’re “cool,” or because a developer or group of players simply want them in the game. (Which can’t be said for a certain popular race currently running the rumor circuit. Ahem!)
Even better, the backstories given for the introduction of goblins and worgens to each faction are presented well and they both make sense. Forget crystal spaceships. Forget contrived plots about magic starvation and shared heritage. The stories here are both believable and reasonable, but, most of all, interesting. This was a pleasant change from what was done in The Burning Crusade. You can observe each and say, “Hey, that’s pretty believable and not entirely over the top! Good job, Blizzard!”
The Starting Areas
Warning: This section contains some spoilers. If you haven’t played through the starting zones for the goblins or worgen, you should probably skip over the applicable section(s). I do avoid the major spoilers, but inferences can be made, and that might ruin it for people sensitive to learning even the least important details.
Goblins: The Isle of Kezan and the Lost Isles
As a playable goblin, you hail from the isle of Kezan. You are basically an under-executive of the robber baron of Undermine—trade “prince” Gallywix. For roughly the first five levels of play, you’ll be making your way around Kezan getting involved in various cells of corruption, scheming, etc.
I don’t really have anything positive to say about this part of the experience. The writing and the game play are both abysmal. A large chunk of it plays like an homage to Grand Theft Auto (GTA). The only problem? WoW isn’t GTA. The music that plays when you turn on the radio in that horrid car doesn’t elicit a smile from me when I recognize the reference. Running people over isn’t funny at all (they essentially wave their fist and shout legal threats at you). There’s no star system or cops to outrun. The inexplicable roadways resemble the poor freeway planning of the L.A. area, which causes the quests to play out too long. Outside of the GTA-style experience, the story in these first five levels isn’t really compelling. It’s like the Jersey Shore meets a third-rate Godfather knock-off. Only there’s no interesting godfather figure to keep it entertaining (Gallywix is a one-dimensional bore).
There’s nothing wrong with humor or pop culture references, but there’s a little thing called critical mass, and it applies to storytelling as much as it does to nuclear fission. I (and I’m sure others) need to have a certain amount of serious writing underlying the humor to maintain interest. While I’m sure the humor and pop culture junkies will love every minute of it, people like me won’t. Especially because the Warcraft series isn’t all about humor and pop culture references. It’s definitely a big part of it, but in Warcraft III, the humor lies on the surface of a deeper, more mature narrative and it never gets in its way. That’s the style of humor that works best in WoW, as well. Here it essentially becomes the story and it doesn’t work.
Luckily, Deathwing decides the local volcano needs to erupt, leading to the evacuation of Kezan at about level five. This is where the experience improves a thousandfold.
In order to achieve evacuation, you need to pay Gallywix (literally) a bazillion macaroons (goblin slang for money) for a spot on his ship. To do this, you rape the land of its resources (since it’s going to erupt anyway), rob a bank, steal a bunch of priceless artifacts from Gallywix’s compound (why this stuff wasn’t already being loaded onto the ship, I’ll never know), and then burn down your headquarters to collect on the insurance (because, you know, the insurance company still cares about operating its business when the island is about to become Kilauea on a bad day). This also buys some spots on the ship for your friends and a bunch of your associates, who now view you as their savior. This plays into the plot development of the last half of the experience.
While a bazillion macaroons was enough to buy a spot on Gallywix’s ship, it wasn’t enough to buy your freedom post-evacuation. You, your friends, and your associates are Gallywix’s slaves to be sold once you reach your destination. But the ship is fired upon by an Alliance vessel. Shipwrecked, Gallywix is more concerned with goblin preservation than with making sure all his slaves are subjugated, so you are set to various tasks. Though shipwrecked, the goblins are still concerned about making a profit. You’re supposed to create a buffer between you and the wildlife, then solve a problem in a mine they’ve recently opened. While in the mine, you discover a dead orc who was part of a group of orcs also shipwrecked by the Alliance attack. So you pay a visit to the orcs, led by Aggra, who greet you as a friend by virtue of your shared circumstances.
From here, the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde becomes the central focus of the plot. I won’t spoil this part, because there are a lot of good surprises. Besides, you know the ending—the goblins join the Horde. How they join is the interesting part.
The introductory experience of the worgen is the most interesting of the two new races.
Isolated behind the Greymane Wall, Gilneas, for a time, enjoyed a peace foreign to the rest of Azeroth. But the Gilneans became victims of their own machinations. Arugal, a magister of the court at Gilneas, had summoned a race of monstrous beasts called worgen outside of the Greymane wall to create a buffer between them and the Forsaken. But this tactic backfired when worgen found their way into Gilneas and began infecting its ordinary citizens. As a result, the worgen curse spread through practically the entire population, creating a new race of hybrid worgen and human. This isn’t exactly explained during the leveling experience, but it doesn’t need to be.
As a playable worgen, you witness the attacks of the worgen and fight alongside your king and prince to fend them off. But during the course of battle, you succumb to the curse and become a worgen yourself. Once your inner nature has been “tamed,” you again fight for your kingdom, but this time against an invasion by the Forsaken. All the while, the world seems to be crumbling apart, witch large chunks of Gilneas falling into the sea after a series of quakes.
These are components of what seems to be a very simple premise. But the details and sub-plots are rather engrossing. The cut-scene you witness after you succumb to the curse sets the stage and the tone for the rest of the zone. And along the way, the story asks many questions. How can you control your savage nature? How can the remaining humans and those infected with the curse live together? Can they live together? Politics accentuate these questions. Some Gilneans support the acceptance of those cursed who have proven they can control their savageness. Others don’t. And the surprises at the end of this subplot makes it all the better.
Furthermore, this experience seems to be higher in production quality. There is a higher concentration of voice acting, the quests are more unique, and terrain phasing is more evident. While some of the story still suffers the same issues the rest of the game does, such as an acute plague of quest text for some parts of the story, there’s enough voice acting to keep it livelier than the starting zones of every other race.
To me, this is what the starting experience for all the races should be like, barring any other changes needed to the game on a more fundamental level. However, the death knight starting experience still takes the cake.
Overall View of the Zones
If there’s one negative I must point out, it’s that the goblin and worgen starting areas do not make use of the new in-game cut-scene engine. They rely solely on basic game play mechanics, voice acting, and pre-rendered movies to bolster them. While they are definitely well-written (except for the first five levels of playing a goblin), they could have been done even better through use of the in-game engine.
Of course, it’s likely it wasn’t used because these zones were designed before the engine was finished. And that’s an issue for another section of this review.
Disregarding this issue, the experiences are good for what they are and for what the game normally has to offer. Their design is better than past efforts, and better even than the changes Cataclysm made to the pre-existing zones (including the starting zones for the races included in the initial release of WoW). I really liked the worgen experience, and only a few quests got on my nerves (which is pretty rare for me, this day and age).
I don’t take much issue with the aesthetics of either goblins or worgen, though I will say female worgen look far too much like anthropomorphic chihuahuas; this is the reason I race changed my druid to a worgen male instead of female. Otherwise, the way each race looks and feels is pretty solid. I especially love the ferocity exhibited when you /roar as a worgen.
Goblin and worgen architecture is also done very well. I especially love the Gilnean terrain and buildings. I only wish we could have seen more of it used outside of the starting experience, the Battle for Gilneas and Tol Barad.
The racial skills for both goblins and worgen are powerful in certain areas. In RBGs, the goblin’s rocket boost is overpowered when it comes to a flag carrier getting out of a rogue’s smoke bomb. In PvE, the worgen racials are incredibly powerful, especially when it comes to DPS. (Crit and an activated sprint?) Though, comparing them to a troll’s berserk, I suppose they aren’t as good comparatively. That said, goblin racials are underwhelming for PvE (trolls still take the cake), and worgen racials feel rather balanced in PvP.
Again, Blizzard absolutely made the right decision choosing worgen and goblins. There are some flaws with the goblin experience, and some flaws with the female worgen aesthetic, but the overall picture is rosy for both, when you compare them to the rest of the game as a whole.
Good job in this area, Blizzard.