Of puppy-men and big-tongues

After I wrote my post talking about why I think that the Battle for the Undercity isn't all that, I found myself wondering which quests in Northrend I would consider to be among the best ones of this expansion, or at least my personal favourites. I couldn't come up with an answer straight away, but as I continued making my way through the various zones on my Alliance characters I soon came across a quest chain that I had almost forgot about, even though it would definitely make my top ten favourite WOTLK quests: the sequence that introduces you to the Oracles and the Frenzyheart in Sholazar Basin, starting with Playing Along and ending with A Hero's Burden.

Now, I admit that this might seem odd at first glance. It's set in a backwater jungle zone where people only ever seem to go to farm crafting materials, it involves no important lore characters... in fact it doesn't involve any previously existing lore at all, not to mention that your actions have no impressive and far-reaching consequences either. And where other quests impress with advanced phasing, this one only offers what feels like a cannibalised version of TBC's Aldor vs. Scryer reputation conflict.

You can say what you like about the Aldor vs. Scryer thing - maybe you hated it because you regretted your choice when they introduced new and improved reputation rewards later in the expansion, or maybe it made your best friend hate you forever, but at least it was a somewhat meaningful choice that created a little variety. (After all it influenced where in Shattrath you would set your hearthstone, oh yes.) Looking at the Oracles vs. Frenzyheart thing in WOTLK however I can't help but imagine two developers arguing during the early stages of the expansion whether this kind of reputation divide was either the greatest thing ever or an absolutely terrible idea, until they eventually agreed to the weaksauce compromise that yes, they'd have another mechanic like that in Northrend, but it would be in an unimportant zone and completely irrelevant except for the reputation rewards. But then, one faction gives you loads of non-combat pets and a chance at a freaking drake mount while the other one doesn't, so it's not even as if there's much of a real choice to make on that front.

Anyway, having said that, I really like the quest chain that introduces you to the two factions. Khadgar's boring City of Light doesn't hold a candle to this. I'll admit that it starts off looking a bit weak, or weird at best, when an angry wolvar asks you to report to his village as "the new slave" because you stole his kill and anyway, how dare you?! That's... really not the greatest motivation to help someone out, is it? At most you could argue that your character is both baffled by the wolvar's behaviour and curious just how far his people's superiority complex goes, and that's why you "play along" as the quest title suggests.

The Frenzyheart come across as pretty rude and arrogant. Your first task after agreeing to help them involves scaring some baby monkeys (who are friendly to you) just to lure out their mother and kill her. However, as you overcome challenge after challenge, they slowly start to treat you more kindly and show at least a little respect for you. Zepik the Gurloc Hunter even admits that it was fun to hunt with you at the end of your time together. You also get to discover their more whimsical side as you help them re-capture a bunch of escaped chickens and get to listen to words of wisdom such as: "Seem like there more wasps every time Dajik come back. Why they not run out?" I've often wondered that myself, Dajik... Plus, you get to surf a crocolisk. How cool is that?

Then you get sent on a quest to capture a wounded Oracle so High Shaman Rakjak can torture question it. You find one near the river, but as you approach it, a crocolisk attacks. You kill it of course, which leads to the gurloc thanking you for coming to his rescue and a nearby wolvar screaming bloody murder and how you must be a traitor. The trusting Oracle invites you to follow him home, and so you get to see things from the other side.

Unlike the Frenzyheart, the Oracles are welcoming and friendly, but also a bit dumb and superstitious, obsessed with anything that glitters and how their shinies will appease the great rain stones. They even ask you to offer peace to the Frenzyheart in their name, but Shaman Vekjik won't have any of it and prefers to shove you off the nearest cliff (literally, though he at least makes sure you land in the water).

So you continue to work with the Oracles and go to investigate the fate of Mosswalker village, which as it turns out has been completely overrun by the Scourge. You get a quest to rescue as many Mosswalkers as you can, but many of them are too gravely wounded and the way they keel over, often muttering last words about how they don't understand and are so sorry, is absolutely heart-breaking. Then you venture into a nearby cave to take out the local lich, Artruis the Heartless... and have to discover that he holds two NPCs you know as captives: the aforementioned Zepik who enjoyed hunting with you, and Jaloot, the cute Oracle that killed wolvar with you in turn. But that's not enough, no, he mind-controls them as well, and you can't defeat him without killing one of them.

I remember deciding that I wanted to be a Frenzyheart during my first playthrough, but nonetheless that quest broke my heart. It wasn't just that I had changed my mind and wanted to side with the sweet, peace-loving Oracles instead. The Frenzyheart may come off as the "bad guys" to a certain extent, but we're told that they themselves have been driven from their original home by the Scourge, and I could understand how that might have shaped their aggressive, no-nonsense personalities. More importantly however, by the time you get to that cave, they aren't just two factions anymore, they are personalities, people. Both Zepik and Jaloot are characters that you interacted with, that fought by your side while happily chattering away about all kinds of things... and you absolutely have to kill one. It just felt wrong, and all I really wanted to do was make peace between the two factions.

And that's really what I thought was so great about that quest, that it elicited such a strong emotional response from me when I least expected it. All this time it plods along being very whimsical, with both factions acting a bit silly and entertaining you with all kinds of cute sayings, and then wham, suddenly it's serious business and you have to kill or be killed. Even doing it for the third time, I was still upset about having to kill one of my former companions, and hated Artruis for setting me up the way he did. And that's what made Sholazar memorable for me, more than any fancy game mechanics.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy these quests too - I don't even mind the daily grind after all that much. But the initial quest line with the big finish at Altruis is definitely part of the best quests.

    I've gotten exalted with both faction (I was bored and wanted the achievement) on my old main - but I think while the wolvar aren't THAT bad I still prefer the Oracles. I think mainly because I like the little dude running around shouting for SHINIES :)