The Chronology Nut
Warcraft: Finale

I’m the Chronology Nut, and the story of Arthas has come to an end.

At the beginning of this project, Arthas was a noble warrior, a steadfast friend, and a handsome paramour. By the end, he had become the representation of all that was twisted and evil on Azeroth - and yet, in his final moments, he found redemption and peace. Overall, how do the Warcraft games and books portray one of video gaming’s greatest villains?

Gameplay

Blizzard, the company behind the Warcraft series, is infamous for delaying their games for years and years before finally releasing them. While this can cause consternation among impatient gamers, their time and effort shines through every time. The Warcraft series has excellent balance, lots of options, an approachable difficulty curve, and strong multiplayer capabilities. Warcraft III is one of the best RTS games ever produced, and World of Warcraft is the definitive MMORPG.

While the games can spike in difficulty sometimes, few challenges are too difficult for the average player to overcome. At the same time, anyone looking for a real challenge can always turn the difficulty up and reap increased rewards.

Story

Arthas’s saga is a pretty standard fall-from-grace to redemption story, but boy, does Blizzard put a lot of style and flair into this one. Instead of making the story of Arthas the main focus of the Warcraft universe, his tale is one of three or four intertwining arcs that have to do with demons, liches, humans, orcs, night elves, and whatever else inhabits the world of Azeroth. Even in Wrath of the Lich King, Arthas’s story is hardly the only one going on.

While some of the installments in this list (Burning Crusade, Cycle of Hatred) don’t have much to do with the Lich King himself, most of them contribute to a player’s overall understanding of the world, its mythos, and its history. Arthas is simply the latest in a long line of threats to Azeroth, and he’ll have to wait his turn to be dealt with.

Artistry

The cartoony style of the Warcraft games may seem at odds with the serious themes and dark characters, but it’s hard to imagine what the world would look like without it. Cartoon graphics have helped the games age well; World of Warcraft runs with respectable visuals on a 7-year-old engine. 

The music is suitably epic or ambient as necessary, and the sound effects - while recycled shamelessly - are rarely out of place. The voice acting is quite good, especially as fantasy games go.

Overall

This post may be brief, but it’s only because I don’t have much to say about Warcraft that hasn’t been said, and said better. The series has an intriguing cast of characters, a rich mythology, and a charming aesthetic. Warcraft III will probably not convince anyone who doesn’t like RTS that the genre is worthwhile, but any gamer - from newbies right up to hardened vets - can and should check out World of Warcraft, even if it’s only for a month or two. Just don’t blame me if you find yourself addicted.

-CN

Cataclysm: Full Review

I’m the Chronology Nut, and WoW consumed my leisure time for three months. It’s a fun game, but I’ll be happy to have some new games to play!

Cataclysm is a bit harder for me to review than the previous three installments, as its content is not yet finalized. All of the story quests lead up to a confrontation with the ferocious dragon Deathwing, but at the time of writing, there is no Deathwing raid. Blizzard is still in the process of releasing content for this game. That’s fine. Blizzard releases content on a regular basis, and it’s high-quality stuff. At the same time, until the game has a “final boss” in place, it’s not, strictly speaking, “finished.” Still, here’s what I could glean from it.

Gameplay

Cataclysm presents a version of WoW that’s about as polished and varied as it’s ever been. Unlike Wrath, Cataclysm presents new content for players across the board. For new players, there are two new races; for veterans, there are a number of brand-new areas to take them from level 80 to 85. For everyone in-between, the core game has been totally revamped.

From level 1 to level 60, players will find a very different Azeroth from the one they may remember from WoW’s earlier days. The changes in content are both geographical and functional. Areas like the Barrens and Thousand Needles have been totally revamped, transforming plains into jungles and deserts into seas. Many of the quests and relevant NPCs have also changed, although most are still functionally identical. Make no mistake: you will see your fair share of “kill (x) number of (creature),” “find (x) number of (local flora/fauna),” and “talk to (NPC) at (next questing location).” At the same time, there’s more variety than ever before. Even before you leave the starting areas, you’ll take part in full-scale battles, hijack enemy vehicles, and perform high-stakes reconnaissance.

Many of the new missions basically ask your  character to mount up and either fight enemies or deliver goods. My only criticism here is that they can be a bit too easy, but since they will only make up a small portion of what a player needs to level up, they provide a nice respite from the more repetitive assignments to eradicate all life on Azeroth.

The two new races help ease new players into the experience, and provide plenty of incentive for veterans to create a new avatar. The Alliance receive the Worgen, mystically-inclined lycanthropes, while the Horde gets Goblins, everyone’s favorite crafty tinkerer race. The Goblin starting quests contain a lot more humor and creativity than their Worgen counterparts, but the Worgen have a fairly substantial story arc, so they’re hardly hurting for content. Past that, the races go through the same content as any other race and generally play nicely with the existing ones.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the new high-level areas. Instead of a single remote location (like Outland or Northrend), the new areas in Cataclysm are scattered throughout the existing lands of Azeroth. From the undersea kingdom of Vashj’ir to the raging fires of Hyjal, and from the underground catacombs of Deepholm to the rocky Twilight Highlands, these are some of the best areas of WoW, bar none. Each area has a strong story arc that is both self-contained and ties into the overall Deathwing plot. Furthermore, each area continues a story arc from a previous game. For example, the Twilight Highlands reintroduces Cho’gall, a villainous ogre mage from Warcraft II, while Hyjal picks up the story right where Warcraft III left off. With a wide variety of quests and lots of well-animated and voiced storyline cutscenes, the journey from 80 to 85 is a pleasure instead of a grind.

With a new level cap comes new endgame content, and Cataclysm has plenty of high-level dungeons and raids to keep players busy. The dungeons are both well-designed and plot-relevant, while the raids are as difficult and tactical as veterans would expect. My only real criticism here is that it takes way too long to get geared up for the really fun content; you can expect to run the same five heroic dungeons dozens of times while procuring gear for dungeons like Zul’Gurrub and raids like Bastion of Twilight.

Story

Since Wrath of the Lich King completed the current main arc of the Warcraft story, players might wonder where it could go from here. It’s a legitimate question. While Cataclysm does not have the same strong start-to-finish arc as its predecessor, the story is strong nonetheless. Instead of continuing the main threads of Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne, Cataclysm picks up a few ancillary plot points: what happened to the ogre mages after Warcraft II? Can Malfurion Stormrage heal the tremendous damage to Mt. Hyjal? Where did the naga come from, and how did their empire fall?

All these questions and more can be answered in Cataclysm. After defeating the terrible Lich King of Northrend, adventurers return to Azeroth to find that the nefarious dragon Deathwing has attacked the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimidor in an attempt to destroy all life. To defeat him, players will need to call upon Azeroth’s legends – Malfurion Stormrage and Thrall in particular. The demigods must reawaken, the dragons must assemble, and all of Azeroth’s heroes must unite to save the land.

The arcing story here is not as good as Wrath of the Lich King, namely because there’s one. In any given area, Deathwing arrives, causes mayhem, and then leaves the player to pick up the pieces. The one advantage that Cataclysm has over Wrath is that each area tells a self-contained story, so there are no dangling plot threads in-between areas. For example, in Vashj’ir, you are shipwrecked by a sea monster – if you follow the quest chains all the way through, fighting that monster will be your last task before returning to the mainland.

Climactic boss fights with NPC support (instead of having to assemble an entire raid) is also a nice touch, but the greatest asset to Cataclysm’s storytelling is its use of short, fully-voiced cutscenes during major plot quests. While cutscenes can often leave the player out, seeing your own avatar star in one is a real thrill, and makes you feel like your actions have real impact on the world of Azeroth – as does the extensive use of the “phasing” technology from Wrath.

Artistry

Cataclysm has its pretty moments, but it’s well past time for a graphics engine update. It’s true that this would alienate a lot of lower-end computer and laptop users that constitute a large amount of WoW’s fanbase, but I believe that Blizzard could devise a multi-engine solution, not unlike Ultima Online when it first went 3D.

The score is exceptional, with some of the best music saved for the cutscenes and boss fights. Music even plays a pivotal role in a few quests along the way. An early Undead assignment ends with Sylvanas Windrunner singing a mournful song of her homeland, and an Alliance quest in the Twilight Highlands will see players assisting a Dwarven bard in composing a wedding tune.

The sound effects are the same as always, but the voice-acting is quite good this time around, especially for Cho’gall. This ogre mage from Warcraft II was a fairly standard character back in the day, but a few decades of isolation have upped his insanity meter. Cho’gall is simultaneously frightening, funny, and intriguing. Until Deathwing himself shows up, he makes for a compelling “final boss” placeholder.

Overall

If you can afford all the expansions, buy Cataclysm right off the bat. The Worgen and Goblin content is well worth the price of admission. If you’ve already finished everything in Wrath, then Cataclysm is a no-brainer. I didn’t enjoy this installment quite as much as Wrath, but it should be a solid investment for both WoW neophytes and veterans.

-CN

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

I’m the Chronology Nut, and I’m going to try the “Read More” break at the suggestion of likeapaintedship. By the way, if you like anime and aren’t reading his blog, I can only ask, “why not?” You’ll like it.

Our journey through Azeroth is coming to an end, but not before Apilune endures his final challenges in the cataclysmic lands of Azeroth. Follow the story after the jump.

Read More

How can i complete the Countdown Extinction in Thralls quests?
Anonymous

Countdown to Extinction - the final quest in the Exodus chain - can be very rough if you don’t set up your defenses right. You’re going to be fighting off Murlocs and Infernals while trying to upgrade your own tech and branch out for resources.

There’s no “easy” way to tackle this mission, but keeping a few tips in mind will make it much easier:
- Grunts are nothing fancy, but dollar-for-dollar, they’re one of your most efficient units. Upgrade them and send them against Infernals
- Spearmen are more effective backup than Raiders
- Don’t worry too much about siege - don’t worry about going on the offensive at all, really. Keep your forces tight and controlled, except for the side quests
- Towers are your friend, but unless you built a lot and defend them, they’re worthless. Focus on a mobile army first, towers later.

Remember -you just need to survive. You don’t need to survive in pristine condition. When the 20-minute mark nears, just go for broke and build as many units and towers as you can. 

How did you make it to Kalimdor in Tharlls quest?
Anonymous

Apologies for the delay in answering these questions - don’t know if you’re still stuck, but I’ll help if I can.

Getting to Kalimdor with Thrall is fairly simple; all you have to do is make it to the Orc Campaign, and Thrall’s adventure will begin on the Western continent.

If your problem is getting past the final Undead mission, however, that can be tough. My advice is to just keep pumping out ziggurats - as many as you can afford - on all three sides of Kel’Thuzad’s position. This alone will not stop the Alliance threat, but if you stay supplied with a steady stream of Abominations and Banshees (to steal the best Alliance units), it will help your chances considerably. Good luck!

Wrath of the Lich King: Full Review

I’m the Chronology Nut, and the Icecrown Citadel raid is probably the most fun I’ve had in WoW yet.

Wrath of the Lich King, like Burning Crusade, adds a whole new chapter to the World of Warcraft story, but this time, it adds a whole bunch of new mechanics, too. Let’s take a look.

Gameplay

Wrath picks up where Burning Crusade left off. Players travel to Northrend, the roof of the world, to confront the Lich King Arthas Menethil and his Undead Scourge. The content takes players from level 70 to level 80 as they follow quest chains, explore gigantic dungeons, fight fearsome bosses, and further hone their battle prowess and professional skills.

The biggest difference between Burning Crusade and Wrath is that Wrath is almost exclusively for high-level players. There are no new playable races, no new quests on the mainland, and no quest chains that guide the player into Northrend. True, there is a new character class, but in order to play it, players need an existing level 55 hero.

Lack of content for new players aside, there are plenty of reasons to play until you reach Northrend. First off, the Death Knight is an exceptional new class. While even now, two years later, it’s not quite balanced with the rest of the classes, there are plenty of interesting ways to play a Death Knight - and to play with or against one. This former servant of the Lich King is basically a heavy melee class, not incredibly dissimilar from a Warrior. However, unlike a Warrior, a Death Knight can call upon the powers of the elements, summon Undead minions, and has a strong focus on damage-over-time (DoT) abilities. I played a Death Knight from 55 to about 70, and thought it was both well-designed and fun to play. The unique and story-heavy intro quests are also a treat.

While most quests are the standard “kill this, find this, go here” fare, there are definitely some fun new twists, such as mounted combat missions and “phased” areas. I found “phasing” to be particularly impressive. After completing certain quests, entire areas of the map will change - for example, after clearing out a certain dungeon, an NPC told me to return and come back. When I did, the dungeon had become a town! This is a great way to make players feel as though their actions have tangible repercussions.

No discussion of Wrath would be complete without mentioning the fantastic dungeons, especially the Icecrown Citadel raid. Even now, at level 85, this 10 or 25-man dungeon is a challenging, varied adventure with a plethora of bosses, ending in a spectacular showdown with the Lich King himself. 

Story

Wrath is easily the most story-focused game in the WoW pantheon yet. Unlike WoW's core game, which lacked a unifying narrative, or Burning Crusade, which lost the plot around the middle areas, Wrath sets you against the Lich King’s machinations in each new area. Each area provides more backstory about Arthas - two quests even let you play as him! Before all is said and done, you will have defeated the Lich King’s lieutenants, learned his tragic past, gathered a powerful contingent of story-relevant allies, and stood toe-to-toe with Arthas himself.

The setup is as follows: following the defeat of Illidan Stormrage, the Lich King’s Scourge has begun its push to destroy all life in Azeroth. The forces of the Alliance and the Horde unite (somewhat successfully) and take the fight to Northrend. Now, the race is on for the heroes of Azeroth to fight their way into the heart of the Frozen Throne and destroy the Lich King before the Scourge’s purge of Azeroth can be completed.

I only have two very minor complaints about the story: there is no quest chain to bring a player into Northrend, and no quest chain for the Icecrown Citadel raid. This makes a player’s first and last adventure in Northrend feel a little disjointed, but the story itself is about as solid as they come. Anyone who questions how well an MMO can deliver a story would be wise to check out Wrath before condemning the genre.

Artistry

Wrath makes a few more tweaks and graphical upgrades to Azeroth, including a somewhat-better draw distance and immensely-improved water effects. Overall, though, the game still looks old. The graphics are not bad, but a seven-year-old game is not going to look as shiny as one that has just come out in the last year or two. However, that complaint aside, all the characters look good, and the new character and monster designs - especially the Lich King and his Death Knights - are up to Blizzard’s usual high standard.

The music is absolutely incredible, especially during the Icecrown Citadel raid. The boss fights feel sufficiently epic, and the story moments evoke suitable pathos - especially Arthas’s final cutscene. It’s about as good a send-off as Blizzard could give a beloved villain, and the music could bring a tear to a jaded reviewer’s eye.

Once again, the level design is top-notch. Each area in Northrend feels incredibly different, ranging from tundras and plains to mountains and forests. There are Norse-style longhouses, fantasy citadels, logging camps, and even a few underwater venues where you will do battle with killer whales and scuba-diving gnomes. To come back to Icecrown Citadel once more, Blizzard put as much thought into this dungeon as most developers put into an entire game.

Overall

The most compelling reason I can think of to play Burning Crusade is that you’ll be able to play Wrath of the Lich King afterwards. If you’re new to WoW, play until you can reach this content. If you’ve let your account expire, renew it and check out this content. MMOs do not get much better than this.

-CN

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

I’m the Chronology Nut, and I, too, lost my soul to a cursed Runeblade.

At last, the story of Arthas concludes, and it goes out with a bang! Beware of understandably massive SPOILERS:

After a climactic confrontation with Illidan Stormrage, Apilune sets sail for Northrend, where the forces of the Alliance and the Horde prepare to do battle with the Scourge. Apilune’s first assignment is to show the soldiers of Borean Tundra how a real hero deals with the forces of the Lich King.

One of Apilune’s first contacts is a Death Knight named Thassarian. Thassarian’s sister has been taken captive by the Lich King, and Thassarian joins Apilune against one of Arthas’s lieutenants in a battle for his sister’s soul.

As he journeys through Northrend, Apilune relives the memories of Arthas the Paladin and his fall to darkness.

The most surprising twist occurs when Apilune discovers that Muradin Bronzebeard survived his seemingly-fatal first encounter with Frostmourne, and now stands against his former friend.

Apilune’s next quest puts him under the command of Bolvar Fordragon as they take down a fearsome lich.

Apilune follows Fordragon to the foot of Icecrown Citadel, Arthas’s stronghold. However, the battle begins before Apilune can arrive. Fordragon teams up with Dranosh Saurfang, commander of the Horde forces in Northrend, and assaults Wrathgate. However, an unexpected attack by the Forsaken kills Fordragon and most of his forces, leaving Arthas unharmed.

Spurred on by his commander’s death, Apilune continues his crusade against the lieutenants of the Lich King, slaughtering one in each region of Northrend. This does not escape Arthas’s attention, who purposely lets Apilune live.

Following his comrade Thassarian, Apilune finally stands before Icecrown Citadel.

Even Arthas’s former lover, Jaina, has joined the fight against the Lich King.

She guides Apilune along with Mage Rickmybarrs and Druid Elilla into the Halls of Reflection, hoping to defeat Arthas there. The spirit of fallen paladin Uther Lightbringer joins them, but in the end, they must flee for their lives.

After Apilne, Rickmybarrs, and Elilla defeat Anub’arak the Crypt Lord, Apilune meets up with Tirion Fordring the Paladin to infiltrate the Lich King’s forces and fight their way into Icecrown.

Tirion and Apilune disguise themselves as followers of the Lich King, then launch a surprise attack in Icecrown.

Darion Mograine and his contingent of Death Knights join the fray, but the Lich King escapes, promising that the final confrontation is nigh.

Apilune gathers the bravest adventurers he knows for the final battle: Angelcized, Assirien, and Sinistral from the fight with Illidan rejoin him. New friends include Hellspells, Dakeyras, and Unfaithful, Demosthanese, Wrongbutton, and Audrik. Together, they infilitrate Icecrown Citadel via Muradin Bronzebeard’s airship.

 

As they fight their way through the numerous levels and servants of the Lich King, they are joined by Darion Mograine and Tirion Fordring. At last, they stand at the Frozen Throne.

Tirion stands with the party for the final confrontation.

After exchanging harsh words, the showdown begins!

Despite a spectacular show of force, the Lich King succeeds in downing the party and freezing Tirion in a block of ice. However, Tirion breaks free, revives the party, and destroys Frostmourne.

At long last, Arthas the Lich King falls.

In his last moments, Arthas - finally free of Frostmourne’s corruption and repentant - sees a vision of his father, King Terenas. Terenas promises his son rest, and Arthas dies. However, without a leader, the Scourge will rampage throughout Azeroth, destroyin all. Deliverance arrives in the form of a still-barely-alive Bolvar Fordragon. Bolvar agrees to take up the mantle of the Lich King and control the Scourge from now on. All that remains is for the heroes to leave Northrend and never return.

Of course, the adventure is not quite over yet…

Big, big thanks to the members of the TAO guild for helping me out with this project! If you play Alliance on the Stormscale server, be sure to check them out.

-CN

World of Warcraft: Death Knight Introduction

We’ll return to Apilune’s story in a bit, but Wrath of the Lich King introduces WoW's first heroic character class: the Death Knight. The origin of the Death Knight ties in directly with our favorite lord of the undead, so let's take a look at the first story arc in Wrath of the Lich King, and the latest in that of Arthas Menethil.

The story begins with Plutonian, a stalwart hero of the Alliance, who recently became a tool of the Scourge: a Death Knight.

Plutonian’s loyalty to the Lich King is absolute, and Arthas makes his orders clear: confer with Highlord Darion Mograine, leader of the Death Knights in order to subdue resistance in the Western Plaguelands.

The zealous Scarlet Crusade, a xenophobic faction of Humans dedicated to wiping out all Undead (Scourge and Forsaken alike), has taken their stand against the Scourge. Darion sends Plutonian on a series of missions to weaken the Crusade’s resolve and destroy their leaders.

Once the group has been sufficiently weakened, the Lich King himself arrives and unleashes his devastating frost wyrms to wipe out the Scarlet Crusade’s last stand.

Even with the Scarlet Crusade defeated, the Scourge has more work to do. The Lich King sends Darion Mograine and Pluonian with a thousand Scourge soldiers to defeat Tirion Fordring and his paladins at Light’s Hope Chapel.

Despite the overwhelming might of the Scourge, Tirion and his men hold fast, reminding Darion and Plutonian of their former allegiance to the Alliance.

Darion sees the error of his ways, and breaks himself and his fellow Death Knight’s free of Arthas’s thrall. The Lich King is understandably upset about this, but Tirion stands against him. The two fight to a standstill, and Arthas retreats.

Darion wishes to make amends with the Alliance, and sends Plutonian to Stormwind City to meet with King Varian Wrynn. Despite initial resistance at the idea of taking Death Knights into his rank, the king relents and declares that the Scourge will fall.

Thus begins the final installment in the Arthas saga. Next time: the conclusion!

-CN

Rise of the Lich King: Plot Analysis

I’m the Chronology Nut, and I’m strongly considering writing a beginner’s guide to heroic dungeons in World of Warcraft. There are a few good ones out there already, but one more couldn’t hurt.

Rise of the Lich King covers mostly the same ground as Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne, so there’s not much new from either a recapping or analysis standpoint. The first third of the book, however, does contain a lot of new material. I’ll try to focus on that while staying mindful of SPOILERS:

Story Recap

The story begins when Prince Arthas Menethil, nine years old, helps a local farm family deliver a foal named Invincible. Upon returning to King Terenas Menethil’s castle, he learns that an Orcish invasion threatens the land and has displaced his fellow prince, Varian Wrynn.

Arthas grows up learning of the Second War against the Orcs from afar, always wishing that he could help. As a result, he tries, unsuccessfully, to learn swordplay from Varian. A frustrated Arthas happens upon Muradin Bronzebeard, a visiting Dwarven dignitary, who agrees to tutor Arthas in martial weaponry. The two become good friends.

During his adolescence, Arthas also meets Jaina Proudmoore, an aspiring mage, for the first time. The two like each other immediately, and Arthas decides to test the boundaries of their friendship. While escorting her back to the magical city of Dalaran, he convinces her to sneak out to view an Orcish internment camp at night. The two see the Orcs as a battered, defeated people.

As the years progress, Arthas begins his training for the Order of the Silver Hand paladins and realizes that his feelings for Jaina go well beyond friendship. He arrives at Dalaran to study history and begins his courtship in earnest. Jaina, currently being pursued by the Elven prince Kael’thas, chooses Arthas without hesitation, embittering Kael for years to come.

Although he loves Jaina, Arthas gets cold feed when considering the future for the two of them. He breaks off an informal engagement and becomes a full paladin in the Order of the Silver Hand. His first assignment is to investigate a series of Orcish strikes on Human lands.

The book then proceeds to tell the rest of Arthas’s story from the games. He loses his soul to a cursed sword, summons the leader of the Burning Legion, manipulates Illidan Stormrage, and takes up the mantle of the Lich King.

Plot Analysis

Arthas’s story is a fairly typical “fall-from-grace” scenario. Both the writers at Blizzard and Christie Golden grasp the concept of a protagonist very well. A good protagonist in a story is the person who has the most to lose. Because Arthas is so loved by the Light, his descent into darkness is that much more tragic. He irreversibly loses his family, his lover, and his soul.

The latter two-thirds of Lich King are also defined by two of the most important women in Arthas’s life (and, technically, un-life). Jaina and Sylvanas are mirrors of each other, and this only gets reinforced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Both women are powerful, Jaina as a mage and Sylvanas as a ranger. Both are leaders, Jaina of Theramore Isle, and Sylvanas of the Quel’dorei (and later, the Forsaken). Most importantly (for the sake of the story), both are obsessed with Arthas. Jaina loves him and cannot deny him anything. Sylvanas detests him and makes destroying him into a personal vendetta. This manifests itself in World of Warcraft when Jaina guides Alliance players towards defeating the Lich King whereas Sylvanas takes that role for the Horde.

There’s not much deeper symbolic meaning to anything that happens in the book. It’s mostly a primer for WoW players who haven’t played Warcraft III, so it has the same themes and meanings. Next, prepare to enter the frozen land of Northrend for Wrath of the Lich King.

-CN

Rise of the Lich King: Full Review

I’m the Chronology Nut, and for my money, Arthas is one of the greatest video game villains out there. By literary villain standards, though, he’s no Saruman.

Whether you get anything out of World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King (aside from the most convoluted title ever conceived by man) is dependent on your knowledge of the Warcraft III mythos. For those of you who love WoW but did not have the patience, funds, or inclination to play WC3, Rise of the Lich King fills in a ton of pertinent story gaps and presents a compelling narrative about a hero’s fall from grace. For those of you who did play Blizzard’s fantasy RTS opus, you’ll be disappointed to learn that there’s not much new here. Let’s dig in.

Story

Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden tells the story of Arthas Menethil, former Prince of Lordaeron. Growing up with a thirst for justice, a love for Jaina Proudmoore, and the blessings of the Light. After a calamitous plague ruins his beloved kingdom, Arthas begins a long and haunting descent into a dark being of unspeakable demonic power - the Lich King of Northrend.

The story is split into three parts, and this three-pronged structure works well for the narrative. Any literature major worth his salt knows that most stories happen in a three-act setup, and there’s nothing wrong with making this clear. For those who don’t know, Act I is the setup, Act II is the conflict, and Act III is the resolution. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification and not every story need fit this mold. However, Rise of the Lich King does.

The first part is, without a doubt, the best of the three. Arthas admittedly got some backstory in the instruction manual to WC3 and Blizzard’s own website, but Ms. Golden paints an exquisite picture of Arthas from early childhood up to his induction into the Order of the Silver Hand. Interestingly enough, Ms. Golden writes this section (as well as the subsequent one) more as a romance than a fantasy epic. Arthas develops feelings for Jaina, fends off a rival (Kael’thas), courts her, and eventually beds her. This setup would work equally as well in a romance novel, although since WoW is a T-rated game, the action never gets too steamy. What makes this section work is the fact that Ms. Golden got to use her imagination and devise her own scenarios for Arthas, Jaina, and Kael. This is brand new information for Warcraft buffs, and giving the authoress room to play always pays off from a narrative standpoint.

The next two sections, while not “bad” per se, do not match up to the first. The second section is a retelling of Arthas’s campaign from Reign of Chaos, while the third section retells his part in Frozen Throne. Jaina plays a central role in the second section, whereas Sylvanas plays a major role in the third. This, of course, is meant to set up the Jaina/Sylvanas arcs for the Alliance/Horde players in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. However, a reader can almost feel Ms. Golden straining against the boundaries of established canon. With a very strict plotline to follow, Ms. Golden rises to the challenge of making a video game storyline readable and fairly interesting. But there is nothing here that Warcraft III did not already say and say better.

Writing Style

After Cycle of Hatred, Rise of the Lich King is an improvement of the highest magnitude. Ms. Golden, like Mr. DeCandido, is an accomplished media tie-in author. She’s handled everything from Dungeons & Dragons to Star Wars. She writes with competence and heart, if not necessarily style and flair. There’s really nothing in this book that shouts “this is a Christie Golden novel.” She sets out to tell a clear, detailed story with easily-identifiable characters, and succeeds admirably. Lord of the Rings this is not, but as far as quick-and-dirty novels to cash in on upcoming games go, this is not bad at all.

Another place where Ms. Golden succeeds is in her writing of female characters. Jaina and Sylvanas are not exactly the deepest characters to grace the page, but they have believable motivations and actions. Jaina is in control both of her powers and her sexuality, whereas Sylvanas radiates both arrogance and heartbreak. 

As said before, the biggest criticism about Ms. Golden is that her voice is competent, but not distinctive. She tends to play around in preexisting universes, but has not written a ton of original material. As people like Karen Traviss and Matthew Stover have shown us, writing licensed fiction is no reason to put a unique narrative voice on hold, so I would love to see Ms. Golden develop a more unique writing style in future works.

Overall

Rise of the Lich King is not, strictly speaking, a good book. It’s also not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bad one. It’s a competently-written book that tells a necessary story to the Warcraft universe. It gets fairly interesting when Ms. Golden has creative freedom, and becomes a fairly monotonous rehash when she has to follow the game plots. Newcomers to Warcraft would probably be wise to check this out, and at less than 250 pages, it’s not a very demanding read. Series vets can probably skip it, although the first section of the book may be a strong enough selling point on its own.

-CN