World of Warcraft: War Crimes Book Review: An Epilogue to Mists of Pandaria

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This week saw the announcement for the street date on the next World of Warcraft expansion titled Warlords of Draenor. Back in May, I finished up reading Christie Golden’s War Crimes which acts as a sort of epilogue to the events that transpired in the last update patch with new content for the current expansion Mists of Pandaria. So I thought it only fitting that I offer up my take on the novel as I am sure people will be picking up a copy hoping to understand just how we are seeing Garrosh Hellscream 35 years ago. (Timey Wimey stuff….it’s complicated).

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If you want to get me into any given product, all you pretty much have to do is give it a solid history. That holds true for video games, books, movies, or even music in some cases. A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) or the Lord of the Rings books for instance not only tell a story but also spend a significant amount of time developing a back history and lore surrounding that story. George R.R. Martin will go on for a paragraph or two about the dinner being served at any given time. So it’s no shock that I am an avid player of World of Warcraft, the massive online role playing game, born from the veins of the Warcraft games developed by Blizzard Entertainment. I’ve been playing since a few months before the first expansion was released. The thing that got me so into the game was partially the deep and rich backstory. Blizzard smartly expanded on the lore and story from the Warcraft games with a series of books of which I have read time and time over actually. The “War of the Ancients Trilogy” by Richard A. Knaak is a good example of expanding on the universe and telling a very compelling and heartfelt story based on the fantasy world of Azeroth. I’ve read that series a few times over and it never seems to get old. Knaak is able to take an event out of the game and flesh out a believable and compelling history surrounding it. You’re left with a better understanding of the event and an appreciation for how that story fits into the current lore and history you’re playing through with the game today.

The story of War Crimes focuses on the events surrounding Garrosh Hellscream, who is on trial for his crimes against the world that drove the main storyline of the most recent expansion to the game World of Warcraft . In “Crimes”, Golden features a good number of the major characters from Warcraft lore either participating in or witnessing the trial of Hellscream. The trial is held in the realm of Pandaria, which was left scarred and damaged from the warmongering Garrosh as his vision of the Horde, a faction of various races of Azeroth, waged battle against the Alliance, an opposing faction. Without playing the game or at least watching a solid bevy of YouTube videos that give you the story leading up to the trial, you might not understand just why Hellscream is on trial in the first place as the book dives right in directly at the point where the game story ends. The various warring factions send their leaders to the Temple of the White Tiger where the Celestials and the leader of the Shado Pan group , Taran Zhu, are acting as judge and jury. At the trial, both Horde and Alliance leaders eagerly await the outcome of the process to learn Hellscream’s fate. Meanwhile, when the trial isn’t in session the same leaders begin to doubt if they will get the outcome for Garrosh that they want and begin to plan just how to deal with him after the trial is finished. Both sides will have to learn that justice will be served and while it might not be the result that they want, it will be fair justice and hopefully the push needed to end the bloodshed and violence that has cost so many so much.

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Garrosh on Trial (via gameskinny.com)

In the end, where the “War of the Ancients” expands the story and lore and gives a rich history, War Crimes does not. Golden , unlike Knaak, seemed to be better at giving a single characters focus like with her “Arthas” book from this universe than she is with writing a compelling courtroom drama. The legal process and trial play out quite literally like a Matlock show. Complete with the prosecution’s desperation for a “mistrial” when the defense has them on the ropes, War Crimes is ultimately a highly predictable novel in that regard. The legal system used here is a direct model pretty much of the United States justice system and so Golden seems to tell that side of the story in a very non creative manner. Given that we’re talking about a world where your judge is a talking kung fu master panda bear and your defense lawyer is a 7 foot talking warrior cow, you’d think that you would take some liberties with the legal proceedings instead of just phoning it in. It’s a fantasy world, and yet, you could literally see this entire trial story played out on any given re-run of Matlock. As such, the part that Golden gets right is the side plots of the faction leaders as they grow fearful that Garrosh won’t be executed which is the only outcome they seem to find satisfactory. It’s interesting to see the lengths that the seemingly noble Alliance will go to to get the results they feel are right. Each side having their own reasons for wanting justice against Hellscream, are willing to go to extensive lengths to kill him which isn’t the lesson being told. That part of the story is maybe the only saving grace of the entire book.

What Golden needed here I think was more fantasy in her fantasy novelization. The characters featured here are too interchangeable with reality for this to be an “escape” book. “Crimes” does succeed in bridging a portion of the gap between the current expansion “Mists of Pandaria” and the impending expansion “Warlords of Draenor”. The courtroom drama never builds any tension though and in the end you’re left with some side plots that are intriguing but aren’t given enough time to flesh out the details needed to give us any reason to care too much. I’ve seen play from the “Phoenix Wright” games that have deeper legal drama than this book had. I will say that the parts featuring a small reunion between Vereesa Windrunner and her sister Sylvanas are probably my favorite part of the book but only because I know the back story and significance of the two sisters’ story outside of the novel. Golden assumes the reader knows all the character’s stories in and out and I think spending some effort to explain those details will make a reader care just a little more about what’s going on. She did that with Baine Bloodhoof to a small extent as he was the defender, but she didn’t give equal time to do that with Tyrande (the prosecutor).

I’d wait for a library checkout of this book and that’s only if you are interested in the action that occurs in the last couple of chapters which really don’t amount to much in the long run as nothing is expanded on. That’s the beauty of books and novelizations in that you can go into the characters mind and really flesh out that characterization that makes us care what happens.

War Crimes doesn’t do justice to the rich lore that it draws it’s story and characters from.

World of Warcraft’s next expansion Warlords of Draenor that continues on what happens with Garrosh Hellscream comes out this November 13th, you can check out the cinematic trailer below:

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