When we first began playing World of Warcraft, I researched classes before designing my character and I quickly decided I would be a druid because of their multiple talents. Sadly, humans don’t have the option of being druids. However, when I discovered I was enjoying the game and decided to create another character to play, the choice was clear – I picked a worgen druid. I’ve always been interested in folklore and so the idea of playing as a werewolf was intriguing. I had no idea that I was entering a storyline within World of Warcraft that was completely unique and differed immensely from that which I had experienced within the Elwynn Forest.
When you enter gameplay as a worgen, your starting area is Gilneas City, within the Greymane Wall. Initially, you are a human thrust into the conflict within the city. The narrative I will explore is that of the battle for Gilneas. Ralaar Fangfire and his Bloodfang pack overrun the walls, and King Grenn and the rebels led by Lord Crowley fight to defend the city while evacuating the citizens. The invasion ultimately leads to a final stand at Light’s Dawn Cathedral, where the Gilnean forces are overwhelmed by the wild worgen. While questing to reach that point, your character is infected and shortly after the battle transforms into a worgen, and the quest plotline eventually leads you through the destruction of Gilneas.
In my limited experience with the game, the Gilneas plotline is unique in a number of ways. Because the plot of the invasion and fall of Gilneas is relatively linear and your actions cause major plot points to occur, your interaction with other players is fairly limited. It’s a stark contract to places within the game such as Stormwind and Goldshire, where it seems rare that another player isn’t in your line of sight. Because areas become closed off to you as you progress through the quests, there are often few other players in your vicinity that are at the same place in the storyline and visible to you. At many points, the narrative requires that you be completely alone for a quest. This seems counterintuitive in an MMORPG, but in the case of this particular story, is appropriate. Cut scenes reveal that for years Gilneans have been isolated by the Greymane Wall; the solitary nature of this portion of the game adds to the isolation they are trying to convey, and the hopelessness of being outnumbered by the wild worgen. If Gilneas city was as crowded as Stormwind, the gameplay would be entirely different.
The linear nature of the Gilnean narrative is vastly different from standard gameplay within World of Warcraft. One of the key aspects of the game is that it is completely open – you can travel anywhere, interact with other players, visit auction houses, ride Griffins around, and complete quests as you desire (or not at all). The same cannot be said within Gilneas. One is forced to complete the quests to move on – it is unavoidable that one be bitten by a worgen, as it is a direct result of a quest one must complete. It is also unavoidable that the invasion is successful and that the people of Gilneas retreat to Duskhaven, and eventually earthquakes and invading Foresaken force you to leave Gilneas. Once you’ve left and the battle for Gilneas is over, it becomes a dead zone (or so I’ve read); if you’re able to return, there is nothing there but some NPCs and critters. In a way, by forcing a linear plotline upon players, you are forced to “read” the narrative by playing through it; it becomes similar to other plot-driven videogames such as Super Mario Bros., Sly Cooper, or Portal. And once the narrative is over you are thrust into the larger world of the game as a refugee, unable to return to where you started.
In the case of Gilneas, the content and the form of the game go hand in hand. The lack of choices and interaction as well as the linearity of the plot help convey the helplessness of the situation. There is no way to save Gilneas; you are alone, infected, and limited, and the worgen come in endless supply. Once thrust out into the “real” game, the contrast is stark. One’s experience in Gilneas helps to illuminate the social and choice-driven aspects of the game.