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Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Warcraft Is Bad

I’m a big Warcraft fan. When I was 12, I discovered that a few of the computers in my middle school’s computer lab actually had Warcraft: Orcs & Humans installed on them. My friends and I convinced the teacher to let us play and I fell in love. Not with the teacher—that’s gross. I fell in love with the game. It was like playing with my He-Man action figures, only when I told my army to go and attack the enemy they actually did it themselves. I didn’t have to imagine an epic battle playing out in my mind—it was happening onscreen and It was truly magical.

Warcraft was my introduction to multiplayer computer gaming and I’ve been a PC, multiplayer gamer, and dedicated Warcraft-lover ever since.

I played the crap out of Warcraft 2 and 3, and because Blizzard released a level editor I even made a few of my own maps. (I’m sure there’s still a floppy disc somewhere at my parents house with “Ajay’s PUDs” written on it.) So, mom and dad, if you’re reading this and you’ve always wanted to know what was on that floppy disk but were too afraid to ask, it was just a bunch of horribly imbalanced Warcraft maps.

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As awesome as those original real-time strategy games were, they were nothing compared to the experience of playing World of Warcraft for the first time in late 2004. The previous games brought you into the world of Azeroth with a distant removed top-down perspective. With World of Warcraft, Azeroth became deeply personal. A lush, vibrant, living world for you to explore from a third or even first-person perspective. It was the most immersive, visually stunning computer gaming experience I’d ever had up to that point in my life.

My very first character was a NightElf Hunter named Ajay ElvenAxe. I can still vividly remember leaving the safety of the starting zone and travelling to the outpost Dolanaar. Then, onto the Capital city of Darnasuss, where you could fly on the back of a hippogryph to the continent of Kalimdor. Unlike any game before it, it really felt like there was a world to explore.

That was just the beginning of hundreds thousands of hours spent exploring and conquering Azeroth. I managed to escape the addiction after taking my main toon, an Orc Hunter named Axy, to level 74.

So, when I give you my thoughts on the movie, understand it’s as someone who loves Warcraft even more than I love Star Wars, Star Trek, or Game of Thrones.

The bad news is I didn’t love it.

The good news is it’s not a bad film. While I was disappointed with certain aspects, I actually enjoyed a fair bit of it and I have hope for the future of the cinematic franchise because of what the movie got right.

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The film did a great job of adapting the world of the game to the screen. Starting with the world itself, it’s not kind of like Azeroth, it is Azeroth. The orcs and other creatures you’ll meet are all believable in context and are often more fun to watch than the non-CG characters. They feel like they have weight and aren’t lifeless textures over 3D mesh. The performances were overall pretty good, especially Travis Fimmel and Toby Kebbel, who once again brings life and charisma to a fully CG character through performance capture technology.

I’ve seen other reviewers claim the film takes itself too seriously and misses the mark in terms of overall tone. I thought the tone was light enough, though the film would’ve benefited from a few more lighthearted moments.

The film also worked for me in terms of adapted source material, unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s butchered adaptation of Avatar The Last Airbender. How do you convince yourself it’s a good idea to change your main character’s name from Aang (a happy sound that reflects his character) to Ung. Ung? That sounds like the name for the dumbest orc in the BlackRock Clan.

The big problems I had with Warcraft were the story and characters. Sadly, story and character are the two most important parts of any work of fiction, so when you fail there it’s hard to overlook. For some reason, the powers that be decided they’d use the story of the original Warcraft game  from way back in 1994 as the jumping off point for their cinematic franchise. The game put players on both sides of the conflict the very first time humans and orcs ever crossed paths. They could’ve made that historical moment work as the backdrop for the first film but, in my opinion, it was a big mistake to not keep it as just that: a backdrop. Instead, the war was the focal point and as a result Warcraft is a paint-by-numbers war movie. I know it’s called Warcraft, so shouldn’t it be a war movie? No.

Not because war movies can’t be good movies. Some of the best films of all time have been about war, but war movies are hardly “fun” movies. But playing Warcraft is fun, and that’s what the movie really should’ve been going for: an overwhelmingly fun experience.

It occurred to me while watching the film that the story of Warcraft is very similar to the story in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Perhaps that’s because the filmmakers were planning on using a lot of the same technology that was used to make Dawn and the story ended up being similar by osmosis. Warcraft even ended up casting Terry Notary (who, by the way, is awesome) and Kebbel. In both films, two distinct races have to find a way to live in peace but they end up in conflict. On both sides there are villains who seem hellbent on seeing their side completely annihilate the other, and leaders who seek diplomatic resolution to the casualties of war.

Taking inspiration from the Apes franchise was a good call, because anyone who hasn’t played the games might be surprised we’re supposed to empathise with the orcs. Afterall, in Lord of The Rings, the orcs were unquestionably evil, but here they’re are just like humans: sentient beings with culture, value, and families. Though borrowing the story or plot from the second new Apes film is where I think they went too far, because, as I was saying before, Warcraft is meant to be fun. Why not take inspiration from another recent hit movie that featured some fantastic characters as brought to life by performance capture. A story where the imminent threat of war is just a backdrop for a more focused, character-driven story?

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For me and probably the millions of diehard fans out there, World of Warcraft is at it’s best when you team up with four friends to form a party in which all your unique skills and abilities complement each other because, as everyone knows, that makes you stronger as a whole. With your party of five established, you head out on a series of quests that would be impossible for anyone to face alone. Facing a powerful foe is still a big challenge, but by giving it your all and putting everything you’ve learned into practice you manage to end their reign of terror and claim their epic loot as your reward. That story teaches an important message: by seeing our differences as a positive and by working together with love in our heart we can vanquish the most evil opponent!

You know what movie recently told that exact story? Guardians of the Galaxy. I love Guardians of the Galaxy and I’m sure you do, too. There was a war monger bent on obtaining absolute power, there were armies and giant battles, but that was just the background for the story about the Guardians themselves.

We could’ve and should’ve had a similar story for Warcraft. Five unique characters representing different races and classes, learning to work together while questing for a legendary item that would give them the power to prevent a war between the orcs and humans. Even if they didn’t prevent s war, so long as they succeeded in learning to work together we would all be hooked on the characters because we loved watching them grow (or level up!) together. We’d leave the theatre eager to see the next movie because the stakes have been raised and now our team is going to have to use what they’ve learned about working together along with their new epic loot to fight again. Not in the war, but against the war.

Sadly, Warcraft the movie wasn’t about a party of five seeking epic loot while learning to work together. There are bits of adventure, loads of action, and a few surprises along the way, but overall it was lots of cutting back and forth between different groups of characters on separate journeys who were kept apart in order to try to retell both sides of the story of the original Warcraft game. A story for a game nobody’s played for nearly two decades.

That said, I still enjoyed the film. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s bad.

I fanboy’d for some of the little details and fan service moments. What the movie lacks in story it makes up for in spectacle. Azeroth is beautiful on the big screen and if you can afford to, you should see it in 3D or IMAX. Hopefully I’ve done a sufficient job of lowering your “fun” expectations so you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the sporadic fun moments that are in there.

Here’s hoping the film makes enough money to warrant some sequels and that the lessons learned on this one can be put into practice in the future. Even though I didn’t love my first cinematic visit to Azeroth, I want to go back again.

P.S. For the Horde!

P.P.S. Watch my spoiler-free video review below!

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