WarCraft and I go waaaay back. All the way back since, well, WarCraft: Orcs and Humans, Blizzard's first game set in Azeroth. The shareware version got me hooked on RTS games generally and Blizzard's fantasy world in general. As I watched the WarCraft franchise make the shaky leap into MMO format and subsequent global phenomenon, I noticed quite a few characters from the early games were re-appearing in World of Warcraft, but they were substantially altered from their original incarnations.
This is how it all began, with WarCraft: Orcs and Humans:
Players only familiar with #WoW might find the evolution of their favorite characters particularly bizarre, but WarCraft has been around so long now that it's only natural that #Blizzard tinkers with their world-building every now and then. Let's take a look at some of the weirder evolutions.
It's quite possible that no WarCraft character has gone through so much revision and ret-conning as Garona Halforcen. The sexy mixed-race assassin is one of the more popular characters in the franchise, with her style being a favorite of cosplayers and fanservice enthusiasts. But her first appearance in the WarCraft franchise was very different from her current incarnation.
Garona was a major background character in the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans real time strategy title. In fact the introduction of the orc section of the user manual is narrated in-character from her perspective. In the first game, she is half-orc, half-human, a spymaster and assassin for the horde.
Unfortunately her only playable occurrence in-game doesn't really do her justice, as she is one of the most useless units in the game, capable only of moving and dying. In the 'Northshire Abbey' mission, an orcish expedition must rescue her from the abbey where she is held prisoner by the humans. Later WarCraft titles would make more out of the potential for 'hero' units and special characters, but sadly we never got to see an ass-kicking version of Garona in the strategy games (she was originally slated to appear in WC3: Reign of Chaos alongside Thrall, but was cut from the final release).
Another continuity problem related to Garona is the issue of her parentage and relationships. In WarCraft I she is a mix of orc and human, and the supplementary lore tells us that she was the lover of the human mage Medivh, and bore his child. According to WoW lore, she is actually half-orc, half-draenei (a race that didn't exist in the earlier games), despite not really having any draenei features. Things between Garona and Medivh get even more complicated in the WarCraft feature film, where instead of being her lover, Medivh turns out to be her father! Speaking of which...
Medivh is a crucial character in the whole WarCraft storyline, given that he was responsible for opening the portal between Azeroth and Draenor, which led to the invasion of the orcs and the beginning of all the war and crafting thereof. He is a villainous personage, corrupted by chaotic power, and one of the missions in the human campaign requires the player's army to kill him in his lair, which, in tribute to Dungeons and Dragons, is an underground labyrinth populated by monsters like slimes, ogres, skeletons and elementals. Unlike Garona, Medivh is the most powerful unit in the game, having all the powers of an orc warlock (the faction's final unit) plus more hitpoints, range and damage.
Medivh would return in WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, somehow alive and in the guise of a mysterious doomsayer who warns of the dangers of the Undead Scourge and the Burning Legion. This Medivh had repented for his crimes and sought to avert the doom that his actions had brought to Azeroth. His evil in the previous games was explained as possession by the malevolent spirit of Sargeras and in WarCraft III Medivh was a force for good, attempting to warn the Alliance and Horde of the coming threat.
Medivh's reappearance and dire warning:
Although no longer a major actor by the time the events of WoW are set in motion, Medivh makes several appearances in the MMORPG with the release of The Burning Crusade, where he is instrumental in important quests. Strangely, Medivh's character model, from where his animations are derived, is that of a male night elf as opposed to a human, which goes unexplained, although it does make him taller than otherwise possible for humans.
Medivh's evolution from an evil wizard to a mysterious benefactor mirrors the direction that Blizzard took with the orcs themselves, who evolved from a race of bloodthirsty killers to a more sympathetic proud warrior society as new games were released. The face of this evolution was Thrall, a faction leader in WoW that had his beginnings in a bizarre spin-off game that never saw the light of day.
Blizzard's follow-up to WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness was meant to be Lord of the Clans, a point-and-click adventure game in the style of titles such as Monkey Island and Broken Sword. The protagonist was Thrall, an orc that had been raised by a cruel human lord, and his mission was to gather the remnants of the Horde under a new banner. Although officially advertised by Blizzard as an upcoming game, the eventual product was scrapped because it did not meet the company's high quality standards. The game was scrapped, although a leaked beta version was made available online by fans. Take a look at Thrall's beginnings as a wisecracking adventure game hero along the lines of Guybrush Threepwood and George Stobbart.
Although Lord of the Clans was scrapped, Thrall's character wasn't, and he became Blizzard's most sympathetic orc. Spiritual and introspective, preferring to avoid unnecessary conflict, Thrall guided players through the redemption of the orcs and their settling of a new home during the events of WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, setting them up to be more relatable player avatars in World of WarCraft. Basically, he was the game's farseer hero, but with a much cooler model, complete with black armor and the famed Doomhammer.
In fact, Thrall may have turned out to be too much of a good guy for WoW. Alliance vs Horde conflict was a big part of the MMO and it was hard to believe that Thrall would encourage it. He was eventually replaced by the more malevolent and belligerent Garrosh Hellscream, a leader more conducive to continued conflict (though Garrosh himself would eventually be undone and replaced with Vol'Jin). Thrall himself went through yet another image change, emphasising his shaman side. Now retired from leadership, the former warchief of the Horde is a peaceful family man (or orc).
The story of WarCraft evolved from a very simple good vs evil war story distilled from games like Wahammer Fantasy Battle and Dungeons and Dragons, into something very epic, more nuanced and very, very 'Blizzard', love it or hate it. Likewise the art work became more cartoonish and exaggerated, reminiscent of comic books. I personally like how Blizzard's storytelling has become more complex, although I do miss the grittier art style from the earlier games and manuals.
What do you think about how Blizzard changed these characters? Is there anything about their earlier incarnations you wish they had kept?