Do You Care About Your MMO’s Lore?

WoW Paladin Riding Charger No matter what MMO you play, there’s a backstory.  If you’re in Fallen Earth, there’s a reason it’s post apocalyptic and a story that the game tells you—generally through quests—to let you know how it got that way.  EverQuest has its own mythology, as does Ultima Online—though, God knows what they’ve done with it now that gargoyles are a playable race—and World of Warcraft and any other MMO on the market.

The lore is the backbone of the worlds we play in, and generally, there is almost nothing a game can do to make me care.  Swords, sorcery, dragons, and critters; it’s generally all the same to me.

You see, while there are not many things that really interest me in WoW’s lore, there are a few that can consistently wrinkle my brainyparts.

Cthun One such thing is Blizzard’s introduction and use of the Old Gods.  AQ40’s C’thun and Ulduar’s Yogg-Saron are quite wonderfully references to H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods Cthulhu and Yogg-Sothoth, not to mention the Titans who seeded Azeroth which also ties into Lovecraft’s introduction of ancient astronauts who did the  same to earth.  The more I can experience regarding the WoW’s Old Gods, the better. I eat it up.

Tirion Fording and Ashbringer

Then there’s the Light. Where both WoW Priests and Paladins draw their power from.  It’s really kind of an omnipresent non-entity, kind of like The Force.  And I think it’s neato.  I like any of the lore that deals with the Light or its users, specifically Paladins, and that automatically makes me a fan of the legends of Ashbringer and Tirion Fordring (which I sorely need to get and read the graphic novel about).  I do any quests I can to illuminate the narrative that Blizzard has constructed for its various Holy Warriors, especially now that I’m working on leveling one of them myself.

Arthas the Lich King Arthas Menethil is pretty neat, too.  I did not even realize I was a big fan of the Arthas lore until Icecrown Citadel was released in Patch 3.3, and I found myself super excited to be able to jump into the new Icecrown 5-mans and prep for hitting a few Icecrown raids now and then as my schedule permits.  I even just downloaded the novel Arthas: Rise of the Lich King for my Kindle to try and see if I can finally get into some of the lore I appreciate in WoW.  I look forward to being able to mix it up, mano a mano, with the Lich King in a few months, too, and finding out the end of his story that I started following so many years ago in Warcraft III.

The Old Republic - Jedi Consular
Star Wars: The Old Republic's Jedi Consular

In other games, I approached lore much the same way: I never cared about the overarching intricacies of the worlds; I just wanted to hear more about certain aspects.  In Star Wars Galaxies, I was obsessed with anything Jedi related, which is why I think that The Old Republic is going to suck my life away with its dedicated healer, the Jedi Consular, and its focus on storytelling.  In Ultima Online, I loved the champions and the spawn system they used.  I ate up whatever OSI told me about them.  I also loved exploring the ruins of Ilshenar and making up my own stories for them.  In EverQuest, I loved reading about the different planes. For some reason, going into another dimension and killing the god who inhabits it was pretty interesting for me.

But outside of those few nuggets, my interest in any MMO’s lore has been minimal at best.

So I ask you, in your respective MMO, what part of the world’s mythos do you find most intriguing?  Or do you find your game’s lore lacking? Why?

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. I think lore is hugely important to the success and enjoyment of a MMO. It helps build immersion and the connection between the player and the character. If I don’t feel attached to who I’m playing, I don’t want to play it.

    Everquest for me always had a great lore but a lot of my feelings towards it are very nostalgic so that may colour my judgement. I also loved the way EQ2 was set 500 years into the future and managed to become it’s own game yet still interlink with the original. Clever stuff.

    WoW lore has always been a bit choppy for me, probably because I’m not as familiar with it as you are. I don’t know why that is but maybe it’s got something to do with the storytelling mechanics they use. Still, it’s really enjoyable reading about it when I get the chance.
    .-= We Fly Spitfires´s last blog ..Lifetime Subscriptions – Scam Or Opportunity? =-.

    1. The only thing I didn’t like about EQ lore was that it was so large and all-encompassing. It was daunting to learn because there was a clear heirarchy among the gods, complete with politics, and I never wanted to spend the effort to learn why this guy was feuding with that guy.

      I’m with you on WoW lore being choppy. Some things I get and care about; others, I don’t. I hope that TOR takes storytelling mechanics out of straight up quest text.

  2. To me lore is spice that add’s flavor to game, especially if you do more PvE-ing or exploring than PvP-ing. Since I didn’t play any MMO’s than WoW I cant compare anything, but I love exploring world, finding something interesting and looking for it’s story on internet.

    Favorite lore until now is related to Old gods, Deathwing and Grim Batol.
    .-= Ripaz´s last blog ..Melancholy of Dogzilla AMV =-.

    1. Deathwing is really neat. Actually, any of the Dragon Aspects hold my attention for a little while. That’s one of the main reasons I am looking forward to Cataclysm: there will finally be one of my favorite storylines finished (Arthas) and taken over by another aspect (no pun intended) of the lore that I’m pretty ignorant about but enjoy.

  3. Lore is just as important to me as the graphics and play mechanics in a game. Age of Conan was a pretty fun game and looked very good, but I’m not a fan of the setting and so never was able to maintain interest past the first few hours of play. At a very basic level both WoW and LotRO are diku/pve/theme-park games, but the Tolkien lore makes it a no-brainer for me to play LotRO instead.

    1. That’s actually one of the main reasons I never tried. I don’t know //anything// about the Conan world, so even the best mechanics didn’t interest me because the classes and the world was pretty generic to me.

      The lore in LOTRO is actually one thing that turns me off from it; there is so much there that can’t be messed with, I don’t see how the game can be anything but fixed and linear, a super theme park. The players can’t ever impact the main narrative, or even be given they illusion they can.

  4. I want the lore to be there if I decide to get into it, but I don’t necessarily want it shoved in my face at every possible turn. Dragon Age Origins is an example of this done right – there is a huge collection of lore available to peruse at my leisure, but it doesn’t dominate my playtime unless I want it to.

    I think what’s more important is that games need to be more about player-created lore and less about developer-created lore. Think EVE Online versus World of Warcraft. In EVE players know about the big events that happened outside of the fluff the developers wrote…. in WoW, all players know is what the developers wrote.
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..Hyped for Final Fantasy XIII =-.

    1. I’ll second this, noting that I love lore that I have a chance to influence. The Legend of the Five Rings CCG is my favorite example, where tournament results drove lore for the next expansion.

      Lore is also more interesting to me when it ties strongly to a place, a person or a thing. (OK, NPCs can count for people in this context.) It’s nice to think that some war happened sometime and something happened to make Life As We Know It possible, but standing in places of power, with history, maybe with someone who Knows About Stuff from firsthand experience, trading stories as we dig up some Artifact That Changed the World, well… that sort of lore makes a game come alive, and I love it.

      Then again, I’ve dabbled in worldbuilding and writing here and there, so it’s hardly a surprise that I’d appreciate that more than any mindless repetitive combat mechanic. 😉
      .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Making Mistakes =-.

      1. I agree, I love being able to have an item that’s supposed to be important, even if it’s a Quest White. It immerses me in the world as though I’m actually playing a part rather than just riding the rails.

        Andrew’s got a point: the players don’t impact the world in WoW like they do in EVE. I wish we could. Phasing technology has the ability to let us make choices, but it’s not as independent as EVE because that’s all that’s there. I think that may be why I loved UO and SWG so much: the players were everything.

  5. I think lore is definitely an important aspect of an MMO. No one likes to spend hours and hours of their time playing in a soulless world! Lore helps bring the virtual environment to life, gives it character, and maybe even gives you something to think about in between raid bosses. 😉

    As far as my favorite MMO lore goes, I’ve always loved Arthas’ story in Warcraft. And I’m also looking forward to The Old Republic, which I’m sure BioWare will jam-pack full of lore as well!
    .-= Stefanie´s last blog How it works =-.

    1. I look forward to Arthas’ storyline being concluded, too. TOR will definitely pack a lot in there, but it entirely depends on how they present it. Like I said above, I hope they work more toward getting away from quest text and into more immersive and interactive narrative strategies.

  6. I care a lot about the lore. Just think of Lord of the Rings Online. The most appeal comes simply from visiting places people know from the books, not from Turbine’s storytelling, which is just generic questing most of the time. There are exceptions, there are some amazing storylines like the one with Amarthiel, but they are not the norm.

    Dragon Age creates a huge world that slowly unfolds the more you play it, I like it a lot. Right now I am doing something like the search for the Holy Grail. 😉 There is even a haunted forest like the famous Brocéliande (there are dozens of name variations for this forest mostly connected to Arthurian legend).

    WoW builds on its own history, which is actually more complex than people would belief. Warcraft 1 was at its time often regarded as a Command & Conquer clone, not the real thing. But it had its unique setting and was slightly inspired by generic fantasy lore, Orcs vs Humans being somewhat tolkienesque, but that was it already. Chris Metzen, actually responsible for WoW’s art style which slowly became predominant (the ingame Orcs and humans of WC1 and WC2 did not look so much like Metzen’s illustrations in the manuals!) in WC3 was responsible for most of Warcrafts story, and also had a major influence on the world of World of Warcraft.

    They also started the “Hero” trend in Warcraft III, interestingly I did not like it nearly as much as the previous RTS titles of the series because of that. World of Warcraft then became a MMORPG, and the “boss battle” trend (reinforced by Pardo and Kaplan, avid EQ raiders) also became a major part of the narrative and background lore.,Illidan and Arthas for instance.

    I cannot help, Blizzards credo was always that the game/playability takes predence over the lore, as seen in the origin of the Draenei and other things that happened in TBC. Ever wondered about the O’shugun mountain spaceship in Nagrand? The scrapped remnant of a storyline that would have contradicted the lore even more.

    A professionell writer would have made WoW’s lore even better, IMO. Guild Wars for instance had some not so really convincing storytelling cutscenes, but the lore behind the world and areas is quite well done.

    Now let’s take a look at Aion. I simply cannot connect to this Asian take on MMO background, maybe they do not crave it at all, but they have a different take on it than westerners. Still, the Final Fantasy games show that they also like huge worlds, but Aion was strangely devoid of lore. A shame, very much like the grind. 🙁

    A good story makes a good game to a good virtual world. There were already major attempts in WOTLK to bring some more story to the world, like the famous WOTLK cutscene everyone probably knows. But also quest chains offered by Tirion Fordring especially had a much more story based plot and feeling.

    So yeah, lore rocks my socks. 🙂

    1. Part of the reason Aion and other Asian MMOs don’t get me is because while the lore is there, the mechanics of the game rarely interact with it. Most Eastern MMOs are about grinding, rather than carrots on sticks and themeparks on rails, which slowly introduce players to characters and lore, instead hoping that they take the time to see the landmarks already sitting ready for them.

      I can’t wait for the Arthas cutscene if it’s anything like the Wrathgate one.

  7. Lore is critical in any game in order for me to actually enjoy playing it and to stick with it for any extended period of time. However, I do find that it can be a big turn off in some cases as well. The biggest example for me in relation to WoW is the restriction on race + class combinations. I don’t like the fact that certain races can’t take certain classes for lore reasons. That’s a case where Lore impacts the game in what I feel is a negative way.

    While I understand the reasoning behind the limitations because of the lore, I don’t enjoy it. It was my biggest gripe in D&D back in the day, and it’s my biggest gripe now with WoW. Cataclysm will address some of that, but certainly not all of it. I think lore is more important on the NPC side than on the player side. So what if none of the NPC Draenei are Warlocks because they’re so “good”, I want mine to be BAD dang it! Gnomes can’t be hunters? Are you kidding me? Why is the most engineer-friendly race, the master of crafting guns not going to put them to use? Do they make engineering devices that create all their food so they don’t have to hunt? Please.

    But, enough of that little side tangent.

    The lore that matters most to me is anything that can tie into something either in the real world or something that I can otherwise relate to. Whether it’s something that relates to real life, or something that relates to other forms of entertainment, such as your example of C’thun/Cthulhu. Being able to tie those things together allows my imagination to fill in other details that might only be hinted at or might be left out all together, but the point is it gives me a foundation that I can build onto myself without have some random bit of lore thrown out there that I really can’t do anything with because I have no idea where it comes from.

    1. I agree. It’s not that it’s a Lovecraft connection, but it’s that there is a connection I can trace through my everyday life that connects multiple things I love.

      And with the race + class thing, I am totally with you. I have wanted a Dwarf Mage since I played one in Beta. I can finally get one in Cataclysm. I am also glad I’ll be able to make my Shaman more than just a Draenei, finally. And my Paladin will likely always be either a Human or a Dwarf unless I go Horde, at which point he will most certainly be a Tauren. The fact that I can’t already get the combos I really want is irritating, especially when trying to get new players to try the game because often their race/class desires are unavailable.

  8. Personally I don’t see how you can play a game without being interested in the lore. Why do the Night Elves live in a massive tree? Why are some dragons friendly and others nasty? Why are they different colours? What is that funny swirly thing in the middle of the ocean between Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor and what does tha have to do with the Naga infested region of Azshara?

    So many questions and so many amazingly wonderful, story filled answers. I have been playing WoW since just before BC and I have never had a character reach end game yet because I am still loving the lore far too much. I also cannot understand why some people can play WoW and not care what the storyline is that is being revealed to you as you play. To me thats one of the most important aspects of the entire game.

  9. The MMO that I play, Dungeon Fighter Online, has a “comic book” type of lore. They show the story in comic book format and comic book drawing style. It’s really interesting to read. But the depth of the story isn’t like WoW.

Comments are closed.