"Stories are the fundamental building block of human relationships!"
So, I was wandering along the internet recently... and gradually, I got a seed planted in my head. I had an epiphany! As I was surfing the tumultuous waves of Reddit and chatting in our IRC (DIRECT LINK), something clicked in my head. I thought, 'What if... what if WoW, Diablo and Starcraft are all based generally on a particular mythology and what more, what if Titan follows this cue in its' lore?''. This seed of a thought began to blossom into nascent branches of a theory and in this post I intend to explore this theory like the great Caverns of Time itself. Why is this relevant to people on a Titan fansite? Well, we'll explore that later on. The key is, if we can see what Blizzard has done in the past and how they've done it, we can use this knowledge to understand what and how they might do it in the future - in Titan.
I need to mention this before I begin: Each of these games that I mention of course have countless strands of lore taken from all manner of 'real-world' stories. What I'm setting out to do is identify the over-running theme (if there is any) and I want to see how it is used and to what extent it is used. I also want to evaluate how purposeful these themes are; were they adhered to rigorously, or was it just a starting point for the lore teams' creative minds? Think of it like a year 7 (or, 8th grade) Science investigation, we pretend we're doing proper work to distract the teacher from the fact that we know buck all. Now class, let's begin!
World of Warcraft - NORDIC MYTHOLOGY
We bring into the ring, WoW! A heavy-weight in the MMO universe, indeed an interesting, complex and diverse universe in itself! What really can we read into the lore about this one? Well, I'm going to start with a huge theme that flows beneath all the lore:
WORLD TREE - NORDRASSIL
A mantle of power, life and balance, the world tree is an object of deep mystique but also one of much fame among the denizens of its world. The tree is huge, reaching into the heavens and deep into the earth with its branches and roots. Beneath the tree sits the current-day Well of Eternity, another lore object of immense power. In Azerothian lore, Nordrassil (the World Tree, and I shall be using these interchangeably) is big business, Ysera the Green Dragon aspect blessed the tree with the power to allow Night Elves to enter the Emerald Dream and Nozdormu blessed the tree with their immortality - the latter has now been broken. As a result, it has been the crucible to huge story arcs involving the Burning Legion and Azeroth and it's 'roots' as a story, so to speak, extend far and wide throughout WoW lore. To site a few examples, the defeat of Archimonde, the return of Ragnaros, almost all recent Night Elf lore arcs and so on... What I'm trying to get across is that this tree really has been a leviathan in WoW lore and has shaped it dramatically.
What does this have to do with real-world mythologies?
Well, let me introduce you to Yggdrasil, a mantle of power, life and balance, sound familiar already? That's because it is. In Nordic lore it is mentioned in the Poetic Edda, Yggdrasil "is an immense tree that is central in Norse cosmology, in connection to which the nine worlds exist." (Wikipedia) Not only this, the tree has a well underneath it, the 'Well of Urd' which has a similar mysticality to it as the new 'Well of Eternity' beneath Nordrassil. So, it is not only in name that this particular example draw similarities to each other, it is in content - both trees have a similar purpose/power. There are also a few strands of information about Yggdrasil that translates into WoW, such as Aviana and it's Nordic counterpart the unnamed Eagle. You may do further reading into this mythology in any of the links provided above.
Well, we've established that lore in WoW definitely takes some heavy cues from Nordic mythology, but is one example really enough to prove my point that WoW is themed around a particular real-world lore? No, it's not. However, that's what this handy paragraph is for. I'm going to mention other examples here and not go too in-depth with them because I feel that would be redundant. If you really want an in-depth explanation, leave a reply or PM me. So, a quick list of other examples where WoW takes cues from Nordic mythology:
So, we can see above that while WoW takes some very huge cues from Norse lore, many other aspects of it draw inspiration from all sorts of 'real-life' cultures and mythologies. In light of this, the idea that a whole game is formed around a mythology seems to be flawed. However, what we can divine from this is that Blizzard has definitely used real-world mythologies as a catalyst for their lore in fairly large swathes. Not only this, hopefully after looking at various implementations in the other games below, we might be able to get a better picture of how Titan lore will be formed. It seems WoW really implements this 'real-world' mythologies on a pick and choose basis.
Now onto an old favourite, although now disputed by some of its greatness as of late...
Diablo - RELIGION, ANGELS
Diablo is a game that really pulls many people into a personal space in their hearts with the story and is a direct theatre for the fight between Light and Dark, Good and Evil, Hamsters and Squirrels! The franchise explores deep into human connections, ancient evils and the mystique of angelic beings. It is clear that this game is heavily themed and influenced by Religious and Angelic mythologies and I even feel a bit silly justifying this, so I'll keep it brief.
Diablo toys with ideas of Heaven and Hell, personal strength and weaknesses and even the power of love and this is taken from many moral stories from numerous cultures. It has Angels, Demons and everything inbetween, it draws from folk-lore, fantasy and many other genres. Religion and Angelic stories are the holding structure of which the lore has grown and inhabited and it would be foolish to ignore this. While I feel this is a rich topic to explore, it is also obvious to any average Blizzard gamer, and I think our time with game is better spent discussing the extent to which Diablo lore is borrowed from real-life stories and why.
How much of Diablo is borrowed?
Diablo is no more borrowed lore than the Norse lore in WoW, in terms of similarity to existing tales. In Diablo Tyraels similarity to 'The Fallen One' in a Kurdish myth of Angels
, is a good example of where the game lore has closely stuck to the real-world lore. I think the question even shouldn't concern the similarity to 'real-world' lore, but to the extent that it shapes the game universe. The entire
theme of Diablo is almost just a further exposition into the Angelic folk-lore and Religious moral stories. But is this just so Blizzard could have an easy ride when crafting the story? I don't think so.
I think that this theme was followed so closely and it was so instrumental in the lore of Diablo because it is about making the story more intricate, more Human. What is the best way to really engage with that personal side of an audience? You give them stories they know. What is a story that will really pang on those heart strings for a global audience? A story that is universal. What is universal and personal? Religion, good and evil, Angels! It just makes sense that this old-lore is made use of by Blizzard in order to make a playerbase feel so much more close to the lore than any other route would. Stories are about understanding, intrigue and entertainment, so if you use a story that is already well-known to an audience and you're spinning it off in a deeper or new way, that already ticks off two of those prerequisites.
Although I've linked it in a paragraph above, I just want to explicitly mention this post by Velaxis
on the 'Equilibrium' forums. It's a really good exposé into the mythology of Diablo.
Why do I care? I want Titan!
As mentioned at the beginning, we can use this to work out how they might want to use a 'real-world' theme in Titan, what they might use and to what extent they'll use it. In Diablo it is clear that the story-crafers have formed the lore around these key ideas, and while the 'real-life' mythologies aren't used as explicit lore arcs, they are the entire theme of the game and this is something really interesting to keep in mind for Titan.
Take a read of this if you want to read further into Diablo:
StarCraft - This one is tricky...
StarCraft is a world rooted deeply in Sci-fi fiction, the many different cues it takes from various space texts is spread throughout the game. It doesn't actually conform in a big way to any 'real-life' mythologies, but it does indeed draw from all sorts of sci-fi conventions.
The following isn't explicitly where it drew inspiration, but it gives you a good idea of how StarCraft is largely a strong genre piece:
In StarCraft, you have the Protoss who end up splitting up into the 'good' and 'bad sides - Khalai and Nezarim. You have the Zerg, there to infect, absorb and destroy races! Lastly, you've got the Humans stuck in the middle with some rebellion thrown in.
In Halo, you have the Covenant which ends up splitting up into the 'good' and 'bad' sides, you have the Flood who are just a mass of infectious craziness and then you have the Humans, stuck in the middle and also with many different rebellions under their belts.
In Warhammer40k you've got Space Marines akin the Terrans, you've got Tyranids akin to the Zerg and so on...
I want to be clear, I'm not saying StarCraft took inspiration from Halo (as Halo obviously came out after, perhaps it was inspired by SC even) or that 40K has precisely exact parallels to SC. What I am saying is that the themes that StarCraft follow are themes that lie throughout the Sci-fi genre and also perhaps in other genres - this says loads about the stories' base. This also means I feel I have to say less about StarCraft, as it's all pretty laid out infront of you.
StarCraft used Sci-fi cannon ideas as a basejump for their lore to spring off, and this is a trend that has now been highlighted in the other of the 'Big 3' Blizzard games. However, this time, instead of a general idea forming as the main theme of the game (as in Diablo) or a few explicit mythologies forming particular story arcs (as in WoW), Starcraft uses general genre conventions as its main story construct.
How does all this relate to...
So in our very brief marauding of the 'Big 3' games and their lore we have gained much knowledge that will be useful in decoding how lore will work in Titan. We have seen varying consistency in how closely or how far the games' lore draws similarities to 'real-world' mythologies. We've seen that each game really seems to be built around one catalyst for the entire lore and this oftentimes is a catalyst that is globally known, so that the story is accessible to a universal audience.
How will Blizzard use lore in Titan?
Tune in next time, for when I talk exclusively about Titan and how the story will be shaped - citing specific examples.