Garwulf’s Corner #22: Once Upon a Time


More than one person has asked me why I don’t like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. So, here is the answer: despite Jordan’s remarkable skill with the written word, it plays a dirty trick on the reader.

At the end of the first book, the story isn’t over. If you want to find out what happens to these wonderfully interesting characters, you have go and read the next volume. But, at the end of that one, the story still isn’t over. So, onto the next book, and the next, and the next. Now, so many books later that the entire series could collapse a bookshelf, the story STILL isn’t over.

From what I hear, this is accidental. Apparently, Jordan kept adding characters, and then found that he couldn’t possibly tie all the plot threads together in less than a dozen giant books. I don’t know if this is actually true or not; I guess I’ll ask if I run into him at WorldFantasyCon this year.

But, regardless of if it is accidental or deliberate, it still amounts to a dirty trick. It is one thing to have heroes so interesting that the reader willingly comes back for more stories with the same characters (such as Michael Moorcock’s Elric series), but quite another to leave the reader dangling, waiting desperately for that next morsel to see if the hero really will save the damsel from the horrible Demon of Death, save the world, and defeat the evil Lord of Microsoft.

As I said, a dirty trick. Which is one of the reasons I have not yet bought the Diablo II expansion, and right now am not planning to.

Time to flash back a bit: it is early August 2000, and I’m reading over the Diablo Writer’s Bible, looking for moments in the timeline that might make for a good e-book and praying that my pitch to Blizzard goes well. One section deals with the second game, newly released at the time, and the section after that has a plot rundown of the expansion.

So, I knew all about the destruction of the Worldstone, the siege of the Barbarian village, and those other lovely expansion tidbits almost a year before it was actually released. And, I also know what will come next, assuming there is a Diablo III.

When I first read the storyline of the expansion, I was thrilled. It was more of the epic storytelling that had drawn me into the Diablo world in the first place. However, when the actual expansion was released, my enthusiasm dampened somewhat.

At least in Kingston, it cost almost as much as the original game.

Now, even though I am a great fan of the Diablo world and the two games so far, I have no choice but to cry “Foul!” I see here the same dirty trick I see in Robert Jordan’s infinite series. Why should I pay around fifty dollars Canadian for a final chapter that should have been in Diablo II in the first place?

Blizzard is not alone with this dirty trick, however. I believe I have seen it in one other place: Baldur’s Gate II. BG2 has a giant, epic storyline that worked the critics into a frenzy. And now the expansion has been released, providing another final chapter that probably should have been in the game to begin with.

I have to stress that I don’t object to expansion sets in general. In most cases, the expansion adds extra depth to the game and story, allowing the player to explore new places (a great example is the expansion to Icewind Dale). Or, sometimes, it allows a game to tell a brand new story, such as Warcraft II’s expansion, which added a campaign arguably longer than the original game.

But putting the player in a position where they have to shell out an extra thirty to fifty bucks in order to see how the story ends after they’ve already bought the game doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t mind putting down some extra cash to revisit characters and worlds because I found them absolutely gripping the first time around, but I do mind paying a mint for a game, only to discover that it ends on a cliffhanger.

To me, it all amounts to bad storytelling. If the game is done properly in the first place, it is amazing how long players will wait for a sequel (as Diablo II proves). I only hope that these incidents of cliffhangerism (for lack of a better word) are isolated, and that the rest of the gaming industry doesn’t start trying to hook players on the games by leaving the story unfinished.

Next installment:  Coming of Age, in which your brave and noble author examines how the computer game industry has matured over the years.


Garwulf’s Corner was written from 2000-2002, by Robert Marks and published on Diabloii.net. Garwulf’s Corner covered gaming culture, fantasy literature, computers, and more. Robert Marks was also the author of Demonsbane, a work in the Diablo series of novels published by Blizzard Entertainment.

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