Ever since I did Hyjal back in December, I've been thinking about why I don't like that quest line. And I think with 4.2 and the invasion quests, it finally makes sense to me. Hyjal is written backwards. It starts where it should end and then tries to back out of that, and winds up feeling trivial instead of challenging and threatening.
I think one of the big problems with Blizzard is that they are writing on such an epic scale they can't see what makes stories good - they do not let us as characters experience struggle. And yet, it is exactly struggle that makes heroes what they are. It's in the wake of loss that victory has meaning. That is why Wrathgate was so widely accepted as a genius move - it was about the heroes making a massive mistake and being absolutely ruined because of it. It was about the loss of names we thought were immortal.
Cataclysm - and Warcraft in general - could use some more of that.
Think about what happened in 3.1 through 3.3 - nothing. Did we as heroes ever loose ground? Did we have even one setback? Was there ever a point where we saw Dalaran under threat even though it was a 30 second flight from the Citadel? Did the Lich-King more or less tolerate a Renaissance Faire on his doorstep for months? By the time we killed Arthas, it was a foregone conclusion. We were on a relentless march forward with barely a false step along the way.
The victory was not earned in blood and we felt cheated.
In general, Cataclysm feels half-done. We know why we're in Throne or Bastion - there are clear indications even if a few quests leading directly to raids would have helped, but what about Nefarian? There is absolutely no questline devoted to his threat in the end-game. Even something local to Orgrimmar and Stormwind where the old Lady Prestor and Lord Nefarius stories could easily have been done as they tried to re-gather their resources and suddenly we were aware of their threat and moved in before they could get too far down that line - which would explain the limited resources Nefarian seems to bring to bear.
Anyway. Back to Hyjal - I'm going to take a stab at it by looking at Hyjal and seeing how it might have been done so as to follow this back-and-forth swing of loss, regroup and victory.
So imagine, if you will, a different Hyjal storyline. One in which Hyjal is whole, or as whole as it was before the invasion - nascent forests, lush and green, blue streams of water, rich with animal life when an urgent call goes out for help to put out forest-fires. You arrive to see a small volcano and elementals - nothing too much to worry about but as you fight and quest, you find that on returning to your quest hubs, they are overrun, and you have to move back, further up the mountain to regroup - echoes of what happened when the Scourge came.
Over and over, you try to contain the fire but are pushed back, more and more powerful Fire Lords appear, and take over the lower levels of Hyjal and you continue backwards, imploring the Ancients for help but even their intervention isn't enough - only after all four are summoned are they able to put up a defense, but it's too late - by then, much of the forest is already gone, the forces of Ragnaros are on the doorstep of Teldrassil and the world-tree is truly threatened on all side, as Ragnaros' lieutenants wander openly, transforming Hyjal into a part of the Firelands itself.
We are left with dailies to combat the skirmishes against wandering fire elementals and rescuing druids from behind enemy lines and such - we are under siege. You are sent as an emissary to call for help, but the world is too fractured, too busy dealing with their own local problems to care much about a tree on some distant land.
Desperate for something to happen, we become a part of Malfurion's gambit - while the bulk of Ragnaros' forces are on the offensive, he suggests a daring attack against the enemy. He calls for resources to be gathered from the enemy, that he will collect and use to open a gateway into the Firelands itself - dangerous dailies with rich rewards, perhaps.
Imagine, further, a small instance within the barrow-dens. With all this disruption, the various prisoners held by the Wardens are breaking free as the Wardens are called out to battle. Staghelm is making a move, aided by unknown forces that have infiltrated the Dens, perhaps even druids who lead us in and then mislead us while they rescue Staghelm, we see the betrayal and corruption of Druids first hand - a sign of things to come later.
4.2 finally arrives and Malfurion, along with the Aspects and the Elders having gathered enough resources finally opens that gate - straight into the Firelands itself, bypassing all the defenses Ragnaros has put in place. The Avengers of Hyjal take a skeletal crew into the Firelands along with the adventurers and begin their own invasion - one of foliage. The quests can continue as they do now - we plant our own trees in the Firelands and solidify our foothold even as Ragnaros recalls some of his forces, aware now of his exposed flank.
The fight is two-fronted - the invasion and the repel - do dailies in Firelands to grow the trees, and do a new (shorter) questline in Hyjal to retake the land. As quests are completed in Hyjal, the Guardians move forward, take new land, open new dailies and quest hubs, regrow their lands bit by bit.
Meanwhile, the fight continues in the Firelands - adventurers raid against Ragnaros refusing him the opportunity to advance against the tree himself, and tangle up his strongest lieutenants. 4.2 ends with the fires of Hyjal finally extinguished, and Ragnaros finally defeated.
This keeps things very close to the way they are but it just changes the tone of things and adds a palpable sense of desperation to things - it brings a sense of danger. Something sorely lacking in the game right now. With phasing technology being so evocative in its ability to change the world, I think the storytellers can afford to be a little more risky and let us loose things at the end-game a little bit.
It'll make the victories all the more meaningful.