Blizzard storytelling has one trope it falls on harder than many others – the narrative arc of a good hero falling to darkness before being redeemed. It is the story of Illidan (albeit on a much longer timescale), of Arthas, of Garrosh (maybe a little less redeeming in the end as much as seeing a bit of his viewpoint), of Deathwing (again without much redemption, but yeah), and of AU Grom Hellscream.
It is so reliable a Blizzard trope that examples of it exist outside of WoW, with characters like Kerrigan from Starcraft, and Malthael in Diablo III.
And, if you’ve been reading my previous posts on this issue, there is a lot of storytelling I know we need to get from Antorus to Battle for Azeroth.
Before continuing past this point, know that spoilers are going to be coming in rather heavily. Be warned!
Okay, so Sargeras slams his sword into Silithus, creating The Wound, a nasty, bloody gash in Azeroth’s beautiful face. Azeroth is, quite literally, bleeding before our very eyes.
This is where we are now, in lore (provided you have beaten Antorus, because otherwise Silithus is just an okay level 55-60ish zone.)
The 7.3.5 PTR added a quest that, on its face, doesn’t tell us much, other than giving us a convenient way out of keeping our Artifact weapons – in order to give Azeroth a fighting chance, we have to siphon the corruption out of the wound in Silithus, and, Magni devises that the only way we can do that is with items known to rapidly absorb power – our Artifact weapons.
So, all we know for now is that it seems like we run off and do this, and the wound changes on the 7.3.5 PTR from glowing red, to a more muted yellow. It also appears that something happens with Sargeras’ sword in this process, as there is a placeholder cube on the PTR that seems to imply a new model goes there. Maybe it’s smaller, yellower, I dunno, it doesn’t matter. The point is this – we go there with our artifacts and take the corrupted energy of the wound into our artifacts.
So…yeah. Now we, the heroes of Azeroth, are carrying around immensely powerful weapons, teeming with corrupt energy. (I hope that this quest gives us like a trillion artifact power just for funsies).
Now, before making my point, it is important to contextualize the idea. Over the last several expansions, Blizzard has gone to extreme effort to present the in-game lore with our player characters as lore-canon. We are “champions” – this sort of nameless, faceless ideal that fights back whatever it is that threatens Azeroth. In Mists of Pandaria, we were the trusted escort of our faction into uncharted lands, entrusted with protecting our faction leadership and ultimately leading our factions into the Siege of Orgrimmar. In Warlords of Draenor, we are the front lines, sent alongside Khadgar and a small expedition to establish a base, which becomes our Garrison – and establishes us, the player, as the commander of the forces of our faction. In Legion, we return from this effort, entrusted to lead the entirety of our class order, ultimately being tasked with leading the full force of all the orders via the Legionfall campaign, and then leading the Azerothian forces onboard the Vindicaar into Argus.
We have the ears of our faction leaders. We have the hearts of our factions and class orders. Our player character, as defined by lore, is a paragon of virtue – everything we have done has ended up being the right thing, and we have worked hard to correct as needed.
Most importantly, however – we have the implicit (and sometimes explicit) trust of our faction leaders. For Alliance players, King Anduin Wrynn has grown up alongside your journey, and trusts you perhaps more than any other advisor, save for perhaps Prophet Velen or Genn Greymane. For Horde players, you’ve been there with Sylvanas Windrunner through her ascendancy, both when she was less certain in the Horde, and through her newest arc as she has taken the mantle of Warchief.
At this point in the lore, we are untouchable, mighty archons for all that is right in the world (of warcraft).
Which is precisely the point in Blizzard’s most common character arc at which we become corrupted.
There, at first glance over the story so far in Legion, seems to be a lot of ground left to cover to get us to Battle for Azeroth. There is the emergence of Azerite (which begins in 7.3.5), the forging of our new alliances leading to Allied Races, but most importantly, the sudden emergence of conflict.
Yes, while the Alliance vs. Horde narrative is one that is deeply woven into WoW, on the lore side, it’s not really there right now, not to any meaningful extent. Sure, Genn and Sylvanas were really snippy to each other in Stormheim, oh no. Oh yeah, and Jaina is still really mad that we let the Horde back into Dalaran. Outside of these tidbits, the faction conflict is so dead and cold in lore that Sylvanas might be able to convince it to join the Forsaken.
So we have a lot of ground to cover. Further, think of the two watershed moments that we are told lead to BfA – the burning of Teldrassil and the sieging of Lordaeron. Okay, so both of these are violent acts that work to pit us against one another, but why would we do this at all? Think of the strategic implications, or rather the lack of them. Teldrassil is so far away from anything that burning it down doesn’t really make any sense. It serves no strategic purpose. Sylvanas ends the opening chapters of the new novel Before the Storm wanting to take Stormwind – a logical choice as the main seat of Alliance power and a strong, reinforced port city.
Likewise, what does the Alliance gain from taking Lordaeron? Sentimentality for Human survivors of the Third War aside, is there really any damn reason we’d want it? It doesn’t offer us any advantages that Stormwind doesn’t have – there’s no better trade access, no better naval access, and Stormwind is already far closer to the new location of Kul Tiras!
Taken on their own, it would take a hell of a lot of plot development for us to end up at a point where these two maneuvers are worthwhile strategic opportunities. So bring on patch 7.3.6, and 7.3.7, and 7.3.8…
The Real Twist – We Are The Villains Now (For At Least A Moment’s Time)
So we absorb the corruption out of the Sargeras-afflicted wound in Silithus. Oh, sorry, I mean our artifact weapons. Or do I?
Here is my theory – tinfoil hats on at maximum tightness! We succeed in cleansing the wound of demonic corruption, and indeed our artifacts take that power on. They are corrupted, but we have spent much of the expansion dumping power of dubious origins into these things, so they will probably be fine. However, there is something darker in that wound, something that has inhabited and haunted Silithus far longer than Sargeras’ sword. Old God influence – C’Thun’s voice speaks to us. We have spent the entire expansion attuning ourselves to our Artifact weapons, so we know how to empower them and lean on them for their power, but this link can and will be exploited. As we siphon the demonic energy into our artifacts, a little taste of Void will come along – enough that as we use our artifact weapons, they’ll start talking to us, telling us tales to set us against one another (well, they’ll talk more if you happen to have Aluneth or Xal’atath.)
The Old Gods thrive in chaos, and by gaining a direct link to Azeroth’s most trusted champions, they can sow discontent. Burning Teldrassil doesn’t currently make much sense – but it is pretty close to Soggoth the Slitherer in Darkshore, and creating chaos and discontent so close to his burial site can only help the fiend gain power. Lordaeron, similarly, doesn’t make much sense strategically, but it is close to an Old God resting place – the very same one we (as Shadow Priests) plucked Xal’atath from back at the start of Legion. We are trusted by our faction leaders, and so while it seems out of character for us to suggest conflict on this scale, well, maybe there is something to that idea, our faction leaders will say, and this will be our downfall.
So we hear the whispers, and we, while knowing that they exist, also haven’t experienced them for ourselves, and so we start to find that they make sense. Our inner voice has never led us astray, and following the whims of our Artifact weapons has led us to victory against the Burning Legion. What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything! When we start to realize what is truly happening, it will be too late. We will destroy the Artifacts, believing them to be the source of the whispers – they have gained too much power and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But they were never really the source of the power. They were merely conduits for our power as the champions of Azeroth – and the Old Gods have used that connection to infiltrate us. We will come to realize this, and I think our redemption will come relatively swiftly, but by that time, we will be on an irreversible course to war.
The Old Gods, in the end, will get what they want – revitalized chaos and destruction brought about by the most trusted heroes of Azeroth, and in that process, we will lose some of that trust and appreciation. The hearts and minds of our people will start to drift away, even once we come back from the brink of madness, and this will be the most powerful chaos – the kind that brings our darkest nightmares to manifest.
The Old Gods will act swiftly to bring us to heel – using us as their puppets, and our Artifacts as the connection point. And just like those far more powerful than us – dragon aspects, Naga queens, and the like – we will give in to those whispers.
What happens after that, well, depends on us. But for the first time in the lore, we will have a reputation to rebuild, and this process will be a fascinating one to watch unfold over the story in-game. Our War Campaign should be equal parts regaining strategic footing and us redeeming ourselves for the acts we undertook leading to this madness.
Or, I am wrong and there will be some convoluted lore that somehow makes Teldrassil seem more interesting than it is.
I know which outcome I hope for, however!