Okay, so, that post I promised last time is getting wound in here, and this is gonna be a long one.
So I just finished the second part of War of the Thorns from the Alliance perspective, and, well…hmm.
My complaints about Part 1 were largely gameplay based, in that it doesn’t offer much, and that is doubled here, but yet, this is an example of how to pull that off well. Here, the lack of gameplay is to make you think about the story – to be robbed of agency in service of a narrative. Depending on how this plays out, it could end up being really good or really not good.
First, we see Malfurion almost murdered, a subplot set up for next week’s Battle of Lordaeron, with Saurfang pushing back against Sylvanas. Then, the in-game playback of Sylvanas’ Warbringers short, intended to reveal the means by which Teldrassil is burned and solve the mystery from last year’s Blizzcon announcement…in the simplest way possible. There is no intrigue – Sylvanas burns the tree as a means to extinguish hope, when challenged by a night elf character literally added to the game to serve in that role. The answer to all the mysteries about the dead elf in the key art – solved! (In beta the character was Shandris Feathermoon, which would have been intriguing).
Now, before I continue on to my larger quest breakdown, I want to stop here for a moment to address something that Horde players and Sylvanas stans have been bothered by – this paints Sylvanas as a dumb, simple villain, right? Yes…and no. I think there is something more going on here and I would doubt that this is going to turn fully into Garrosh Hellscream 2.0. Now, is it starting that way? Absolutely, yes – and I think it is worth calling out that this doesn’t really leave a lot of room for grey – as presented. We’ll come back to this shortly.
The quests for Alliance lead to the burning city of Darnassus, from which you can not fly elsewhere in Teldrassil – I tried. You get a quest to evacuate 962 Darnassian citizens, a quest you cannot complete – intended to give you a pointless last chance to run around the city, which, depending on when you played and what races, may or may not be a sad last quest.
For me, my first main from Vanilla being a Night Elf Priest, yeah, it was a bit sad. I remember Darnassus, the big animal bank, questing all over the tree, and while it looked crude and bizarre, it was pretty cool and an easy sell of the fantasy vision of Warcraft. I took the most screenshots I had in game in a while, both because I would miss it and because I knew I’d be writing this post.
And you run out of time, and there are a lot of citizens still left on the tree (I saved 36), and the game makes you prepare to leave, but not before almost killing Greymane’s wife with smoke inhalation at Sylvanas’ hands, figuratively. (She isn’t up on Darnassus cackling or anything).
And with that, you port to Stormwind, the end of a hopeless pushback on Sylvanas’ villainy, and Anduin says almost nothing and gives you a Hippogryph, and you’re done. If you take a portal to Darnassus, you end up in Lor’danel. If you try to fly to the husk of the tree, you hit fatigue barely out of Darkshore and can never make it. There is no bronze dragon, no chance to take another look (which is too bad, since the quest giver for the suicide mission also told me to kill a named spider on the tree. Now I have to hope the fire did it!).
I actually liked this, but some of how I judge this is open to change based on how the story unfolds. Let me explain.
The lack of gameplay serves the narrative: I am not a fan of being told in a game that playing is pointless, but this does it well. Last week made you think you could push back, reasonably, through gameplay, but it really doesn’t and you just play aimlessly. Here, not being able to play punctuates the moments in which the story punches you in the gut. You cannot retaliate against Saurfang for his dishonorable blow, and Sylvanas will not give you the pleasure of striking against her. The game doesn’t explain the rescue quest very well, but that totally fits – no one knows what to do and the end result is that the best thing the NPC can think to have you do is just take a bucket of water and tell people to leave their home. It is hopeless, but in the face of that, no one really gives up. The Night Elves that remain in the Temple of Elune, refusing the portal to Stormwind, sit resolute in their decision to go down with their home. Greymane forcefully takes his wife back to Stormwind, determined not to lose more family to Sylvanas. You can still fly around Darnassus if you really want, before finally taking the portal and ending the tale, but the view distance is smoked out, leaving you no way to see much of anything. Take a last look and say goodbye – forever (until WoW Classic, or maybe a Night Elf alt).
The pause for the week here suits the story: Anduin has been on a story arc around wanting to rule via peace. His intention even to this point has been to use Azerite’s power for peace – to save Azeroth from the ravages of war. He has served as a plot foil to Jaina and his father’s baser impulses, and the plot of Mists of Pandaria is ultimately the tale of Varian taking on more of his son’s peaceful stances, to Anduin’s delight. This is the first direct challenge to Anduin’s mode of thought since taking over the Alliance from his father – the Legion has been an overriding threat, until now, and the Class Orders have unified the factions against a common enemy. The response from Anduin will be a chance to show his method of leadership (which, we already know, is to lead the Alliance on to Lordaeron).
Is Sylvanas a villain? If so, is she a Villian (Capital V)?
The biggest point of contention about this whole saga is this – is Sylvanas a villain, or indeed, the Villian of Battle for Azeroth?
This is complicated as fuck, even though in game, the presentation is much simpler for the time being. Sylvanas being evil isn’t really new. She has always been self-serving, and willing to do diabolical things in service of her own goals. To that end, this is not really new characterization – she isn’t a particularly merciful character. The start of Legion and her aiding Vol’Jin was new characterization – a display of real compassion. This is not much of a change, although it is a shift from that Legion characterization.
However, her stated aim of this quest is to take hope from the Night Elves, and while her initial goal was to do so by killing Malfurion, she gives up on that and leaves it to Saurfang, without checking the work. The cinematic makes the point that she makes the decision to burn Teldrassil in the moment, in anger, and it is not premeditated, although the Horde army does have the means to do so there with them already. It isn’t a short distance from Darkshore to Teldrassil, certainly not short for catapaults…
So the question is this, then – is Sylvanas a villain? Yes. She has been for a while, though. Not the villain, but a villain. Sylvanas has always been this way, driven by her own goals and damn the means. Now, is she going to be THE Villain of Battle for Azeroth?
No. I don’t believe so, at least.
Sylvanas Is Feared By The Void
The Windrunner’s comic that was online a few months back goes into a good deal of detail about how the Windrunner’s reunite, and while it goes better than one would expect, there is a detail that stands out, especially now – Alleria’s Void voices. The whispers she hears have a few interesting things to say, but one stands out sharply – they DO NOT like Sylvanas. They see no value in keeping her, and they seek her destruction outright. This is the point in the comic in which they are loudest, screaming for her demise.
This, I think, is important to note. Let’s discuss why (This is where we go to a mix of spoilers and speculation, so if you’re trying to stay pure for BfA, this may be the right time to bow out.)
The Real Narrative Thrust of Battle for Azeroth Is Going To Be About Old Gods, But Also About Picking Up The Pieces
My opinion is this – Battle for Azeroth is not actually about the faction conflict. Look, this isn’t controversial or maybe even interesting at this point – speculation of this sort has been raging for a long time. I’ve done it, lots of WoW content creators have done it, it is the prevailing theory. If Azshara is coming into the plot, one must assume that the Old Gods have a place in the narrative. And the way in which Azshara enters the stage remains shrouded in mystery, until next week with our last Warbringers short, presumably.
Now, one might ask, what are the clues I would use today to point at Old Gods, beside just Azshara?
The Faction Conflict Plot Here Is Flimsy As Hell
And obviously so, at that.
Now, the War of the Thorns has obviously raised the stakes considerably. But, consider this – short of Azerite, there really isn’t much of a reason for hostilities to run so high. Silithus could have been mined more, surely other places have Azerite, so the idea of needing to war over it is bizarre. It doesn’t really warm up much in what we can see on beta for Battle for Azeroth, either. In fact, the opposite actually happens mostly – the two factions go their separate ways to adventure in their respective continents, only skirmishing occasionally. Now, strategically, sure, it makes sense – find new allies and bases of operation that will enable you to strike at your enemies. However, the end result of much of the early expansion stuff doesn’t see much in the way of faction drama.
In fact, while the Horde under a similarly crazed Garrosh was plotting his overthrow very early on in Mists of Pandaria. Meanwhile, in BfA, the Horde is just hanging out doing as Sylvanas orders. There don’t seem to be any reprecussions for her actions at Teldrassil, and no one short of Saurfang seems to really be concerned. To his credit, Saurfang bolts after Battle for Lordaeron and seems to be opting to leave the Horde (or at least to take a sabbatical and think about things).
Similarly, while the Alliance is out for blood at Lordaeron, the end result is that we all go to Kul Tiras and try to get them on our side. There is the war campaign, but it ultimately seems a bit toothless. So what is the deal?
All The Conflicts That Define the “War” Are Conveniently Close to Old Gods
This is a point that has been made a lot, but let’s talk about it with what we know – Silithus is next to the home of C’Thun, and we’ve fought there over Azerite, especially at the nearby Seething Shore. Teldrassil is near Darkshore and the home of Soggoth the Slitherer. Lordaeron has the tomb of Tyr, and the home of Zakajz the Corruptor. Each of these locations are important to Old Gods, close to their minions who seek to drive the citizenry of Azeroth mad.
Further, we know that the Void wants Sylvanas gone. It sought very strongly to do this via Alleria, but she did not do it. However, direct action is rarely the domain of the Void. It often acts indirectly, like, say…
Sylvanas Has Been Made a Puppet of the Old Gods, Simply To Kill Her
The Old Gods know how we work, and it’s easy to see that a simple way to turn swords on Sylvanas is to rely on her own actions to do so and to use that to your advantage. Sylvanas seeks power, and if you let her seek it in her way, she will make enemies out of someone, inevitably.
However, the easiest way to ensure that is to possess her. But how? Well, give her means she cannot turn down – an invitation to harness greater power.
Azerite Will Be A Tool of the Old Gods, And That Will Lead To Us Getting A Proper Void Expansion (And Getting Rid of the Heart of Azeroth, Eventually)
Azerite spawned out of the Wound, the giant sword stab where Sargeras got back at Azeroth, and also conveniently close to an Old God. Yeah, I know, that again – but it is important to emphasize this point. Azerite, from the in-game cinematics added in 7.3.5, clearly speaks to it’s holder. We know Azeroth does the same to Magni, but what voice do we know that whispers to those nearest it? Old Gods. Azerite is a concentration of Azeroth’s lifeblood, yes, but running through the planet are the tendrils of Old God corruption. Emboldened and empowered by the chaos erupting on the surface, the Old God’s influence seeps into the blood deeply.
Azshara will resurface, yes, but the Old Gods always have multiple pieces in play. Sylvanas, possessed by a lust for power. Anduin, possessed by a lust for peace. Player characters, possessed by a desire for balance. Azshara, further sowing the seeds of chaos. By the end of this expansion, we’ll see the full extent of the horrors that have bred beneath the surface. The Void, infused into the Heart of Azeroth. The corruption, deeply rooted and complete. The surface embroiled in chaos of war and the need to clean up our hatred in order to focus on the real enemy of the Old Gods.
It will be too late to stop the corruption, and thus the next expansion will be set. One thing left to clean up…
Sylvanas Will Die This Expansion, Likely, But It Will Be Far Better Than Garrosh (And Not Player Inflicted)
Sylvanas Windrunner has made a character arc out of evading death, only to embrace it. She has been villainous out of fear, the fear of losing her life. She has embraced Death, as in death she has found life. But the Void will have it’s victory, inevitably to setup the next expansion. And it will come…via Alleria.
Now, I know, Alleria is in control – but she has not been in places where the Void has spoke loudly to her. Argus was the start of this, and she ultimately took L’ura into herself.
The Void speaks louder than ever to Alleria, and it has one motivation stronger than the others – the end of Sylvanas. As Void consumes Azeroth, the voices will be yelling at Alleria in chorus, and it will be too strong.
I fully expect that the narrative twists and turns through Battle For Azeroth are leading us to a defining moment of lore – the betrayal of the Windrunners. There is a tenuous peace between the three at this time, but Alleria will give in, not out of any desire to do so for herself, but because she will seek to find peace from the voices as they grow ever louder.
While the Horde may feel displaced and unenthused by war now, seeing the true nature of the war revealed and losing their warchief for the fourth time in the last decade will absolutely put them on a warpath.
Or, perhaps I am putting too much thought into this, and Blizzard just didn’t think this plot through to that length.