Sylvanas, more like Snarkvanas!
Ok, so week 3 of pre-launch events done, and I’ve played both Alliance and Horde for all 3 parts now, so let’s talk story.
The Siege of Lordaeron has come and gone, and the gameplay is no surprise, as the alpha and beta testing for Battle for Azeroth contained these scenarios, and from a gameplay perspective, these are the best pieces of content in the pre-launch events. They are scenarios, with fully-fledged and different experiences per faction, rather than the somewhat similarly mirrored experiences that the War of the Thorns brought.
With it, we get three cinematics (and Old Soldier, the pre-rendered and absolutely fantastic cinematic) and the basic drawing of battlelines for Battle for Azeroth.
Let it be clear – while the primary forces here are the Horde and Alliance, it is worth calling out that there are finer divisions that are made more apparent here. Throughout the War of the Thorns, while the story elements on the Horde side make somewhat clear that Saurfang is not happy with Sylvanas’ actions, this scenario makes it crystal clear that Saurfang has lost hope in the Horde. He sees now that continuing with the Horde will not be honorable, and chooses an honorable death at the hands of the Alliance, which also irritates Baine Bloodhoof. There are clear, simple lines drawn to illustrate a rift in the Horde – the traditionalist, honor-bound side represented by Baine and Saurfang, and a faction of those who believe the ends justify the means, with Sylvanas at the helm, Nathanos Blightcaller and Lor’Themar Theron alongside.
This divide is important because it serves to highlight the inner tension the Horde will have to work through to succeed in the ongoing conflict with the Alliance. While at present the Horde leaders who remain are working with Sylvanas, there is a definite sense of unease between them, especially with Baine and Sylvanas. Saurfang is captured in the Alliance side of the scenario, which is due to his desire to die that honorable death, but Anduin ultimately subverts that, pointing out that there is no honor in any of this.
The theme here returns repeatedly to honor, with purpose. By making the concept of honor the fulcrum upon which this story balances, Blizzard has highlighted a shift in the Horde and an amplification of that value within the Alliance. In the original story of the game, it would be difficult to declare much of a difference between the two factions, as both, in an effort to keep neutrality, were, effectively, Mary Sue type factions. They were both upstanding, good, and honorable – and the story of faction conflict was bland and meaningless. There is a lot of depth infused into this plot by turning the Horde away from that path – which stings Horde players because, as we remember, a turn away from honor was what marked Garrosh Hellscream’s descent. However, in that case, the Horde as an entity was singularly opposed to Garrosh, and the few that were with him as allies were outliers. Here, there is, indeed, some shading of grey in the space. Baine, Saurfang – they do not agree with Sylvanas or find honor in her actions, and Saurfang is willing to die his warrior’s death rather than justify it. But Baine and the others? They consent. Baine disagrees, and maybe Rokhan does as well, but no one as of yet has stepped up to stop her. At this point even in Mists of Pandaria, we had clear lines of disagreement and rebellion forming within the Horde, on top of the absolute bloodthirst for Garrosh within the Alliance.
This is crucial to understand, especially if you find yourself distraught that Sylvanas may end up being the villian of this expansion – the seed is not planted that firmly, and while she is definitely the mustache-twirling villian of the pre-launch events, there is a lot left to see and learn. Sylvanas states as much during the Siege of Lordaeron, telling Saurfang, “Honor means nothing to a corpse.” This underlines the transmedia narrative that Blizzard is telling between quest text, cinematics, out-of-game cinematics, and stories like the novellas that released this week. Sylvanas sees Azerite as changing the future of the faction conflict, and does not want the Horde to lose out on that resource. The analogy to nuclear weapons only increases, as the disaster scenario Sylvanas sees unfolding should they fail to act is the Horde being wiped out cleanly by an Azerite arsenal at Alliance hands. Now, one could debate the peace that she seeks, as it seems fairly clear that her ideal peace is to flatten the Alliance and sweep them off the planet to enable the Horde to live on, and believes that any peace agreement brokered between the two factions would ultimately lead to the Alliance renegotiating through blood. For this reason, the Horde agrees – while they struggle to find that, and sometimes waver as does Saurfang, currently, sans Saurfang, the full leadership of the Horde has come to a tense agreement of the necessity of these steps.
There is one thing here worth pointing out – Baine is also clearly not trusted by the other Horde leaders, and with good reason. His best friend and letter writing companion was Anduin, after all…
As for the Alliance side, there is a fair degree of unity here, however it is worth saying that the stories here are less interesting as there are effectively only two Alliance leaders that matter very much currently – the pairing of Genn Greymane and Anduin Wrynn. These two are the stars of the Alliance, but I do think this scenario does a decent job of bringing in the others. Alleria stars as the only Allied Race leader stepping into battle, with the Void Elves warping in out of nowhere to save the day.
That brings us to the biggest element of this scenario – the return of Jaina Proudmoore, and wow, what a return that was! Is this a bit of a deus ex machina? Absolutely. Was it cool as hell? Also yes.
She also shows the new continuity of the WoW franchise between these out of game projects and the game itself. That boat looks cool in game, but where did it come from? Well…in Warbringers: Jaina, she pulls it out of the sea – it’s her dad’s boat.
And wow, has she gotten powerful. The boat flies…because magic. The cannons fire a broadside of arcane missiles…because magic. She ices the blight off the battlefield and serves to basically bring the Alliance to parity with the Horde, because for all the talk of planning, the Horde was clearly better prepared. Sylvanas had blight ready, a plan with layers – the Alliance could have been stopped at the gates, but if not, well, we have a plan B, and a plan C. Jaina appearing merely saved the Alliance leaders from dying at the tail end.
But it is worth talking about an interesting comparison that these events brought into the spotlight – that of Arthas.
It seems stunningly non-coincidental that each piece of BfA pre-launch content so far has had parallels or outright references to Arthas. Warbringers: Jaina has the raising of the boat in much the same way that Arthas raised Sindragosa in the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic. Warbringers: Sylvanas just outright had Arthas in it, drawing a clear parallel between his actions, ending the life of an elf defender but only after they are made to watch as their city is destroyed as Sylvanas does the same in turn. And now, the Siege of Lordaeron – Anduin storms into the throne room in the same way as Arthas, with the same cadence, the same camera angles, and just the overall composition of the scene.
Further, the Siege of Lordaeron sees Sylvanas blighting Horde and Alliance alike, and then raising the dead as her own Undead army. While we know that the Val’kyr can bring forth new undead, this is the first time we’ve seen Sylvanas herself do it, and the parallel cannot be missed.
It’s hard to say what is going on with Sylvanas now, having done both sides of the scenarios. The Alliance version paints her as a pure villian, and builds up an animosity towards her that makes you want her to be the end raid boss so you can kill her. The Horde side shades her actions more, making her seem a bit more justified in her decisions and also portraying the fraying of leadership within the Horde. In the end, it is still easy to see Sylvanas as a villian regardless of faction, but I still firmly believe that there will be a twist here. But I think a bit differently from my last big analysis, where I presented the theory that Alleria would kill her sister. I still believe that, but…
“At the hour of her third death, she will usher in our coming.”
During Legion, it was an immensely popular pastime to speculate about what Il’gynoth quotes meant. This quote, above, was frequently speculated to be about Sylvanas. It was also, upon her return, interpreted as being about Alleria Windrunner. I can’t say for sure that it certainly is one or the other, but I think that it is definitely one of these two at this point. Further, I suspect that it will be important and will be brought back into Battle for Azeroth. I will end this post with one bit of huge speculation.
A Windrunner death will happen during 8.0, and Azshara’s return will be related to that very event.
And if I had to bet, right now, it will be Sylvanas.
Sylvanas, for all her character flaws right now, is the glue holding together the Horde. Her character has an increasingly large target painted on her back, and we know from the Windrunners comic that the Void wants Sylvanas dead. This is why I believe that her death will be the trigger that Il’gynoth hinted towards. She fits the bill, and if her death ushers in their coming, well, of course they would want her death. This will also create an interesting possibility – if Sylvanas uses her last Val’kyr to come back a final time to a Void infestation, how will that play into her current feelings about the Horde, Alliance, and the conflict between them?