BfA is at a crossroads on plot, as what we know of the story through 8.1.5 takes us in two distinct directions.
This is something I really like about this expansion, execution flaws aside – there are multiple cards on the table and any one of them could be the next big piece of the puzzle.
In the past, I’ve talked about how I would see N’Zoth as the most likely foe to end the expansion with, but he isn’t the only option. In fact, there are more choices than we might think!
*Caution – there are some 8.1.5 story spoilers in here, so tread lightly!*
N’Zoth – The Obvious Choice
I’m not going to spend too much time in this post talking about everyone’s favorite eyeboi, because I’ve done so a lot in the past.
Like, a lot.
But, I think that he is still the most likely enemy we will face. While the early expansion content has not given us much Old Gods, there are bits of content in the leveling that point in that direction, Uldir hints at it, and with the Crucible of Storms, Xal’atath, and N’Zoth’s Gaze content coming up in 8.1.5, one has to imagine that such a strong push in that direction indicates we are heading to a face-off with N’Zoth.
A likely 8.3 would see Ny’alotha or a similar Old God zone, with a raid, dungeon, world content (hopefully a big sub-continent set of outdoor zones), and a likely conclusion to the story content of BfA and possible continuation of story into 9.0.
The Ashes of Teldrassil – A New Contender Emerges
So this one is sort of left-field, and sort of odd, but I saw the suggestion of this idea on Twitter and wanted to expand upon it.
So we started the expansion by burning Teldrassil – well, the Horde did, while those of us on the Alliance kind of just witnessed it. One of the lingering story bits introduced in 8.1 with the battle for Darkshore is the idea that the Horde have taken it, and the Alliance want it back – specifically Tyrande. While currently, the story with Tyrande as Night Warrior is largely secondary to the main expansion plot, it would be an interesting idea to see that plot point return – in a big way.
8.2 will see us going to Nazjatar, and fighting Azshara, which will likely involve Tyrande and Malfurion in some fashion, keeping them relevant. What we don’t know, however, is what happens past that point – at all. While Azshara being defeated likely paves the way to bring N’Zoth out to play, the wrench in the works is what has been presented as the central plotline of the expansion so far.
The joke of BfA has been that the expansion is a “faction-conflict story” and that nothing else can possibly be happening, usually said with a wink and nudge after talking about the various Old God stories afloat in our consciousness.
But what if Blizzard isn’t actually misdirecting us at all?
Sylvanas has been built up to a point where she could conceivably be the main villain of the expansion. There is a vocal group that would absolutely hate that, and it would reek of Mists of Pandaria storytelling with Garrosh, but it also fits the template too well to ignore. In 8.1.5, the Horde will be taken from slight disapproval of Sylvanas to a more open distaste of her leadership, drawing what seem to be clear battlelines, not unfamiliar for those who witnessed the patch 5.3 Darkspear rebellion against Garrosh. While 8.1.5 stops short of any actual, direct pull into battle, the lines are becoming clearer, with a small faction that supports Sylvanas and a larger one opposed.
The question that raises then is where do we fight Sylvanas?
Well, we could do Siege of Orgrimmar – again. In fact, one might have been suckered into believing exactly that during beta, when a Siege of Orgrimmar 2.0 was datamined (it turns out to be used for the Mag’har Orc unlock quest). Undercity could work, but it is still thick with blight – a solvable problem, to be sure, but still a problem. However, there is one place from the early expansion tensions, with an undead force parked on the shore next to it and conflict raging…
The whole point of fighting at Teldrassil is that the world tree was bursting with Azerite that Sylvanas wanted. The tree no longer burns, instead resting in the pale moonlight as a darkened husk of what once was. My imagination on what an “Ashes of Teldrassil” patch could be would be as follows:
-A new, burned out Teldrassil as an outdoor zone
-A quest chain and world quests/contributions centered on restoring Teldrassil (from the Earthen Ring, Cenarion Circle, one of the very nature-loving factions)
-The conclusion of the split war campaign and the unification of Horde and Alliance to save Azeroth from the ravages of Sylvanas
-A new dungeon set in Teldrassil (perhaps digging through the roots of the world tree, with a dungeon entrance at the old Rut’theran Village?), which would help set up an Old God 9.0 by revealing that Teldrassil has some Old God problems at the roots
-A raid set in Darnassus, fighting against Sylvanas’ faction, with possible raid fights including undead Night Elves and Worgen killed in the burning, a fight against the Dark Rangers we saw raised in 8.1, a Val’kyr fight, ultimately culminating in us taking down Nathanos and Sylvanas
-Contributions to regrow Teldrassil could work like Broken Shore, with unlocks allowing us to open specific features (perhaps a bonus Azerite harvest, a challenge similar to the Mage Tower, etc)
-World bosses based on former Night Elf faction NPCs who would have died in the fire and been raised as undead
Now, while I personally like this idea, it has some drawbacks. First and foremost in my mind, it would almost require some other additional zone be added. Teldrassil was a fairly small continent and with almost a third of it being Darnassus (and therefore the raid for the patch), the landmass left to use would almost certainly be too little for a zone that will likely have to live for at least a year.
Secondly, going to Sylvanas as the endboss of the expansion thematically fits the expansion to date, but also means further postponement of Old God content, which is bound to displease many of us. Arguably, Sylvanas armed with Xal’atath would be a fantastic bridge into that content, coupled with a Roots of Teldrassil dungeon that would have further Old God enemies, but it would deny the theme its day in the sun during BfA – which I think would allow us more Old God content, but not everyone would agree or be placated with that.
Thirdly, Sylvanas being the main enemy of the expansion would be a massive disappointment for a lot of folks, and would also be a repeat of what we saw during Mists of Pandaria, where a Titan complex and troll raid give way to a battle against the current Horde warchief. Admittedly, I agree with this assessment – while I think the story will require that we deal with Sylvanas in some capacity, I’m not sure I feel like she should be a raid boss. If she is, I don’t think she should be the last one of the expansion. However, if she is not a raid boss, my fear is that we will end the expansion with an unsatisfying plot for her, as I imagine that the game will not shift focus in storytelling well to accommodate her outside of a raid. Maybe a final chapter of the War Campaign could do so – but I have reservations about that.
Overall, if we don’t go all-in on Old Gods by the end of this expansion, I would imagine a Sylvanas-infused raid and content tier is what we can expect, but I believe the odds of this are low.
There is one other possibility I would suggest, using much of the template for Teldrassil I laid out above, but with a new enemy…
The Night Warrior and The Sorrow of Teldrassil
Tyrande had a fairly large plot change in 8.1, going from sometimes inept leader of the Night Elves and wife of Malfurion Stormrage to the physical manifestation of Elune’s fury. The introduction to this form was slightly underwhelmning, but it exists and she is still a threat to the Horde.
But what if her sorrow, anger, and rage at Teldrassil’s burning consumes her? She is already quite cross with Anduin over his refusal to send Alliance forces to Darkshore to aid her in its recapture, so she does it herself, taking on the Night Warrior form in the process. It is conceivable that this new form may bring not just incredible power, but also unrestrained emotions.
Tyrande quite clearly has contempt for Sylvanas, the Horde as a whole, and even some for the Alliance, in some ways. It was her anger at Anduin that leads to the Darkshore Warfront, and it was her dismissiveness of the Nightfallen at Suramar that led to them joining the Horde. If the story continues to see her acting alone, aided solely by the Alliance champion and her own forces, she may very well lash out at all sides, establishing the Night Elves as a force all their own.
It was not that long ago, after all, during the Third War, that the Night Elves were in fact their own faction, allied to no one. It has been something of a common, recurring theme in the lore that the Night Elves have effectively been their own force with more of a loose association with the Alliance. Tyrande is present for many pivotal moments, but outside of that, it is often easy to forget that she is a major faction leader in her own right.
Unlike the Horde, whose geographically isolated leaders in Sylvanas and Lor’themar Theron were very integrated into the faction, with Sylvanas being, well, Sylvanas, and Lor’themar taking point at the Isle of Thunder, the Alliance’s isolated factions play far less of a role. The Draenei are present by virtue of Prophet Velen and his deep ties with Anduin, coupled with the fact that major plot elements of the last several expansions have tied heavily in to his specific lore and the Draenei as a race (Warlords of Draenor having an AU Velen, the Draenei of that same AU Draenor, their similar fight against the Iron Horde, and then in Legion with Velen’s fellow-triumvirate member Kil’jaeden and the return of Velen to Argus). I could see a plot with Tyrande effectively removing herself and the Night Elves from the Alliance, attempting to reclaim Teldrassil, and in the process giving fully in to her rage and sorrow as the Night Warrior, lashing out at all she perceives as in her way.
I imagine this would go somewhat similarly to the Ashes of Teldrassil scenario I described above, with a similar breadth of content, but you would have to add wrapping up or continuing Sylvanas’ story to the mix, and who knows how you’d pull that off? For that reason, plus the fact that it would be left field for no really good reason, I would state that this is by far the least likely scenario, and one I absolutely don’t see happening. However, I do think that Tyrande needs more story development herself, and I think a fight with a lunar-empowered Tyrande as an avatar of vengeance would be amazing!
Where Do We Go From Here?
Well, I think at this point, despite my observations, I’d say the most likely by far is still N’Zoth, Ny’Alotha, and all of the trimmings that would allow. Sylvanas is likely going to remain a highly-focused NPC, and there are a lot of things still needing to be cleaned up to drive the lore forward – Tyrande as Night Warrior, Saurfang and Zekhan, the imprisonment of Baine Bloodhoof, Nathanos being moody, the mystery of Vol’jin’s dying warchief succession, Calia Menethil, Talia Fordragon (does she meet her dad? Does she go with Calia to meet her dad and have all that weirdness?), the riddles of Il’Gynoth, the manifestation and disappearance of Xal’atath the being, the use of Xal’atath the blade by Sylvanas, and that’s before we even see all the twists in 8.1.5 and 8.2!
My point, condensed to a simple reduction, is this – the game has a ton of directions for the lore to go in, a ton of open lore on the table, and the sincere hope I have is that Blizzard has solid plans to resolve these plot threads in a substantive, meaningful way.