Remember how last week, it really didn’t look like Sylvanas was to blame for the burning of Teldrassil? Sylvanas made it pretty clear she intended to occupy Darnassus and keep the civilians safe, you know, in a terrorist keeping hostages safe sort of way. It was evil, but it wasn’t evil evil. At least, that’s what we told ourselves.
Well, it turns out Sylvanas is evil evil. Killing hope and burning civilians evil. Undead Hitler evil. She’d twirl her moustache but it rotted off evil.
Which isn’t necessarily news to anyone. The fact that Sylvanas is being portrayed as cartoonishly evil in Battle for Azeroth is something that’s concerned players for a while. These quests have, after all, been available on the PTR and the beta for quite a long time. Sylvanas starting the war and the Horde being the instigators here is not news. Even the whole trying to kill Malfurion thing isn’t news. So why so much shock and horror now that Chapter 2 has made it into the live game?
Well, that’s because of a cinematic that we’ve all been waiting for. Blizzard has almost made a point of keeping the actual person responsible for the burning of Teldrassil a secret, and this has, over the months, lead to a great deal of speculation. Sylvanas seemed like the obvious person, so many (including myself) assumed it wouldn’t be her. They also keep telling us we don’t know the whole story yet and must wait and see and we’ll understand more soon. So many of us expected, with this cinematic – the first notable piece of the puzzle to be missing in all of this – a major plot twist. One that we hoped would make things seem a bit less like Horde are definitely the baddies and a bit more morally grey.
The first Warbringers short, this amazing piece of art about Jaina Proudmoore, was released last Monday with a promise that we’d receive about one a week until the launch of BFA. So when Monday came and the second Warbringers wasn’t released, I wondered if that was because it was going to be that cinematic we’ve been waiting for. I was right. Sylvanas’s Warbringers episode is all about how the fire starts.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning.
The quest starts with Saurfang’s reappearance. I’m not certain where he’s been, but he’s been gone for an entire week, and everyone’s kinda been waiting for him to return. Saurfang commands the Horde to begin the attack on Lor’danel, and we kill Allaince soldiers, take out two of their leaders, and even rescue civilians – which is nice. It’s also a moment to hold onto, because it’s probably the last chance the Horde are going to get to feel good for awhile. On the Alliance side, we are defending Lor’danel, but we also kill soldiers, take out two leaders, and rescue civilians. Then we go look for our leaders – Sylvanas for the Horde, and Malfurion for the Alliance.
We find Sylvanas and Malfurion fighting, and Sylvanas seems to be in trouble. Saurfang throws his weapon at Malfurion, nearly killing him, but also stabbing him in the back. This is an honourless blow, and it breaks the old orc’s heart. Sylvanas tries to tell him that he did well, taunts Malfurion a bit, then commands Saurfang to finish the job before leaving. It’s a pretty cruel command to expect someone who cares so much about honour to follow, and Saurfang can’t go through with it. He lets Tyrande leave with Malfurion, and she hearthstones them both to Stormwind City.
If we’re Horde, we go meet Sylvanas on the beach, and that’s where Sylvanas’s Warbringers short begins. It’s really worth the watch, but to summarise – Sylvanas is still planning to take Darnassus. Even now, that’s her plan for Teldrassil – to occupy it, not burn it to the ground. A dying night elf (who is, in fact, Captain Delaryn Summermoon – a quest giver on the Alliance side throughout the War of Thorns) demands to know why Sylvanas is doing this.
“Windrunner. You were… defender of your people. Do you not remember?”
Sylvanas leans forward. “I remember a fool.“
And we see a flashback to when she was still a living, breathing elf, and trying to protect her homeland against Arthas. Long story short, she fails. Sylvanas’s homeland of Quel’thalas falls, the people she tries to protect die, and Arthas kills her and turns her into a banshee. As far as Sylvanas is concerned, she learned a valuable lesson that day, and she shares that lesson with Summermoon.
“Life is pain. Hope fails.”
Delaryn is crying, so Sylvanas tries to comfort her. “Aw, don’t grieve. You’ll soon join your loved ones.”
“I grieve for you.”
And this is the one moment I really like. The way Sylvanas’s face falls at these words is pretty great. Whatever she was expecting, it wasn’t that.
“You’ve made life your enemy, and that is a war you’ll never win. You can kill us, but you cannot kill hope,” Delaryn tells her.
To which Sylvanas replies, “Can’t I?”
And that’s when she seems to make the decision to burn Teldrassil to the ground, citizens and all. The cinematic ends, and the tree is on fire. Never claim Lady Sylvanas backs down from a challenge.
And that is, essentially, where this questline ends for Horde. I was pretty upset by this point, even though it meant I finally have my beloved Undercity Plaguebat mount.
Then I played the Alliance side, where things get, if possible, even worse from here.
You’re given about two minutes to put out as many fires as possible and to save 982 civilians. Count them. 982. Of course it’s impossible. I managed 22 before the smoke overcame me. Then there’s this whole bit where you think Genn Greymane’s wife, Mia Greymane, might die, and, you know, he’s already lost a son to the Horde in general and Sylvanas in particular, and, well, it’s just a lot.
Sylvanas’s motivations were meant to demoralise the Alliance. Truth be told, I think Horde feels much worse. We’re the baddies, and it sucks.
And honestly? I have a lot more to say about that, but I’m going to put that in a separate article. For now, that’s the end of the War of Thorns questline. Enjoy it, if you can.