Earlier this week, Blizzard released the new Warbringers short along with the second chapter of the War of the Thorns, something a lot of players were waiting for, as many believed this was going to be the big reveal that explains why Horde are being genocidal maniacs for no apparent reason. Promotional content for Battle for Azeroth has had a lot to do with faction pride, so we expected to start feeling that soon.
Instead, the War of the Thorns had us watch Sylvanas, a supposedly calculating and intelligent leader, set the entire tree that is Teldrassil on fire on a whim, and all of the Warcraft fandom with it.
Horde players are upset about being the baddies… again. Alliance players are upset about being noble punching bags… again. Sylvanas fans are upset about writing that turns an intelligent, rational character into a temper-tantrum-throwing emotional wreck. Famous Loremaster Nobbel even called this one of the most disappointing moments in lore that he’s experienced so far. All in all, not one of Warcraft’s best moments.
Also not one of the fandom’s best moments either, as some people decided to start threatening World of Warcraft staff, even targeting Christie Golden who had nothing to do with the Warbringer shorts, and who wouldn’t deserve targeted harassment even if she did. Let me be clear here – anyone who harasses the people who make World of Warcraft is lower than the crusty scum that grows on the arse of Murlocs. Harassment is not okay. It’s never okay. And I have noticed how these gnolls latched onto the nearest woman to blame. The sort of attitude behind that is pretty transparent.
It wasn’t just the Murloc-arse-scum of the fandom that was upset though. When you play that questline, the impression you get is that Sylvanas is a genocidal maniac and Horde are blindly following her for no reason. It undermines the revolution of the past – when Garrosh was acting like a homicidal maniac, the entire Horde were rallying to resist and overthrow him. That made it easier to feel like the Horde were not to blame for Garrosh’s crimes. At the end of the War of the Thorns, however, we see Saurfang calmly standing by Sylvanas as Teldrassil burns. We know that certain other Horde leaders will be standing by Sylvanas in the Battle for Lordaeron to come. The story just hasn’t made a lot of sense lately.
In fact, it feels like a lot of context has been missing, and it looks like it was, because Blizzard quickly started providing us with more context. First, Nobbel and Wowhead’s Perculia were each sent copies of the two novellas, A Good War and Elegy, that’s coming with the Battle for Azeroth collector’s edition. These novellas are about the War of the Thorns, and they contain important information that really should have been more evident in game. Sylvanas’s motivations, while still questionable, are a little clearer, and Saurfang’s objections are much clearer – for example, he’s supposed to start screaming in protest when Teldrassil is set alight. You can read Nobbel and Perculia’s analysis here, or you can watch Nobbel’s video about it here.
Secondly, Blizzard released this incredible cinematic this morning. It’s called “Old Soldier”, and it’s about Saurfang, and you should watch it.
This cinematic makes at least Saurfang’s discomfort with the direction Sylvanas is taking the Horde extremely clear, and this goes a long way in putting to rest any fears that the Horde itself is being rewritten to be iredeemable baddies in Battle for Azeroth. Clearly, it’s Sylvanas who’s at fault here, not the Horde itself. This is also, clearly, not a quick rewrite. It’s a whole cinematic. So it’s not like Blizzard are quickly doing damage control rewriting to the story, but rather that this is the story, they just haven’t communicated it as well as they could have. Which, I’m beginning to think, was more the fault of a bad pre-patch than of any really bad writing.
On the whole, the pre-patch has been a mess. The launch was so buggy, developer Ion Hazzikostas personally apologised for how badly everything went. They’re still fixing things that launch broke. The content has been lacklustre. The Legion pre-patch had us experiencing Legion invasions all across Azeroth. Everyone could participate and try push the legion back. Lower level characters got ridiculous amounts of experience, and all characters got special sets of gear that was designed to suit the whole theme of Legion. Instead of giving us something like that to really get us in the mood for Battle for Azeroth, they just tossed us a couple of generic world quests (four a day) and told us to enjoy. Even the gear that’s rewarded is generic – it’s the gear you get when you buy a character boost. In the first week, at least, no one saw cloak, ring or trinket rewards, and it doesn’t consider the weapon preferences of certain classes and specs – Windwalker Monks, for example, use fist weapons, but the world quests only reward staffs.
The entire pre-patch just feels unfinished, from the gear we’re rewarded to the way the story is expressed. A few tweaks – Sylvanas’s actual motivations being given to us in the beginning, the fact that Sylvanas is aware that Saurfang doesn’t kill Malfurion, Saurfang’s anger and objections as the tree burns – would have made all the difference in the world. That’s okay though. Better a bad pre-patch failing to communicate a good story than a good pre-patch perfectly communicating a bad one.
All that said, I still have concerns.
Firstly, no matter how much context you put around it, Sylvanas’s decision to burn Teldrassil remains the irrational act of an emotional character having a tantrum rather than the rational, calculated act of a ruthless but brilliant strategist. This isn’t about wanting Sylvanas to be good. I just want Sylvanas to be herself: intelligent, calculating, strategic. You can argue that she decided to burn the tree because Malfurion got away, and the intention here is to kill hope – but how much hope does creating a martyr or a symbol for your enemy to rally behind really kill? I still struggle to buy Sylvanas’s plan. It doesn’t seem up to her usual standard of cold, calculating intelligence to me.
Secondly, I would be a lot more excited in general if this entire story didn’t feel like a rerun.
Even if the Horde finally get it together and declare we’ve Had Enough and we get rid of our corrupt and evil Warchief and replace her with a good and honourable one – that will be the second time. The third time, if you count Orgrim Doomhammer challenging Blackhand for leadership of the old Horde. We’ve done this all before, and we did it recently. Are we really, honestly going to have a Garrosh 2.0 here?
So let’s say Saurfang will lead a resistance against Sylvanas and restore the Horde’s honour. Vol’jin already lead a resistance against Garrosh and restored the Horde’s honour. He became Warchief, and I was excited to see what he’d do. Turned out, he’d do next to nothing. At the beginning of Legion, he died from a wound he took on the Broken Shore and he appointed Sylvanas as our Warchief. No one expected it. Vol’jin was a popular, iconic character, and he deserved better. Still, I was excited to see what Sylvanas would do. She did next to nothing. It seems that they had more plans for her in Legion, but they cut that. Now she’s Garrosh 2.0, and Saurfang may be Vol’jin 2.0, and I’m supposed to get excited about this?
I can’t get excited for yet another change in Warchief. I’m tired. I don’t have the energy to care about a fifth Warchief, especially when there’s no reason to believe they won’t be replaced next time the writers hope to use shock factor to drive up interest. If Saurfang had led the revolution and been made Warchief back in Pandaria, I would have been thrilled. Now, I just don’t care. I don’t want a new Warchief. I want them to fix this one.
Sylvanas as a character has such a long, lore-rich history. She’s a fan favourite for good reason. Is her story really going to end this poorly? A cheap, lazy rerun? A copy of someone else’s story? Someone who was never a fraction of the character she is?
God, I hope not. I never liked Garrosh’s story that much the first time around. I couldn’t be less interested in a repeat.
I also no longer believe that’s what’s happening.
As we’ve been told time and time again, the story is only beginning. One noticable difference between Sylvanas and Garrosh is, when Garrosh was going off the rails, we knew the end game. We knew he would become a raid boss and we would take him down. They’ve said no such thing about Sylvanas. So maybe this story just looks like a Garrosh 2.0 repeat, but they have plans to do so much more with it.
I want to believe. I really do.
Personally, I think we’ll see Sylvanas’s story go one of two ways. Either we can look forward to a heartwarming cinematic that kills her off in a way that’s okay, similar to Varian. Maybe she’ll die saving the Horde from the void. Or we’ll see a redemption arc of some sort. As a Sylvanas fangirl, I’m obviously hoping for the latter, but I have to admit I currently expect the former. Still, tinfoil hat fan theories are fun.
So here’s my tinfoil hat theory on where this could be going.
The concept of redemtion, and misery when characters fall so far they can never be redeemed, is a favourite one in WoW. There were people hoping Arthas could be saved almost until the moment he was finally put down. Throughout Christie Golden’s War Crimes, the novel about Garrosh Hellscream’s trial, and my personal favourite World of Warcraft book, the theme of redemption, and the idea that no one is ever too far gone to be beyond redemption, is so forcefully pushed, Nobbel87 even speculated that it would mean Garrosh would eventually be redeemed. Needless to say, this didn’t happen, but sometimes I wonder if this is the reason Sylvanas seems to be getting the Garrosh treatment. Maybe she will be the first truly fallen character to be saved.
In Before the Storm, also by Christie Golden, and the most recent World of Warcraft book, it’s made clear that Sylvanas doesn’t feel emotions anymore. All she feels is anger.
Although Sylvanas had left behind most warmer emotions the moment she had risen from the dead as a banshee, anger somehow had retained its heat.
She seems pretty evil throughout, though we do learn that she regrets the fact that Varian Wrynn died at the Broken Shore. But don’t worry, I’m not basing my hope for Sylvanas in one glimmer of a moment where she’s not totally evil. After Teldrassil, it will take more than some regret to redeem her.
At the end of the book, Anduin, who is a paragon of faith, hope, and love, says this.
“I believe,” said Anduin Llane Wrynn, “that Sylvanas Windrunner is well and truly lost.”
Anduin has never given up on anyone before. What if he gives up on Sylvanas because they want things to be that much more impactful when we do manage to save her?
In “Dark Mirror”, the short story about Nathanos, Sylvanas’s love interest, Nathanos undergoes a ritual that changes his body from a totally shambling corpe into something stronger and more enduring. The ritual doesn’t just change his physical form. Right at the end of the story, this happens.
For the briefest of moments, he felt the touch of something foreign, unsettling. A sensation absent since the day he died. A weakness of mortality that had imperceptibly stalked him and had, at long last, found his throat.
Nathanos felt regret.
Ever since I read that, I wondered if something is going to happen to Sylvanas that makes her feel again. Something physical that makes her capable of feeling human emotions of the past – such as pain, regret, even hope. Something amazing would have to affect her.
Something like Azerite?
There’s a romance between a goblin and a gnome in Before the Storm – a divorced couple who, while working together with Azerite, find themselves falling in love again. At one moment, the gnome, Saffy, wants to ask “a thousand questions”.
“Do you still miss me? Why do you think we don’t hate each other anymore? Is the Azerite affecting how we feel about each other? Can we only be all right when we’re working? Would it be a mistake to try again?”
We know that Azerite amplifies the emotions of those who hold it – but what if it has potential to heal emotions as well? And what if that potential is used on Sylvanas, and she regains a shred of her humanity? Er… elfanity?
It’s a small shred of hope, but right now, as a Horde player and a self-confessed Sylvanas fangirl, I’m willing to hold onto anything.