First, there were rumours, mere whispers. The Horde would be the aggressors in the new expansion. Teldrassil would be set on fire, and the Alliance would attack Undercity. Then came the pre-patch, and with it, the War of the Thorns, Chapter 1. A questline that felt like it ended in the middle of nowhere. A growing dread of cartoonishly bad story-telling. Lacklustre world quests with equally lacklustre rewards. And bugs. Oh, so, so many bugs.
But Chapter 2 of the War of the Thorns was on its way. Chapter 2 would save us. Chapter 2 would tell us who burns the tree.
Why would Sylvanas act so nonsensically? Why would Sylvanas start this war? We knew she was selfish. Arrogant, too. Cunning. Driven. But we never expected this. No one thought she would put her cruelty before her cleverness. There was no strategic purpose, no possible reason to destroy the tree. Far from it. With this unfathomable decision, Sylvanas had united the Alliance in a way nothing else could.
These aren’t even my own words. The above is an almost direct quotation from King Anduin, and it comes from Elegy. That’s right. The dismay and confusion we all felt? Blizzard was well aware we were going to feel it. The characters in World of Warcraft themselves feel it.
A couple of days ago, Blizzard released Elegy and A Good War – two novellas, each from a different faction’s perspective, about the War of the Thorns. I finished Elegy yesterday and A Good War this morning. They are one hell of an emotional trip. They explain a lot, from Sylvanas’s reasoning (though I still don’t quite get it – there’s also strong hints that there’s still more to motivations that we don’t know yet) all the way through to Tyrande’s actions.
And this morning? The Battle for Lordaeron. A new scenario, one that’s technically the first Battle for Azeroth content we’re getting. Originally it was only going to be available this week for those who had pre-purchased, but, happily, they changed their minds. Whether you’ve bought Battle for Azeroth or not, you can go play the Battle for Lordaeron now, right this minute.
And, I don’t know about anyone else, but this was that in-game content I was waiting for.
First, it’s legitimately fun. I’ve played World of Warcraft on and off since Burning Crusade, and I can’t remember when last I felt this much like I was in a genuine warzone with the other faction.
Secondly, there’s not one, but two amazing new cinematics. The first had me screaming so excitedly, my cat came to check if I was okay.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what happens, in summary.
On the Alliance side, you are sent to attack Undercity, where you arrive to find a path has already been made, one that looks strikingly similar to the Dead Scar that Arthas left before Quel’thelas. On the Horde side, you’ll be sent to Undercity. Brill has already fallen, and you’re helping to evacuate civilians and kill Alliance infiltrators – I was excited to see Renzik, a goblin Alliance spy from Elegy, who seems to escape our wrath.
We all end up outside Undercity’s front gates, where we face off against each other until Sylvanas decides to drop plague. And there’s a nice touch here – Horde are given a choice about whether or not they want to help spread plague, or just help heal and look after fellow Horde.
Saurfang and Sylvanas bicker about this move, Saurfang insisting this is not honourable, Sylvanas saying she’ll pick victory for the Horde over honour every day. The plague causes the Alliance to retreat and should give the Horde the upper hand, but then something amazing happens.
Jaina arrives – and I apologise for the capitals here but I really think this moment deserves them – IN A GHOST SHIP. A FLYING GHOST SHIP. HER FATHER’S SHIP THAT SHE RAISED DURING HER WARBRINGERS SHORT. THAT SHIP.
I mean, have you ever, I don’t even, can you believe, WOW.
So the fighting moves into the grounds above Undercity. When I played this through on the beta, it was around here that I started feeling really gross about watching Baine, the son of a tauren who died challenging Garrosh before he even went full genocidal, follow Nathanos’s orders like an obedient, if slightly worried, puppy (more on Baine later). The Horde take one route, the Alliance, who have to stop and fight some trolls, another, but we meet up at the back. Mekkatorque gives the Alliance fun machines to kill the Horde with, Nathanos and Anduin exchange insults and Jaina offers to teleport the Alliance away. Alleria arrives, and Lor’themar Theron expresses disgust at the void elves, who he quite fairly sees as traitors (my Alliance alt is a Void elf. If you’ve played Horde your entire life and you’re thinking of switching sides now, playing an actual traitor to the Horde makes the whole transition feel a lot more fun – just a tip). After a bit more chaos, Sylvanas arrives and gets Baine to call the retreat.
Saurfang is waiting at the entrance to Undercity. The Horde meet up with him first, where Sylvanas absolutely loses every last shred of patience she had left for his obsession with honour. She accuses him of caring more about honour than his own people, tells him to go ahead and die then, threatens to raise his corpse, and even takes a dig at his dead son. It’s ugly. This is no calm debate. This is a full-on blowout, the sort you can only get in a family – and the Horde is a family – between too violently angry and stressed people who are stuck in a high-pressure situation and have completely lost their tempers with each other.
Horde, probably feeling a bit like anyone would feel after seeing your parents have a giant, divorce-is-in-the-air fight, follow Sylvanas into the throne room, the same throne room where Arthas once murdered his father. And the final cinimatic, well, the one from the Horde perspective, plays.
Alliance meet up with Saurfang just after, who expects this to be the moment where he finally gets to die with honour. Anduin picks this moment to have a philosophical debate about the meaning of honour instead, a typically Anduin move and the sort of thing that really does make me love him. Saurfang, who might be old and exhausted and having the worst possible day, still manages to be defiant and argue back, and that’s the sort of thing that makes me love him, but there will be no honourable death for this old soldier today. The Alliance arrests him, and Anduin, along with Genn, Jaina, and Alleria, follows Sylvanas into the throne room. The final cinematic, this one from the Alliance perspective, plays.
So let’s recap. Baine is no kicked puppy. Anduin is no boy. Jaina is no peace-maker. Alleria has no sisterly feelings left for Sylvanas. And Sylvanas… Sylvanas is terrifying.
And easy to love while being horrified by her actions.
And, oh dear lord, Sylvanas knows what she’s doing. We might not, but she does.
This is the Sylvanas I know. This is the Sylvanas I love. Even if she’s getting a Garrosh story, my god she does every bit of it so much better than he ever could in every single way.
Every time something was revealed that made us worry more and more that we’d be getting a lazy, cartoonish, boring rerun of a story in Battle for Azeroth, we’ve been told to wait and see. That we must hold on. There’s more to the story. We don’t know everything yet.
After playing the Battle for Lordaeron, I’m officially ready to trust Blizzard on this. I might not love everything they do, but I can’t deny the fact that, over the last few weeks, I’ve been through more emotional highs and lows, and I’ve felt more into and invested in the story, than I ever remember experiencing in this game ever.
And Battle for Azeroth hasn’t even started yet.