World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth had some troubles since the game launched in August 2018. Though it was coming off the well-received Legion, it seems to be a miss for many fans like myself.
Now after watching the final War Campaign cinematic, it seems that Blizzard’s choice to use shock factor and vagueness might have finally ruined the beloved character of Sylvanas Winrunner and proven the story will be awful. But before we get to the cinematic, let’s take a look at just how they’ve changed Sylvanas Windrunner.
Post-Legion and the Final Transition to Long Form Storytelling
The basic storyline of World of Warcraft (WoW) had been a bit vanilla. There was an ongoing hot/cold war between two superpowers in the world of Azeroth; the Horde and the Alliance. That war would sometimes be put on hold as Azeroth faced cataclysmic foes such as the Lich King and Sargeras.
As World of Warcraft got older, how the story was told evolved. The storyline went from short form to a long-form overarching story that would carry a player from one expansion to another. Blizzard would rely on its trump cards; their strong characters including Sylvanas Windrunner.
The Importance of Sylvanas Windrunner
As a player with both Blood Elf and Undead characters, Sylvanas Windrunner holds a very special place in my heart. Her story for many began as the leader of the undead faction, The Forsaken. But in truth, she was a great general of the High Elves during the Scourge invasion. However, she would fall to the Death Knight Arthas Menethil, who would become the Lich King.
After being defeated by Menethil she would forced into undeath servitude for daring to stand against the forces of the undead. Her story was one of defiance. She stood even when she had no legs to hold her up.
This willingness to stand, even when all was lost drew me to the character. Over the years Sylvanas found her self pushed further and further outside of the shadows of Undercity to become one of, if not, the greatest faction leader within the Horde. After the events that preceded Legion, she was forced completely out of the shadows as she was crowned Warchief by a dying Vol’jin.
She did not desire power, she only desired the well being of her people, The Forsaken, who were destined to both extinction and damnation. In fact, one of her iconic lines was, “We are The Forsaken and we will slaughter anyone who stands in our way.”
Battle Of Azeroth and Sylvanas
This brings us to Battle for Azeroth. To be fair, after the first, terribly executed patch, I unsubbed for the first time in years. It was the first or second week of last December and I finally had enough of both the story and paying for a game that just didn’t want to work. Though I’ve kept up with the lore through YouTuber videos, in hopes that the story would improve, I found myself at a painful impasse.
One of the main complaints I hear from fellow players, both currently playing and not subscribed, is that the Sylvanas storyline is not only out of character, but a rehash of Garash Hellscream’s fall from grace in Mists of Pandaria. The parallels are obvious, to say the least; only to be made worse by subtle and not so subtle retcons to Sylvanas’ character.
One glaring example of retconning Sylvanas is the change to the Wrathgate incident. During Wrath of the Lich King, the Wrathgate was a battle which saw the combined forces of the Alliance and Horde betrayed by a faction of The Forsaken lead by Putriss and Varimathras as they declared war on the living and the Scourge and deployed a concoction called The Blight.
It was a coup against Sylvanas. A coup that she had no knowledge of. It was because of her having NO knowledge of this incident, and the coup against her that she was brought back into power by the forces of the Horde during the Battle for Undercity quest line.
However, World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi spoke with Eurogamer at BlizzCon 2018 detailing they were retconning Sylvanas and her involvement in the Wrathgate incident. In fact, he details that Sylvanas was in charge of the whole thing and it was a false flag attack.
“I’ve heard these discussions on the internet about ‘she’s going off the rails,’ but is she? I’ve been writing Sylvanas personally since 2006, and this is pretty much — the Wrathgate and the Blight and the Forsaken — in character. Those were all under Sylvanas’ orders. What we’re seeing now is an escalation of the plans Sylvanas has, clearly, and we’re in the middle of that.”
Senior Narrative Designer Steve Danusar and Senior Designer and Assistant Quest Lead Steve Burke also spoke to Polygon about the Wrathgate incident. Danuser explained, “Sylvanas engineered the Blight in the first place, but she wasn’t the one who deployed it.”
This isn’t really knew. We’ve known for some time Sylvanas was creating new Blight throughout WoW’s history. But Dansuer wasn’t done yet, he echoed Afrasiabi, “There are interesting story threads behind the question of who was at fault.”
The question became even more confusing as Varimathras, a long-time advisor to Sylvanas before he led the coup to dethrone her and used the Blight on Horde and Alliance forces was found in the final raid of Legion, Antorus, The Burning Throne. There he hinted at great darkness within their ranks, an obvious nod to Sylvanas Windrunner.
Dansuer made clear that he wasn’t going to clear up if indeed Sylvanas ordered the attack with the Blight He stated, “We’re not saying one way or another. We want you to see how the story plays out in the chapters to come. Sylvanas has certainly had an interesting history, and looking back at the choices she made is something we want the players to look back at and revisit.”
In the canon companion book Chronicle Volume III, it all but confirms Sylvanas was behind the Wrathgate attack noting that there are rumors indicating she was behind it.
“Like most good lies, Sylvanas Windrunner’s account of the rebellion in the Undercity contained some truth. Grand Apothecary Putress truly had attempted to overthrow her, and Varimathras truly was trying to claim the Forsaken in the name of the Burning Legion.
But the plague had been created at her direction. Sylvanas was willing to take vengeance against the Lich King at any cost, even by making a weapon as deadly as the plague. Whether she was aware that Putress and Varimathras were planning to use the concoction remained a mystery. Rumors persisted that she knew about the attack at the Wrathgate beforehand, and her denials did not assuage the doubts of her detractors.”
The Final Straw
The retconning of Sylvanas and her apparent turn into Hellscream came to a head for me with the release of the final cinematic of the War Campaign.
After all of this time, a small slip up during an emotional fight causes her to vacate her throne at the head of the Horde? She blasts off again like a bad Team Rocket rip off. What is this?
If this entire ending with a one on one match between her and Saurfang doesn’t scream out of character then I have a beachfront property to sell you on Mars. As with all things, it doesn’t get much better.
That’s because if you’re a player who stayed loyal to Sylvanas you get a bit more storyline. You find out that Sylvanas’s concern wasn’t for the Horde or even her Forsaken. Nope, she bargained with Azshara so that the armies of the Horde and Alliance can go toe to toe with the old god N’Zoth.
Why? Cause she believes all (even an old god) will serve death. Yup…
And with that, I’m checking out. Sylvanas, the once proud and strong leader of the Forsaken, who worked to fight and protect her people, seemingly doesn’t believe she is even a member of the Forsaken any more.
What do you think? Are you disappointed with radical change in Sylvanas’s character? Or did I miss something? If so what did I miss and why am I wrong? I’d love to hear from everyone!