WoW Factor: Dissecting the dumb plan in World of Warcraft’s War of Thorns

Today, in Bad Forward Planning Theater.

There’s a lot to be upset about with the World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth prepatch. There’s stuff that just doesn’t feel good any more (and yes, go ahead and make your own jokes there about the implications of that statement, it’s justified). There are bugs and issues that weren’t adequately tested. There’s the fact that this expansion is really doing a grand job of screwing up lots of characterization.

But with the pre-expansion event, we can look at a whole list of incredibly dumb things done just in this bit of the story.

We only have the first half of the event live right now, of course, and there are lots of dumb choices surrounding this (the fact that the story is in this order, for example), but for today we’re going to be confining this solely to in-universe criticism. And there’s still a column’s worth of intensely dumb decisions being made by someone who is supposed to be a capable military commander, based on all of the military commanding she did for ages.

The Sylvanas I remember was smart.First of all, let’s start with the absolute basics here. At the time of the pre-patch, the Horde is gathering and investigating Azerite. The Alliance is mostly aware of this as something the Horde is doing; it doesn’t seem that they’re doing anything in terms of research with the substance just yet. Obviously there’s a bit of jumpiness about what Sylvanas is super-interested in, but the Alliance hasn’t moved into Silithus.

According to Sylvanas herself, her line of reasoning is this: Azerite is going to change the face of war, therefore the Alliance will figure it out. She wants to shock the Alliance into inactivity, and thus the Alliance needs a morale loss, which means killing Malfurion Stormrage.

This is stupid.

It’s stupid for a lot of reasons, and that’s even if we ignore any debate about whether Malfurion is in charge of Teldrassil or the Cenarion Circle. International politics has long agreed that assassinating a foreign leader is an invitation to have your own leader assassinated, which is why no real-life wars are started with the end goal of “kill the boss monster.” This is going to provoke a response, Sylvanas has to know it, and her only reason for doing so is that the Horde is ahead in researching something new.

She then proceeds to not bring any of that research with her. When you find Azerite along the way, she makes use of it, but instead of making the new technology the center of her assault she just marches in with the same technology she already had. Attacking from superiority with new weapons is rarely a winning plan, but it gets even worse if you attack to defend your new weapons while not bringing them.

Her troops mass in the Barrens, and she manages to convince the Alliance that she’s heading for Silithus. That’s vaguely smart and works; most of the standing Night Elf forces head for Silithus. However, her forces are actually heading up to Ashenvale, which has had Horde strongholds for ages. These forces seem to include very little in the way of Forsaken, which is odd; they also contain none of the Highmountain Tauren or the Nightborne, thus ensuring that the Horde’s new allies have absolutely no place in this conflict.

Now, in all honesty, the Horde taking Ashenvale would in and of itself be quite a statement. The territory has belonged to Night Elves forever, but it’s been getting nudged at by the Horde for ages and it’s sandwiched between Horde territories. Instead, Sylvanas burns through Astranaar… enough to move her forces through to a Horde outpost on the opposite coast while leaving the outpost more or less completely intact.

In other words, Sylvanas has ensured that there’s space for a counterattack to come from behind, which is up there with “let your enemies know your plans a week in advance” on the list of things to never ever do tactically.

Why did you just wander into melee with a ranged weapon?

Pushing onward, she moves into Darkshore with her… land forces. From a coastal outpost. The complete lack of air or naval support means that Sylvanas is stopped dead by a barrier Malfurion managed to erect, but rather than waiting for any sort of reinforcement, she has a strategy that amounts to “push through.” So now she’s managed to divide her forces badly, lacking sufficient support, and still trying to push ahead for an assassination mission that could succeed right now by Malfurion just leaving.

“But that would be cowardly!” Dude, long-distance communication exists in the world; he can easily keep relaying orders and monitoring the situation. The whole reason the Horde is after him like this is because he’s right there. Chill in the Emerald Dream for a bit, who cares?

Rather than planning for any of this, Sylvanas manages to stumble upon some Azerite, which has thus far not featured into her plans in any way, shape, or form. Now she decides to use it, after establishing another base of operations with the small force she’s managed to push forward this far. She then winds up getting knuckled into a stalemate at a river, lacking the forces to push further forward, at which point she finally decides to wait for reinforcements.

Silithus just wanted to feel important.

Of course, what she’s actually done now is created a scenario where she’s cut off from reinforcements and she no longer has momentum. The one asset she set up in the start, the element of surprise, has already been negated; we’re told explicitly that the Night Elves who went to Silithus have made it back to bolster Teldrassil’s defenses. Which means that the stalemate should be over, quickly, as Sylvanas overextended her lines and rushed in with a terrible strategy.

I don’t claim to be an expert in tactics, but it doesn’t take being an expert to see how this is  terrible strategy. It’d be an awful strategy in an RTS game, even; that outpost is going to get smashed pretty quickly and your target isn’t accessible. It also involves passing up several options that would actually demoralize your enemies, and more to the point it involves (I can’t stress this enough) not using Azerite. The whole reason for this is flawed.

The couple of weak defenses I’ve seen of this terrible plan are that she has some other motivation than her stated one, but even if we assume that the sacking and burning of Teldrassil is her ultimate goal, it’s still terrible tactics. Marching troops into Ashenvale and refusing to withdraw until the Alliance cedes Silithus to the Horde, for example, would accomplish all of her stated goals in an instant and wouldn’t inspire the Alliance to march on Undercity (you know, spoiler warning).

Even if she wants to ultimately demolish Teldrassil, this is a dumb way to go about it. It’s a remarkably stupid plan for a character who is at least supposed to be a competent military leader, and taken in-universe it’s hard to really come up with a good explanation for why this seemed like the right approach to take.

Of course, the real-world explanation is that the writers needed a reason to burn Teldrassil and immediately jumped on the first idea that worked for that. But somehow that’s even more depressing.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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Fair Mores

They should have implied/suggested that Elune was one of those light beings during Legion. Then have Sylvannas capture it, torture it and destroy it. Killing a people’s god would certainly have them confused and demoralized. However, it would only work on the night elves I suppose.

…Or kill Malfurion, turn him undead – this isn’t enough – have him kill tyrannde and raise her from the dead. You simultaneously rob them of their leaders and their ability to grieve for them. Instead of rage that fuels them to fight they are left with a hole that hopefully consumes them.

These are ideas working within the constraints of the writers desires. Personally I would have written the story of WoW differently since TBC.

Kickstarter Donor

Wow is getting old………

It’s like a long running sit-com. One you get past season 4 or 5 it become pretty obvious that they are just running out of ideas. Sometimes they manage to bring things back for a decent closing season… but wow right now is definitely just putting out expansions of the sake of putting out an expansion.

Reminds me of windows 8…….

Wow lore has always been bad. They basically just ripped off warhammer lore because gamesworkshop wouldn’t give blizzard the license back when WCI was first starting up.

WCIII’s story was basically a copy-paste of the tad Williams series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

prince gets a magic sword called sorrow *Cough frostmourse Cough* from the evil people who live in the north. The sword drives him crazy and he kills his father then starts turning everyone in his kingdom into undead…………

I mean, I’m honestly not sure how they didn’t get sued…….

WOW lore makes even less sense at least after BC, before they started hitting on the time travel and dragon lore too hard.


I’ve always enjoyed WoW’s story/lore, even when it didn’t necessarily make sense. This though, I’m finding boring and seems like a bad script idea from an intern. I’ve done both sides of the prequel and it’s pretty lame. This is the first expansion I have no excitement for at all.

As for Legion, the first play thru was novel. The endless grind not so much. First expansion I didn’t max level all crafting and all characters. Just don’t care enough to do it.


Yeah they needed a reason to start the conflict between horde and alliance again(Azerite) and do some cool, epic, momentous things to go with it(like burning faction capitals which have been literal ghost towns for ages). After Blizzard had this shopping list together they pulled out glue and a stapler and went on crafting the lore.

I mean the game really got decent since Pandaria but the story always was a pathetic, cliché-driven high fantasy pseudo epic. I appreciate it’s humorous and wacky tones more than the serious ones. Reading through the lore is like reading a bad 80’s comic series, giving the Legion and Draenei space ships and introducing all these pseudo sci-fi elements shows that they’re running out of bad ideas, they never had any good ones. Alot of the basic lore is copy-paste from D&D and other sources, the exact same mythology references I’ve seen a thousand times over, take this, take that, glue and stapler, voilà WoW lore.


Its sad that legion considered successful… It seems that players now like being treated like rats in a wheel rather than having the freedom to organize their playtime and set their own goals each day… Instead they like to be given a list of “jobs” every day/week and just tick the box next to each task as completed.

Do your emissaries – check, do your daily dungeon – check, do your weekly LFR – check, do the campain quest of the week – check, do the timewalking objective of the day – check. And now you are going to sleep like a happy gamer that completed the list of jobs for the day.

This is the MMO – Gaming nowdays. I wish wow problem was the mess in their stories… Stories are good, not perfect, but good. The lore is also very good. I recently watched the warmonger video with Jaina and I loved it. They are good at it. The problem is the gameplay… I feel terrified that people found legion amazing… bfa is a copy of legion, gameplay/systems wise. If legion is the successful MMO of the 2017-2018, then I am pessimistic for the future…

At least, we can wait for wow classic, Pantheon, Camelot unchained… and we can hope to play Star Citizen before we die .


that’s been WoW since BC and the addition of daily quests, you literally described MMOs for the last decade.


not really… tbc dailies was only for gold. For reputation you always had alternatives… you could run dungeon or do repeatable turn-ins… in WotLk also there were alternatives… You could gain reputation through dungeons.. Sons of hodir had dailies, but you could also farm/buy relics of ulduar and turn in for rep..

It basically started in Cataclysm, that reputation was only through dailies.. but there were few only and you only grind one of them for the shoulder enchant you wanted. So the whole daily tasks as we know it today started in Pandaria…

Anthony Clark

BfA just shows the age of the game imo.

They have no new ideas. None. They’re tapped out. Time to move on.

Nothing to see here people.

Loyal Patron

The problem is largely right there in the first word of the headline: “Dissecting”. When you do this, you often get another ‘d’ word: Disappointing! I think it’s also disappointing that the whole event is limited to characters 100+, and has been broken up into pieces. How much fun were the Legion invasions? Massive fun! Big shame they couldn’t design the tree-burn and marshmallow roast like that.

Barry Carpenter

ah right lets prise Legion again and throw some shit at BfA. Should I remind whole pre legion story?
Guldan (long dead in present time) from parallel universe sent by Archimond (long dead in present time) to our world to steal Illidan’s corpse (turned out not so dead) for Sargeras revival… that’s beyond bad…

Sally Bowls

Just wait. In a couple of years, there will be many articles and comments on how 9,0 iwill be awful and clearly not going to live up to 8,
I am not convinced that the quantity and volume of the complaints are overly influenced by the specifics of an expansion.

Bruno Brito

Well, one doesn’t null the other.

Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Ysayle was right

Archimonde didn’t really die at the world tree. He just had his body destroyed for a bit. Not the same thing for demons.

Bruno Brito

Of course, the real-world explanation is that the writers needed a reason to burn Teldrassil and immediately jumped on the first idea that worked for that. But somehow that’s even more depressing.

WoW storytelling at it’s finest.

Kickstarter Donor

I stopped playing WOW back during Wrath of the Lich King. I swore I would never come back, but then Legion came along. It was interesting and had some great features and really pulled me back in to the game for the first time in years.

Now we have BFA. Nothing about this new expansion really excites me. Blizzard seems to be determined to make the Horde and Alliance fight no matter how stupid it all is. The storyline so far reminds me of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. When shit doesn’t really make sense who cares because the factions need to be killing each other this expansion and Blizzard is determined to make that happen. I finished the first part of the pre-patch story and though really, is this it?

BFA just doesn’t feel like a logical follow up to Legion. There is little reason to be passionate about the reasons why both factions need to annihilate each other. There had to be better ideas out there than this.

I really hope I am wrong and this expansion isn’t as “meh” as it seems like its going to be.