WoW Factor: No, Battle for Azeroth’s story hasn’t paid off by the end of the war campaign

    
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Blaugh.

You know, I honestly had expected to do something else for WoW Factor this week, and then I was reminded that the war campaign was ending this week and my mind immediately sprang to “aw, heck, this is probably going to be some kind of cock-up.” Nieve’s story just has to get delayed a bit longer; we’ve got retail World of Warcraft to sigh about up in here.

This is going to eat up some time, let me tell you what.

To start with, let’s be clear: This column is going to be spoiler city, so if you want to avoid any spoilers about WoW’s whole war campaign wrap-up, you should go ahead and just navigate away right now. The column will still be here when you get back. Similarly, those of you who would like to respond with what amounts to “well, who cares about the story” are invited to go read other things. If you don’t care about it, fine; you skipped the cinematics and this isn’t for you in the first place. But since the whole point of this set of quests was the story, then the story is what we’re going to be discussing.

Is everyone still reading on board with both of these points? Well, we’re going anyway. And let me start by saying some nice things.

Sad Anduin in snow.

First and foremost, Blizzard’s cinematic team remains outstanding. These cinematic sequences are well-animated, well-shot, and well-acted. As isolated pieces of media based entirely upon those merits, they’re so good.

For that matter, the story technically does not wind up going in the exact same direction as the Garrosh plotline, in the same way that a strawman argument is not technically the same as an ad hominem. Whereas Garrosh remained wholly committed to the Horde right up until the end (albeit his own myopic and idealized version of the Horde), Sylvanas clearly has no loyalty to the Horde whatsoever, and it doesn’t end with a big raid in which we go beat her up and then kill her.

But in all practical senses it’s the same plotline. Horde warchief is evil; Horde and Alliance team up to put her down. The details might be different, but calling it completely different doesn’t sit well with me. Sure, the Reliant Robin is different from a Toyota Corolla, but they’re still both cars.

The two big plot points on display here are the endgame for Sylvanas and the whole recitation of “our home is Azeroth” for both factions, more stuff hinting that the faction split is finally going away. Let’s talk about that one first because it has been mentioned a lot and brought up several times, and it would feel like a meaningful new conclusion… if not for the dozens of times that the Horde and Alliance have teamed up to take down greater threats before. Including taking down an evil Horde warchief.

It’s hard to feel like this is the meaningful moment, that Garrosh was technically still loyal to the Horde while Sylvanas openly is not. The intent there is solid, that this is the moment when no one can fall back on faction lines as an excuse for behaviors. But the whole point of rebelling against Garrosh was that he clearly no longer had the interests of the Horde in mind; instead, he simply wanted to pursue his own agenda and his own vision for the Horde that endangered his people.

As such, it rings just a little hollow. The Horde and the Alliance have been putting their differences aside for so long that it’s long been an open question why the war flares up again and again. And when this expansion tried to make a big deal about this being a grand war, it winds up resolving more clearly with fewer shades of grey than in the past.

This, of course, ties into the big bad at the heart of it all, which means that yes, we’re going to have to talk about Sylvanas.

Please cite one thing that you thought about Baine before this expansion. Go ahead. I'll wait.

As I’ve mentioned before, the problem with the story here isn’t that Sylvanas is evil. Everyone with more than a passing familiarity with the game’s lore knows that Sylvanas is evil. Sylvanas has been evil since the launch of Vanilla. Sylvanas even had “we will slaughter anyone who stands in our way” as one of her first voice quotes in Vanilla. Her morality? Not in question.

But there’s so much to unpack about what’s been done wrong with Sylvanas that Bree actually wants me to do a whole column comparing how her character has been mishandled to another character in recent popular media. And while I don’t want to go into that here (because it would make the column twice as long), I do want to focus on this: It’s not that none of the character’s actions make sense; it’s that none of them track for Sylvanas.

See, the interesting thing about Sylvanas as a character has always been that as much as she’s evil, she’s always been evil in service to a cause of loyalty. While she was alive, she was fiercely loyal to Quel’thalas and its people. In undeath, her definition of “her people” had changed and her personality grew harsher, but the core details didn’t change. She was loyal to her people and willing to do whatever it took to ensure their safety.

At least, until now. Now, instead, Sylvanas openly declares that she doesn’t care about the Horde at all or even the Forsaken, which for those of you following along at home are explicitly her people. Instead, all she cares about is loyalty, and she tells the people who stayed loyal to her that she’s got big stuff coming.

In other words, all your loyalty was in service to a leader who didn’t place any value on you as a person or on your organization, just on that loyalty. As soon as any of it became inconvenient, she left. Choosing loyalty to Sylvanas meant ultimately playing yourself.

It’s a cop-out answer. Instead of her actions being motivated by something specific, they’re just there because someone needs to be the big bad and this lets her be hated enough to do it. And now all of the horrible things the Horde did can be laid firmly at her feet because she wants to do bad things but the rest of the Horde now realizes that Azeroth is their home, and Saurfang got to be the emblem of hope.

This isn’t disastrous, perhaps, but it’s still bad. There are places where you can see the intent and it’s at least understandable, but the execution doesn’t work. Given the lead time required for some of these cinematics, it’s understandable that Blizzard had this planned for a long time, but that doesn’t change the fact that these plot points don’t actually work. They don’t make sense for the characters, and they don’t tell a compelling new story.

Of course, as this column has previously argued, if we do actually smash the faction split in the process, I will consider it at least a fair price.

uh

Still, all told this wasn’t a terrible wrap-up for the campaign. It wasn’t outright disastrous. But it still lacked much in the way of emotional resonance or the sense of a satisfactory conclusion. It tells the players who supported Sylvanas that they were patsies. It upends the status quo, but in the most predictable and honestly bland way possible. And instead of saying anything interesting or even appropriate about the characters or war or what happened, it just ends with a shrug and a handwave.

So no, if you want to split hairs, it wasn’t precisely the same as what happened with Garrosh. But I’ve been saying since the start that this story was not going to be “fixed” by its conclusion. We waited and we saw, and in the end?

You can draw your own conclusions. But this sure as heck didn’t have the payoff to justify anything.

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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Coldrun ??

Really interesting article!

I’ve enjoyed this story in BFA, and think Sylvanas makes sense compared to the villain she’s always been. I’m excited to see where the story takes her. Agree to disagree. :)

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

What?!? You can’t just politely disagree but still compliment the article. This is the internet, sir.

<3

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Sarah Cushaway

Let’s be honest here: Since around Cata, WoW’s story arcs have gone from “meh, ok-ish mediocre” to “this is utterly idiotic and poorly-written rubbish”.

The characters aren’t just tropes (all authors use tropes–ALL of them), they’re ham-fisted and boring tropes with all the imagination and depth of Saturday morning cartoons. But with more angst and edge, I guess.

Sylvanas, who used to be, yep, evil-esque but not outright MAD WITH POWAR!!, is now just that. Again. Garrosh 2.0? Oh yes, she is. And if she gets “redeemed”? Then we’re basically watching Illidan and Kerrigan 2.0. Again.

There’s no nuance, there’s no depth, there’s no emotional substance here. It’s just cliche’ after cliche’ after heavy trope after MEH. And yes, part of that issue lies in the fact Blizzard seems to think we all want to read poorly-written and inane books so they can rake in more cash instead of putting a bit more narrative in their games. I’m not reading the books–I’ve read the samples, they’re badly written (as most “novels” based on video games are–there are a few exceptions) and I’m certainly not tossing more cash at Blizzard encouraging them to continue down this path of shallow, banal, idiotic “plotting”.

Sylvanas was supposed to be some kind of super evil genius and she’s about as intelligent as a damned rock. There’s been nothing subtle about her for several expansions now, there’s nothing “morally gray” there to uncover, she’s just another Saturday morning bad guy in a long parade of samey-same Blizzard bad guys.

They need to let those writers get CREATIVE about this crap and nix the whole “no negativity in the dojo” rule– no writer does well if hard criticism of their work isn’t allowed. Trust me on that–it’s why I still dread hearing from an editor, but also know I need that tough love shoved right in my face with a hard backhand.

On the flip side, the CGI is great. I just don’t hold much hope for a good story, ever, coming out of WoW. It ranks right up there with FFXIV and GW2 in terms of “this is incredibly stupid” for bad video game stories for me.

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Utakata

…back in Classic (and Vanilla), she is a robed Night Elf standing around in the thrown room of UC looking like she took wrong turn at Albuquerque on her way to Teldrassil. o.O

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Sarah Cushaway

Yes, I clearly recall, thanks. I wasn’t talking about her model.

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Utakata

…nah, I was more referring to inconsistency and disconnection of story and character hasn’t really changed much in the last 15 years. Using the N’elf model, when they already had High/Blood Elf models kicking around was just tip of those issues. /shrug

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DruVirus

“all the imagination and depth of Saturday morning cartoons.” I was going to make a comment about how no one can think of anything more original than “Saturday morning cartoons” but then you said it again so I think you already know about overusing terms.

The fact is that she isn’t Garrosh 2.0, really. If anything, she’s Sargeras 2.0 with a dash of Lich King 2.0. The only thing similar to Garrosh is she is a Warchief-gone-mad, and if “leader goes crazy” is your criteria for “2.0” then we’re probably at 19.0 for WoW and 1,400,511.0 for writing, in general.

Sargeras, having glimpsed the truth and power of the Void, went mad and sided with malevolent forces in order to cleanse the entire universe by purging all worlds of life. That is literally Sylvanas right now. It’s heavily implied that Death is at odds with the Void, and Sylvanas is currently allied with both Helya (a god of death) and Azshara (who is looking to take down N’Zoth).

Over the course of the past few expansions this has all been hinted at. It’s a known fact Sylvanas originally cared only for the Forsaken and the Horde was a way to help protect them. Over time she’s begun to go with her own machinations, working against the Horde and (now that we’ve come to a head) throwing her own people under the bus. Because, like Sargeras, she sees the bigger picture.

The Alliance and Horde don’t mean shit. Every living person on Azeroth doesn’t mean shit. The only thing that matters is destroying the Void. And, more than likely, the only way to get there is by killing all life and unifying them in Death, under Sylvanas. This ain’t Skeletor cackling at He-Man. You can say it’s a trite, overdone plan (Oh, you’re evil to stop the BIGGER evil? Oof) but the writing is on point. Breadcrumbs of Sylvanas has been laid out since Vanilla, breadcumbs of the Void soon after, and everything else has been found in source materials you refuse to read. Don’t complain if you don’t bother to read up.

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Sarah Cushaway

I’ve read up. There’s speculation that she’s been corrupted by Saronite (similar to Arthas, yes, I understand that). However, she’s clearly made a pact to gain more power (similar to Garrosh) and she’s gone mad because of it… like Garrosh.

All her “master plans” don’t matter if she becomes the biggest evil out there. She HAS gone “mad with power”.

And it’s still shit writing ;) that’s coming from someone in the writing industry. The writing is NOT on point; if it were, the majority of WoW fans wouldn’t be completely disgusted with the story arc. It’s ham-fisted, it has gaping plot holes, the tropes are over-used and not even done in an interesting, exciting way. Just because -you- like it doesn’t change the fact that, objectively, if this were a book series being pitched to a publisher it would be tossed out the door at this point as “slush”. Because it is slush. Loosely trying to tie together the most basic and yep, sorry kiddo, Saturday Morning of plots with “BUT THE BIGGER PICTURE” doesn’t make it cohesive, interesting, well-done, engaging, or even well-edited (in terms of the books–they’re edited like fucking shit).

Even as far as video games go, the vast majority of which are NOT known for good plots or character arcs or writing, it BARELY gets a pass. Most fans aren’t thrilled with this arc or the so-called plot twists (which were hardly twists as everyone has this stuff figured out and we kept hoping Blizzard wouldn’t pull a Garrosh/Arthas “MAD WITH POWER!!!” or a Kerrigan/Illidan “MISUNDERSTOOD EDGELORD!!!” …yet that’s where we’re heading. Again. )

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DruVirus

There’s no real speculation regarding Saronite infecting her. In fact, most speculation is the opposite: considering ICC is built entirely out of Saronite and there’s no Old God corruption that is visible? Without hate for Yogg-Saron by Scourge? It’s believed that Undead may very well be incorruptible by the Void. Same goes for Arthas.

And yes. A bid for power which made her go insane. Like Arthas. Like Sargeras. Like Illidan. Like Azshara. Like Yrel. Like Garrosh. (Insert: The majority of bad guys from any fantasy/sci-fi series. Let’s throw Saruman in here while we’re doing this because he’s the first who came to mind.) The list goes on for a while. To just point at Garrosh for this plot and go “Yeah. Garrosh 2.0” is a bit ridiculous.

Nowhere did I say it was great. But I’m saying it’s quite a bit better than Sylvanas going. “Nyehehe! I’m evil because EVIL!” which it, objectively, is.

The majority of people not invested in this arc aren’t even really WoW fans. Go look at any YouTuber or blogger. Some are actively playing Retail, sure. But most? Oh, no no. They’re people pining for WC4. They’re people who think WoW was at it’s best during WotLK (you wanna talk plot holes, hackneyed writing, and overused tropes? Have you SEEN the Lich King’s monologues?). These are people with nostalgia glasses so securely fixed to their eyes that anything that wasn’t discussed in WC3 is immediately sacrilege. And yeah, 75% of them are people who haven’t touched WoW since Cataclysm but they stop in for the first week of an expansion and only watch cinematics so they can act like they know what’s going on.

((Removed ad hom and closing thread.))

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Anthony Clark

What needs to be done if for Sylanas to kill enough off for the Undead to become its own faction.

Upon creating a new character you would choose Living or Dead. Upon picking one all of the same races will be shown, just the current models for living, and a new undead version if you picked undead.

All of the same class selections would stick with the current racial choices, just instead of Alliance VS Horde, it would now become Living VS Dead. No questioning then who the ‘bad guy’ is then. If you breathe you’re good.

I’ve always wondered why the only undead are humans still. So no other race can be undead? How lucky.

This could be a record selling expansion if done. I would love Night of the Living Azeroth, or the Walking Azeroth, some other name better than those.

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Randy Savage

I’m always tickled by how everyone else puts far more thought into the game’s story than Blizz does. Don’t forget, guys. It’s WoW. The story is just a backdrop to get from one progression treadmill to the next.

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Sarah Cushaway

I’ve seen far better plots hammered out on speculation threads and “what ifs” threads than Blizzard has ever managed to come up with. Seriously–maybe they should think of hiring some of the fans to fill spots on their current writing team.

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Grimmtooth

Anyone that equates the Reliant Robin to the Toyota Corolla is one wheel short of a tire change.

Anyway, what did you expect from the Horde? Saurfang himself nails it. The Horde is based on a corrupt, evil premise. It doesn’t matter if you have flower-picking Tauren and spiritual-yo Trolls, the fact remains that the Horde as it stands was based on blood and corruption and death and evil. What’s-her-face is the embodiment of everything wrong about the Horde as it has been defined, over and over ad nausiem.

The Horde’s greatest warrior … doesn’t know honor. Do you think that was an exaggeration?

You can cast all the aspersions against the Alliance that you want, but the fact remains that Alliance isn’t foundationed on the genocide of an entire race. Horde is.

Listen, I’m happy to let Hordies have their illusions. But an such an auspicious publication exploring hordie propaganda isn’t something I can go along with.

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Nathan Aldana

Nah, the alliance is just based on the oldest fantasy trope. That the white, quasi european human and his pale faced, european-style mythological friends are always the good guys

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Grimmtooth

That too. But if one starts out to portray the Noble Savage as “one of both sides” one has the obligation to NOT go down the obvious path that they have.

I was a bit tongue-in-cheek above (I thought the Reliant Robin dig made that obvious) but underlying that is a seething anger at the terrible storytelling that’s brought us here. And no two ways about it, Blizz has painted themselves into a corner. The only way out will be a heel-turn so massive that Azeroth will shift orbits.

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DruVirus

To be fair, you’re pretty wrong. The majority of big bads are Alliance based. Even the Light (the equivalent of Christianity in whatever respects) has been doing some heinous bullshit. While the exterior of the Alliance is all blonde-haired, blue-eyed white dudes giving a thumbs up that isn’t exactly what happens for the most part. In most cases, at least in WoW, the Horde has been shown off to be more honorable and (overall) more “good”.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

No offense to people unironically discussing WoW’s story and behavior of all characters and trying to find some reason behind their behavior but for me Blizzard writers always reminded me of this clip:

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Randy Savage

The problem with that is the gross assumption that Blizz was ever on King’s level even on his worst day.

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Danny Smith

Either Sylvanas was a bad combo of the jock villain from every teen movie in the 80’s and your average emotionally unstable social media addict burning all her bridges then blasting off again or Blizzard is going to pull a “all according to her ultimate plan to save everyone!” because mary sue bunkum excuses a racial pogrom.

Either the writing is bad or its stupid. Having played both BfA and Shadowbringers looking at Sylvanas Windrunner next to Emet Selch at this point you can only feel sorry for the people who only play WoW. They deserve better.

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kelathos .

I finally deep dived into 14 with SHB, and I gotta say it was for the story that I now love that game. It is WoW’s direct competitor, and their idea of what a game is – and how they use it to tell a story – is light years beyond.

I am sorry Blizzard, the writing has not served you well. The Heart of Azeroth has been broken.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

 you can only feel sorry for the people who only play WoW. They deserve better.

Why would you think this way? I know some people who play Retail WoW from the very beginning, they only play for things like getting better loot, socializing with their friends and for doing RP stuff in a “non-weeb setting” (these are not my words, I actually like Asian MMOs, especially FFXIV) and instanced PvP. None of them ever cared about laughable story in WoW at any point, neither did I – I enjoyed world PvP back when there was no flying mounts and just helping other people do stuff, nothing else.

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Grimmtooth

The writing is both bad and stupid. But it’s also the story we’re stuck with now.

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DruVirus

I’m actually pretty cool with Retail’s story at the moment. I fall more into the “all according to her ultimate plan to save everyone!” camp, however, much like Sargeras, it isn’t really saving everyone. More than likely Syvlanas is just going to wait for everyone to die so her and Helya can help bring them all back under her service. This isn’t exactly a new idea for Sylvanas (it’s kind of her thing) so it’s pretty in line with how her story has always worked in WoW.

hurbster
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hurbster

She’s gonna stuff N’zoth in the purty dagger of hers. Yep, I reckon so.

Sorry, I just feel my intelligence draining away whenever I look at Sylvanus’ writing. Are we sure that whoever turned Nocturnal into a Saturday morning cartoon villian in Summerset didn’t sneakily write Sylvanus’ recent wacky exploits ?

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DruVirus

I don’t really understand the overused “Saturday morning cartoon villain” trope in concern with Sylvanas. I mean, I don’t like the lass but I never found her to be going “Nyahaha, I’ll get you, Captain Planet!” in some corner for no reason. Sylvanas has like 10 in-depth plot points that have led her to where she is.

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Sarah Cushaway

Because she has no depth. She IS a plot device, not a fully fleshed character. If you ever read actual novels, you’d see the difference.

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cursedseishi

So… In the safety of a spoiler-laden zone, I think I can say this easily:

We may confront Sylvanas in 8.3. We might even fight her! But I hardly doubt it’ll be the end of her. Between the painfully obvious similarities to Garrosh’s handling, as well as my joking of how painfully derivative this scene was of the Warcraft Movie and it’s climactic scene? There’s no redemption, period. The moment any character decides to even consider interacting with the Old Gods in some way, they lose that chance immediately. Which means the next expansion is when she’ll be dealt with properly.

She doesn’t care about her own people anymore. The Forsaken, as they are, are souls yet to be harvested now much like everything else. And through the loyalist dialogue, as I understand, she’s intent on taking as many souls as she can–Alliance or Horde, living or undead. The loyalist comment about they’d learn in time likely could be construed that they’d learn of her plans the moment she’d kill them as well.

Because at this point, it seems she’s less interested in running an entire faction and more-so a death cult where everyone but her has to drink the kool-aid she provides. This exit of hers, then, is just the start of that. We’ll likely have to deal with her in the next raid, she’ll blather on about her grand plans before escaping–perhaps now with the aid of N’zoth fully showing itself. Regardless though N’zoth is definitely going to crop up, no doubts about that. This is the ‘PvP’ expansion after all, and these are always followed by a ‘PvE’ expansion that forces both sides to unite begrudgingly to deal with a greater foe. It’s Blizzard’s cycle, and it is about the only thing they manage to do consistently to their detriment. His introduction will serve as the ‘transition’ to that.

Next expansion is us dealing with Sylvanas and her new bestie Azshara’s cult, N’zoth as well, all while Sylvanas continues to gather souls to try and bring the Old Gods under her thumb… Which will inevitably backfire on her, gets brought under heel along with Azshara by said God, and we then likely get to finally kill both of them before dealing with N’zoth proper.

At which point, Blizzard can go one of two routes. Hopefully? This next expansion sees the ‘faction’ split break down as it should have done long ago. It literally serves no purpose at this point. And their writers might, just possibly, hopefully even, attempt to make their stories better.
Or, Blizzard being Blizzard, introduces some other mcguffin and all of a sudden Alliance and Horde are growling at each other once more and they start fighting again. Thus continuing the bull-crap dance of ‘PvP expansion’ to ‘PvE expansion’, because none of them know how to write out a fairly balanced and well-made story without introducing unnecessary conflict in some vain and ultimately limp attempt at building up suspense.

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Jeremy Barnes

I don’t think she’s dealing with the old gods. I think she’s in direct opposition to N’Zoth which is why “the power no one has ever seen before” will be something, something void power.

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TomTurtle

Yeah, it sounds like she’s playing all known sides while possibly serving some yet to be revealed death master or just herself.

Alleria was there too though and the Alliance and Horde have seen void powers before. It’s probably some kind of death-fueled power if anything, which is odd since we’ve seen death magic before as well. Though we haven’t really dealt much with the forces of death in the Shadowlands in a major fashion yet. It probably will lead to that in the next expansion.

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DruVirus

I’m more in line with that she’s deal with an unknown Death magic of sorts. I’d love for it to be some weird off-shoot of Void, but considering we had people who are 50% Void/50% Elf? I’m “eh” on it. As far as Death magic goes, Death Knights harness parts of it, and Undead are raised by it, but neither are MADE of it. We have no idea the depths of which it can go.

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Utakata

Personally I have mixed feelings about how the story and events unfolded. And such, it will take some time to sort out, coupled with a few *head desking moments. That said though, there is something would like to point out to Mr. Eliot’s well thought out piece….

“Whereas Garrosh remained wholly committed to the Horde right up until the end (albeit his own myopic and idealized version of the Horde), Sylvanas clearly has no loyalty to the Horde whatsoever…”

To be fair, Ms. Sylvanas did abdicate the Warchief’s thrown out of her own volition and with very little blood shed. She didn’t stick around to dig in with flowery and/or inflammatory “yeah buts” and a protracted civil war like some other would of. She simply excused herself…and that was that.

It could be argued that by her own nihilistic “nothing” admission (which she unwisely blurted out as a rebuttal to Mr. Saurfang’s “hope” speech) made the Horde under her watch instantly ungovernable for her. And to control that faction to her whims at that point became wholly untenable. So in this realization of her Machiavellian plotting, she had no choice but to *Bleep!* off and how. o.O

So does that make her better or worse than Garrosh Roidscream? That I’ll admit is debatable. As she is still out there. And still very dangerous. Where as Jr. is a mere charred “monument” of his own demise out in Nagrand of Warlords collecting carrion turds, safely out of sight and mind. It remains to be seen however, if Ms. Sylvanas goes down the difficult road of redemption, dealing with the shit she caused and why she caused it…or remains to be vindictive problem…

…I don’t have much hope for her prospects though. As Mr. Schlag’s editorial meme suggests below, if Blizz takes the easy trope road with her character development…it will be another lamenting column/articles on how much they could of done so much better with it. /le sigh

*Note: Really did we need remove those boulders between Razor Hill and Orgrimmar (Goblin side)…when my characters have been hopping over that road/valley since Vanilla? Why couldn’t we just of gone over the top part (or around)…they still all lead to the same city under siege 2.o. WTF? >.<