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.
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.
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.
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.