Know Your Lore: A personal anxiety about Shadowlands
First up, in this Know Your Lore I’ll say that I generally think that Shadowlands looks amazing. I’m very excited about exploring the new lands and seeing the realm of Death first hand, and I think it’s great that Blizzard is going with weird, alien, almost Dadaist presentations of the borderlands between our world and theirs. Seeing that tower upside-down above Icecrown gave me chills.
But I do have a problem with Shadowlands. It’s a continuation of a problem I had with Battle for Azeroth and with the story of World of Warcraft that spun out of it. And that problem is this — you can’t open a story with a genocide and expect the character that commits that genocide to ever be one I want to see go unpunished.
So far, that’s been Sylvanas Windrunner, and the fact that the genocide she committed and committed personally has not really been dealt with in the narrative save for everybody to kind of make frowny faces at it bothers me greatly. The Horde — which she was Warchief of when it happened and which executed her orders — is treated as blameless lackeys. The Alliance goes into a peace treaty with them, despite the slaughter of uncounted thousands and the destruction of a major Alliance capital city.
The Shadowlands and Battle for Azeroth
Now, I don’t know exactly what the story of Shadowlands will be. It could be I’ll finally get to see the Night Elves get their revenge. With Tyrande having embraced the Night Warrior side of Elune, and the Ardenweald and the Night Fae clearly being tied to the Night Elves and figures like the Ancients and Cenarius (son of Elune), perhaps we’ll find out more about the Night Warrior there. It’s a mistake to assume I won’t be satisfied with the story before I see it, and there was a lot I liked about Battle for Azeroth. But I definitely felt dissatisfied, and I regretted playing a Night Elf this expansion. Quite frankly the idea that I was playing the survivor of an atrocity whose entire arc towards justice was winning a Warfront that basically just let us reclaim the destroyed area the Horde burned and pillaged on their way to killing my entire family left me extremely cold.
Neither the Horde nor Sylvanas suffered any real consequences for the attack on Ashenvale or Darkshore, much less the destruction of the World Tree, and both absolutely should have. Yes, Saurfang died, but once again that made the expansion story about his journey, and his redemption. Which is great, but what about the people who actually died because of him? Remember, it was Saurfang who made the plans that Sylvanas used to go burn Teldrassil. When do we get to see the story of his victims? There were a few Night Elves at Orgrimmar, but I didn’t see any purple faces in that ending cinematic, when Anduin played sword caddy for Saurfang. Once again, the Orcs commit an atrocity, and then we get to see how upset they are about it.
Shadows over the Ardenweald
Going into Shadowlands, there are moments I think have to happen. The Horde, as an organization, needs to come to terms with their constant cycle of waging war and then playing the victim afterwards. It wasn’t the Horde as a whole, it was Garrosh. Oh, well, it wasn’t the Horde as a whole, it was Sylvanas. At what point is the Horde itself responsible for picking leaders who drop mana bombs on cities or set world trees on fire? With the massive death toll from the War of Thorns revealed as part of Sylvanas’ alliance with the Jailer, the Horde needs to come to terms with the fact that they helped her do this. The disaster looming is in a very real way the Horde’s mess, and not only does the Horde need to clean it up, they need to own up to it. Yes, Thrall and Jaina had a very nice scene talking about what’s changed, but scenes are cheap. What are you going to do about this?
For the Alliance, I think the schism so many players seem afraid of needs to actually happen, and I hope Ardenweald helps move that along. Especially since all the dead at Teldrassil were eased into a magical sleep by Elune, it’s time to see why the Night Elves’ goddess chose to do that instead of taking a more direct hand. Why empower Tyrande as the Night Warrior? What was the point of all that the Night Elves went through? Sometimes you endure horrors and the only positive outcome is that you endured them, so I’m not expecting a happy ending here. You can’t get a happy ending out of the deaths of thousands. But you can get one that’s narratively satisfying, and that’s something that we simply didn’t get in Battle for Azeroth. And it would have been simple. Just have Tyrande show up at Orgrimmar and drive Sylvanas off. Just let Sylvanas lose, not just because of her own arrogance and rage, but because someone else actually gets to look cool fighting her.
That moment still needs to happen. The Night Elves and Worgen still need to get their vengeance. If the story elements we’re getting from Shadowlands are accurate, then all the dead from Teldrassil ended up at the Maw, and that also needs to be redressed. They deserved the Ardenweald. They deserved a better fate than as playthings for Sylvanas’ secret ally in his bid to take over Death. And I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that they might not get it.
Soul-drought and the cycle broken
Again, this is an expansion that isn’t even out yet. It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that we’ll get to see some or all of these concerns addressed. We don’t know what the Ardenweald storyline will be, we don’t know what the final fate of Sylvanas Windrunner is going to entail, and we certainly have no idea what threads are going to be picked up on. I don’t think the storyline can just forget that Teldrassil happened, as it was Sylvanas’ first real big opening move on the path that led us to this story. And considering that we’re told the Ardenweald is suffering a soul-drought, that means the Kaldorei that should have turned up there didn’t, and that’s a storyline that I think needs to be a big part of Shadowlands.
I’m just concerned, because the nature of long form episodic storytelling like an MMO often means these things get pushed back and pushed back. I feel like several opportunities were missed — just kill Nathanos already — which lessened the impact of what was intended to be the revenge aspect of the Darkshore Warfront, and that needs to not happen again. I personally love Patty Mattson’s performance as Sylvanas, and I’m glad to see her take center stage for a while, but I feel like no one would like Richard III if Richard of Gloucester murdered his nephews to become King and then nothing happened to him. We have enough unrepentant villains getting away with it in real life, thanks.
And seriously, stop making the story revolve around how bad an Orc feels that he planned and executed an atrocity. We have enough Sad Orcs in Rubble storylines. Let’s see how the people who go through it are doing. I am heartily tired of Orcpain.
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