Aug. 1, 2018 – The newest World of Warcraft animation in anticipation of the new Battle for Azeroth expansion depicts the Banshee Queen’s origin and a steep fall to darkness. Sylvanas Windrunner has long been a core part of narratives that toy with morals, and as a result, a source of contention among players. This time, however, Blizzard raised the stakes to new levels of evil. A short conversation with a dying night elf arouses Sylvanas’ bitterness and spite. Furious, she decides to burn the World Tree instead of capturing it, thereby dooming the innocent night elves within. Blizzard has traditionally pushed back against black-and-white morality when writing both the Horde and the Alliance, but the new short has ignited a dramatic reaction from fans.
Fans are concerned that the writing for Battle for Azeroth has shifted to a shallower interpretation of morality in war. It is not the first debate about the Horde’s actions, specifically concerning Sylvanas. Sylvanas has a history of endorsing the use of the Blight. She used the plague in the Invasion of Gilneas in Cataclysm, defying Warchief Garrosh Hellscream’s explicit ban on the bioweapon. Battle for Azeroth appears to echo these previous incidents of atrocities.
Earlier this year, the Battle for Azeroth alpha saw another evil moment for Sylvanas. She used the Forsaken Blight as a war weapon in the Battle for Lordaeron, despite Saurfang’s strong opposition. Sylvanas knows better than most that the Blight does not discriminate and would harm both Horde and Alliance forces. Nonetheless, she ordered its use. After being freed from the Stormwind Stockade, Saurfang refused to return to the Horde, disgusted by Sylvanas’ dishonor. The defection of such a revered Horde veteran was a dramatic development, and shocking to many fans.
Tensions in the player base over how Blizzard writes grey morality have peaked, and fans are abuzz. Some believe Sylvanas has always been evil, and some feel it is an unnecessary turn for the worse. Others are so upset that they have harassed Blizzard employees, including writer Christie Golden—even though she joined the team after the shorts had all been planned. Though the short is controversial, the monumental response from players has ramped up anticipation for the expansion. Blizzard has given fans plenty to talk about, from the latest Sylvanas short, the dramatic goings-on of pre-release, lead-up narrative pieces, and even Jaina’s return after being absent from Legion. Battle for Azeroth is enjoying the limelight, and only time will tell whether it will land well with players.
“Evil is a matter of perspective,” said Game Director Jon Hazzikostas in an April Q&A session on Twitch. “The Horde has many facets to it. When groups are fighting for survival, at the end of the day, they resort to desperate measures.” While Hazzikostas has a point, the new cinematic sheds new perspective on it. We now face an important question: what distinguishes “survival” from “victory” in the eyes of Sylvanas? Was razing Teldrassil to the ground necessary for the Horde’s survival? Battle for Azeroth seems to want to explore big questions about wartime ethics. Whether the plot succeeds in responsibly doing so will be up for debate.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth will be available on August 14, 2018. For more information, visit the expansion’s official website at www.worldofwarcraft.com/battleforazeroth.