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“Can’t I?”

The WoW community has been in a roiling boil for almost a week now over the pre-patch events transpiring in the lead-up to Battle for Azeroth. Specifically, there is a sense of incredulity surrounding the actions of Sylvanas. I recommend watching the Warbringer video below, but I will also include a little transcript:

Sylvanas: Secure the beach. Prepare to invade the tree.
Delaryn: (cough) Why? (cough) Why? You’ve already won. Only innocents remain in the tree.
Sylvanas: This is war.
Delaryn: No. This… is hatred… rage. Windrunner, you were… defender of your people. Do you not remember?
Sylvanas: I remember… a fool.
–Flashback of fighting, dying to Arthas, then being reborn–
Sylvanas: Life is pain. Hope fails. Now you understand.
–Tears fall from Delaryn, Sylvanas smiles–
Sylvanas: Ah, don’t grieve… you’ll soon join your loved ones.
Delaryn: I grieve for you. You’ve made life your enemy. And that is a war you’ll never win. You can kill us… but you cannot kill hope.
–Sylvanas glances at the tree, then back at Delaryn–
Sylvanas: Can’t I?
–Sylvanas turns Delaryn’s head towards the tree, and then looks at her commanders–
Sylvanas: Burn it. Burn it!

First, let me just say it: this cinematic animated short is amazing in isolation. Delaryn’s wounded coughing sounded a bit amateurish, but the dialog was tight, the imagery engaging, and it summarized Sylvanas’ entire character arc in less than four minutes.

Second, this is Sylvanas. “She would have had a more strategic plan!” Would she? I’m open for a longer debate on the subject, but to me, Sylvanas’ naked nihilism has been on display from the very beginning. Hell, I remember rolling a Forsaken character back in TBC and wondering how many expansions we would go before the Forsaken broke off and became a third faction. The casual sociopathy in plague deployment, and the understanding that the race only expanded by desecrating the dead always made it feel like the Horde accepted the Forsaken only grudgingly, out of existential considerations. The Forsaken were a part of the Horde, but stood apart.

That said, I sympathize with most of the outrage.

If you are a Horde player entertaining the fantasy of being part of an honorable band of misfits just trying to survive, Blizzard has been throwing you under the bus lately. I was not actively playing through the entire Garrosh arc, but the summaries are reading pretty similar already.

That’s not even getting into the problems that the Taurens and other Horde races/classes should be having with A) burning Teldrassil to the ground, B) being tasked with killing Malfurion (a druid leader to both factions), or C) working with a Warchief whose motto is “Life is pain, hope fails.” Sylvanas might get a pass during Legion, but if there is not widespread in-game, in-character outrage from at least the druid and shaman corners, then the Blizzard criticism is 100% warranted.

[Edit: Ah, Saurfang, you beautiful bastard. Well played, Blizzard.]

On the Alliance side, when turning in the post-fall quest to Anduin, he says:

You have shown courage and heart, champion. On this, one of the Alliance’s darkest days. My whole life, I have prayed for peace in this world. But that dream can never be realized so long as Sylvanas Windrunner leads the Horde. She expects this atrocity to crush our spirits. Shatter our unity. But this I vow… the Alliance will endure… and the Bashee Queen’s insidious reign will be ended.

So, regardless of whether Sylvanas retreads exactly the same path as Garrosh or veers into a more interesting direction, I think there is enough foreshadowing here to suggest, at a minimum, she will not remain the Warchief by the end of the expansion. Which is a rather high turnover rate for even the most diehard Horde fan to endure.

We’ll see how it plays out in the coming months and patches.

Let me just say though, oof, that Alliance quest inside the burning Darnassus was rough. And brilliant. It took my 10+ years of completing quests in WoW and used it to twist the knife in a way that not Arthas or Sargeras ever could. We can kill Old Gods… but how many civilians can we save from the flames?

Twenty-five. I saved twenty-five. Out of nine hundred and eighty-two.

A Flight Far Enough

Well then. Turns out we’ll be returning to the skies in 6.2.x after all:

In an upcoming Public Test Realm build, we will be introducing a new meta-achievement called Draenor Pathfinder. You’ll earn this achievement in Patch 6.2 by mastering the outdoor environment of Draenor—exploring Draenor’s zones, collecting 100 treasures in Draenor, completing the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements, and raising the three new Tanaan Jungle reputations to Revered. Initially, this achievement will award a rylak mount: the Soaring Skyterror, one of the native beasts that roam Draenor’s skies. Players will remain ground-bound on Draenor until a small follow-up patch (6.2.x), when all players who have earned Draenor Pathfinder on at least one character will unlock the ability to fly in Draenor on all their level 90+ characters.

The general mood surrounding this announcement, at least where I have looked, has been one of almost manic joyousness. And I largely share it. This is Blizzard returning to sanity, smartly pivoting around a smoldering crisis with some clever design. Even though my first thought was “hey, attunements 2.0,” I can’t even be mad. My long-standing opposition to attunements doesn’t apply to this particular implementation of them, even if I do feel like Blizzard just kinda threw every achievement they could think of into the unlock.

But just as you would with someone who has just returned from a psychotic break, I remain leery. Some very serious men¹ made some very serious decisions and those decisions almost stuck. In fact, Lore confirmed via Twitter that the “final decision” on this flying matter was the cause of the BINGO Live Q&A delay:

In fact, the conversation continues with the following revelations:

In other words, all these changes were decided on in just the last week.

Is it comforting knowing that Blizzard can make decisions with this degree of nimbleness? Or is it vexing that it took them until now to solve this “problem?” I don’t think anyone could argue that the proposed implementation to unlock flying is especially onerous². Arbitrary, yes, but so is paying a few thousand gold when you hit the level cap. But why was this design not the one at the start of the expansion? If this is a compromise, what were we compromising out of, and why was that believed to be better than this?

To an extent, I recognize this is me seeing a silver lining and looking for the cloud. The crisis is averted, and Blizzard conjured content out of thin air without even having to change anything else. Hell, it’s even going to drag damn near everyone outside of their Garrisons for the first time since they hit level cap. It is a clever designer Hat Trick in every respect.

Still… goddamn. I would have felt a lot better about the overall design direction for WoW had they came up with this plan before it became necessary.

¹ I was going to say “people,” but as far as I can tell, all the lead designers are dudes.

² One of the 6.2 reputations is a straight-up mob grind, and a second one is basically the same thing except killing rares. This deal is getting worse all the time.