It's been a trying time for Horde players. The road up to World of Warcraft's Battle for Azeroth expansion is all about refocusing the Alliance and Horde on what really matters: inter-faction war. No Burning Legion, no Illidan, and no Old Gods getting in the way; just the Horde and Alliance duking it out.
Horde players have been increasingly uneasy as Blizzard has released more information about the expansion. The faction's current leader, the undead general Sylvanas Windrunner, is a bit more warlike and cold in comparison to previous Warchief Vol'jin. At Blizzcon, Blizzard showed off two bits of concept art of Sylvanas standing in front of Teldrassil, the World Tree that stands as the home of the Night Elf race. One showed the tree as it appeared in-game at the time, while the second showed it burning.
Blizzard Entertainment was largely cryptic about the actual culprit of the arson. Theories ranged from a faction of within the undead Forsaken, the Old God herald Queen Azshara, or even a member of the Alliance seeking to incite war.
These teases were later followed by the Battle for Azeroth beta, which contained "The Battle for Lordaeron" event. The scenario sees the Alliance attacking Lordaeron and the Undercity in retaliation for the Burning of Teldrassil. When things take a turn for the worst, Sylvanas orders the release of the Blight, the plague that created the undead. The issue is that the battlefield is occupied by Horde and Alliance alike, with Sylvanas going scorched earth on her own army.
In a Q&A back in April, one fan asked World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth director Ion Hazzikostas if they should be worried about the Horde turning evil. At the time, Hazzikostas said that both sides should be worried about resorting to desperate measures.
"Evil is a matter of perspective. The Horde has many facets to it. There are aspects of what the Forsaken have represented for a long time that have not necessarily been directly in line with what the Tauren represent for example. There's been this uneasy partnership between these groups for some time," he said.
"There's a lot of harsh things that happen in war in general. When groups are fighting for survival, at the end of the day, they resort to desperate measures. There's a lot of story to tell going forward. Both sides should be worried about this. Azeroth is a world of grey, it's never been a world of black and white."
There was also a translated reply about the situation from Korean site Inven, where a Blizzard spokesperson said that making the Horde seem evil was "our mistake". Given both answers, players assumed that there was more to the story. Until today.
Today, Blizzard Entertainment released the second Warbringers animated short, focusing on characters who will be key to the Battle for Azeroth. The first involved Alliance mage Jaina Proudmoore returning to her home and reclaiming her birthright. The second is all about Sylvanas and her actions leading up the Burning of Teldrassil itself.
The key here that Sylvanas' original plan has the Horde taking control of Teldrassil to remove an Alliance powerbase. The Alliance has the Night Elf city of Darnassus as its waystation for the shipment of the new, powerful mineral Azerite from Silithus. Sylvanas wants to prevent the Alliance from getting more Azerite, giving the Horde an advantage in the war.
The invasion is about to begin, but Sylvanas stops to have a conversation with wounded elven warrior Delaryn Summermoon. Sylvanas flashes back to her time in the living, before she ran into a corrupted Arthas and became the Banshee Queen.
"You've made life your enemy, That is a war you'll never win. You can kill us, but you cannot kill hope," says Summermoon.
In response, Sylvanas changes the plan. There will be no invasion and holding of Darnassus. Instead, she orders the Horde to burn Teldrassil to the ground. There was no secret culprit, no alternate viewpoint on the original concept art. Sylvanas, the leader of the Horde, orders the burning of the World Tree and the cities it contains.
Fans have taken to Twitter, Reddit, and the official World of Warcraft forums to complain about the decision. Given the Burning of Teldrassil and the release of the Blight at Lordaeron, Sylvanas is clearly evil in the eyes of many. This presents a few problems as far as the community is concerned. First, it doesn't make much sense for Sylvanas, a character that's previously been portrayed as tactically intelligent in the past. She makes moves for tactical gain and all the burning accomplishes is getting the Alliance angry enough to attack Lordaeron.
Second, it's becoming increasingly difficult to see certain parts of the Horde remaining loyal. If players are finding themselves wanting to switch sides, why are the Tauren still following Sylvanas? What about the Druid or Paladin class orders? The former should be angry enough to leave the Horde en masse.
Third, this is similar to a storyline that already played out in the Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor expansions, with former Horde leader Garrosh Hellscream becoming increasingly cruel. Ultimately, Garrosh himself was the raid boss for the Siege of Orgrimmar raid and died in Warlords at the hand of former Warchief Thrall. It feels like Sylvanas is heading in the same direction. This Horde storyline feels like it's been done before and losing Sylvanas will continue to death toll of Horde leaders: Garrosh, Vol'Jin, and Sylvanas back-to-back.
Though Hazzikostas never said the words directly, the community has latched onto the phrase "morally grey", wondering how there are any shades of grey to what's happening. And many of the players are angry or disappointed in the direction of the storyline.
LOOOL all these months teasing us Horde players that there would be more to the Burning than we thought and that the conflict would be as morally grey as it could get... when after all it was just so obvious. Seriously UPSETTING. I am disappointed, and I am sorry.— Ariana (@Ariannasaurus) July 31, 2018
And the cycle of “good expansion” and then “bad expansion” continues. In case you were wondering, Legion was good. So so disappointed. You learned nothing from the Garrosh era.— Brandon Matthews (@thebmatt) July 31, 2018
"Morally Grey my ass," says Reddit user TheWiseAsp.
"I'm not fine with the Horde being presented as an unambiguously 'evil' faction because it's not how they were originally presented and it doesn't make any sense for the majority of characters within it," wrote Reddit user Ianamus. "Yes, the Horde contains some bloodthirsty and trigger happy Orcs and Undead, but it also has Blood Elves, Nightborne, Trolls, Pandaren, Honorable Orcs and, most notably, Tauren. None of whom should be happy with Sylvanas burning down the tree and being a self-proclaimed 'enemy of life'."
One thread on the official World of Warcraft forums asks players to unsubscribe "in protest of bad writing". Another tells Horde players "if you don't want to be on the evil faction," then "the Alliance is waiting for you." Yet another thread says Horde pride is over. There are some players who are welcoming the change, putting the "war" back in "Warcraft", but many are wondering why they're on the "evil" faction now.
One sad and unnecessary result of the short are the attacks against Blizzard writer Christie Golden. Golden is a novelist who wrote some of the early Warcraft and World of Warcraft novels. She's since written a number of the novelizations based on Blizzard's game, and was officially brought onto the World of Warcraft writing team last year. Golden has become the face of the WoW writing staff as one of its most visible members, and thus the focus of the community's ire.
All despite the fact that she's already confirmed on Twitter that the Warbringers storylines were well into development before she joined the team.
All the Warbringer pieces where well into development before I came on board.— Christie Golden (@ChristieGolden) July 31, 2018
I'm disappointed in the direction of Sylvanas' storyline as a former Horde player. I prefer a World of Warcraft where there's a faction war with equally culpable actions behind them. Regardless, even if Golden did mastermind the storyline, folks need to step back and realize that it's just entertainment. There are civil ways to get your feedback across and attacking one person on social media isn't one of them. Dissatisfaction does not give a person the right to harass another.
Right now, all the community can do is sit back and see where the Battle for Azeroth storyline will take us. We don't know Blizzard's future content plans and we certainly have no clue if the anger will have a measurable effect on WoW's subscription numbers. There's still one more Warbringers short coming in the future, focused on Queen Azshara. Maybe this will shed new light on the conflict. I wouldn't expect it to though.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is coming to PC on August 14, 2018.