Battle for Azeroth has been a contentious expansion for World of Warcraft, but today its story campaign has come to an end. Patch 8.2.5 went live today, offering the final missions of the War Campaign. Players are shocked and unhappy with the outcome, but new cinematics also tease what's coming next for WoW.
The Story So Far
Everything in Battle for Azeroth has built up to the confrontation with the current Warchief of the Horde, Sylvanas Windrunner. After the Horde and Alliance banded together to destroy the Burning Legion, the opening of this expansion saw Sylvanas lead the Horde in an assault on Darnassus, home of the Night Elves. She burned down the tree, displacing all the Night Elves and signaling the beginning of a new conflict with the Alliance. At the same time, Horde stalwart Saurfang defected, disgusted with the new Warchief.
The Alliance retaliated with an attack on Lordaeron, with Sylvanas resorting to a chemical weapon attack with the Blight in response, killing Horde and Alliance alike. With war tensions heightened, the Horde and Alliance went looking for allies; the Horde headed to Zandarlar to enlist the help of that Troll empire, while the Alliance went to Kul Tiras, the ancestral home of Jaina Proudmoore.
The expansion's ongoing tale saw Sylvanas becoming increasingly aggressive, even attacking those on her own side. She turns Jaina's brother into a Forsaken in a bid to assassinate Jaina, but Tauren leader Baine Bloodhoof frees him. Sylvanas arrests Baine, but this action brings together most of the Horde and Alliance membership, including Saurfang and returning hero Thrall, under a single cause: stop Sylvanas and save Baine.
The End is Nigh
Today's patch sees the banded heroes facing off against Sylvanas. The first cinematic included in the patch features a frank discussion between Saurfang and Alliance king Anduin Wrynn. The pair talk about the actions of the Horde and Alliance, and whether there is a path forward for peace. It ends with both sides, and all the assembled leaders, pledging to fight together for Azeroth against Sylvanas.
Players have speculated since the beginning of Battle for Azeroth that the expansion would mark the end of both factions. For too long, they're engaged in this dance, fighting each other and then coming together to face a larger threat. It also doesn't help that the factions work together in various gameplay mechanics, like the Class Order Halls from World of Warcraft: Legion.
Another alternative was a third faction. Battle for Azeroth also offered some players choice, a major first for World of Warcraft. Horde players could choose to side with Saurfang or spy on the orc for Sylvanas. There was a heavy amount ideological infighting within the Horde, even if that conflict couldn't directly play out in-game.
This first cinematic points heavily towards a single shared faction of all the races, always working together against a larger foe. The recent patch content has seen the threat coming from Queen Azshara and the rising of the Old Gods. Seeing both sides united against the foes that rules Azeroth long ago would make sense. Likewise, a number of story beats, like the Light-based undead Calia Methethil, have pointed towards a blending of races in either faction. Saurfang outright says that the group's aim is to break the cycle of the Horde-Alliance conflict.
Duel Me in Front of Orgrimmar
The second cinematic involves the army of heroes in front of the gates of Orgrimmar. Saurfang challenges Sylvanas to a one-on-one duel, like so many players have over the years. Saurfang heads into battle as a representative of both sides, dual-wielding his axe and Anduin's sword Shalamayne. It looks like he's losing against the Dark Lady, only to split Shalamayne into its paired blades and wounds Sylvanas. In response, she releases a wave of dark energy—likely power she gained from using Xal’atath, the Blade of the Black Empire. And with that, Saurfang dies.
Given that the magic use was outside of the rules of the duel, Sylvanas essentially forfeits, casting aside the leadership of the Horde. She says that "the Horde is nothing," and leaves Orgrimmar to continue the long plan she's been enacting since the beginning of Battle for Azeroth.
Players get a few additional scenes depending on whether they supported Saurfang or Sylvanas. Saurfang supporters and the Alliance witness a eulogy over the fallen body of Saurfang, with both Thrall and Anduin noting that he had an honorable death. The Alliance leaders then head into a portal back to Kul Tiras. This seems to go against the idea of a shared faction, as the leader each separate to their respective side.
Sylvanas loyalists meet the Banshee Queen at Windrunner Spire, the former home of her family. "My bargain with Azshara will yet bear fruit. The armies of Azeroth will fight her master, and he will line their streets with corpses. In the end, he too will serve Death. Enough reflection. There are preparations to be made. Nothing lasts. When next you see me, you will understand," she vows. So there's more coming from Sylvanas, even if she is no longer the leader of the Horde.
The Voice of The Common Man
The community at large hasn't been a huge fan of the war campaign in Battle for Azeroth. One of the major complaints is that the storyline is similar to the fall of previous Horde Warchief Garrosh Hellscream. Garrosh also was handed the reins of the Horde, distinguishing himself by being more hardline than his predecessor. Eventually though, that hardline nature morphed into straight villainy, with Garrosh being deposed in Mists of Pandaria and ultimately killed by Thrall in Warlords of Draenor.
"The difference between this and Mists of Pandaria is NPCs settled it without us getting a raid," wrote Reddit user DoctorPotatoHead, referring to Garrosh's storyline.
"On the upside they brought out the big guns with a six minute CGI cinematic, which is awesome and I hope they'll do it again. But it's still an anticlimax. Like, the whole war campaign built up to... that ? It's just Siege of Orgrimmar 2.0 but without the 14 month raid tier, and the actual siege ending in less than five minutes," wrote Reddit user Luxunofwu.
Of course, there's still a ton of speculations as to the fallout of the cinematics and war campaign storyline. Leaders are dead, the Horde has no clear Warchief, and there's new races in the mix—the Zandalari Trolls, Kul Tiran Humans, and other Allied Races—that weren't in the mix before.
"It’s no secret that I haven’t been a fan of the story direction this expansion. And this cinematic doesn’t change that," added WoW Forums user Carmageddon. "The Horde murder of a city is never properly addressed, with all the blame being shifted to Sylvanas, at least by Anduin, who speaks for the Alliance. So Alliance characters don’t get a payoff commensurate with those stakes. And Horde characters get to know that they once again spent most of an expansion busily working to advance the schemes of a super villain.
"I was also left confused. Is Thrall in charge of the Horde once again? He was the only one speaking for it after Saurfang. Are the Alliance and Horde at peace now? Is there going to be just one faction, a 'For Azeroth' faction? Are the Night Elves still part of the Alliance? And most of all…what is Sylvanas’ big plan? Supposedly the war campaign is over, but that is one very big shoe left to drop."
What's Next: Rumors of The Shadowlands
As to what Sylvanas' plans truly are, the current speculation is all aligned with a rumor first posted on 4Chan (via MMO-Champion's forums). That rumor sees the Horde and Alliance heading to the Shadowlands, the land of the dead. And the secret behind Sylvanas' plan is orchestrating a war to kill scores of people to feed an army in the Shadowlands; an army that will fight against N'Zoth in that realm, killing many to win the true war.
This rumor points to patch 8.3 being an attack against Stormwind by Sylvanas, with the Alliance and Horde committing their forces to defending Thunder Bluff instead. The attack will ultimately see scores of named heroes, soldiers, and citizens killed, including the player. Upon dying, the player will supposedly wake up in the Shadowlands. The rumor also talks about a new class, the Tinkerer, that will come with the expansion.
Some of the events in patch 8.2.5 don't entirely line up with the rumored events, notably the idea that Sylvanas has a large enough army to stand against the combined might of the Horde and Alliance. The rumor also places Sylvanas in further potential control of the Horde than the final cinematic would indicate.
Regardless, the ending of Battle for Azeroth teases some changes for the faction war that has underpinned World of Warcraft since the beginning. The Horde and Alliance might not be going away, but perhaps we'll see things like races being able to end up on the other faction. I'm looking forward to seeing Sylvanas' ongoing shenanigans and the next step for World of Warcraft in 2020. We're certain to find out more about that direction at this year's Blizzcon in November.