Wednesday, August 08, 2018

War of Thorns: Conclusion

Last week, Blizzard released the second part of the War of Thorns, including the Warbringers: Sylvanas cinematic. They started off quite well in the first week, but did they manage to stick the landing?

And the answer is "No!" It's been a while since we've seen a game writing team face-plant so spectacularly. Not since Mass Effect 3, in fact.

In my opinion, the problem is the writers' use of emotion. Emotion must be anchored in reason. If emotion is divorced from reason, the character is irrational. And no one likes following irrational leaders. It's especially bad for Sylvanas, who's basic character is the cool, calculating, ruthless archetype. A night elf talks smack to Sylvanas, she gets mad, and burns the tree in a fit of anger? That's so far out of character that it's just senseless.

I'm not objecting to Sylvanas burning the tree, by the way. It was almost totally what I hoped for. (A pity the Horde did not have a quest to light the torches and fire the catapults!) If only Sylvanas had said something to the night elf like:
I am not wasting a Horde army in a pointless occupation. Nor will I watch them be bled by your sentinel "resistance". Burn the tree.
That sort of attitude would have been totally in line with the existing characterization of Sylvanas, and lead to the same result.

Other than the cinematic, the conclusion to the War of Thorns was short but decent. The final Alliance quest, where you try to save as many night elves as possible before being overcome by the fire, was excellent. A great use of standard quest mechanics to drive home the point.


  1. My personal preference would have been for the dialogue to go like this:

    Nelf: Windrunner, you were a defender of your people!
    Sylvanas: I still am. But you are not my people. You are their enemy.

    Of course that would have made a lot of the rest of the cinematic pointless, but it would have been more in line with the way Sylvanas was portrayed when I last played myself. :P

    1. That would have been a good line too. But it still doesn't give her a reason to burn Teldrassil, especially since the earlier quests established that her first goal was to occupy Teldrassil.

  2. I thought the approach in the novel (A Good War) was better - she wanted Malfurion dead and Darnassus occupied, to break the Alliance's spirit and hamstring any response. But when Saurfang let Malfurion live it spoiled that plan - occupying Darnassus wouldn't be enough - so she went for her second choice - burning Darnassus to force both the Alliance AND THE HORDE LEADERS into total war. The cinematic totally failed to support this, though...
    And she would have won the battle at Undercity if Jaina hadn't appeared out of nowhere, so her plan may have worked.

    1. Yeah, if they wanted to go that route, they would have been better off having the elf reference Malfurion directly.

      I do think that military plans based on "hope" and "spirit" are kind of silly, though. It's far better to stick with concrete objectives like denying ports, or eliminating powerful enemies.

  3. I've seen this argument a few places and it's not at all what I took away from the cinematic. Watch it again, Sylvanas does indeed get upset when Delaryn says she grieves for her, but it's more of a disgusted look than raw anger. Delaryn says that Sylvanas has made life her enemy and that she "can't defeat hope", to which Sylvanas looks to the tree, considers for a moment and then whispers to herself "can't I..."

    It's only then that she orders the tree burned and when Nathanos doesn't immediately react, she yells at him to burn it. But again there isn't any rage behind the order, it doesn't sound like cold fury or frustration or rage to me, it just sounds like she's yelling an order so everyone hears and hops to it. We've heard the Banshee Queen mad before, and this doesn't sound anything like that. Turning Delaryn's face to the tree and that smug smile seems more to me like she's proving that yes, she CAN kill hope, and that's really reinforced by the desperate, unwinnable quest to save everyone in Teldrassil that comes after. It's a in-the-moment decision to be sure, but one that still struck me as a calculated one.

    I've played through the pre-expac quests and scenario on both sides now, and I'm actually very pleased with both sides. My Blood Elf is an old BC original paladin, my first character, and Sylvanas and Undercity played a huge role in my early wow career, my hearth was bound to undercity for the entirety of leveling through 20-60 content. He was always my pvp character, leveled on a pvp server, and very much blindly loyal to the horde and kill ally on-sight, red name = dead anti-alliance. I really liked that you are instrumental in pushing through ashenvale, a zone I spent a very long time leveling through, and being killed by those damned Astranaar guards more times than I care to count. Being the one to push through Darkshore and take the town. I just wish we got to actually kill Malfurion instead of standing around while he was at 1HP getting "You cannot attack this target" errors. Being slowly driven back through Undercity as alliance laid siege was kinda heartbreaking, especially seeing it at the end, covered in blight. That was my home for so long.

    Conversely, I've always viewed my Draenei paladin as a champion and protector of his people first, his allies second, and all life close 3rd, a protector who would sue for peace whenever possible but never shy away from a fight when provoked, very much the movie Captain America archetype. Doing the quests on him was incredibly satisfying for the opposite reason as the Belf, you're doing everything you can to protect your own against an overwhelming force, and the unwinnable quest to save the Night Elf citizens was incredibly well done and it was very interesting seeing the opposite side of the siege, especially the base camp in shattered Brill

    Horde side has me fist pumping "For the Horde!" on my main horde toon and utterly satisfied on my main Ally toon that the Alliance is just reacting to unreasonable aggression. On my Belf I can go full "YEAH! Suck it, Allies!" and on my Draenei I'm simply reminded of Marv in sin city when he says "I love hit-men, no matter what you do to them you don't feel bad". It's funny because before the prepatch I was very much NOT looking forward to this expac, but after the quests and scenario I very much am

    1. I don't know. As I mentioned in another comment, I'm skeptical about plans built around "breaking one's spirit". They never ever seem to actually work.

      Realistic military plans built around resources, armies, and supply lines are far more rational to me. "Killing hope" sounds like an irrational plan to me.

      But other than that, I agree with you that the quests and scenarios did an excellent job of preparing for the expansion.

    2. I fully agree. It wasn't an irrational move, it was a dumb one. Like when bomber Harris wasted awful lot of UK resources to "break the German morale" by killing countless civilians - after Hitler did the exact same thing over London.

      Leaders keep believing that senseless destruction will spawn anything but defiance and resistance.

  4. Oh, I fully agree that it will absolutely backfire on Sylvanas, I just disagree that it was made out of a fit of rage at what Delaryn says. It actually almost worked though, the ONLY thing that saved the Alliance at Undercity was Jaina suddenly appearing in her father's magic boat. They were already in complete route from the Blight and Sylvanas would have killed Anduin, Alleria and Genn if she hadn't been there to teleport them out in the nick of time.

    But Sylvanas is on the downslope now, Saurfang has given up and just wants to die. Baine is followwing along for now, but openly questioning her tactics. The unrestrained use of Blight isn't going to go over well with most of the non-forsaken, nor is raising the skeletons it caused (there were quite a few tauren that popped back up, I noticed). Blizz seems to be setting her up as an eventual villain, and has been for a couple expansions now.

    It'll be an interesting run, that's for sure