It’s that special time of year again when the nerds of the world unite in Irvine, California to celebrate the unveiling of all new things Blizzard. The company, after merging with Activision some years ago, has since produced such games as Overwatch, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft and most recently Destiny 2.
While announcements around these games poured out, I focused my gaze pointedly at the World of Warcraft stage and panel announcements; as a long-time fan, I could not wait to hear what direction they would be taking their flagship franchise.
Considering their track record since the “golden age,” which many would consider to be the Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack, I had a nervous anticipation. Blizzard has been fairly hit and miss when it comes to new conceptual directions. The good offered new types of storytelling and narratives that ventured beyond the “good vs. world-ending evil” that is often favored by the series; Mists of Pandaria, albeit cartoonish and seemingly childish, offered rich visuals and stories that reflected the impact of war on indigenous populations. This was a switch from the narrative of the player character’s actions always being “good” as they watch the land physically being torn apart by the discord their factions brought.
The bad, however, is hardly worth giving the dignity of acknowledgment (we’re looking at you, Warlords of Draenor; please take your Facebook style missions and “Selfie Camera” to the twisting nether where you belong).
The announcement of the next installment however inspired a tentative hope in me.
Battle for Azeroth, at first glance a generic title, promises a return to the conflict between the Horde and Alliance on a grander scale than ever seen before. In the wake of the Burning Legion’s defeat and the wounding of the world-soul of Azeroth, heroes will once again be working to power up another artifact after their current one “goes out in a blaze of glory.”
The cinematic reveal is what sold this announcement for me; while Kul Tiras and Zandalar are places that players have been longing to explore, seeing the confirmed opening event of the next expansion was breathtaking. The siege of Lordaeron and the burning of Teldrassil raise the stakes beyond the norm, showing the true growth of Sylvanas Windrunner and Anduin Wrynn as both political leaders and as characters.
Anduin’s story arc is one we’ve been following since Cataclysm. Yet it was in Mists of Pandaria that we saw the young idealistic prince explore the land in search of knowledge and campaign for an end to the bloodshed between the two factions. This campaign would nearly cost him his life, as the Divine Bell shattered on top of him. However, this did not weaken his resolve for peace. Even to the dismay of one of his closest advisers, Jaina Proudmoore, he put his goals of peace in the forefront.
In Legion, his character took a dramatic turn. After the death of his father Varian on the Broken Shore, he was thrust upon the throne and expected to lead the Alliance in a war against the demonic invasions that had returned once more. His military advisor Genn Greymane doubted his ability to lead in war, as he had spent his entire life sheltered in the Stormwind. He hears citizens say he is nothing like his father; he is not a warrior and cannot keep the city safe. Doubting himself, Anduin resolves to visit the war-front in disguise. He begins to witness the weight that a king must bear. Knowing the weight of his orders and seeing the death and destruction firsthand all start to shape him into a stronger leader who sees peace as an end goal that must be fought for. Yet, this strength also is reflective of his need to be more like the hero that his father was.
The cinematic here shows Anduin leading the frontline assault, armored in a silhouette reminiscent of his father. As the need to push forward comes, he leads the charge against the Horde. Being outmatched by one of the warriors, he is knocked to the ground, helmet jostled free, revealing the innocence of his face—he is no longer able to hide in the guise of the warrior. Watching Genn fall in battle before him breaks him, as he lashes out desperately against the shaman that struck him down, ultimately killing him.
In the wake of this, he looks around the battlefield, seeing his men dying and wounded. Despair overtakes the prince. Looking to his Varian’s sword, he remembers the wisdom his father gave him:
“What am I supposed to do now?” Anduin asked.
Varian paused, clasping his son on the shoulder,
“What a king must do.”
— “A Found Memento”
As he breathes deeply, he throws his sword to the ground and calls upon the light, healing his allies and rallying them back into battle with the Horde. Here, Anduin recognizes the strength in being true to himself; he will never be the warrior his father was, but his abilities are just as great and heroic. In this moment, his self-doubt is erased.
If this cinematic is any inkling of the depth of storytelling and Horde vs. Alliance content that players will be receiving, this expansion promises to be the fresh look at what made the original game so enjoyable.
Alexander Breth is a fourth-year student majoring in English writings. He can be reached at AB834895@wcupa.edu.