I cannot warn you enough before this post, which has a very neutral title to avoid spoilers – THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS POST. Big, huge, Old God spoilers. Turn away now if you are waiting to clear the raid yourself!
Alright, so with the Ny’alotha raid now open, we know what the contents of the two cinematics that remained encrypted after last week’s patch are.
Boy, are they…something.
I cannot help but express an extreme sense of disappointment in how these cinematics were used, and for being incredibly hyped (and spewing theories about Tyrande dying and connective tissue to Shadowlands being laid).
I want to say this first – the cinematics are visually cool, and it is fun to see the machinima team on WoW stretching their legs with the new tools they’ve added over the years.
However, as someone who really wanted a deeply coherent story and clear movement towards Shadowlands, this was nothing but a disappointment on nearly every level.
The first cinematic leaves some potential story beats – Wrathion stabs N’Zoth with the Blade of the Black Empire, which fulfills Azshara’s story hook from earlier in the raid. Fine enough, but there is a ton of mystery left open – this is before the Carapace of N’Zoth fight, so the blade clearly doesn’t end the Old God. Wrathion smirks at the Faceless One that appears from the smoke, but why? The blade doesn’t seem to reappear, and in fact seems to almost explode from trying to contain the Old God? Is there anything of N’Zoth trapped inside, or does it merely weaken him? Does it even do anything short of irritate the building-sized Corruptor? How does Wrathion hold the dagger in dragon form?
It’s a Michael Bay-esque sequence – big on over-the-top action and effects, but it only ends up feeling like a show-off sequence or sizzle reel for the raid.
Then, the remaining cinematic, under 30 seconds. I figured this would be a mid-raid sequence or some additional N’Zoth thing, with the longer cinematic being story, but maybe they flipped expectations?
The sub-thirty second cinematic is an appendix to the in-game cutscene we’d already seen on PTR, with N’Zoth being overloaded with Azerite energy and every eyeball in Ny’alotha exploding as the Waking City crumbles and washes away in the energy of the Forge of Reorigination.
I just…I can’t pretend to be happy with this. It’s visually cool (again, I have nothing but praise for the artists working on these things) but it just comes off like a wet fart of nothing. It stinks. We made it to the end of Battle for Azeroth – and I’ll say it, for me, it was the worst expansion to the game ever. I cannot endorse this expansion as a less-fun romp down a difficult concept, or anything other than what it was for me – a flop. It made me question my love for this game, left me wondering if I would even come back for 8.3, and it makes me have serious doubts about what comes next in Shadowlands.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story told here is self-contained, almost – other than the Heart of Azeroth elements and Wrathion’s little bit of BfA story, nothing here has any connection to the rest of BfA whatsoever. BfA ended with 8.2.5, but since Blizzard didn’t want to call BfA early, we got this patch. I’ve even liked elements of this patch from a gameplay perspective! However, from a lore perspective, this all feels like a speed bump, something we just ran over to get to our actual destination. To be honest, I haven’t liked the lore in BfA, but there’s at least a sense of continuity – Before the Storm sets out how cunning and evil Sylvanas is, the War of Thorns makes that blatantly apparent, and we go to war. We found allies, brought back friends, and fought and concluded a war before it engulfed the whole of Azeroth. We then took to an ancient enemy of the planet in Azshara, before she revealed the way to N’Zoth.
All of that is fine enough, and I can accept it, even if I think it was harmed by a weak 8.0 story, an unfocused 8.1, and the sudden snap back to tense faction unity against a common foe in 8.2. What really, really bothers me about this patch is that the whole thing with N’Zoth is really poorly explained. Why did Sylvanas offer a deal to Azshara – what did she aim to get out of it? What made Azshara decide to free N’Zoth – sure, yes, she wanted to kill him with the blade, but then – we see now it didn’t work, and it sure makes her plan look stupid in retrospect!
Even worse though, is this – we have literally no idea how we get to Shadowlands from here and it will be a long, agonizing wait of months before we get that! These cinematics set up absolutely nothing for Shadowlands, not even the vaguest of hints, short of maybe, maybe, whatever happened to the Black Blade of the Empire after Wrathion stuffed it into N’Zoth. Even then, we have no reason to believe that Wrathion has a role to play in Shadowlands – his mission has been setup in 8.3 as defying the Black Dragonflight’s destiny of N’Zothian corruption, by emerging unscathed from direct conflict with the Old God. And hey! – he did it! Wrath-i-on! Wrath-i-on!
But we have the ominous musings of Tyrande in the treaty quest. The unknown location of Sylvanas. The unknown fate of the Black Blade of the Empire. Unanswered questions about Xal’Atath the being. A free, alive Azshara. Sylvanas loyalists remaining in the ranks of the Horde. Night Elves without a new home, or any real home.
Narratively, we fought a war with no stakes, nothing really got resolved, and we’re moving on. The Horde is still an organization of bloodthirsty warmongers willing to follow a charismatic leader – but hey, we fixed that by having 6 people lead instead! The Alliance is still a pushover faction run by an overly idealistic child who has no interest in fixing the foundational problems of the world as presented. The world of Azeroth still has a huge fucking sword sticking out of it with no sign of actual healing, but we’ve somehow been fixing it by sticking crystals of its “blood” into a necklace, a concept which has never really been explained in lore outside of Titan “protocols.” Sylvanas is hiding in the most obvious place on the planet, A TOWER LITERALLY NAMED FOR HER FAMILY, and yet no one can find her, somehow.
The last handful of expansions have ended with story beats that picked up immediately in the new expansion – MoP ends with Garrosh’s jailing, his vision for a perfect Horde unfulfilled, WoD ends with Gul’dan banished, clearly still alive and serving his master, and Legion ended with Sargeras plunging his sword into our planet, causing Azerite to leak out of the wound, and both factions clearly fighting for control of the zone and this new resource, and what do we have now? Nothing. Literally nothing.
Maybe the problem was my own expectations – and I do take some responsibility for getting excited about the possibility of a Sylvanas and Tyrande showdown, hyping myself up for a thing I wanted to see. However, I think that Blizzard has, overall, really dropped the ball on story this expansion. Things have been confusing, hot and cold, slow to develop, and have ultimately felt like filler – a story arc with few real consequences that leads into Shadowlands. Sure, Sylvanas’ story was lore-significant – but she factored into such a small amount of content that she almost doesn’t matter in BfA either. She sets off the expansion, remains supported by the Horde, cracks form, she’s absent for 8.2 and 8.3, barely featured in 8.2.5, and now is going off to start the next expansion? How does she get there? What content are we going to get to bridge us there?
My biggest problem is this – I don’t trust that Blizzard is going to meaningfully pay any of this off in 9.0. I want to have trust in the team and believe that there is a plan and when the Shadowlands alpha goes live with opening quests I’ll eat my words, if need be. But after BfA, I don’t have that kind of faith in the WoW team anymore.
I wanted the events of BfA to have a clear narrative arc, to progress things and feel important. However, my favorite storytelling all expansion was a story that was largely self-contained – the arc of Jaina Proudmoore. Her story was fantastic, with a good, consistent character arc, lots of developing events, and an excellent capstone cinematic that really captured the development she had been through up to that point. Afterwards, her development continues on this arc, too – unlike the Sylvanas in Legion arc, Jaina’s development stayed on course, and with the events of 8.2 and Thrall’s return, everything made logical sense and felt like a good conclusion to the MoP-started Horde-hater Jaina.
The best I can hope for at this point is to be wrong – for the 9.0 pre-patch to have tons of great storytelling that really pulls things together into a cohesive, big-picture view. However, at the moment, all that BfA was is a jumbled mess of minor storylines with inconsistent major storylines that stopped and started out of nowhere and have me left sitting here wondering just how in the hell Blizzard is going to take us from this to Shadowlands in a way that makes sense.
And, to be honest, I’m worried that they won’t meet that standard, and I refuse after this expansion to get myself hyped for something that, odds are, isn’t going to happen.