BATTLE FOR AZEROTH, WoW’s latest expansion, has been getting rave reviews. But for all its gameplay improvements, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding its story. Chief among these scandals is the so-called Burning Of Teldrassil.

The expansion focuses on the re-ignited war between the Alliance and the Horde. As with any war, there’s bound to be atrocities on both sides. But for many players, The Burning Of Teldrassil crossed a line.

Put simply, a major in-game region has been destroyed. This zone, Teldrassil, is the capitol of the Night Elves. It’s also a giant tree (don’t question it). Fans were outraged the moment they learned of this event. Not only is this yet another example of the Night Elves getting shafted, but players wanted to know why and how this could happen.

Fans quickly pointed the finger at Sylvanas, leader of the Undead and current Warchief of the Horde. She’s a divisive figure, to say the least, and many suspect she’s turned to the dark side.

But for months, the developers have assured us that story the would be morally gray. We still didn’t know who burned down the tree or why. Blizzard promised that, once we found out how Teldrassil burns down, we’ll find out just how nuanced and mature the story has become.

So, how’d that work out?

Not Great

WoW BFA Teldrassil
Seen here: the burning of my childhood. Image Courtesy of Blizzard.

The Burning Of Teldrassil is one of the most one-dimensional, predictable, and shallow story-beats in AAA gaming. Sylvanas has become a mustache-twirling villain, who commits ethnic cleansing just to make a point.

Suffice to say, this event set the community on fire. Alliance players feel their home was burned down for the sake of shock. Horde players are frustrated that they have to side with a tyrant. Players on both sides feel like Blizzard betrayed their trust.

But we can spend all day arguing about morality, the price of war, or even Blizzard’s misleading statements. I want to look at this from another perspective.

If you take emotion out of it, if you look at it from either a narrative or in-universe perspective, does The Burning Of Teldrassil make any sense?

It doesn’t. No matter how you break it down, this event was a stupid idea with no basis in logic.

So what’s wrong with The Burning Of Teldrassil? What makes it so illogical? Why is Blizzard doing this? Well, let’s take a look.

The Original Plan: Capture Teldrassil

Sylvanas never planned to burn down the tree.  In fact, her original plan was pretty reasonable. Put simply, she wanted to kill Malfurion Stormrage and take the World Tree for herself.

Stormrage is co-leader of the Night Elves, and one of the most powerful beings on Azeroth. He usually prefers to stay neutral, but in the event of all-out war, he could be a major threat to the Horde. Sylvanas wants to get him out of the way before the war begins.

Capturing Teldrassil would change the Horde forever and shift the balance of power in their favor.

The tree itself is gargantuan, with several towns, an ecosystem, and even a capitol city. This gives the Horde a stronghold in northern Kalimdor, which until now has been controlled by the Elves. Effectively, the Horde will dominate the continent.

WoW BFA The Burning Of Teldrassil
Teldrassil is almost a nation unto itself. Image Courtesy of Blizzard.

The Orcs, in particular, would welcome this. Ever since they settled on Kalimdor, they’ve been in conflict with the Night Elves. Orgrimmar suffers frequent droughts, and the Orcs have always coveted the lush forests to the north. With the Elves out of the way, the Orcs have access to all the food, fresh water, and lumber they could ever need. Teldrassil’s colossal branches could last them centuries.

So when all’s said and done the plan was perfect. What went wrong?

Sylvanas Sabotaged Herself

Sylvanas failed at every turn.

First off, she manages to defeat Stormrage, with the help of Varok Saurfang. Saurfang leads the orcs and has been doubting his loyalty to Sylvanas for some time. So, rather than finish Stormrage herself, she leaves him alone with Saurfang. Presumably, she wants him to prove his loyalty, but is that worth risking your entire plan?

WoW BFA The Burning Of Teldrassil
Who said Elves couldn’t be scary? Image courtesy of Blizzard.

Of course, Saurfang refuses to kill Stormrage, as he finds the battle “dishonorable.” There goes one half of Sylvanas’s plan.

But even with Stormrage alive, capturing Teldrassil could change the Horde for the better. Sylvanas wins the battle. Teldrassil belongs to her. The only thing left to do is push out the citizens. Instead, Sylvanas has a sudden change of heart:

That’s right. On a whim, Sylvanas decides to burn down the tree with everyone civilians in it. All in an attempt to destroy The Alliance’s “hope.” In other words, she gave up a major strategic asset to troll her enemies into submission.

How’d that work out?

Her New Plan Backfired

Sylvanas failed to realize that, in her attempt to demoralize The Alliance, she might demoralize her most vital allies. Saurfang never trusted Sylvanas to begin with. Watching her kill thousands of civilians didn’t help matters. In fact, Saurfang leaves the Horde shortly after, believing it to be a lost cause.

This puts an entire nation in limbo. Who will the Orcs side with? Will others follow Saurfang’s example? All of this could’ve been avoided if Sylvanas stuck with the original plan.

To make matters worse, her new plan fails. The Alliance isn’t demoralized. They’re just pissed off.

Immediately after The Burning Of Teldrassil, The Alliance strikes back by attacking Lordaeron: a former human kingdom now controlled by Sylvanas. The Alliance has disputed her claim to the throne for years, but they’ve never staged an attack on this scale.

WoW BFA Burning Of Teldrassil
So much for breaking their spirits. Image Courtesy of Blizzard.

After a long fight, The Alliance wins the day. Their leaders attempt to arrest Sylvanas, but she releases poison gas into the room before escaping. Unfortunately for Sylvanas, Jaina Proudmoore saves the day, teleporting her friends to safety.

So let’s give Sylvanas the benefit of the doubt here. Let’s assume she planned on losing the Undercity. Perhaps she thought it was an acceptable loss? Let’s assume this was all a ploy to lure her enemies into this trap. Let’s ignore the fact that her plan failed…

SiriusXM.com

…This all could’ve been accomplished if she stuck to her original plan.

If Sylvanas killed Stormrage, if she conquered Teldrassil, if she successfully annexed the entirety of northern Kalimdor, The Alliance would’ve responded in the exact same way. On top of that, she would’ve had a tree the size of a small country to fall back on. A tree no one would risk damaging in an attempt to take it back.

Instead, she’s forced to relocate her entire population to Orgrimmar, which is crowded enough as it is. Even if we assume the undead don’t need food or medicine (the lore is pretty dubious here), they still need basic accommodations. This is a massive refugee crisis, and without the spoils of war to compensate, it’ll cause a huge blow to the economy.

Even if we assume Sylvanas is playing three-dimensional chess, she had already won the game before sabotaging her own pieces.

The Point

Warcraft has some incredible worldbuilding. People love this series for a reason. But for years, their narratives have failed to live up to the incredible world they’ve created.

Time and again, Blizzard seems to sacrifice lore, character depth, and basic logic for the sake of shock value. Something always has to surprise you. There’s always gotta be some big twist or melodrama for people to fight about on the forums.

But we can complain all day about Blizzard’s writing. That doesn’t really solve anything. It’s more important to understand what they’re doing and why.

Most games build their story around the gameplay. Others focus on the story first. Blizzard does neither. They seem to start with shocking scenes, or major revelations, and build the story around these moments. As a result, none of these moments feel natural, earned, or even logical.

The goal is clear: they want to keep players invested. They want to remain in the spotlight. Just look at all the coverage about The Burning Of Teldrassil. I’m playing into their hand right now.

Instead of creating an earnest, enthralling story that can keep players engaged for years, Blizzard is making a soap opera.

Sure, it’s a viable short-term tactic, but it’s not really sustainable. You can’t tell a story through shock alone. Eventually, fatigue sets in. Frustration sets in. At some point, people will stop caring about the story altogether. When that happens, what’s the point of having one at all?

Whether you care about video game narratives or not, this is simply an unhealthy way to generate interest, and it’s bound to implode on Blizzard eventually.

If we keep going down this path, WARCRAFT will lose what makes it special: it’s world.

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