As if BATTLE FOR AZEROTH didn’t have enough problems, Sylvanas is proving time and again that she’s the worst leader the Horde has ever had.

A few years ago, Blizzard made the bold move of killing off the Horde’s leader, only to replace him with Sylvanas Windrunner.

This action polarized fans from the beginning. Many were eager to see how the Banshee Queen would lead the Horde. Others lamented the fact that we were disposing of yet another leader, and were concerned about how the sinister Sylvanas would lead their faction.

Judging by the title, you can probably guess where I stand on this.

I tried guys, I really did. I tried my best to watch the story progress with an open mind, to see what Blizzard planned on doing with Sylvanas. But it never got better. She’s just an awful character, and she’s dragging both the Horde and the entire game down with her.

Let me make something clear: I used to love Sylvanas as a character. In general, I love seeing more villainous females in video games. But I don’t want a villainous Warchief, and even if I did, there’s a way to do it right, and so far Blizzard has dropped the ball.

I’m not trying to hate on Blizzard, either. Hell, I’ve been accused of shilling for them in the past. When they do something right, I’ll say it. When they fail miserably, I’ll say it. In my opinion, WOW’s treatment of Sylvanas is one of the lowest points in the franchise, at least when it comes to storytelling.

So what makes Sylvanas such a bad Warchief? What happened to her character? What does this mean for the series as a whole? Well, let’s take a look!

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Sylvanas Doesn’t Fit The Role

Sylvanas has always been a villain, or at the very least villainous. The problem is that this doesn’t represent the Horde as a whole.

In essence, the Horde is a collection of classic fantasy monsters, trying to find redemption and a new identity in a world that hates them. As a whole, they’re reckless, barbaric, and even a bit crazy, but they’re not full-on villains.

Sylvanas doesn’t fit this mold. She was never meant to. Since the beginning of WOW, it was clear that she had her own mysterious agenda. Her people only aligned with the Horde out of convenience, and they were portrayed as being both culturally and morally out of step with their new allies.

WoW Sylvanas
Yep. She looks trustworthy. Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

Sylvanas as a character works best as a shadowy, mysterious puppet-master, pulling the strings of both her enemies and her allies. She works behind the scenes, manipulating events toward her own gain. She always has a plan, and she’s always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else.

These traits make her an enthralling character, but they make her a bad Warchief. Both in and out of universe, she represents a small minority in the Horde that wants to be “the bad guys.” The problem is this was always a viable option for players to pursue. You could always role-play as a villainous member of the Horde, who leans toward Sylvanas’s way of thinking. But with Sylvanas in charge, this theme is clashing with the Horde’s overall character.

Sylvanas Has Become a Mustache Twirling Villain

But let’s say Blizzard wanted to inject some drama into the Horde. Let’s say they wanted to push this internal struggle between good and evil. That wouldn’t be so bad… if it was written well. As it stands, Sylvanas has become a caricature of herself, a “stupid evil” parody of badly written bad guys.

Some may argue with me, but I think her character really jumped the shark in BEFORE THE STORM, a novel taking place just before the events of BATTLE FOR AZEROTH.

In the book, Sylvanas and Anduin agree to let the living citizens of Lordaeron reunite with their undead family members on neutral ground and without any threat of violence.

Without getting into the lore, this is a huge deal. It’s like the Berlin Wall falling, it’s like families reuniting between North and South Korea. It’s beautiful, but extremely risky, as the slightest wrong move could lead to open war.

So How Does Sylvanas Screw This Up?

Well, she orders her rangers to fire on her own people, fearing they might get too friendly with humans and threaten her leadership.

Oh dear. Image courtesy of Know Your Meme.

This was the moment Blizzard ruined Sylvanas for me. Not just for its abject cruelty, but because of how it simplifies her character. For all of Sylvanas’s schemes, she always claimed to care about free-will. This was the driving force behind her actions. Her people, the Forsaken, are defined by their freedom from the Scourge.

But this act exposes her true self. Sylvanas only cares about free-will until it’s inconvenient for her. She only cares about her people until they show the slightest chance of resisting her. In other words, she’s an unsympathetic despot.

But even a despot can be well written. The real problem with this scene is that it makes Sylvanas look weak and rash: two words I’d never associate with her. Sylvanas is so threatened by her people interacting with humans, that she doesn’t even take a moment to consider how she could exploit this for her own gain. Why not find a way to frame the humans? Or manipulate Calia in some way?

If she just waited for a few moments and considered her actions, she could have found any number of ways to consolidate her power without risking her people’s perception of her. But instead, we’re stuck with this poor excuse for a villain, ripped straight from a Saturday morning cartoon. From this point on, Sylvanas is a shadow of her former self.

Things only get worse during BATTLE FOR AZEROTH, with her gassing her own soldiers and raising them into undeath, mocking allies over their dead loved ones, and generally being an unmitigated monster.

Sylvanas is no longer interesting. She’s just another tyrant.

Her Actions Are Idiotic

I’ve talked in depth about the Burning of Teldrassil, and why it makes Sylvanas look both irredeemably evil and laughably stupid. But here’s the abridged version:

Sylvanas originally wanted to conquer Teldrassil, a tree the size of a small country which would be both a symbolic and strategic asset to the Horde. She also wanted to kill Malfurion Stormrage, the immensely powerful leader of the Night Elves, to break both their spirit and their best chance at victory.

Sylvanas gets lucky and manages to mortally wound Stormrage. But instead of delivering the finishing blow, she leaves him alone with an ally she knows she can’t trust. Predictably, he gets away.

She then manages to capture Teldrassil, landing a major victory for the Horde. Then, on a whim, she decides to burn it to the ground. Not for any strategic purpose, but because a dying soldier hurt her feelings.

Okay, to be fair, many claim that she burns down the tree to destroy the Alliance’s “hope.” The dying soldier just gave her the idea. Sylvanas wants to break the spirits of her enemies in order to defeat them. So how does that work out?

WoW Sylvanas
… Oh yeah. Image courtesy of Blizzard.

She loses her capital city and one of her most important allies betrays her. She also destroyed her one strategic advantage. In short, Sylvanas had a legitimately smart plan and screwed it up at every turn.

All According To Plan?

Many who still defend Sylvanas claim this is all part of her master plan. According to these theories, Sylvanas planned to lose the Undercity. Her ultimate goal is to split the global political system in two, with the Horde dominating the west and the Alliance taking the east, allowing both sides to live separately and in peace.

This is the dumbest theory I’ve heard in years. It implies that war is a simple matter of territory and not a product of resources, culture, and politics. This isn’t even typical WOW nonsense. This is the first draft of a 12-year-old. This is Patrick Star’s solution to global conflict.

Sylvanas WoW
Let’s take the Alliance and push it somewhere else! Image courtesy of Nickelodeon.

But this is just one of a number of bizarre conspiracy theories, all desperately trying to make sense of an increasingly nonsensical character. Sylvanas isn’t playing three-dimensional chess. She’s a victim of terrible writing. Blizzard took a fan favorite character and ruined her.

We’ve Been Here Before

But with a few tweaks and some skilled re-writes, I could forgive all of this.

… If not for the fact that we’ve done this all before.

We dealt with this years ago in MISTS OF PANDARIA, when Garrosh became a racist, orange fascist.

Sylvanas wow
Insert political joke here. Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

We’ve already asked these “compelling” questions about the nature of the Horde, whether they’re good, evil or somewhere in between.

We spent an entire expansion hitting similar story beats, only to repeat them again with slight variations. And to what end? To manufacture some cheap drama? To kill off yet another Warchief, further dwindling the ever-shrinking list of interesting characters the series has left? Not to mention how inept this makes the Horde look, to fall for a charismatic despot not once, not twice, but thrice.

All of this begs the question: has WOW run out of ideas?

The Point

Listen, guys: I know WOW is silly. While the world-building is often complex and intricate, the narratives are goofy, cheesy, and cartoonish.

This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think it can be done effectively. WOW as a series has always known what it wants to be and how to please fans with its silly yet engaging storyline.

But something’s changed in the past few years. Sylvanas is merely a symptom of a larger problem. As Blizzard continues to exhaust the story threads introduced in WARCRAFT 3, it’s become clear that they lack either the desire or the talent to move the story forward. Is this really the best they can do without piggybacking on decade-old games?

So where do we go from here? Will enough backlash force Blizzard to improve their writing? Or will people just stop caring? What happens then? Without the world of WARCRAFT, what are we even left with?

I don’t know, but I hope Blizzard can right this ship before it’s too late.

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