All the current expansion events eventually led me to understanding: Battle for Azeroth offered us two expansions in its lore course, whether us and Blizzard liked it or not.
Expansion Villains and Our Final Goal
Vanilla did not offer any final goal. It was a number of stories and no-name characters without any decent links between them. Onyxia, Ragnaros, C’thun, Kel thuzad – what a bunch of misfits! Let’s put it aside, shall we?
Wrath of the Lich King and Legion have it in a name: we knew that everything else was just a side dish to defeating Arthas and Sargeras. Cataclysm had a very vocal Big Bad, ruining not just our lives, but the world itself.
In Mists of Pandaria, Garrosh pushed himself forward already in 5.1., with Landfall stories of Vol’jin and Anduin, and the final patches were a further escalation, so no one was surprised with the final raid announcement.
Likewise in Warlords of Draenor, the theme of the Fel Horde developed early in Shadowmoon/Frostfire and proceeded via Khadgar’s quests, so no wonder the losing Horde swapped for a final hope, which was Gul’dan. And the whole story remained to be about orcish natives. The arc of “We will never be slaves!” wraps up in the final cinematic with “Draenor is free!” This is a story about freedom of Mag’har from the Legion – so it started, and so it finished.
As we see, most expansions have their major villain announced at once or quite soon after launch, and defeating them is the final act of the expansion. The climax, the culmination, the final goal.
In retrospective, we had only one example that is not like the rest: The Burning Crusade.
The Burning Crusade stands apart from the rest. There was Illidan on the cover and in the trailer, everything we’ve done was leading to him by solving Outland’s problems. And yet it was not the Grand Finale.
The final patch returns us to Eastern Kingdoms and switches focus to the proper Legion invasion (minor though).
Mark you, it was not an out-of-nowhere swap of theme. Outland by default and Illidan himself have much to do with Legion theme, and multiple Legion traces on the continent prepared us to it.
And yet we feel like the Outland lore ended in Black Temple.
However questionable and/or cool Sunwell/Legion theme might be, it’s a standalone project, a standalone piece of lore. Even Kael’thas doesn’t help to bind it to the expansion. He is not a clever, sensible hero of his people as we knew him in Warcraft 3, who followed Illidan out of despair. He’s an omnicidial, power hungry maniac in TBC, who doesn’t do anything with Illidan, and thus turns into a no-name big bad.
Kil’jaeden himself was not on the cover, he was not expected, he was a threat who (suddenly, but logically) popped up. And we just hit this nail on its head.
Battle for Azeroth
Battle for Azeroth has exactly the same course of events. Our major villain is depicted on the cover and in the trailer: this is the faction war. Sylvanas, albeit a villain, is merely a trigger for the calamity.
The whole major lore is devoted to solving this problem: search of allies, trying to gain the upper hand, and making plans to force the adversary to peace. Nazjatar was not about the Old Gods or Azshara. It was a common denominator to push the reasonable leaders together, and address the real villain: the war itself.
And with 8.2.5., came the actual resolution of the expansion. The Grand Finale. The villain – the Big War – was defeated. What started in Ashenvale and Darkshore ended at the gates of Orgrimmar. This is exactly the act similar to Illidan’s defeat, bittersweet and desirable.
Visions of N’Zoth
And now Visions of N’Zoth.
As in TBC, the presence of the Old Gods was very vocal throughout the expansion: Stormsong corruption and Crucible, Zandalari royal court corruption and G’huun, Mythrax, Xal’atath, Nazjatar. As in TBC, these were only the side stories to the main course and to the main villain (war).
As in TBC, the transition to the final patch is logical and cooked enough not to throw tomatoes at the writers. And yet our final patch is a standalone project – basically an expansion of its own.
N’Zoth is not on cover. He may, or he may have not been the villain of the current expansion. He was not promised or expected to be obligatory. As in TBC, as Kil’Jaeden, he’s an important lore figure we had to meet someday. Well, and why not now?
I don’t vote for a N’Zoth-only expansion. A twisted version of Azeroth, like Emerald Dream or Black Empire, is best be left in a minor content part. So that’s what we see now: a glimpse of what Azeroth may have been like under Old God rule, a sense of threat to the planet – we see what goes on if his plans come true. It is a good decision from Blizzard, especially in terms that we saw the very active Twilight Cult in Cataclysm and corrupted pieces of land in Emerald Nightmare raid.
And yet Visions of N’Zoth is not just a weird appendix to the major events of BfA. Despite what the patch numbers say, I’d label it the next expansion in its right. A short one, maybe without many new systems (although there’s a Torghast tower test-drive), but a standalone expansion. So, here’s the full list of major Warcraft villains:
- Alliance/Horde War
- N’Zoth – you are here
The next expansion is closer than we thought: January 2020.