As the dust settled – and I haven’t been playing the BfA content for a couple of months – it is time to properly look back at the past expansion and review what was good and what was not. As always, it’s a personal blog, and it provides only my personal opinion.
I’ve discussed the story properly many times before, so I’ll try to summarize my points.
Even I can’t deny the overall story was quite shaky.
I’m not talking of faction division here – after all, many leveling zones from Vanilla to and through even articulated faction-less Legion (but Stormheim, anyone?) offered a faction-only experience. In BfA it was focused, and it worked – of course, your lore knowledge would be most awesome if you played both sides, but at least you had the general idea of enemy continent events and world quested there as easily as within your own. And by Nazjatar the faction division collapsed, and the final two patches were played alongside with Alliance or Horde “enemy” players doing the same things.
I see two biggest problems with the BfA story.
One, the hastiest resolution of Azshara and the Old Gods situation. No one can deny they deserved more. Yes, a whole expansion of insanity and tentacles might be tasking for players, yet Blizzard could brainstorm and work out a variety enough to fill an expansion – like it was solved with the different Elements during Cataclysm before we went into tentacles theme.
Yes, you can’t deny they were building up the Old Gods theme ever since leveling experience in BfA (Stormsong, Vol’dun, Nazmir) – and yet it was clearly a side dish, very poorly and illogically connected to the main story of faction war.
Even the faction kingdoms’ sea theme did not help much to tie them together. It is most clear that we’ve seen the expansion climax at the gates of Orgrimmar – 3 months before the final patch and one year before the next expansion – which, by the way, is a sequel to these events, not N’Zoth.
Two: the faction war.
I’ve said before that the presentation of factions and the war itself was most logical and well-done in terms of warfare – intelligence, plans, the actual campaign. Blizzard did give an opportunity to shine for all races and heroes – even the brand new allied races made a huge difference, and even the normally comic-relief, butt monkey gnomes and goblins were promoted to kick ass heroes. The only thing they forgot about was an answer to a baseline of Pandaria: why are we fighting?
As promised, in the final war cinematic we got all the answers: it was Sylvanas finally having enough power and opportunity to manipulate the factions into a pointless, merciless genocide and feed the souls to the Jailer in tons. Nothing wrong with that story and motivation, but the problem was leaving Sylvanas out of brackets – totally outside of expansion. We never saw her outside of very scarce cinematics, and outside of Grommash Hold – and only if you managed to come there on your own.
In other words, this turn of events has not been explored at the very least. We saw her and her sidekick Nathanos acting Garrosh 2.0., a yet another warmongering leader of the Horde – with a correction to undead’s more ruthless, less honorable antics, yet acting in the vein of eternal rivalry. Even Saurfang/Baine stories did not help – it was effectively fighting treason (and rightfully so), not being a Jailer’s sidekick.
What could be done here?
Obviously bringing the expansion story major engine, Sylvanas, in focus. It’s out of question that the few points when she actually acted should have been on screen – talks with Nathanos, deals with Ashvane and Azshara. But there must have been much more. Without giving away the Jailer’s name, Sylvanas should have received her own storyline – even in terms of investigation.
Major characters like Genn, Lor’themar and others should have taken us to the landmarks of her past – Quel’Thalas, Lordaeron, Icecrown, Gilneas, Southshore, Stormheim and really make us think what is happening to her – and is it just undead lack of empathy to the living, an understandable lack of HonorTM Horde brand, or something a lot bigger going on?
As a major story engine and the main villain, she should have gotten a proper escalation and focus. Did not happen.
And although the patchwork blanket of Battle for Azeroth story didn’t work well as a whole, the individual patches were masterpieces of their own – not allowing to assign the lore to the ‘bad’ camp.
We had an amazing leveling experience which unraveled both sea nations, an insane but super cool idea of a synthetic Old God, a PoV look of how capable the factions are in an open warfare, the gem of the Night Warrior revenge, a majestic playground of Nazjatar (although it was we who were played with), a quirky and fun Mechagon side story, and finally experienced a short but very convincing manifestation of the Old Gods’ menace and insanity.
Throw in some personal and deeply moving vignettes of Jaina, Baine, Saurfang, Vol’jin – and we can say we had enough things to care about and remember the expansion for.
We had a lot of amazing adventures in Battle for Azeroth. It’s not how the stories were different from each other, because diversity is great. The problem was trying to conceal the Shadowlands intrigue so badly, that the whole current expansion scattered across the floor like a torn pearl necklace – because Sylvanas was the string to tie these individual pearls together.