Major story developments in the World of Warcraft have seen one of its most famous characters destroy one of the game's most famous locations - and reaction has been mixed to say the least.
THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD.
War of the Thorns is an in-game event designed to set up expansion Battle for Azeroth. In it, the Alliance and the Horde clash once again - with Sylvanas in charge of team red.
Sylvanas was once a High elf before her soul was ripped out of her body by Arthas. Since then, she has led the Forsaken, an undead faction you can play as in World of Warcraft.
Now, she's leading the Horde and seems hell-bent on starting a new war with the Alliance. To that end she's invaded Northern Kalimdor and destroyed Teldrassil, the World Tree. This is a big deal for Warcraft lore nerds such as myself (I played a Night Elf priest in World of Warcraft, so Sylvanas has effectively burnt down my spiritual home).
This cataclysmic event was revealed in an animated short made by Blizzard and released yesterday called Warbringers: Sylvanas. In it, Sylvanas is depicted as a brutal, cold, evil person filled with hatred. She callously orders the destruction of the World Tree, murdering the innocent Night Elves who call it home. In short: Sylvanas has gone off the deep end.
World of Warcraft fans have always known Sylvanas would invade Teldrassil in the run up to Battle for Azeroth, but what they didn't know was how she'd go about it. Sylvanas is considered by many to be one of Warcraft's more interesting anti-heroes, a character who has suffered greatly and made many poor decisions as a result. Now, it looks like she's become one-note - an evil villain who wants to murder just because.
Some Horde players feel they've seen all this before. In the run up to expansion Mists of Pandaria expansion, then Horde leader Garrosh Hellscream invaded and destroyed Theramore. Is this current Sylvanas story arc simply re-treading old ground? I've seen players call her Garrosh 2.0, which isn't particularly flattering.
An additional critique revolves around the motivation of the Horde. While the Alliance and the Horde are at first glance Warcraft's good and bad guys, it's never been that simple. The Alliance has huge problems, while there is much to admire about the Horde. Warcraft's universe is compelling because it is not black and white. Many races make up each side, and each is fundamentally flawed in their own way. Indeed the Alliance and the Horde have spent years as uneasy allies, coming together to fend off threats from other beings.
War of the Thorns positions the Horde as the aggressors and the Alliance as the defenders. The Horde invades an Alliance capital city to secure a precious resource. Of course the Alliance should defend themselves and strike back. The Alliance have the moral high ground, and that doesn't make for a particularly interesting conflict.
More importantly, with Sylvanas now positioned as a character of pure evil, the Horde she leads is tarnished by the same brush - and some Horde players are struggling to accept this new role as chief evildoers. This animated short suggests Horde players are being forced to play as the evil villains rather than the noble, code of honor-obsessed group of sinister races they've come to know and love.
This development has fuelled a negative - and in some places unnecessarily aggressive - reaction to World of Warcratf's War of the Thorns pre-expansion event and Sylvanas in particular. The official Warbringers: Sylvanas video on YouTube has had 38,000 likes and 14,000 dislikes. While the likes outnumber the dislikes, the number of dislikes is huge for a World of Warcraft video.
While World of Warcraft fans are currently coming to terms with recent events, it's worth pointing out there's a lot more to come from the game's story in the coming weeks, and Battle for Azeroth isn't even out yet. Perhaps Sylvanas will see the light? Perhaps she has some hidden motivation for her murderous rampage?
Whatever the case, we now know for sure the World Tree is no more and, as a Night Elf till I die, this means war.