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World of Warcraft and the masterplan for Sylvanas

"I've heard on the internet 'she's going off the rails', but is she?"

Whenever World of Warcraft Horde warchief Sylvanas Windrunner was mentioned at BlizzCon 2018, division swept the room. Some people booed, some people cheered. Sylvanas is on a genocidal rampage, you see, and it's caused a schism in the Horde. Some people follow her - and will to the ends of the, um, Azeroth - while others openly rebel under the hashtag Not My Warchief.

Some people are angry with her. When Sylvanas torched the very important World Tree Teldrassil, a bit like the mean guy at the end of Avatar (sorry if you haven't seen it but where have you been?), her number-two, Vorok Saurfang, mutinied. He removed his shoulder pads and walked away - and the #NotMyWarchief supporters followed in solidarity with him.

"I've heard these discussions on the internet about 'she's going off the rails', but is she?" -Alex Afrasiabi

But some people are miffed Blizzard is turning another Horde leader into the WoW big baddie. Not long ago, it was Garrosh Hellscream, and now it appears to be Sylvanas. Will her fate be the same - will players eventually confront and kill her? It's one of the most controversial storylines I've seen in World of Warcraft, and people haven't been shy about making their feelings known.

How does Blizzard feel about all of this? "I'm excited about the feedback," WoW creative director Alex Afrasiabi told me at BlizzCon 2018. "Any time we get a player base that's divided in their support for a character, I feel like we're doing our jobs. Any time it's one-sided to the point of 'this is clearly the right direction', it's not as interesting.

"That was really our goal with Sylvanas, to create enough plausible deniability in the actions she's committed where she can still have a fanbase, where she could still have people supporting her actions and saying, 'Well of course she's doing that for the Horde.'

"I've heard these discussions on the internet about 'she's going off the rails', but is she? I've been writing Sylvanas personally since 2006, and this is pretty much - the Wrathgate and the Blight and the Forsaken - in character. Those were all under Sylvanas' orders. What we're seeing now is an escalation of the plans Sylvanas has, clearly, and we're in the middle of that."

Saurfang's mutiny.Watch on YouTube

The upshot is members of the Horde now have a very interesting choice to make: back Sylvanas or betray her? And it sounds like, for perhaps the first time ever, World of Warcraft will let us choose.

"We have never been a game necessarily about making individual player choices or choices that matter, but we did recognise this was one of those moments where there's going to be a contingency of our player base who's really excited about following Sylvanas to the ends of the earth, as it were - 'I don't care what she does, she's our Warchief! She is the Banshee Queen!'" Afrasiabi said.

"We have quest lines going in ... [to] afford players a choice whether to betray Sylvanas or not."

"We have quest lines going in for Tides of Vengeance [patch 8.1] which we're really excited about, and those will actually afford players a choice whether to betray Sylvanas or not.

"Beyond that," he added, "once you play a choice like that, you have to follow it through, so in subsequent quests that come out, you're going to be on the side you pick, and we'll see what comes of that, if you're right or wrong."

Sylvanas' ultimate fate "you're going to have to wait and see", naturally. But it sounds like, at least for now, Sylvanas is simply too beloved to kill off.

"She's an interesting character and she's a character beloved not just by our playerbase but by our developerbase as well," Afrasiabi said. "Like I said, I've been personally working on her since 2006, making stories for her; I definitely have a connection with her in a lot of different ways, and her just ending up as a raid boss feels like a bit of a letdown to me.

"Sylvanas' destiny is to be found out and discussed by the player base, but it would be dismissive to think she'll just go down as another raid boss, because she's a little bit more than that.

"Does that mean you will not fight her?" he added. "Not necessarily true either. The reality is you can fight her every day of the week in Grommash Hold, in a raid, right now. But I do think there's a lot more to Sylvanas' story that hasn't been told yet."

And Saurfang now, at the beginnings of a revolt, as he makes what looks like an alliance with the Alliance to 'get his horde back'.Watch on YouTube

World of Warcraft patch 8.1, Tides of Vengeance, will be released 11th December in the US and 12th in Europe.

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