The flames of war are burning brighter than ever in World of Warcraft’s Battle for Azeroth expansion!
It has been a hot minute since I’ve been here discussing the trials and tribulations of Sylvanas’ despicable actions as Warchief of the Horde, or about the epic faceoffs with the various “Warbringers” I covered at the start of the expansion – and since then, quite a bit has happened between the Horde and the Alliance, and the new allegiances forged within those factions. I think the expansion as a whole has been a polarizing one from a gameplay standpoint, with people either loving or hating some of the new systems added (I’m looking at you, Azerite Armor!). But with that said, I think in my mind there’s a clear strength that this expansion has had that stands toe to toe with past expansions: And that’s the storytelling.
I think the overall narrative and storytelling in Battle for Azeroth has been superb, going all the way back to the dark and devious decisions from The Banshee Queen to burn down Teldrassil and the ensuing fallout. The in-game cut scenes have been epic and beautiful, the questlines have been well written and incredibly well executed, and the higher production value cinematics, like Safe Haven, have been some of the best ever made by Blizzard. Before we dive into this amazing cinematic and all the cool little tidbits there are to extract there, go ahead and give the video a watch, it’s about four minutes long:
Okay! So now that we’re all on the same page, let’s break some things down here:
What’s Saurfang been up to? Okay, so since the start of Battle for Azeroth, Vaurok Saurfang, one of the biggest heroes of the Horde, has pretty much been on the outs with Sylvanas Windrunner for defying her following the burning of Teldrassil. You see, Saurfang, like so many Orcs before him, believes in honor – honor for your kin, honor for your faction, but even honor with your enemies. He feels that what Sylvanas is doing is not honorable (it isn’t, but we’ll unpack that a little bit later…), and he basically threw up the double bird and abandoned her and the Horde early on in the expansion, only to be captured, and later released, by the Alliance. Since his release, he’s been in hiding trying to make sense of everything that’s going on. While he’s been hiding, Sylvanas and her lackeys have done some really shady stuff that has only damaged the reputation of the Horde further. It’s in light of all this, that Saurfang needs to enlist the help of one of the Horde’s greatest heroes: Thrall. Thrall has been in hiding himself since the beginning of WoW’s last expansion, Legion, and has been doing some soul-searching of his own with his family. Which brings us to…
What’s Thrall been up to? This takes us back a bit, all the way to World of Warcraft’s fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor. At the end of the initial story campaign, Thrall catches up to the war criminal Garrosh Hellscream and to pass judgment on him for the atrocities he committed (that’s a LONG story, but in case you didn’t play Mists of Pandaria or Warlords of Draenor, just trust me when I say it was pretty damn bad). So Thrall finds Garrosh, and they throw down in Orcish tradition in a battle to the death, called a Mak’Gora or “duel of honor” in Orcish, and Thrall kills Garrosh. But this was not a happy victory for Thrall, for it was he that put Garrosh in the position of power in the first place and therefore felt that he indirectly caused many of the actions Garrosh committed to unfold. Thrall then feels he failed at the start of Legion, and decided to exile himself with his wife and child to the Outlands. He’s been hanging out, trying to peacefully raise his family. But, as we saw in this video, peace and quiet is not meant for warriors like Thrall and Saurfang.
Okay, so with some of the backstory out of the way, what is going on in this video?! The short answer is a lot. But the long answer is this is arguably one of the bigger developments of the entire expansion. I think a lot of people, myself included, have been wondering when Thrall, the Earth-Warder himself, would come to bat to protect his Horde – but to also protect the planet itself, as Azeroth is under siege more than it has ever been. I think Saurfang knows that for the Horde to make an honorable resurgence, and for any of us to have a chance against Sylvanas combined with the growing threat from Queen Azshara and her Old God buddy N’Zoth, we’ll need Thrall in our corner.
Over the course of the four-minute video, we see the conversation quickly move from initial pleasantries to Saurfang commenting on the broken world upon which Thrall has built his home, which is in the Outlands version of Nagrand, therefore it’s an unstable world corrupted by the damage the Legion did during the Burning Crusade and likening it to the corrupt and broken state of the Horde. Saurfang asks if Thrall knows what Sylvanas has done, and honestly, there’s a chance he doesn’t here. Thrall has done a great job distancing himself from the events of BFA, and even most of the events during the Legion expansion. But in response to Saurfang, Thrall tells him “he’s no one’s savior” and that he “will not lead the Horde”, which I’m sure is him stating he doesn’t want to come back and be Warchief again, that life has passed him. This leads to one of the best lines of the whole video: “I didn’t ask. But I’d hope you would at least fight for it”. Thrall seems to dismiss this, despite it clearly moving him, but they are soon interrupted by two undead assassins, seemingly sent by Sylvanas to kill Thrall. “You were followed!” Thrall exclaims, quickly met with “I followed them” from Saurfang, which he follows up with: “You and I, we don’t get to hide”. Thrall seems to have been pushed too far, knowing that Sylvanas needs to be stopped and that his home, and his family, is now compromised. So he pushes aside his anvil and extracts a new weapon since he no longer has access to his iconic Doomhammer.
(P.S. My theory is he’s somehow gotten access to Broxigar’s Axe, or the Axe of Cenarius, which if I’m right HOLY MOLEY that’s a big move there, but I may be getting ahead of myself, so let’s digress…)
Final takeaways: I think this cinematic is one of the best that Blizzard has ever done. It’s beautiful, it’s well written, and it’s well-developed (albeit short) story that really opens up a ton of doors for where the culmination of Battle for Azeroth could be going. Will we see Thrall help vanquish Sylvanas and take up the mantle of Warchief yet again? Is there something deeper and more sinister than Sylvanas is planning? Or is this actually all part of Sylvanas’ plan and she’s been a good guy doing sketchy things as a means to an end this whole time? Who knows! But what I do know is this story, and the overall narrative direction this expansion is taking is the main reason I’m sticking around to see what’s coming next…
Got any hot takes or takeaways from Blizzard’s Safe Haven cinematic? Do you think Thrall will be Warchief? Do you think Sylvanas is actually a good guy? Do you think my tinfoil hat is on too tight? No matter what you think, let us know on social – I’d love to hear it! Lok’tar Ogar, my friends!