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Thrall is Coming Back… to ‘Not’ Lead the Horde

  • Thrall convinced to return to the Horde.
  • World’s worst assassins. 
  • Very pretty cinematic. 


Battle for Azeroth has been consistently labeled the worst WoW expansion by players and content creators alike. For context, let’s compare BfA’s metacritic audience rating to previous iterations of WoW (because games journalists’ opinions don’t count).

  • World of Warcraft – 7.4
  • The Burning Crusade – 8.0
  • Wrath of the Lich King – 7.7
  • Cataclysm – 5.6
  • Kung Fu Panda – 5.0 
  • Warlords of Draenor – 5.9
  • Legion – 7.3

That brings us to present day, and WoW’s most recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth. Do you want to guess what this one scored with audiences? A 3.1… from a Blizzard game. To put that in perspective, even the smoldering garbage heap Anthem got a 4.1 for PC on metacritic. Yes, BfA is bad. The reasons why, both in-game and from surrounding controversies, are simply outside the scope of this article. But if you want more info, I’d recommend checking out WoW’s largest Twitch streamer. He’s put countless hours into well-thought criticism for a game he clearly loves–every bit of which has been deliberately ignored by Blizzard, despite him having an enormous following and being largely responsible for WoW’s presence on Twitch. In a way, Asmongold is to Blizzard as Pewdiepie is to YouTube.

[Notice the strategy that YouTuber Accolonn used for making a provocative title to entice clicks (not clickbait, that’s different). It wouldn’t work if the larger consensus wasn’t to the contrary.]

So, faced with the unavoidable reality of fan reaction to their latest expansion (part of which is also due to lore), Blizzard has resorted to the oldest trick in the book, quite literally… nostalgia. Remember Thrall? He was the once cautious and thoughtful Warchief that founded the Horde and built the stronghold of Orgrimmar. I remember a time when Thrall sent Grom Hellscream to harvest lumber, so as to keep him away from combat because he seemed unstable. Little did I know that years later, this same wise Farseer would appoint Grom’s even more unstable son as leader of the entire horde, even as Garrosh told him he wasn’t ready. Those leadership abilities sure changed over the years, huh? Or maybe it was a fluke? Surely Thrall was once again wise when appointing Vol’jin as Warchief… oh wait, Vol’jin put Sylvanas in charge… the dead lady who likes to say “We are the Forsaken. We will slaughter anyone who stands in our way!” Oh, some of you found it odd she burned that tree down? You know who wouldn’t have found that odd? Thrall. The Thrall from years ago, before Blizzard strayed from its glory.

In any case, the trailer above opens with Saurfang walking through the fields of Nagrand near Oshu’gun. There’s a slight nod to Gladiator, as well as some potential foreshadowing of a coming harvest, as the old soldier runs his hand through the wheat. Blizzard was clever to include a snippet of the Nagrand theme from The Burning Crusade, but the cleverness ends there, I’m afraid. Oh sure, it’s a beautiful cinematic, visually speaking, and it does what it’s intended to do, but it’s also poorly written cliché.

In what amounts to the plot from a hundred thousand action movies, Saurfang petitions Thrall to return to the force for just one last job. But the retired veteran is like “I’ve left that life behind. I’ve got a wife and kids now.” Before being convinced within the next two minutes to do just one last job… but it’s never just one last job, is it? Not when there’s sequel money to be made. At least Ripley actually sent Burke and Gormon home and took a couple of days before getting pulled back into her one last job in Aliens.

But hey, Thrall is a hunk of green man meat again–none of this trimmed down Cataclysm BS. Don’t his rippling traps and bulging pecs get your nostalgic juices flowing? Before he can return to his hut to apply a fresh layer of body oil, however, a pair of typical undead rogue players attack from stealth, and here’s where things start to get particularly dumb.

Firstly, despite the fact that neither Thrall nor Saurfang are armed in this conflict, these two scrubs of assassins not only fail to kill them, but don’t even manage to injure them. OK, maybe it’s fair to say that Thrall and Saurfang are just that badass. We are in an action movie trailer, after all, but the assassins don’t even manage to lightly scratch either one of them… I don’t think the orcs even broke a sweat. And aren’t the assassins undead? How did Saurfang kill one by breaking its neck? Yes, the spectacle looked cool, but if you can dispatch something that has returned from the grave just as you would a living enemy, it somewhat diminishes the distinction between them, doesn’t it? I thought the in-game stealth sound effect was a really cool touch, but the ease with which this supposedly threatening situation was resolved rendered it transparent–a trope within a trope.

And furthermore, why did assassin 1 initiate her attack by sprinting at Saurfang. His back was turned. He was distracted, so why run at him? Why not just–oh, I don’t know–sneak! It was the heavy footfalls that alerted him, which you’d think you would know about if you were, say, a trained assassin! And why in god’s name was the other one on Thrall’s roof? I swear, half of what rogue players do is just to look cool. Maybe Blizzard actually got that part right.

[Relevant comic courtesy of Oglaf]

So after Dumb and Dumber are either killed (for the second time) or have retreated, things get even more ridiculous. At first, Thrall is mad that Saurfang was followed, but then Saurfang reveals that he was actually following the assassins. Wait, what!? If Saurfang knew assassins were coming for Thrall, why was that not the first thing out of his mouth? Why didn’t he come running, shouting “Assassins!!” and why on earth was he unarmed? Instead, he shows up and casually comments on the scenery. Even when Thrall says his wife and kids are nearby, why doesn’t Saurfang say something like “Might want to call them over here before they get stabbed to death then.” I’ll tell you why: Unbelievably dumb writing.

They failed to meet even the standards of their own tropes, which would demand that the assassins dispatch Thrall’s family, so that he becomes emotionally invested in bringing the fight to Sylvanas. They could have even had Saurfang show up just in time to take out the assassins (with a f***ing weapon), thereby saving Thrall, which would also have the effect of making the assassination attempt seem actually dangerous and not just a plot device. But instead, they expect nostalgia to do the heavy lifting where their writing fails. And it worked in the end, as you can see from the likes.

There are so many ways they could have played this, each infinitely better written than what they gave. It could have been that the assassins were tracking Saurfang, and Thrall has to save him with a lightning bolt up their undead *****, and then Saurfang has to try to convince the former Warchief, “This is why it has to be you. You know her tricks.” And they could have a really compelling conflict between the two of them about Thrall’s return. Hell, do a montage scene where Saurfang is permitted to stay, and over several day, nights, weeks, pushes and argues and convinces Thrall. Instead we get “You and I… we don’t get to hide,” which might as well be scrawled on the bottom of a B movie poster.

I understand there are limitations in terms of scope, and time, and storytelling, within the medium of a single cinematic, but I promise you that is no excuse. But, I guess as long as it’s pretty, as long as there is spectacle, it will be well received. It’s only more sad in this case because of what Blizzard used to be. There was a time when their writing was taken seriously. Starcraft and Warcraft III, while not perfect, are examples of much stronger writing from them, and strong writing is at least as important as pretty graphics when it comes to telling stories. They can bring Thrall back if they like, but he was only one component of an entire world, the likes of which Blizzard can no longer build.

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