Few characters in World of Warcraft are as iconic as Sylvanas Windrunner, whose saga begun all the way back in Warcraft III. At the hands of Arthas Menethil, otherwise known as The Lich King, Sylvanas is slain and raised into undeath as a banshee, eventually overthrowing Arthas and taking over the kingdom of Lordaeron, self-styling as The Banshee Queen of The Forsaken.
WARNING: There are spoilers for World of Warcraft in this article.
For the past 17 years, Sylvanas has been integral to the World of Warcraft storyline, weaving her dark machinations mysteriously in the background. Sylvanas kept players guessing, "is she evil?" given that she often had a less-than-ethical approach to the Horde's problems.
Players in Warcraft fight it out as part of the two famous factions, the Alliance and the Horde, and Sylvanas forever seemed like a bit of a wildcard. In Cataclysm, Sylvanas sparked outrage by resurrecting fallen Alliance soldiers into undead Forsaken minions. In Legion, Sylvanas was seen cutting back-channel deals with evil entities like Helya. And her hatred reached fever pitch in Battle for Azeroth, as she committed genocide against the night elves, burning their homeland of Teldrassil into ash.
Players have spent literally years wondering whether Sylvanas was just a repeat of the Garrosh Hellscream plot from Mists of Pandaria. Blizzard assured players that it was all part of some "grand scheme" and that Sylvanas had some sort of master plan. Alas, despite everything she's done, Sylvanas does an inexplicable 180 in the latest expansion, unraveling any credibility Blizzard's writing team had left. Ultimately, the writing is just the straw that broke the camel's back for me. World of Warcraft has multiple problems contributing to its slow demise, and it may ultimately be FFXIV's gain.
I just don't care anymore
After years of gradually slipping quality in the house of World of Warcraft, the characters I'd grown to love for the past two decades, all the way back to the Warcraft III days, were one of the few things keeping me interested in the game. It stands apparent from the latest update, Chains of Dominion, that Blizzard is caught between what it should do to maintain a coherent story vs. what may represent "good business." Sylvanas' story has been drawn out for years, and increasingly it feels like they keep her around for the merchandising and branding opportunities above everything else.
Despite killing thousands of innocents to contribute to The Jailer's mysterious (and, as of yet unknown) intentions, at the end of the raid in the latest update, Sylvanas seems to get a change of heart, attacking The Jailer. She seems to realize that The Jailer is just using her as a tool, which was blindingly obvious from the outset in and of itself. Then, despite being supremely evil and often shown to be needlessly vengeful. The dude is literally called The Jailer. Regardless, he gives Sylvanas back her soul as "thanks" for helping him, apparently making her mortal again, while allowing the leaders of the Horde and the Alliance to escape.
Every step of the game's writing feels designed to intentionally avoid resolution, dragging things out instead of developing something new. Keep guessing, keep hanging on, keep subscribing for yet another content update where Blizzard will no doubt promise some form of resolution. Problem is, they've been doing this for years at this point.
More and more of Warcraft's story slips out of the game and into books, requiring further reading in a desperate attempt to make any sense of what has transpired, hunting down a shred of consistency from these characters. Fool me once, shame on you, as the saying goes. I feel like Blizzard has fooled me about twenty times at this point, though, and I'm done.
Warcraft's decline is FFXIV's gain
I've written previously about my fears that Activision's corporate "Kotick needs a new yacht" culture has been eroding Blizzard's quality, and it's easy to blame the evil parent company for everything that has gone wrong at the publisher in recent years. Blizzard used to be my favorite dev by a country mile, emphasis on used to be, because, after repeated controversies around esports, mass layoffs, the terrible remaster of Warcraft III, and the gradual decline of World of Warcraft's quality, the death of Starcraft, I'm not sure I have a lot of love left.
Iconic figures like Jeff Kaplan and Mike Morhaime have departed the company, along with many, many others. Blizzard was an outlier for its special culture, which Activision seems to have chipped away gradually as time went on.
At its height, World of Warcraft enjoyed over 15 million active subscribers, which has since dwindled to around 3 million according to some third-party trackers. The long content drought between the launch of WoW: Shadowlands and this recent update saw a mass exodus of players jumping into Square Enix's Final Fantasy 14: Realm Reborn, too, myself included. Big-name influencers like Asmongold on Twitch also made the leap to FFXIV, causing the game's servers to become overloaded with the influx of new players.
FFXIV will grab a major new expansion later this year in the form of Endwalker, and some of its recent expansions have been praised for their great writing and characters — a fact which stands in opposition to World of Warcraft, which has relied on arbitrarily "shocking" moments that struggle to deal with the implications of what they've written, avoiding any form of satisfying conclusion. The YouTube clip showcasing Sylvanas' "change of heart" has a large 11k dislikes, to only 4k likes. Honestly, though, bad writing is only part of the problem. Time gating mechanics, long content droughts, RNG gear roulette, weak progression systems, and lack of activities all contribute to a WoW in decline. Many players seem to agree, given the fact FFXIV's servers have become overloaded with new customers in recent weeks, leading to server congestion.
Warcraft in decline presents an opportunity for FFXIV and other subscription-based MMOs to finally dethrone the old guard. As Sylvanas herself states repeatedly throughout this expansion: nothing lasts, and that could ironically signal WoW's final death knell.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!