World of Warcraft: Shadowlands sets the stage for one faction leader to become corrupted, continuing a trend from previous expansions.

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World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has finally released, taking Azeroth’s heroes through a rift to the afterlife itself as they battle to save lost souls from the Maw and the hands of the Jailer. The expansion’s events are set in motion by Forsaken founder and former Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner, who flees the Horde and destroys the Lich King’s Helm of Domination, opening a gateway to the land of the dead.

World of Warcraft has seen faction leaders turn bad before, often to the chagrin of players who prefer the moral ambiguity of the Alliance and Horde conflict first fully explored in Warcraft 3. Not only does Sylvanas continue the trend in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, but the expansion may be setting up another faction leader for a similar fate, if some quest dialog and excerpts from other Warcraft media are to be believed.

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Warchief Gone Wrong

Garrosh Speaking to His Father On Draenor
A common criticism of Sylvanas Windrunner’s characterization in the more recent WoW expansions has less to do with the character’s heel-turn itself, and a lot to do with the former Warchief of the Horde, Garrosh Hellscream. Garrosh took over as Warchief from Thrall, who founded the modern Horde as it exists in WoW. The change was made when Thrall stepped down after the events of Wrath of the Lich King. Many players at the time were hostile to the idea of another Warchief in general, let alone a relatively newer character like Garrosh, who had only been introduced in The Burning Crusade.

However, over the course of Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor, Garrosh went from being a hot-headed warrior to an unambiguously evil character willing to turn on the other Horde races and even his own people in pursuit of victory and revenge. While Garrosh’s prideful personality led to some conflicts in the story as soon as he was named Thrall’s successor, it was rare for Garrosh to be explicitly malevolent. The death of Tauren leader Cairne Bloodhoof, for example, was enabled by a duel with Garrosh, but was ultimately only caused by Magatha Grimtotem, a rival Tauren chieftain who poisoned Garrosh’s weapon in secret.

Garrosh would ultimately end his time as Warchief after corrupting the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and expelling the trolls from Orgrimmar, becoming the final boss of Mists of Pandaria during the ensuing rebellion. After the death of his successor, troll leader Vol’jin, Sylvanas became Warchief. Until that point in the story, Sylvanas, like Garrosh, had been portrayed with the same moral ambiguity afforded to most of the WoW racial leaders.

Sylvanas" Descent

She may have lived in the creepy caverns of the Undercity, but Sylvanas was shown as genuinely caring for her people, the Forsaken. When some Forsaken attacked the living at the Wrath Gate in Wrath of the Lich King, Sylvanas was quick to denounce them and even help Horde and Alliance forces raid the Undercity to defeat the separatist leader.

It became clear in Cataclysm just how far Sylvanas was willing to take things to create a place for her people, raising new undead using the Lich King’s Val’kyr. However, while she was going to greater extremes, it made sense as a continuation of her main motive: establishing a permanent nation for the undead in the ruins of Lordaeron.

Battle for Azeroth, however, saw Sylvanas go down a very similar path to Garrosh. Like Garrosh, aspects of the Horde began disagreeing with her extreme methods, and like Garrosh she began to prioritize her own race above the others of the Horde. Eventually she would duel and kill Horde veteran Varok Saurfang, abdicating her position and - perhaps most uncharacteristically - abandoning the Forsaken before fleeing to Icecrown Citadel where she initiated the events of Shadowlands.

The fact that two Horde leaders went down similarly villainous paths was criticized by some players who not only felt that the similarities made Sylvanas’ turn predictable, but also that the Horde’s penchant for producing villainous Warchiefs worked to oversimplify the moral ambiguity of the faction conflict. However, another faction leader may go down a dark path soon too, though this time they aren’t a member of the Horde.

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King Anduin Wrynn

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Anduin Wrynn from World of Warcraft - 2 - Diablo Paladin Trivia
The young King of Stormwind, Anduin Wrynn, has been hinted to have hidden darkness within him. The Warcraft novel Shadows Rising talks about the immense pressure facing Anduin, and at one point Anduin even shows an affinity for Shadow magic when a “wisp of purple energy traveled down his arm, gathering in his palm” during an intense moment. Shadow magic is the opposite force to the Light the character usually invokes to cast spells, and could hint that Anduin’s desire to do good may lead him down a troublesome path.

Not only that, but Anduin is in the perfect position for his corruption in Shadowlands. Captured by the Jailer along with some other heroes of Warcraft, Anduin stays behind to allow the others to escape. Though he thinks he’s bested the Jailer, the villain claims that Anduin has actually given him “exactly what I need.”

What’s meant by this remains unclear, but it’s unlikely Anduin is going to emerge from his time with the Jailer mentally unscathed. By summoning the Light to the Shadowlands, Anduin may have also revealed the possibilities of Shadow magic being used there as well, or perhaps the Light itself being used to do evil. Whatever the Jailer hopes to get from the young king, it’s unlikely that the same idealist will emerge from this expansion if he survives at all.

If Anduin is changed, Blizzard could be setting him up to be the next faction leader to eventually becoming corrupted. Even if Anduin never turns against the Alliance, it’s likely his time in the Maw will have an affect on both him and the methods of his faction in the future, especially with other Alliance leaders like Tyrande Whisperwind and Genn Greymane desperate for revenge against the Horde for the events of Battle for Azeroth. Though it would make a change from the Horde leaders who have gone bad so far, the studio’s storytellers will need to be very careful to make sure the MMO doesn’t feel like it’s retreading old territory.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is available for PC.

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