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Night Elves get the spotlight in World of Warcraft, with mixed results

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It’s not easy being a Night Elf in Battle for Azeroth

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth - Darkshore Warfront in Tides of Vengeance patch Blizzard Entertainment

This summer, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth kicked off with an explosive event: Sylvanas Windrunner, Warchief of the Horde, invaded the Night Elf lands of Darkshore and waged a genocide against the Night Elves by setting their capital city on fire.

It’s the sort of thing that built a ton of hype around the game. Permanent changes to the world often excite MMORPG players, and a capital city going up in flames is certainly a big change. Night Elves make up one of the most ancient races in Azeroth. Queen Azshara, their empire’s former ruler, is going to be one of the big bosses of this expansion. Most of our time exploring through Azeroth has us uncovering the ruins of former Night Elf structures or the ghosts of tormented Night Elves; they form a big part of the fabric of the world.

The upcoming patch, Tides of Vengeance, is set to put them back into the spotlight ... but Night Elf fans aren’t 100 percent happy, and it’s interesting to see Blizzard’s approach.

[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for World of Warcraft’s upcoming Patch 8.1, Tides of Vengeance.]

The Night Elves were murdered in their city, with thousands of civilians burned alive. Despite this, both of the post-launch cinematics we’ve seen have been entirely focused on Varok Saurfang, the orc who led the military campaign that culminated in the burning of Teldrassil. Sylvanas is the one who gave the order to burn it, but Saurfang’s the one who secured the tree for her. Night Elf fans aren’t incredibly impressed by the narratives’ focus on Saurfang right now. They’re the ones who lost their city and their people, with the free novella Elegy going into intense detail about how horrific it is to see people burning alive... but Saurfang gets the screentime to grapple with his guilt.

In Patch 8.1, we head to Darkshore along with Tyrande Whisperwind and Malfurion Stormrage to retake the Night Elf lands from the Forsaken. The scenarios have been datamined multiple times; we know that Tyrande ascends to the Night Warrior and becomes the embodiment of the moon goddess Elune’s fury. In the trailer for the scenario, we even see Malfurion — who talks like a Matlock-loving old man with a bowl full of Werther Originals to offer you and has been a peace loving pacifist for the duration of World of Warcraft — pull off some pretty terrifying druid attacks.

This trailer is legitimately terrifying! Malfurion dragging a guy down to be buried alive is pretty shocking, and the reveal of the owl returning to Tyrande and Malfurion as the Night Elves’ theme rises is an extremely cool moment. It’s the sort of moment that Night Elf players have been hoping for for a long time.

It’s important to remember that the Night Elves have always been a little controversial for Warcraft lore fanatics. Back in Warcraft 3, half of the Night Elf campaign missions essentially start with the Night Elves finding literally any other race in their woods and immediately murdering them all. They reluctantly spearhead the final assault against the Legion, but they never come across as particularly friendly. Tyrande decides she needs to free Malfurion’s brother and her old ally, Illidan, from his punishment of eternal solitary confinement, and when his jailors said they couldn’t do so without the proper authorization, she killed them all.

Then, in World of Warcraft, the Night Elves have been steadily losing their bite. They joined the Alliance and have played a support role. In Mists of Pandaria, the 10,000-year-old war veteran and general Tyrande gets a lesson on military strategy from human king Varian Wrynn. In Legion, Malfurion and Tyrande get repeatedly dunked on by the satyr Xavius and call out to each other constantly. They require rescuing and monologue on love. Later, the Nightborne — Night Elves who have been in magical seclusion for 10,000 years — end up joining the Horde. It’s a pretty poor showing for the Night Elves, and then they begin the next expansion by getting burned alive en masse.

The Darkshore scenario has gone through multiple revisions in testing, with data mining picking up several differences between iterations. Tyrande is portrayed as stronger and more deadly in each update. The Night Elves will be put into constant conflict in Darkshore with the upcoming Warfront, which will cycle the region between Alliance and Horde control and give Night Elf players the ability to defend their home. Alliance players will also be able to unlock “Night Warrior” customization for their Night Elf characters, giving them midnight black eyes.

That’s a promising start, and a lot of Night Elf players are hoping this is just the beginning. After all, we’re heading to the home of Queen Azshara and her evil Naga in 8.2. Queen Azshara was the monarch of the Night Elves, and the nemesis of Tyrande. This is an excellent opportunity for the Night Elves to continue on their momentum and keep going back to their violent Warcraft 3 roots. The Night Elves in Warcraft 3 may have been violent and rude, but they were far more interesting, and a lot of fans would rather see the Alliance have interesting, flawed characters than a supporting cast of paragons.

There’s a lot of potential here, especially because the Horde have been getting lots of meaty narrative, including the first-ever player choice with branching consequences. The Night Elves can provide similar conflict for the Alliance if Blizzard follows through with this new direction for the faction, and if anyone deserves to lash out and get some revenge in Battle for Azeroth, it’s definitely the survivors of Darnassus.