Villainy 101 (with Arthas & Friends)
Back before Wrath of the Lich King had even hit store shelves, Blizzard made a lot of talk about how it wanted to correct certain mistakes from The Burning Crusade. Blizzard, the ever evolving, was learning! This was something I’ve always admired in their dedication to the magnum opus of a MMO. Granted, not everyone enjoys every single change (Insert: Catering to the casuals! DKs are OP!) but the fact that they try is more than some companies can say (I’m still waiting for my Ultimate Doom on Xbox 360 to get patched to NOT crash at the end of Episode 2.) but one of their most boastful changes to WotLK from BC was fixing the issue with Illidan (who I’ll probably get around to talking about at some point) and make sure that Arthas is an upfront villain from the get-go. That Arthas would be a constant presence as we went through Northrend. However, at some point during this Arthas became a mustache-twirling evil-overlord-list-breaking villain that Snively Whiplash would frown at.
Don’t believe me? Don’t remember? In Denial? Here. Let’s count how many times Arthas shows up, and does absolutely nothing to stop our heroes:
1) Howling Fjords: Three times. Once in the early quests where you find King Ymiron’s slumbering body and essentially lets us kill his wife so we can have a boss in Utgarde Pinnacle. Also, in said Utgarde Pinnacle, where he sicks Svala Sorrowgrave on us. And of course, in the Alliance only quest ‘Echo of Ymiron’, which is the only time that if you pester him, he WILL kill you. Personally. Instantly. Which makes every other time seem even worse in comparison.
2) Borean Tundra: Granted, this time it was just the Image of the Lich King that appears in the Last Rites quest. But ultimately it follows suit with the majority of encounters with him. “You handle them. Don’t fail me. I’m outtie.”
3) Dragonblight: He shows up in the quest ‘The Power to Destroy’ within the ‘Shadow realm’ or something which is HIS domain as he puts it. This is the beginning of the long long trend of “Join me willingly or in death, but you will join me. Ha ha. Bye!” And of course, the infamous Wrathgate encounter where he kills Saurfang Jr. in a single blow (So one of the Horde’s greatest is like insta-snatch that soul, but us? Yea, he’s gonna taunt us and wait for our souls… I still dunno why.)
4) Zul’Drak: Be it Draktharon Keep or on top of the floating citadel at the end of Drakuru chain, both times his generally impression is that he’ll leave you be for now. But soon! Yes, SOON! He will kill you. And you’ll be his. SOON!
5) Icecrown: Okay, he’s all over this place, but most of them are flashbacks to previous points in his life. The big ones are as follows: The Crusaders Coliseum. Shows up. Breaks the floor. Lets Anub’arak fight you while he leaves. (Tirion does NOTHING) The Halls of Reflection. He chases you. Slowly. Very slowly. Then is stopped by falling rocks. (They are SO heavy) and of course, after Tirion cuts Arthas’ heart in half. Casts a very slow spell and gives you ample time to GTFO.
Honestly, a lot of people are shocked by how quick Arthas went from Bad Ass to Annoyance in this expansion. It’s not hard to see why. There is a subtle art to being a master villain. And there are faults with both Illidan and Arthas in this manner. The keyword to this is “presence.” Presence does not necessarily mean seeing said villain at every single little turn. It’s often just knowing the villain’s hands are at work. The Borean Tundra alliance chain did a great job with this. Not only were the alliance defending against the Nerubians at their front door, but the thralls of the Lich King were also penetrating within.
(Spoilers to follow for anyone who hasn’t made it to 68+ on the Alliance side of things) Ultimately, your tasked with uncovering a massive conspiracy within the Alliance ranks at Valiance Keep. Namely, it turns out that many of the people in town are actually undercover agents for the Cult of the Damned (Who were WAY under utilized in this expansion). The conspiracy leads all the way to the top as it turns out in the end that the Counselor Talbot, the man in charge of Valiance Keep, is actually a San’Layn named Valanar, whom the Lich King entrusted with disrupting matters on the Alliance side of things as well as ensuring the Holy powers of the Draenei were kept out of the fight in Northrend (Several Draenei paladins are in his office in Valiance Keep protesting this).
Wow! Doesn’t that storyline sound epic! It is. It’s one of the first impressions an Alliance player will have in Northrend. And for the majority of it, the Lich King isn’t even SEEN. But you’ll be damned if you don’t know that he’s the one pulling the strings. He does show up at the end, but it wasn’t really necessary. Valanar simply mentioning his name would have sufficed. But Blizzard felt the need to put The Lich King IN YO’ FACE! at so many points in quests that he hardly seemed a threat. Namely because he would never do anything but taunt you and walk away.
He just doesn’t seem to be a real threat. Often sending his lackies to do the dirty work and then cursing them when they fail. Honestly, I think it would have been better if we never SAW Arthas until the Wrathgate. (The exception to this being the Death Knight start zone) And after the Wrathgate we didn’t see him again till the Halls of Reflection. (The exception to this being the Flashbacks) Imagine how much of an impact his image would provoke then!
But the important part to making that work, would be to make sure that his PRESENCE was felt. The Lich King’s agents are many, and not all are obvious. The Cult of the Damned are proof that the Lich King’s servants aren’t always obvious. The Vrykul’s worship of the nameless “Death God” also was a nice touch. It wasn’t that it was hard to connect the Death God to Arthas, but it wasn’t blatantly obvious either (Especially once Yogg-Saron started to show HIS influence as well). Illidan also had too little of this, by the time you could connect the various going on’s with Illidan you were pretty much in Shadowmoon Valley. There was little to connect Illidan to the Fel Orcs in Hellfire, or to the Naga in Zangarmarsh, or even the Blood Elves in Netherstorm. And even if you could connect them by some affiliation, you didn’t really understand why.
I’m not exactly sure what Illidan had to gain from the Naga draining the water out from the various lakes in Zangarmarsh. In fact, Illidan’s whole ‘Plan’ seemed to be missing. So even as I eventually pieced together the who, I never understood the why. With the Lich King, you understand his plan. To cast the world into undeath. We don’t really get the why there either. Originally, Nerzhul did this at the demand of the Burning Legion. But all I can gather now is that he just plain out hates the living. But you know what, I’m fine with that. That’s on par with the Wicked Witch of the West or Sauron. You don’t need to have a long, psychological motivation to be a good villain. You do need a motivation though. Illidan didn’t seem to have one. In fact, Illidan never struck me as evil. Just constantly getting into bad situations and making wrong decisions. But never evil. That’s why The Burning Crusade never made sense to me. I couldn’t figure out what we were supposed to be fighting and why.
Ultimately, Arthas’ biggest fault was the classic bully move. He talked big, but rarely ever lived up to the hype. If he operated from the shadows, we never would know the threats, only the actions. Making him an actual threat to the people of Azeroth. Well, in the end, here’s hoping for some interesting storytelling with Deathwing in Cataclysm. (After all, his stories not NEARLY as well known as Arthas and Illidan, who were featured in WC3.)
Well, that’s all from me this week. No it’s less funny. But so was my Death Knight rant. But this is that one ‘Odd’ thing in this expansion that’s been bugging me and I had to get it off my chest. Don’t worry, next week is the return to the funny. 😀 Till then, stay sane! ‘Cause titan’s know I’m not anymore.