The dear Zahrym has been awfully busy today: within a few hours of each other we’ve had a deluge of information regarding the new instances that are coming out in patch 4.3. According to these teasers we’ll be teaming up with the Dragon Aspects to combat Deathwing’s final assault on Azeroth. In a very interesting turn of events we’re treated to a possible future thanks to Nozdormu: a terrible timeline in which Dragonblight is a wasteland and Death Himself is impaled upon the towering spire of the Wyrmrest Temple. Here something is stopping Nozdormu from accessing the past and, thus, the Dragon Soul — the only artifact the Aspects can use to finally end the Earth Warder. The next instance takes place sometime during the War of the Ancients: here brave adventurers will attempt to steal the Dragon Soul away from the fount of arcane energy, the Well of Eternity. Afterwards, in the last of the new instances, players are returned to the present time to escort Thrall to Wyrmrest Temple to deliver the Dragon Soul to the Aspects.
All in all, these are shaping up to be very interesting instances. While the majority of the playerbase are going to be chomping at the bit to get a hold of new epic items, I’m going to spend most of my time taking screenshots and staring at all the NPCs I’ve never had the pleasure of, y’know, seeing in game (hi, Azshara!). It’s a very interesting build-up to the much-hyped Deathwing encounter(s), much like the three new Icecrown instances were build-ups to Icecrown Citadel and the battle against the Lich King. With these instances we’re getting a chance to rev the Hype Machine to eleven without the need for teasers or patch trailers. There’s a very big difference from seeing a preview and thinking “oh man, can’t wait to punch that dragon in the face!” and adventuring through timelines to retrieve the very item of said dragon’s demise.
Interestingly enough, both the Icecrown 5-mans and these new Deathing 5-mans take the story of the villains and expound upon them in ways we hadn’t known earlier. In the instance of Icecrown we found out that there must be a Lich King and that there was the possibility that a part of Arthas was still inside the metallic monster, holding him back. Both the Horde and Alliance got very interesting RP moments with either Jaina or Sylvanas and the ghost of Uther the Lightbringer (which, like all RP scenes in dungeons, got old fast) that delved a bit deeper into the enigma that was the Lich King.
Similarly, with the new Deathwing 5-mans, we see that… we see… um.
Well, nothing, if the previews are any indication.
Which is fitting for the Earthwarder: nothing to expound on the nothing we know about now. Sure, we know of his history and how he became who he was but little of his present condition. Like most of the villains in World of Warcraft, Deathwing is an insane monster bent on Azeroth’s destruction — a discerning feature, though, is how he became this way.
When the Titans bestowed their creations, the Dragon Aspects, with different faculties to watch over, Neltharion drew the lot of Earthwarder, the master of the soil and earth and the keeper of the secrets held within. Despite being a very large, black dragon with wings he was given sway of the ground and deep below: of the tunnels that cut through Azeroth to its core, of the fires which churned and powered the very planet, of the veins of magma miles and miles below. Everything below the sky was under the guise of Neltharion… and this was his undoing. Unlike his villainous kin, he was not driven mad by delusions of power or the loss of the ones he loved — sure, power was a part of it, but I don’t think that was in any way what really pushed Neltharion over the edge. What drove him mad was simple: it was meant to happen.
Being keeper of the tunnels and fathoms below the crust of Azeroth has a job hazard none of the other Aspects can contend with: the Old Gods. Chained below the earth by the Titans after Cyclopean battles, the Old Gods had little but whispers to aide them. Their mad jibbering had only one place to go: from the soil to the ears of the one who, for all intents and purposes, was the soil. He was doomed from the start. The only wrong he had done previously was being created. Whether or not the Titans had any idea that he would succumb to the insane piping of the Old Gods is not something we can speculate — but if they seriously couldn’t foresee a problem with putting someone in charge of beings whose only real power is to corrupt any and everything they touch, they’d be pretty terrible Titans.
So here we have a dragon who succumbed to the work hazards of keeping the secrets of silent Azeroth: driven mad and emptied out by the whispers of the Old Gods. Unlike Illidan or the Arthas, there was no grace to this fall: Neltharion fell into madness hard and fast. Also unlike Arthas and Illidan, once steeped in insanity he had no goals barring the one held by his masters: the complete and utter annihilation of order and stability in Azeroth. Wanton, wholesale chaos is their goal — not the redemption of their race or proving their worth. Before the aqir began to worship the Old Gods they were without substance, more of an idea of chaos rather than beings with chaos as a goal. With their personification and entry into corporeal form came the need for harbingers and, once again, the dragon with his ear closest to the ground was the likeliest candidate.
But here’s the crux of this final goal: it’s boring. Speaking from a story perspective, there’s nothing more boring in a villain than goals this broad. Deathwing would be better suited in a long mustache to curl, cackling as he pressed the “GO” button on some mundane Laser Death Machine. He has none of the depth of Arthas or Illidan nor any of the emotional investment, which is odd considering that we knew about Deathwing long before we knew anything about the wayward paladin or Night Elf. All we’ve seen from him are steps towards Total Destruction, trying this or that plan, breeding this or that dragon, and while those are interesting distractions to fight and defuse, when the time comes to finally tear the magma dragon from the sky and bust his chest open for purple loot I’m not going to be looking forward to it like I had with Arthas or Illidan. I won’t care. I want his loot.
Given my theory that he was basically created to be driven mad by the Old Gods, there will be some sadness as I pry open his chest to loot him, but nothing else. No “FOR MURADIN!” or “IT’S KIND OF SHITTY WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, ILLIDAN, BUT YOU’RE ALSO KIND OF A DICK SO HAVE A KNIFE THROUGH THE GUT”. No pageantry on my part. Just a cold desire to see him die and see the end of the expansion. Which is… so very sad.
Deathwing had so much potential. His best friend was Malygos — another Very Sad story, I might add — and his killer was standing not ten feet from him and he mentions nothing of it. No cries of vengeance towards Alexstraza. No mention of the children he’s lost. No sad desperation that he didn’t choose this, that he was chosen for this role by the Titans… Just the stock overuse of the word “fool” and a promise to see Azeroth born again in molten hatred. He was transformed, in the blink of an eye, from a calculating bastard to the Villain of the Expansion. He was, to turn a phrase, Transmogrified from a character with substance into a giant black box with the word $VILLAIN written on him in Helvetica.
Illidan had almost the same problem in Burning Crusade, if you’ll remember: he was rarely seen while leveling up and almost forgotten until his defeat in the Black Temple. Many players, upon reaching the final boss of the Black Temple raid, were left asking “wait, Illi-who?” because Blizzard had all but hidden him behind the shadows, casting him as the devious Man Behind The Curtain, a force unseen but “felt” in Shadowmoon Valley. They rectified this with Arthas in Wrath, but to a demoralizing degree: we saw him too much, interacted with him too much, were let off the hook by him too much. It made sense, in a way, when you defeat him, because you know that he wants you to fuel his Scourge war machine. Knowing that he planned to use you as generals to lead his armies gave me a sense of “oh, OK, kind of makes sense why he fled all those times when he could have easily tore my soul from my body”. Yet despite that it’s unfair to just forget the dozen or so times he look at you, Frostmourne in hand, and said “I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you pesky players!” and Death Gated to safety.
Blizzard has a cycle: they do something wrong, they fix it a bit too much (overbuffs), and then they go back a little too much. We saw this with raiding: BC raids were a slog because you had to go through almost all of them to catch up before the great Gear Reset around Sunwell. Wrath came and Naxx was an utter joke and raiders were saddened. (Ulduar came back fighting, being fair.) Cataclysm comes out without an introductory raid, cockblocking many guilds at the three 4.1 raids. I feel like they did this with their villains. We went from “Illi-who?” to “oh God, him again” and then back to “oh, uh, him… that dragon… Death-something”.
I don’t care about Deathwing and that’s incredibly sad because I feel I could have, given the right direction.