Blizzard: there’s more to Sylvanas than World of Warcraft cinematics suggest

World of Warcraft expansion Battle for Azeroth is still hot off the press (to find out more, be sure to check out Oli’s impressions), but fans are still in a bit of a flap over Sylvanas Windrunner and the direction Blizzard is taking her in as current leader of the Horde.

Earlier in August we reported on major story developments in the World of Warcraft universe that saw Sylvanas destroy one of the game’s most famous locations – murdering loads of Night Elves in the process.

Sylvanas’ seemingly nonsensical, relentless rampage has been criticised by many Horde players for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is Blizzard has turned her into a onenote villain, and the Horde World of Warcraft’s obvious bad guys. For many Horde players, this isn’t a particularly interesting story development, especially when you consider it apes the arc of previous Warchief, Garrosh Hellscream.

While Sylvanas’ story has yet to resolve, and Blizzard quite reasonably won’t spoil the plot, senior producer Michael Bybee told Eurogamer’s Tom Phillips at gamescom that crafting a story in World of Warcraft comes with its own set of challenges, because the story is spread across so many various types of media.

This means not all fans get the full picture when it comes to Warcraft’s ongoing plot. Take Sylvanas, for example. Most players reacted negatively to the fancy Blizzard animated short, titled Warbringers: Sylvanas, that depicted the Banshee Queen callously burning down the World Tree and slaughtering loads of Night Elves, saying it turned the once morally grey ruler of the Forsaken into a one-dimensional, maniacal supervillain.

But, Bybee stressed, there’s more to Sylvanas than that, which you might have picked up on if you’d read the book that leads into Battle for Azeroth, or the two short stories that were released for free online that depict the Burning of Teldrassil from the point of view of the Alliance (Elegy, by Christie Golden) and the Horde (A Good War, by Robert Brooks).

In short, World of Warcraft’s nature as this pop culture phenomenon, as this gargantuan cross-media franchise, means its story is not confined to the game itself.

“One of the things that’s really challenging about World of Warcraft is this game has a tremendous amount of story in it and surrounding the franchise,” Bybee admitted.

“One of the things which happened with Sylvanas is that many of the beats of that story were told in places not in the game.

“So, if you do the quests in the game you get parts of the story, and there’s a video that plays in the game that we posted on YouTube that tells other parts of the story. And then there was a novel, Before the Storm, and two short stories we published free online that give some additional elements of that story.

“I actually think Sylvanas has a depth of character but sometimes that’s missed because maybe people didn’t read some of those things. Cinematics are awesome and sexy and that’s what people want to see – but there’s more to the story. And there’s more coming.”

Unfortunately, some within the World of Warcraft community chose to harass a female member of Blizzard’s writing team – a particularly ugly byproduct of the backlash to Sylvanas’ development in the story.

While Blizzard did not issue an official response to the situation in its wake, Bybee gave us the following when asked about it:

Blizzard does not support harassment,” he said. “We don’t think harassing any member of the team is good. I personally didn’t hear about that at all – it wasn’t something that came up in discussions I heard.

“But I definitely think Blizzard does not support that kind of discussion towards any member of the team, male or female. It’s not cool – we want to work with people and make games for people that are having fun, and if people have feedback we love to hear it, but if people are just trying to hurt other people – that’s not something we think is awesome. We just want to make awesome games.”

On a lighter note, Bybee did offer an olive branch to shocked and stunned Alliance players who witnessed the destruction of their beloved World Tree at Sylvanas’ hands.

“It is a magical tree, and it’s not the first magical tree,” he said when we asked whether it would grow back.

“There’s more that can be done, but we’re not ready to talk about that future stuff.”