Where WotLK Failed: Arthas

This post contains a) negative opinions, and b) spoilers. Feel free to skip this post if either is likely to spoil your day.

Before Wrath was launched, Blizzard reps publicly said that they wanted to bring Arthas to the forefront as the very visible face of evil in WotLK. The comparison was drawn with Illidan, where – although his machinations were involved in almost everything we faced in Outland – players rarely interacted with Illidan himself until they made decent progress into Black Temple. There was the odd quest here and there where Illidan would show up and pwn someone back into the Stone Age, such as the event when you reached Exalted with the Netherwing. But, by and large, Illidan was the “you are not prepared!” guy from the trailer, and many players never saw him at all.

So, Wrath was set to change all that. Good, great! Right?

Wrong. It feels cheap.

The first wrong note sounded for me when I rolled a Death Knight. You log in as a Death Knight and the first thing you see is Arthas’s boots, followed by the rest of him as you pan up. (He’s pretty tall.)

Despite the fact that you’ve only been dug out of the ground as a newly-turned Death Knight, Arthas himself is there to greet you, and to impress upon you just how much cooler than you he is. Unfortunately, this is nonsensical – Arthas is a being of vast power; he shouldn’t be standing in front of you as the first questgiver your Death Knight ever sees.

If meeting Arthas had come later in the progression, it would have felt awesome – it would have felt like a meaningful reward in an epic quest chain, meeting your mighty master as a reward for your exemplary service and impressive potential. Meeting him before you’ve done anything to earn that leaves it feeling a bit anticlimactic, in my opinion.

And then let’s look at Northrend. Some encounters with Arthas are cool, lore-appropriate and frankly gave me goosebumps the first time I saw them – such as, for instance, his appearance in Gjalerbron when you’re hiding behind the fallen body of Queen Angerboda as Arthas appears to whisk King Ymiron away to serve him in Utgarde Pinnacle.

Equally, the first Arthas encounter in Drakuru’s storyline – wherein you’ve inadvertently helped Drakuru to take over Drak’Tharon Keep, and Arthas turns up to pat you all on the head for being useful minions – is awesome, in an ‘oh god, what have I done?!’ kind of way.

And then, unfortunately, you come to the ‘Let’s Jam Arthas In Here Despite the Constraints Of Logic’ appearances. Okay, so you manage to sabotage Drakuru’s efforts in Zul’Drak, and luckily Arthas finds it amusing and ironic and refrains from squashing you like a bug.

The Lich King says: I spare your insignificant life as a reward for this amusing betrayal. There may yet be a shred of potential in you.

He still warns you, though: “When next we meet I shall require much more to justify your life.” Except, apparently, he doesn’t. He somehow fails to recognise that you’re the same pest (if you’re Alliance) who helped Thassarian break the Cult of the Damn’s control over Alliance forces in Borean Tundra, despite the fact that he ordered your death at the time:

Prince Valanar says: Allow me to take care of the intruders, lord. I will feed their entrails to the maggots.
Image of the Lich King says: Do not fail me, San’layn. Return to Icecrown with this fool’s head or do not bother to return.

And again, when you encounter him while you’re busy killing another of his servants in Icecrown, he just makes some more threats and then leaves his servant to carry on with getting killed. (Edit: he does the same thing when you turn up during his Valkyrifing of Svala Sorrowgrave in Utgarde Pinnacle.)

Where’s the menace? Where’s the malice? This is a being of pure evil, who can strike down pretty much anyone in single combat. Why are you even still alive after inconveniencing him multiple times?

To me, at least, it stretches credibility, and weakens Arthas’s impact. He is reduced from the figure of terror and menace he was, to a comedy bad guy muttering ‘and I’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids’.

Seeing Arthas turn up should be, I think, more than just a ‘oh, look, it’s the Lich King again’ moment. There should be actual threat to the players. There are other quests that kill you as part of the quest; I can think of three off the top of my head. Why isn’t Arthas killing us when we inconvenience him? Constant threats of doom stop sounding scary after a while, and Arthas deserved better treatment than that. He should be a lot scarier than he is; in Wrath of the Lich King, his ubiquity weakens him.

30 thoughts on “Where WotLK Failed: Arthas”

  1. Oooh, Oooh! It wasn’t mentioned, and if you haven’t done it, I implore you to find a way to accomplish it. When you first hop off the boat to Northrend (the one from Menethil, NOT the one from Stormwind), there’s a quest to use some spirit powder that transports you to the ghostly realm where you overhear some lore and try to avoid the ghostly valkyrie women flying overhead.

    If you go out into the central area, Arthas actually DOES talk about what a sniveling waste of skin you are, and kills you. It’s fabulous.

    It’s alliance only, but there may be an equivalent horde quest? Thought I’d mention it, since it was so much fun.

    I do agree with your sentiment here – there were a few times when I remember seeing Arthas appear and thinking “Really? Does this man have no idea how to delegate? Isn’t this what minions are for?” and lots and lots of “Why…exactly…did Arthas not slay me for my insolence?”

  2. @Ego – actually, I’ve done that quest you mention three times now, and I’ve never encountered Arthas! I must leave the spirit world too early or something. Though I did read up on it, and it sounded great – which only serves to highlight how disappointing most of the other encounters with him are.

  3. I liked the appearance of Arthas in the quest Tirion’s Gambit. You’re supposed to jump through a portal and escape, but Arthas started casting “Lich King’s fury” and I just had to hang around and see what happened … instadeath, which was an awesome end to the quest.

    I was actually very creeped out in Drak’Tharon after being spared, becuase the Lich King saw evil potential in me :O

  4. The end of the argent crusade chain where you find his heart Arthas will kill you if you wait around long enough and let him finish casting his spell, all in all its a little anticlimactic cause you can just take a portal and escape. But I did get a good chill when he showed up there cause I figured he was about to kill us which again was a bit of a disappointment but yeah he technically will kill you.

  5. I… Well, disagree entirely. :-) I love all the Arthas appearances, ESPECIALLY in Acherus. Having the Lich King be your very first questgiver made me sit down and shut up- clearly this was serious business, and I was for sure working for the forces of evil. It set the tone for the whole event.

    To put it another way: if we had a more traditional initial questgiver, it would have probably been somebody we didn’t know or would only know if we had done Naxxramas in the old days. You’ve still created a “Horde” or “Alliance” character. You might be somewhat confused as to why you are here and who you are working for. I can see the misspelled, jumbled comments in General now.

    As it is? There is the Lich King. You know exactly who you are working for. And then you get ready to finally be the bad guy (setting you up for delicious angst later on, if you are inclined to roleplay, as I am.)


  6. “Where’s the menace? Where’s the malice? This is a being of pure evil, who can strike down pretty much anyone in single combat. Why are you even still alive after inconveniencing him multiple times? ”

    This is a flawed view, by your point right now, there should be the end of wow. As you purpose him to be the most strong being on the wow universe.
    Or that we should not encounter him anywhere besides a raid.

    He does have his agenda, you are part of his plan. He did not kill you because he is not strong or evil enough, but because he did not want to. All moving forward to your last dramatic encounter with him.
    That goes well in line with most villains in story books and movies.

  7. This is nitpicky, but I have to say it:

    It’s not Arthas you guys are talking to, it’s the Lich King, which is someone who isn’t completely Arthas. He may have the body of Arthas, but he has the minds of both Arthas and Ner’zhul. :) A lot of people forget that little bit.

  8. Athryn is right and I am thankful for it – I always found Arthas, in WC3, to be a moany, whining spoilt brat type – I hated him and loathed playing him. It was kind of disappointing after the cinematic of his return to Lordaeron.

    Now that he and Ner’zhul have merged, Arthas has some backbone and The Lich King can be scary again. But I htink he needs maybe an aggro range – get too close during one of his appearances and *bam* he smites you for your temerity.

  9. While I do agree with some of your points, I’m too much of a fanboi about Arthas appearances to care!

    I LOVE when he shows up in Drak’Tharon especially. Perhaps they did squeeze him in a bit too much, but some of those appearances are VERY nice.

  10. Nitpicky #2: By “this fool’s head” I am pretty sure he means Thassarian, and not the player :)

    Do agree though it gets to be another “Oh, here he comes again” moment when you see him monologue for the umpteenth time, but overall I love how present he is throughout Northrend.

    The spirit world quest generally freaked me out the first time I did it; he puts you in a bubble, you can’t do anything except watch your health bar drop. I cancelled the spirit world buff, heh :) If you haven’t seen him during that quest: he’s at the bottom of the stairs that lead up into the UK instance basement.

  11. As for him not killing you, it’s a matter of perspective from his point of view I think. Considering himself all powerful and your efforts futile, since everyone will succumb to his will eventually?

  12. I’ve definitely died to Arthas, so he *does* kill you occasionally. I do agree to some extent though – he appears far too much. A couple of the appearances are great, but when you see him so much you wonder why he doesn’t remember you and kill you on sight, it’s a little dodgy.

  13. @Kassi – I agree; I think the conclusion to Tirion’s Gambit is excellent, and that’s how Arthas should have behaved all the time.
    @Aldheim – it certainly set the tone, but they could have achieved the same thing by having Arthas standing, visibly, on a dais conferring with some of his commanders. You’d still have seen the Lich King right there, he’d still have been friendly (therefore making it clear you’re working for the bad guy) but it wouldn’t have felt as anticlimactic.
    @Nefasti – I didn’t say he was the most powerful being in the Universe, although Blizzard _have_ said that the LK is the most powerful being (except for the gods) on Azeroth. I also didn’t say we should only encounter him in raids. I’m just saying that they should have done his appearances differently, because to me – and others – he mostly feels unmenacing.
    @Melanne – that kind of apathy about not killing people, though, doesn’t show up in his behaviour. He kills people for failing him (Drakuru), he kills people for interfering with his plans (Thassarian), he kills people for sassing him (Saurfang Jr, and would have killed Bolvar and all his people at the Wrathgate had Putress not gotten there first)… it just doesn’t make sense that the players get left alive, and it – at least to me – makes him look weaker.

  14. “Why isn’t Arthas killing us when we inconvenience him?”

    My answer: Arthas was a paladin, so Blizzard nerfed him.

    (Sorry, I’m still twitchy about the Glyph of Holy Light change.)

  15. Last I checked increasing holy light glyph from 5yds to 20 yds was a good thing not a nerf, did I miss something here?

  16. The thing about WoW that bothers me a bit is that the storylines are written like a single player pc game: you are the hero. Everybody recognizes you, you’re the one who saved this, rebuild that, slayed the great monster. A lot of NPCs have heard of you etc. The DK questline felt to me like: Arthas personally decided that YOU become a DK. He chose you (sans pokeball) and now watches you intently. As a normal char, he also has a special plan for you, because he senses something in you. The first meeting as a DK is a bit like “See, I created you… now run and make me proud, pumkin!” and I had the feeling he’s enjoying having somebody who struggles against him and even seems to put up a fight – after all he’s dead sure he’ll get you to the dark site (again) in the end. Or he’ll dispose of you after you’ve been a fun distraction for a while. After all in most fantasy settings, the hero (you) is surrounde be weaker people who need you and most others just don’t get it done like you – so Arthas isn’t used to have somebody standing against him.

    From an RP point of view it’s horrible of course. Is impossible that everybody’s the Hero – and especially people who don’t want to RP as “Mighty is me, Crusher of all” just have to ignore that a King or a leader of tousands of people remembers them. (it’s a bit like with the Simpsons… no matter how often Mr Burns encounters Homer, he always asks who he is. “Homer Simpson, Sir. He *cue longish recitital of all the things the Simpsons did.”)

    So! Long comment is long, it boils down to: WoW Storyline is very single person orriented and you’re the main protagonist who’s watched by the Evil Overlord.

  17. @Ego: No, there’s no Hordeside equivalent.

    About the whole over-Arthasing: I’m pretty sure this is just Blizzard’s typical inability to strike a balance with anything. You know how they operate:

    1. Nerf something into obsolescence. How many times did Illybeans show up in the world in general? Once? And a few times as a voiceover? Pathaleon the Calculator actually showed up more often than Illidan, and after a while, Pathaleon recognized you. Kil’Jaedan’s almost as bad – I know lots of people who still had no idea he was the endboss of Sunwell, because there’s basically no hint of him.

    2. Then they overdo it. Arthas is everywhere. I don’t mind that he doesn’t always kill you because, well, Arthas isn’t following the Evil Overlord to-do list very well. Some of his appearances make sense, some are just silly.

    3. Then finally strike a balance somewhere down the road. I guess in the Emerald Nightmare or South Seas or whatever’s next we’ll finally get the appropriate amount of villain balance. ;)

    Frankly, the only time I don’t like Arthas is in the culling, because his dialogue was written by an idiot.

  18. I don’t think it’s fair of you to make fun of Arthas because of his disability. Short-term memory loss is a very serious thing but not uncommon in a man of his age and you really shouldn’t mock him for it.

    One day he might remember all that crap you did to him and then who knows what he’ll do to you…

  19. I get the feeling he’s refraining from killing you because “hey, you helped Drakuru, maybe we can manipulate you more, you LIGHT BLINDED FOOL!”…

    Either that, or Ner’zhul’s brain got mixed up with a goldfish. Anyone know WHERE the water to freeze into the Frozen Throne came from?

  20. Oh, and sorry for the double post, but he DOES actually kill you twice. Once in icecrown, after the whole “wtfREDEMPTION heart” thingy, and once in Howling Fjord, when you get within 30 yards. Cutscene, death, rez, spirit world, he kills you again.

    Bitch king.

  21. @Drakara – both of those deaths are avoidable. He only kills you in Icecrown if you don’t take the portal when it’s up, and in Howling Fjord he only kills you if you go near him. I never even saw him when doing those quests in HF, and I’ve done them three times.

  22. I have to admit I disagree. I find Arthas’ continual, almost universal presence in all the matters of Northrend to be chilling rather than yawn-inducing or trivializing. The idea that Arthas *is everywhere, and notices everything* keeps my druid up more at night than Illidan’s remoteness ever did.

  23. I’m torn. Good arguments on both sides, but I guess I’m on Siha’s a bit more, only because by now my friends and I are laughing at him when he appears (although I admit that I thought we were going to die along with Drakuru!).

    And yes, he killed me in Howling Fjord. I thought the trigger was going near UK while in spirit form.

  24. I disagree with you about the Acherus bits. You’re not just a minion, you are a fallen hero of the Alliance or Horde whom Arthas basically handpicked to serve as the spearhead of his assault on the Scarlet Crusade and Argent Dawn. You’re 55th level for a reason.

  25. @Siha
    … fine, you win. But at least he actually went “I’M REALLY ANGRY NOW AND IMMA FIRIN’ MAH LAZOR!” in icecrown, not the usual “oh, you killed another one of my minions. /shrug”

    Maybe your char pulled too many mobs in EPL, some random necromancer goes “ooh, level 55 gnome, let’s rez him as a DK” and there ya go. You WERE a hero. And yeah, you were handpicked, but by Razuvious, that’s what he’s doing at the back. I gotta agree – LK ought to have appeared later on… in Acherus, I personally think Mograine and Lich King should’ve swapped places, so you don’t mean with LK until you’ve already pwn’d a couple hundred crusaders.

  26. Double post, damnit, but I just remembered what else I was gonna write before I hit Submit.

    Seriously… he’s let me live after killing Drakuru, Prince Valanar and Keleseth, Anu’barak, Orbaz Bloodbane, the riders of Blood, Frost and the Unholy, Arugal 2.0, the huge giant in Zul’drak and his cronies in Sholazar at the Avalanche. Seriously, if he was gonna get rid of me at some point, shouldn’t he already have done it? If this doesn’t infuriate him, what the fudge do I have to do?

  27. @Drakara Yeah, the canned “I’ll let you live for now” gets old, but I see it as a separate problem. (Dialogue on the whole in WoW is not very robust or inventive.) Arthas is very cold, and so is his “anger”. I get the sense that although he threatens it’s in the same way a warlock trainer threatens a pupil- as motivation. The impression I get is that with every “victory” I have against him, in some chilling way I’m just getting closer to fulfilling the plan he has for me.

    I know my character has done a lot of very bad things in the name of stopping the scourge in Wrath. It’s left Athorius wondering what right and wrong really is, and when you get in that position, you become more vulnerable to outside influences. Viewed in that light, the story can be seen as sick and twisted, but in more subtle ways than the dialogue itself suggests.

  28. So he set up Drakuru, Prince Valanar and Keleseth, Anu’barak, Orbaz Bloodbane, the riders of Blood, Frost and the Unholy, Arugal 2.0, the huge giant in Zul’drak and his cronies in Sholazar at the Avalanche (ctrl-c ftw) to get killed for no other reason than to what, drive me closer to corruption? The day I pull an arthas and run around killing neutral mobs with no good loot is the day I’m evil. He hasn’t done ANY corrupting or anything. Yogg Saron and Volazj try harder than him, and hell, the forgotten one in Icecrown REWARDS you for doing evil-ish stuff. The catch is… the threats HAVE to be empty. It can’t go “you lost to arthas, your character is now a DK”. It has to go “you lost to arthas, do a corpse run and try again on his failminion.” Gameplay issues – while it would be AWESOME to be scourged (properly) for a little while, it couldn’t be permanant. In the older warcraft games this wouldn’t be a problem – but because there are so many heroes, we can’t have people only getting one shot at Arthas before losing their mind to the scourge.

    And then there’s Shadow of Death Undead DKs. That makes them triple undead – so the only thing stopping Necromancers from raising dead undead is the condition of the bodies. But hell, the bodies don’t matter, that’s why there’s ghosts, shades, and banshees. So as long as the scourge keeps training necromancers, they’re unstoppable.

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