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 â€“ although his machinations were involved in almost everything we faced in Outland â€“ 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 werenâ€™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.