World of Warcraft is all about a world of generational warfare, full of fantasy races led by bigger than life heroes. Some of those characters, like Kael’thas Sunstrider, are set up to have an excellent story, and then end up becoming raid bosses — and a bit of a joke in the World of Warcraft community.
With patch 8.1 for Battle for Azeroth, we’re getting a glimpse of Kael’thas in the past, and that cameo re-opens some old wounds for lore fans.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the Battle for Azeroth 8.1 patch, Tides of Vengeance.]
Fall of the Sunwell
Back in Warcraft 3, the Death Knight Arthas destroys the entire city of Quel’Thalas and 90 percent of the population, so that he can reach the civilization’s font of power: the Sunwell, an arcane well of immense energy. Arthas needs it as a battery to bring his lich buddy, Kel’thuzad, back to life.
The Blood Elf heritage armor scenario has us revisit that part of history from the eyes of those defending Quel’Thalas. This data-mined scenario set-up, found by Wowhead, shows us that we’re not just seeing Arthas again, but we’re also getting our potential last glimpse at a Warcraft legend: Kael’thas Sunstrider. Players are asked to shine a lantern and start the memories of the fallen, which triggers an event where we hold the line against the Scourge, face Arthas, and see what happens to the Sunwell when the crown prince returns home.
It’s worth noting that all data-mined content is subject to change before it hits live servers, and there is no current release date for this scenario.
Kael’thas Sunstrider, the heir to the kingdom of Quel’Thalas, was out of town at the time of the Scourge invasion back in Warcraft 3. That is the last kind thing Blizzard ever did to Kael; since then, he’s been bounced around from tragedy to tragedy. He renamed his people from the High Elves to the Blood Elves, because so many of them had been massacred, and that level of extra would go on to define Kael’thas until both of his deaths in World of Warcraft. He tried to work with the Alliance, but his commander was so supremely racist, he found that the legitimately better option were the serpentine, Old God-worshipping snake people known as the Naga.
Kael’thas goes evil
Kael’thas was one of the biggest characters in Warcraft 3. After the whole Naga incident, Kael’thas found himself working with the demon hunter Illidan and his Naga ally, Lady Vashj. Illidan and his allies were portrayed as an island of misfit toys, anti-heroes who were trying to get the Burning Legion off their backs while trying to save their people. Players speculated throughout vanilla World of Warcraft and in the run up to the first expansion, Burning Crusade, that the Illidari might even be their own faction comprised of Broken draenei, blood elves, demon hunters and Nagas.
Instead, Burning Crusade had Kael’thas turn on his people and betray them. Once players make it out to Outland and his raid, the Tempest Keep, Kael immediately starts twirling his mustache at terminal velocity. He declared himself an ally of the Burning Legion, and after we kill him, he shows up in the capital city of Shattrath to taunt us.
A fiery symbol of the Sunfury, a rising phoenix, appears in front of A’dal, and then an image of Kael’thas Sunstrider appears in front of the symbol, facing the naaru.
Kael’thas Sunstrider yells: Your monkeys failed to finish the job, naaru. Beaten but alive… The same mistake was not made when we took command of your vessel.
Kael’thas Sunstrider yells: All for what? Trinkets? You are too late. The preparations have already begun. Soon the master will make his return.
Kael’thas Sunstrider yells: And there is nothing you or that fool, Illidan, can do to stop me! You have both served me in your own right — unwittingly.
Kael’thas Sunstrider yells: Lay down your arms and succumb to the might of Kil’jaeden!
Kael’thas makes one more appearance after this. He shows up in Magisters Terrace as part of Burning Crusade’s 2.4 patch, Fury of the Sunwell. This time, he is hallowed out and empty. A giant fel crystal is through his chest, he’s on the verge of death, and he yells at you that Tempest Keep was merely a setback before you kill him, again, and start farming his corpse for a sweet hawkstrider mount.
And so, that’s how one of the coolest characters in Warcraft 3 ends — in a dungeon, having betrayed literally everyone else, including the other raid bosses of the expansion, and yelling about how we’ll drown in our own blood.
It’s an end that has rankled Blizzard lore nerds for years now. Kael’thas was one of the best mages in the world; he has a unique appearance, and he was replaced by a council of blood elves, who have largely stood aside and done nothing as the Horde goes through an endless period of upheaval and Warchief switcharoo. Kael’thas is now just a footnote in WoW’s history, and a joke at worst. In Cataclysm, the long standing meme character and community joke Hogger is a dungeon boss, who quotes Kael’thas’s infamous ‘setback’ line.
What’s worse is that Illidan, who died in Burning Crusade as a raid boss working out of a corrupted place of worship known as The Black Temple, got a redemption story in Legion. Illidan literally maintained an army of slaves and had a wing of concubines, and Legion still took us through a long storyline that not only attempted to show players that, no, he was a good guy after all, and a holy being of light lectured players that we had killed Illidan with hate in our hearts ,so really, weren’t we kind of the problem there?
With this datamined scenario, some players are already starting to hope and dream that we may get a new start to Kael’thas’s story. (Death is very rarely an impedement for Blizzard when it comes to bringing characters back.) Unfortunately, the datamined model for Kael’thas is just his old Burning Crusade one with red orbs instead of green ones. Even Arthas Menethil, who has been corrupted since 2002, got a new model in Battle for Azeroth.
As a final indignity, this is the second news story about Kael’thas since the end of Legion. The first story was that the giant patch to overhaul item levels and improve old world-leveling somehow managed to make Kael’thas Sunstrider in Tempest Keep completely bald.
It can be hard to be a lore fan — or a major character — in World of Warcraft.