I can’t imagine a fate worse than death, but thankfully, the writers of World of Warcraft don’t suffer from my same lack of imagination. In a new campaign introduced in the Shadowlands zone Bastion, the WoW writers have managed to concoct a scenario as horrifying to me as when Sylvanas Windrunner decided to do a lil’ bit of war crimes.
Spoilers for Shadowlands questing are ahead, so if you don’t want significant zone-specific plot revealed, steer clear.
As I explained when talking with my WoW coworker Mike Fahey, there’s something off about Bastion. All the good, honorable souls from all the many planes of existence supposedly go there to join the ranks of pseudo-valkyries, the kyrian. And yet, despite being a place where the breadth of sentient life goes to their eternal repose, every kyrian looks the same. I wondered, then, if there was some kind of sinister assimilation process a soul undergoes in order to become kyrian. A process by which all the characteristics that defined you in life are stripped away and replaced with a fairly generic blue-skinned, white-coded, flying angel being.
Sounds terrifying, right? Like something straight out of a World of Warcraft-ifed version of Get Out.
Well, it’s worse. Turns out not only must you shed your mortal form to become a generic male or female kyrian, you also have to shed all the memories of your mortal life.
When the game first takes you through the ascension process, the kyrian Borg present this induced amnesia as the “cleansing of the trauma of death” and a “purification” of the negative emotions that might cling to a once-mortal soul. You “cleanse” or “purify” new kyrian aspirants by fighting the physical manifestation of their pain or doubt, represented as monsters. It’s typical WoW quest stuff. But then, when I was on one quest, “A Temple in Need,” one of the kyrian I was assisting with a newly kyrian-ified aspirant told me that not all memories are bad, but they still must be purged. I was then shown the memories of the new kyrian — already big and blue — as they were in life: A tauren.
I immediately got sick to my stomach as my worst fears were confirmed, and I didn’t want to quest in Bastion. Being asked to assist in the erasure of this tauren’s memories, family, and culture is deeply upsetting on its own, even before you consider how the tauren are coded as Indigenous peoples and how those people, in real life, already suffer pervasive cultural and physical erasure.
When I think of what I’d like to experience in the afterlife, I can imagine experiencing an infinite number of lives. Maybe I’m Commander Shepard saving the galaxy and boning my turian sniper husband, or I’m an aspiring Pokémon master with a pikachu permanently glued to my back. (Yes, all of my afterlife fantasies are based in video games. I’m a nerd, ok?) Or maybe my afterlife is just a simple, regular one where I’m reunited with both my grandmas, everything’s good and nothing hurts. But in all of my fantasies, I am still me. I still look like I do, I still have my rapacious wit and my full glorious afro’d head of hair. I like me (or I try to) and I deeply hate all the things that attempt to make me minimise myself in my current, mortal life. So I cannot fathom an immortal life where I would willingly give up all the things that make me me. There are few things that I can think of worse than having my memory erased and my entire being subsumed by something else. That’s what’s being done to the denizens of Bastion. In a place that’s supposed to be heaven, I can think of no worse a hell (except being close to someone who chews with their mouth open).
In my chat about Shadowlands with Fahey, I wondered when I would start having fun. While I wouldn’t call this revelation “fun,” I will say I’m totally invested now, to the point that I am role-playing my character in a way I have never done in my decade plus of WoW-ing. There’s a quest where you have to inspire or convince hesitant kyrian to continue the ascension process by choosing the correct canned response. The right response will compel the kyrian to continue to walk the path despite their doubts, while the wrong response will cause the kyrian to become hostile and fight you. I could not bring myself to fight a doubtful kyrian. How could I punish or potentially kill someone I personally agree with just because the quest mechanics say I have to? I ran away from any hostile kyrian until they de-aggroed.
Later on in the campaign, a new faction of kyrian called the Forsworn arrive and attack everyone. Hell yeah! Fuck their shit up, Forsworn! I’m on your side now. However, you can’t immediately jump ship. You’re still allied with the angel Borg, and they task you with “cleansing” the area of these Forsworn, giving you a bar to fill to measure your progress. Typically in quests that give you a progress bar, your task is to kill as many enemies as you can until the bar is full. For this quest, you can also progress by saving the frightened owl-like servants the kyrian have in their employ. It ended in a lot of corpse runs and multiple repair bills, but I completed that entire quest without killing any “enemies.” I thought it was a neat, subtle way of the WoW writers acknowledging how fucked up this all is, allowing conscientious objectors like me a way to complete quests without killing people we all know deep down we kinda agree with.
(Unfortunately, such pacifism couldn’t continue if I was going to progress further. I’ve gone back to completing quests the bloody, old-fashioned way.)
I’m now firmly anti-Bastion and anti-kyrian. Though I never wanted to pledge their covenant, I now want their entire leadership structure brought before the Shadowlands’ equivalent of the Hauge. I’m also now re-evaluating my stance on Shadowlands’ big bad guy The Jailer. Perhaps he too knows of the crimes going on in Bastion and elsewhere (Revendreath in particular looks a little Geneva Convention violate-y) and has teamed up with Sylvanas not to destroy life as Azeroth knows it but to set the tortured souls of the Shadowlands free. Maybe that’s what she really meant when she said as much in the Shadowlands cinematic trailer.