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It is the summer of 2008, and I am sitting several feet away from an air conditioner that hums an irregular pattern. As the fans are blowing cool air directly at my back, the AC unit is not what is sending chills down my spine. It’s the gigantic blackened steel armor that rests upon a man who is simultaneously alive and dead. The icy blue glow emanated from his eyes as he stood upon an ornate dias overlooking the lands below him. As a Death Knight, I knew I was a mere pawn used to exact his chaos. Each interaction from that moment forward solidified a sense of dread within me, but it also made one point clear: Arthas Menethil as The Lich King was the most perfect villain that World of Warcraft creator, Blizzard has ever made.
Arthas’ sordid past was embedded within World of Warcraft prior to it’s initial 2004 launch. Despite the legend of Arthas already being told in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, we got to experience a new angle on this incredibly tragic character. At the time the second expansion aptly titled Wrath of the Lich King, we learned more about key characters and their interactions with Arthas.
Blizzard found a way to front load a villain that we wouldn’t face for another 5 years. An immense amount of time was spent slowly building up a sense of dread and curiosity as we fought Kel’Thuzad, Illidan, and many other enemies. As we cut down each foe, we were reminded that what waited for us down the road was something truly monstrous.
When we first laid eyes on The Lich King, I was immediately taken with his design.. His dark plate armor featured a cornucopia of skulls, as well as displayed aged gold accent, almost a reminder of his former Paladin origins. This gave The Lich King a distinct style, unlike anything we have seen when it came to character design from Blizzard. It was both awe-inspiring, while presenting this sense of foreboding. His ensemble garnered our interest but demanded our immediate attention, as we saw within the Halls of Reflection instance.
What made Arthas an interesting character was more than just his physical presence, but more so his fall from grace We can roll back to his upbringing as a Paladin of the Silver Hand, known for holding a noble oath of strength and light.
Paladins are mighty heroes of virtue and seen as incorruptible.Seeing Arthas’ fall from grace into a culmination of walking death and destruction was tragic. Blizzard could have told us the story of Arthas via a cutscene or loads of text around the floating city of Dalaran. Instead, they opted for a more impactful move: allowing us to experience his pivotal transformation first hand. We took part with Arthas in purging the city by burning it down along with its citizens. By having us take part in this event first hand, Warcraft’s story helped us understand how the path of corruption started, as well as allowing us to see and feel the division between Arthas and his friends.
The Culling of Stratholme was only an introduction to Arthas’ downfall. Once he set foot in Northrend for the first time, he devised a ploy to burn his soldier’s ships with the help of some mercenaries only to then have those same mercenaries killed. Arthas would eventually find the runeblade Frostmourne claiming it as his own and discards his warhammer, and leaving his friend Muradin and soldiers for dead.
He would eventually travel back to his kingdom to murder his own father. The atrocities didn’t stop there as Arthus would kill many more in his path including Uther the Lightbringer and Sylvanas Windrunner. With every murder under his belt, Arthas became more vile. Anytime he exhibited weakness, he overcame it with great might, and this power was terrifying. Arthas seemed to be invincible, and even more so when he was eventually promoted to Lich King.
Sitting upon his Frozen Throne, Arthas had another plan up his sleeve and that involved us as players. As we adventured through Northrend, we would occasionally see The Lich King appear randomly. With a being this strong, we often wonder why he just didn’t kill us on sight. Instead The Lich King opted for a more unorthodox approach: challenging us every step of the way until we proved our worth and then he would kill us, resurrecting us to fight in his undead army. What he didn’t count on was our desire to end this rule.
With the help of Tirion Fordring from the Argent Crusade, we were finally able to take the battle directly to The Lich King himself. After facing off against a multitude of The Lich King’s servants, we stood on the icy plateau, the Frozen Throne just several feet in front of us. The Lich King froze Tirion in a block of ice, and commenced his final battle against us where he bestowed upon us his punishing might. He summoned ghouls to aide him, spread a necrotic plague amongst us, and eventually summoned a Val’Kyr to pick us up and drop a random player off the edge of the map. As the battle raged on, his powers would become more and more powerful and swifter, even summoning fallen players to his side. The battle finally ended when Tirion broke out of his icy prison and joined us in battle where together we slaid The Lich King, ending his reign for the time being.
Since then, no other villain has ever been as impactful as Arthas. Sure, Deathwing may have restructured Azeroth and his lore may be as deep as the Lich King’s, but there was still something missing. Personally, I feel that the truncated leveling experience didn’t lend itself to exploring each area to its fullest, and instead we rushed to the end, but I digress. Arthas was and indomitable presence, and since his defeat we have been fed sprinkles of Lich King related content, especially with the Death Knight artifact weapon story in the Legion expansion.
It is very clear that Blizzard captured something special within Arthas, and even though he has been long gone his presence still lingers within the confines of Icecrown Citadel. As we are eagerly awaiting the release of Shadowlands, we can only hope to experience the familiar sense of dismay. The Jailer seems like an interesting character, but will his presence be as grand and theatrical? We will find out soon enough.