In our current day and age, visual storytelling is as important, if not more so, than literary storytelling. The ability to give a story through visual cues, even if it is still reliant mostly on dialogue, enables the audience to create further meaning out of a text – and doing it well makes for an unforgettable experience. In speaking of that, let’s dive into this review; the World of Warcraft Warbringers series.
As background context, Warbringers is a collection of shorts that tell the story of three influential characters in the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Battle for Azeroth. They’re designed as an introduction to the motives of each character and expand on the stories presented in the game (although this isn’t necessary to view or review them).
The first part of the series is Warbringers: Jaina. Of the two that are currently available, this is the better one. It starts hauntingly, with the visual action following the pace of the song. This ties back into a sense of rhythm. As the song picks up, the visuals begin to match the action. We can tell that Jaina is haunted by the ghosts of her past, and the non-diegetic voices are reminiscent of this. It isn’t Jaina telling this story, it is the people of Kul Tiras, her home nation. The song itself tells the story of Jaina’s history with her home nation. The climax, Jaina raising her father’s boat from the ocean floor, is met with silence; driving the action even further. Not to mention the imposing visuals of a single person raising a boat from the ocean’s floor – we can tell that she is extremely powerful. This is driven home in the final line of the short – “beware, beware…of me.” When Jaina breaks the melody, the piece takes a serious tone – we can tell she means business, and we can tell that she means to return to her home nation. It is a powerful culmination of song, dialogue and visuals that make this piece so riveting to watch over and over; it drives home its story of vengeance and regrets perfectly, combining all of the aforementioned elements so elegantly that nothing is left up for debate. Jaina becomes as cold as ice, and it sets the mood for the rest of the series – these figureheads mean war, and they have no mercy.
The second part of the series, Warbringers: Sylvanas, continues this motif, although less elegantly. There is no song, just confronting visuals, and even more confronting dialogue. It tells the backstory of Sylvanas Windrunner, defender of her city and people against the Undead Scourge who died, becoming Sylvanas Windrunner, the Banshee Queen. The turn from alive to undead made her monstrous, heartless. In response to the line “You can’t kill hope”, she burns one of the most iconic pieces of Azeroth – both in and out of the lore. As someone who started playing the game as a Night Elf, whose starting levels are on the very tree that is now aflame, a part of me grieves. She is literally killing a symbol of hope, life, a new beginning and a place of relative peace. The final establishing shot of Sylvanas standing in front of the burning World Tree is, quite literally burned into my memory, and is as iconic as Jaina raising the boat – it is a show of power. It’s a story told not through the melancholy of song and ghosts, but the hot tongue of rage and the want to prove herself as a leader. The only disconcerting thing is that none of the mouths move when uttering dialogue, especially in a short dedicated only to dialogue (minus, of course, the visuals). While the visual cues give the audience an understanding of who is speaking, it doesn’t change that the unmoving mouths of the characters take away an element of amazement and shock. Unlike Jaina’s short, where the song could’ve been justified as non-diegetic, we know these sounds are supposed to be diegetic; and seeing that the characters aren’t speaking them becomes slightly distracting. On the whole, though, the short drives home this message of Sylvanas’ power – she wants conquest and isn’t afraid to remove the forest if the trees get in her way, so to speak.
As a whole, the Warbringers series is a testament to good visual storytelling – it combines elements of literary storytelling like dialogue, pace and setting with strong visual cues to create a holistic story – one of an impending war with power coming from both sides. As of publishing this blog post, there is still one part of the series to be released, but when it comes out check back here for an updated version including it.