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When last I was writing about this, we covered some characters that got their chance at the spotlight in 2014. Real life then conspired to interrupt me, but I'm finally back, almost a month into 2015, to talk some more about 2014. Timely!
Anyway, I don't think my choices are going to be groundbreaking or shocking for anyone. We all know my biases, but you may be surprised by some choices anyway, because sometimes, I actually try and ignore my biases and be fair. Sometimes.
Straight up - I expected to hate Ga'nar. When you first meet him, he's your typical blustering orc, going on about murdering Iron Horde with his shovel (granted, they had him digging out latrines, I'd be pretty upset too) and posturing at Hellscream as you retreat from Tanaan. But something happened on the way through Frostfire Ridge. He started to grow on me. He was arrogant and hotheaded, yes, but also brave and well, such an orc about everything. And when he challenged Durotan, he showed a quality I hadn't expected in him - as Durotan refused to even fight him, declaring that he would stand and let Ga'nar kill him if necessary, Ga'nar backed down.
The final confrontation with Fenris Wolfbrother (and the revelation that Fenris was the eldest son of Garad and Geyah) ultimately revealed Ga'nar's true self to the player. I'm a sucker for heroic sacrifices. Always have been. And this was a heck of a heroic sacrifice, all told - after dispatching their wicked elder brother, Ga'nar refuses to allow Durotan to die, instead hurling himself, a lone orc (say it in Muradin Bronzebeard's voice) against the forces of the Iron Horde, and his death buys victory for his people. I'm sorry, but as much as I often bag on orcs, this was an excellent heroes' death for Ga'nar, and it won my affection.
I'm a big draenei fan and there were a lot of characters I was expecting to fall in love with - High Vindicator Akama, or Vindicator Nobundo. And I did! I think they're great. But for me, the biggest surprise of this expansion was Exarch Maladaar, who I previously knew as a fairly annoying boss in Auchenai Crypts. Sure, he was a tragic figure then - an exarch driven mad by the deaths of his whole world and almost all of his people, fighting desperately to preserve them in some fashion and using the darkest perversions of draenei magics to do so. What I wasn't counting on was seeing the Exarch before the genocide of his people broke him.
From the first moment I rescued Maladaar and he immediately sasses Thrall for daring to assume the Iron Horde would give them a chance to die with honor - These slavers and torturers know nothing of honor - I basically went out and made a T-Shirt that said Maladaar is right, and he proved to continue this winning streak as soon as you got him to Shadowmoon Valley. The only member of the Council of Exarchs who sees the danger in time to expose Exarch Othaar (the wicked Socrethar of the Sargerai) and mount a proper defense of Auchendoun, Maladaar is exactly what a draenei should be - forthright but cunning, brilliant, sincerely caring for his people (he raised Soulbinder Tuulani as his own daughter after her parents were slain) and a champion of the light. He's also the member of the Council who guides Yrel through her trials, and welcomes her as Exarch in her own right.
Unlike those other also-awesome draenei I mentioned, the reason I like Maladaar so much is, I absolutely did not see him coming. Maladaar? The one who exposes Sargerai corruption, who helps lead the defense of Auchindoun and foil Teron'gor's plans, who helps defeat Socrethar at Shattrath and ushers in the newest Exarch? The guy who I used to farm for the Doomplate Legguards is this badass? We all knew Akama was awesome. We all knew Nobundo was awesome. Restaalan, sure, I knew he was awesome, and I was glad to see them all in Warlords, but Maladaar absolutely came out of nowhere to be my second favorite character of the entire expansion.
The Shadow Council
This is a bit of a cheat, I admit, but right now I honestly couldn't decide between Teron'gor, Cho'gall and Gul'dan - I love each of these evil so and so's in his own right. Although man, we could do with fewer apostrophes.
First off, I love that they betray each other constantly, as the Shadow Council should. Teron'gor in Auchindoun plans to use the power he was sent to steal against Gul'dan, and Cho'gall actually does turn the power of the void god K'ure against both Gul'dan and his own people in a bid for absolute power. For his part, the Gul'dan of this Draenor is as evil as we remember, but he's a touch less competent, in my opinion, which makes sense, as he's less experienced. This Gul'dan seems a trifle more impatient than the one we knew, which to my mind is great - we have yet to see just how horribly impatient he is, or what he's willing to do to achieve power, but if our Gul'dan is anything to go by it won't be pretty. Meanwhile, Cho'gall's appearance in the Mythic version of the Imperator fight indicates that he's serving something else - it could be the Old Gods, it could be something else entirely (remember, this version of Cho'gall gained his power from a void god, meaning that it could be something as terrible as Dimensius the All-Devouring or even worse).
Ultimately, the Shadow Council provide a welcome break from the Iron Horde for me, and to my mind are actually the superior villains - backstabbing, treacherous, unable to cooperate worth a damn, and absolutely ruthless. We'll see more of them in 6.1, that's almost certain, and what we've seen of them so far included us actually releasing them, which means whatever deviltry they get up to is absolutely our fault. I love these guys. I love that, for once, we have villains who are just plain villainous, they aren't out to save their people but misled or make mistakes or whatever. They're eeeeevil. WIth all those extra e's.
At the very least these guys are likely to cause the Burning Legion to show up. And that's the least bad option I can think of, what with meddling with void gods and any other source of power they can get their hands on. Cho'gall alone might have just called the Old Gods to Draenor. Or maybe something (or someone) worse.
I said last time that Yrel is the big dog of this expansion for me, and that's absolutely true. Maladaar is my favorite returning character, because who expected him to be so awesome? With the build up she got, we all expected Yrel to be awesome, but it's still pretty great that she actually pulls it off. It would be easy to be annoyed by a character who comes out of obscurity to ascend to a position of importance, but not only does it feel like Yrel earns it, part of how she earns it is how she works with us - she's cognizant of the debt she owes the player, going so far as to tell us that we inspire her. There's a bond of mutual respect there that comes through in the character's story arc. At the same time, Yrel grows into a strong leader for her people, absorbing the lessons of Prophet Velen and Vindicator Maraad but not being hobbled by them.
In a way, Yrel is marked by tragedy and death. All she ever wanted to be was a humble acolyte at the Temple of Karabor. Her kidnapping and enslavement set her on the path she now walks - when we first meet her, she's already killed a Shadowmoon clan enforcer to earn her freedom. We then assist her in making her way to the rest of the escapees, and this sets the stage for our future interaction with her - but it also sets her on a path that costs her a great deal, as first she loses her sister Samaara, and then the Prophet himself sacrifices his own life, passing on to her the burden and responsibility of safeguarding their people, a burden she accepts. Her actions in Talador show that she still retains the compassion necessary to work alongside the Frostwolves and their Horde allies when it is necessary to defeat the Iron Horde, and her taking up of Maraad's hammer shows her move towards a more proactive role, as Yrel acts, rather than simply reacting.
I honestly have no idea what role Yrel will play in the future, once we leave Draenor, but I believe it would be an awful shame if we never see her again. I hope somehow that the draenei of our timeline and the draenei of Draenor's timeline can somehow unite, the survivors of the Exodar adding their tenacity and proven skill at survival to the diversity and hope the draenei under Yrel can provide. But whatever happens, she's the draenei we needed.
And that's my list. Did I leave off your favorite character? Feel free to tell us in the comments, that's what they're for.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.