In mid-November of 2008, I settled into my desk chair and logged in to World of Warcraft. I remember the new opening cinematic as King Terenas began his speech. Seeing Arthas awaken, summon the Draco-lich Sindragosa, and rally the scourge was something I had never encountered in a video game before. While Wrath of the Lich King in its original form has since faded in the grand scheme of WoW, its impact remains. In September, players will once more take up arms to destroy the greatest villain Azeroth has ever dealt with. Arthas Menethil has defined this role and the excitement to fight him again shows his lasting legacy
Arthas first appeared in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. In fact, he was one of the main characters we controlled throughout the game. We are actually making Arthas' actions as we see his descent into what he would eventually become. For the most part, we see Arthas as a pleasant person, a prince, and a paladin. The rise of the scourge changes this, as he sees his citizens turning into undead monsters that will attack the living at will.
Any good villain has that moment of no return, and the Culling of Stratholme is that moment for Arthas. Upon arriving in the city, they see that most people are already infected. With that in mind, he orders a purge of the city. While he's not wrong in his assertion that most citizens will turn into the wild undead from eating the diseased grain, the lack of humanity on display shows the fall. His contempt for his mentor, Uther Lightbringer, to even question the order, and his steadfastness to the decision shows. Jaina Proudmoore, his friend and suspected romantic partner, leaves him to it. She simply can't bear to watch the slaughter that's about to happen.
The build-up to this moment might seem like old news, but Arthas was THE good guy. The continued abandonment of his principles eventually turns into his need for conquest. When Arthas finally takes up the sword Frostmourne and places the Helm of Domination on top of his head, any trace of what once was Arthas is gone. He and the Lich King are of one mind. The craziest part is that this villain of villains would take five years to return to the scene. While World of Warcraft would see its fair share of bad guys, none come close to his aura. The experiences players had with Arthas forever shaped opinions on him, and upon his return, fans were ready to take him down.
The psychology of how we grow to hate Arthas is simple but resonates with the fanbase. Making decisions on how to protect people eventually led him down the path of no return, and the only thing left for him is vengeance and madness. Arthas isn't a massive lava monster or dragon. He isn't a demon, he's a man who gave up his humanity. Ironically, he takes a throne that he wasn't originally destined for. When you defeat him, he doesn't beg for forgiveness, he just wants it to be over.
The impact of Arthas Menethil in WoW was felt even through the most recent expansion, and now the game looks to move on. Many will return to Northrend on September 26 to once again begin the march against the Lich King. Players will be reminded that in World of Warcraft, one king reigns above all others.
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