The Black Gate. While not as terrifying as its Lord of the Rings counterpart, it is the final step of our journey in Hellfire Citadel – and it isn’t even inside the Citadel itself! Chasing down Gul’dan and we find ourselves right where we started in this expansion: at the Dark Portal itself. Now just ruins, the orc warlock has tainted the ground around it while the fel roots shoot up to create a new portal to an unknown world or dimension, but through it strides the lord of the Legion, Archimonde. In our final episode of Who Are We Killing, we find out about Gul’dan’s final plan for Draenor.
Archimonde in Previous Games
Chronologically speaking Archimonde is one of Warcraft’s oldest villains, betraying the Eredar race 25,000 years ago alongside Kil’jaeden in exchange for immense power from the Dark Titan Sargeras. This act split the Eredar into two factions: the Draenei following Velen and the Man’ari following Archimonde and Kil’jaeden. Ever since, the two Man’ari leaders have sought vengeance against the Draenei for fleeing from the Legion, and have burned countless worlds to the ground in search for them. Talk about a grudge…
In terms of the franchise however, Archimonde has only been around since Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. While Kil’jaeden was the driving force behind the corruption of the orcs as cited in the Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness manual and prefers to work the plans of the Burning Legion through others, Archimonde heads the full attack of the Burning Legion, demons and all.
In Warcraft 3, putting one grudge match against the Draenei aside for the grudge match against Azeroth, the Man’ari duo made their first return to Azeroth in 10,000 years with Kil’jaeden causing havoc through the Undead Scourge. Once the plague swept across Lordaeron and Quel’thalas the Scourge opened up a portal to the Twisting Nether to allow a full Legion invasion, along with summoning Archimonde to Azeroth.
The conclusion of Reign of Chaos ended with Archimonde fighting his way through the defenders of Kalimdor to ascend the peak of Hyjal. His goal was to absorb the powers of the World Tree Nordrassil as it held remnants of the arcane energy that filled the Well of Eternity – the power his master sought to absorb in the Legion’s last invasion. In the hour of his victory however, Malfurion had set up a trap. Using the spirits of the forest, the wisps, he called them all using the Horn of Cenarius to detonate once they surrounded the daemonlord.
In World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, players got to re-enact the final Reign of Chaos mission in one of the wings of the Caverns of Time instance complex. This Caverns of Time raid was unique at the time because there was no Infinite Dragonflight, the main antagonist of the dungeons, attempting to alter the timeways – there didn’t appear to be much difference at all between the RTS mission and the MMO raid. This led to popular speculation as to whether a mysterious group of adventurers had always assisted, as I’m sure many of us know that allowing the NPCs to defend without us leads to their downfall.
Archimonde in Hellfire Citadel
Previously thought to have been completely vanquished at the base of the world tree Nordrassil at the end of the second Legion invasion, Archimonde made his grand return in Warlords of Draenor with a tweet from Afrasiabi stating that this Archimonde is the same as the one that got vapourised a decade ago. As he wasn’t killed within the Twisting Nether, he was simply banished back to there until he was strong enough to return. We’ve seen this happen many times before – especially with the Nathrezim such as Mal’Ganis or Balnazzar. It’s what stops there being an infinite number of Burning Legions from decimating worlds. There are many Eredar from 25,000 years ago that bore the name Archimonde, but as soon as they accept Sargeras’s gift they all merge into one Man’ari.
But knowing what happens in HFC, Gul’dan summons Archimonde into a Draenor that should already be conquered by the Legion. Whether through Kil’jaeden’s corruption in some timelines, or Archimonde’s brute force invasion of others, this timeline is the one that Azeroth’s defenders – the only planet we know of that has fought back the Legion not just once, but multiple times – is now protecting. What he does here is quite extraordinary however: he brings us into the Twisting Nether to confront him (in mythic, which is widely regarded to be the canon version of any fight). Likely to separate us from Khadgar, Grommash and Yrel, but I also imagine he’s stronger on home turf. Nevertheless, he is defeated and his body collapses… On Draenor’s side. We don’t see him fall within the Nether, we’re just treated to the same end cinematic that the easier difficulties enjoy – whether that’s laziness on Blizzard’s side, or there are plans for Archimonde in the future is up to their discretion.
The Future For Gul’dan
Speaking of villains that last for more than one expansion, I’ve commented on this in the past that Blizzard tend to build up big bads within the game for us to only kill them in the final chapter of that expansion. Illidan (or Kil’jaeden) were never on our minds during vanilla – it was only until TBC came out that he popped his head through the door, and we slammed it shut. The same with Arthas in Wrath of the Lich King, and again with Deathwing in Cataclysm. It seems they heard mine and many other lore nerds out there that we didn’t really find these great “villains” very threatening when we killed them within a year of them becoming a threat – in Mists of Pandaria they decided that we were only going to defeat Garrosh, allow him to live for him to only escape and become the link into Warlords.
Only, this end-of-expansion villain was already killed before we even hit level 100 in some cases. It’s a start, I guess, and from what we know from Gamescom in August, it looks like that when Gul’dan was sent through the portal that summoned Archimonde, he ends up on our Azeroth. So here we have the final warlord left that isn’t either dead or now on our team who has again survived and links this expansion to Legion. However once again we appear to kill him off in the first tier – in our first real confrontation with him. Even in Hellfire Citadel where we’ve chased him and he’s been part of fights, we’ve only been up against his fel-infused Divine Shield while he resurrects demons and maintains Legion portals.
It’s why my favourite villains in Azeroth have been Azshara and the Old Gods – especially N’zoth. These are villains who we’ve been up against and lost against: we’ve lost Neptulon, the elemental lord of water thanks to the former and we knew about N’zoth but couldn’t for whatever reason go ahead and end him. We had bigger fish to fry with Deathwing at the time and to stop the Hour of Twilight, though we’ll certainly be finding out more about Azshara during Legion, but it looks like once again we won’t be fighting her but her minions. Blizzard tried a deviation of this with Dragon Soul’s final two encounters being Deathwing – the only problem back then was that the first encounter was much more difficult than the second encounter (and final encounter of the expansion). But I would sincerely be interested for them to try this experiment again.
I would LOVE for Blizzard to prove us wrong by allowing Gul’dan to be the final encounter of Suramar Palace but allow him to incapacitate us and allow us to lose. Make us feel mortal again for us to realise that we can’t go headstrong into the thick of it. Let us regroup at our class halls and re-evaluate what we have to do. Will we see Archimonde or Kil’jaeden again on the Broken Isles? Or will they be villains ready for when we take the fight to Argus, if we ever do? At least for the former, if he really was killed in the mortal plane on Draenor, he’ll need time to regain his strength.