Lore of the Nexus
The Redemption of Yrel
Written by: Midseasons
Table of Contents
Can Heroes of the Storm give a character new life? The game features beloved characters from Blizzard’s decades-long history, but the arrival of Yrel into the Nexus has raised some eyebrows. A new addition to the Warcraft universe, Yrel was introduced in 2014 as a central character of the much-maligned Warlords of Draenor expansion. Among the World of Warcraft community, Yrel is a controversial figure; she has her fans, certainly, but she’s inseparable from a campaign many would rather forget.
So her inclusion in the game at all is an interesting decision, but what’s even more intriguing is that Yrel is the first new hero to arrive since Blizzard began their “lore of the Nexus” initiative in May. The Heroes of the Storm team is committed to exploring the story-telling opportunities of the game, and out of the hundreds of possible characters that could have spearheaded this initiative, they chose Yrel. It’s a bold move—and a brilliant one—because it shows the team understands what the Nexus can add to the rest of the Blizzard multiverse. Heroes of the Storm isn’t limited to nostalgic celebration, it’s also a game where characters have a fresh shot at connecting with an audience. Yrel has come to the Nexus to pay back her debt to the Alliance, and the Nexus might just end up saving Yrel too.
This isn’t the the first time that Heroes of the Storm has given a second chance to a misfit character either. Given how expansive Blizzard’s lore is, it’s impossible for every story to land with the audience, but the more we learn about the Nexus, the more we see it has an intelligence all of its own and that it has always been adept at choosing its heroes at their most iconic moments.
Over the course of World of Warcraft, popular figures like Thrall, Jaina, Tyrande, and Illidan have all been involved in stories that were less than well-received. Heroes of the Storm’s answer was to roll those characters back to their more familiar and beloved Warcraft 3 incarnations to satisfy both the frustrated WoW players and the WC3 veterans who never got into the MMO.
Outside of Warcraft, Azmodan is another example of a character who was rescued by the Nexus. Diablo 3 tried to present Azmodan as a feared General of Hell, but that portrayal fell flat for most players. The story built Azmodan up to be a threat, but few actually found him intimidating, making his entire chapter regarded as an anti-climactic time sink before the arrival of Diablo. In Heroes of the Storm, Azmodan has certainly had his triumphs and failures, falling in and out of the meta over the years. But Heroes of the Storm gave Azmodan something Diablo 3 never did: a fanbase. There have been times when Azmodan has been a power pick and times when he’s been a meme. But wherever Azmodan lies in the range of buffs and nerfs, he’s become a recognized icon throughout the Heroes of the Storm community, even becoming the mascot for Heroes of the Dorm.
So redeeming characters is nothing new for Heroes of the Storm, but Yrel represents a new level of challenge. There’s no nostalgic version of her to return to, so she’s forced to stand as her most recent (and only) incarnation. More than that, the challenges to accepting Yrel are bigger than a single character.
Yrel’s individual storyline appealed to some players and alienated others, but for better or worse, she was part of an overarching story that the community wasn’t interested in hearing. The problems with Yrel’s storyline was never Yrel herself, but the mediocre Warlords campaign as a whole. Even if Yrel didn’t exist at all, Warlords of Draenor would still have been hated. Even more painful for Yrel, the response to the Warlords story was so poor Blizzard abandoned it midway, quickly shoveling out a hasty plot twist in a new patch and then moving on to a new story instead. This left Yrel herself completely stranded as a character, with a plot that was never resolved and a build-up that was never satisfied.
The deck is stacked against Yrel, but the situation isn’t dire. Heroes of the Storm can be a fresh start for the character, and the team at Blizzard has good reason to be confident in her. Many of the problems that Yrel’s story faced are solved by the game’s format. Let’s talk about three of those, specifically, and see how Heroes of the Storm rescues Yrel from obscurity.
There are many ways bad writing can weaken a character, but informed attributes can be the fastest road to rejection. If the audience don’t believe in the character’s personal traits, they can’t invest in the arc either. In Diablo 3, other characters constantly describe Azmodan as a brilliant tactician and strategist, but Azmodan himself never demonstrates any of that alleged brilliance. It’s a violation of one of writing’s most basic principles “show, don’t tell,” and it’s an easy pitfall for quest-driven narrative games like Diablo or WoW.
Heroes of the Storm doesn’t have this problem. MOBA characters, by their inherent design, put direct control of their attributes in the hands of the player. Rather than being told narratively that Azmodan is supposed to be a general, a player controlling Azmodan is given the tools to become one. A solid hero design will infuse the character’s personality and style into their abilities, immersing the player in the avatar. And this is something the HotS team has proven they can do very well. Players don’t need to be told that Garrosh is aggressive or that Johanna is courageous, that Lúcio prefers to be close to his team or that Murky is persistently annoying. They play out those traits directly and gravitate towards heroes who fit their own mindset as players.
Throughout Yrel’s story arc in Warlords of Draenor, other draenei expressed their confidence in her ability to inspire, lead, and become a bastion of the Light. In Heroes of the Storm, players controlling Yrel get to bring those traits to life. If Yrel’s hero design is successful, then players won’t need to be told that Yrel is a badass. Her kit will speak for itself and empower the player to feel like a badass playing her.
Pacing and Development
When WoW players first met Yrel, she was a young and untrained woman, shaken by her very first combat experience. Over the next few zones, she is brought forcefully into a leadership role before she’s prepared but rises to the occasion after finding her will to fight. By the end, she’s uniting her people like no leader ever has before. It’s a standard coming of age tale, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it—except that the whole plot can be done in just a handful of hours, and depending on the player’s preferred game modes, whole sections of the story can be skipped or seen out of order.
Role-playing games can deliver satisfying character arcs, but the flow of time between quests can easily become vague. MMO games have it even worse, as players are frequently left wondering how much time passes in the game’s story between zones or balance patches. The vagueness of Yrel’s time frame, coupled with the individual pace each player would experience her quests, makes it a daunting task for WoW’s story to convey Yrel’s development in a believable way.
But heroes in a MOBA don’t have to deal with character arcs at all. The nature of the genre makes each single match an isolated event of gameplay, with no continuity for the heroes in between matches. Being placed on the red side in one Towers of Doom game has no impact on your next Cursed Hollow skirmish, and there’s no plot significance to the forts in Blackheart’s Bay being destroyed over and over again every day. There’s no need for a story that develops your hero as a person over the course of level 1 to 20, because that story would simply be reset when the match ended and the next one began. MOBA heroes can have extensive backstories, carry pre-existing relationships with other characters, and brim with personality, but once the game is launched they represent frozen moments in time.
This phenomenon makes the Nexus a land of rich opportunity. Heroes present themselves to the player as fully realized figures distilled to their purest essence and are judged solely on the qualities they express. Heroes of the Storm isn’t affected by the current storylines of heroes like Tyrael or Jaina, nor does it need to concern itself with what might happen to those characters in future expansions. The only important thing in the Nexus is the unchanging essence of those heroes, the elements that remain constant about them even across alternate timelines and reinterpretations.
Looking back to Yrel, it’s clear that the HotS team decided that her essence doesn’t lie in her storyline’s journey, but in who she became at the end of it. The Yrel portrayed in the Nexus shows her fully embracing her role as Exarch. She is smiling, bold, confident, secure in her faith, and she doesn’t hesitate to wield her powers for her allies and against her enemies. This Yrel didn’t have room to be explored in Warlords of Draenor, but the Nexus gives her an entirely new game in which to live, breathe, and stretch her wings. Whatever unsatisfying storylines might involve Yrel, past or future, the HotS team has made it clear that this is the vision of Yrel that matters to Blizzard. And as she becomes a fixture within Heroes of the Storm, it will be the version of Yrel that is constantly reinforced and presented daily to the community.
The Draenor Problem
One of the biggest obstacles to Yrel’s acceptance is her connection to Warlords of Draenor itself. The WoW community responded to Warlords with the sharpest decline of subscriptions in the game’s history, so the expansion’s failure is one that both sides would rather forget, and it seems Blizzard is happy to help that forgetfulness along.
WoW’s next expansion, Battle for Azeroth, is releasing in a few short months, and fans watching the expansion’s news noticed that details from the Draenor campaign diverged from the story that had actually been portrayed in Warlords. This came to a head when Blizzard added Draenor’s orcs to the Battle for Azeroth preview site and confirmed them as a playable race, and the official Blizzard summary of their history—while brief—presents a total retcon of the events. The original plot of Warlords was scrapped in the rush to push out the new expansion, and now Battle for Azeroth implies that the the story we did experience didn't happen either.
While the expansion hasn’t been explicitly declared non-canonical, the current direction of the lore is pushing what happened further and further under a rug. This new version of the Mag’har history also means that Yrel’s entire storyline couldn’t have happened either.
...Yeah, it didn’t go like that.
Whether intentional or not, bringing Yrel into the Nexus pushes Warlords into even more irrelevance. With the expansion’s original story being disowned by Blizzard, Yrel becomes a figure without a clear history. Heroes of the Storm fills her blank slate, especially since many HotS players were never familiar with Warlords of Draenor in the first place. Without that baggage, Yrel can be portrayed the way Blizzard intends her to be remembered, virtually making her a new character. If that gambit is successful, it helps both Blizzard and the community act like Warlords of Draenor never happened.
The Nexus has opened its arms and accepted characters that were rejected by their original games since the beginning, but Yrel represents a larger challenge than most as a gambit with potentially great rewards. If Heroes of the Storm can successfully rehabilitate Yrel’s reputation, it benefits all parties involved. It would prove to Blizzard that the Nexus can handle risky characters and expand the range of possible stories and worlds the HotS team could create. That’s still an if, though. Only time will tell whether the community embraces Yrel as a new fixture, or if her light will simply burn out.
Fern “Midseasons” Rojas writes (and fights!) for the Alliance. Fern’s garrison back in Shadowmoon Valley is still decorated for Winter Veil all year long. Both Alliance and Horde are welcome to follow Fern and watch together to see how Yrel develops, though.