Updated Wed, Nov 23, 2011 by Saia
Arthas. The very name evokes a range in emotions depending on when you started playing World of Warcraft. Awe. Terror. Sorrow. Yes, the son of Lordaeron will live forever in the hearts and memories of those who rose up to slay him. But why is this one character so infamous?
Arthas may have been dead for a year or so now but his passing continues to leave repercussions and he remains one of the most memorable of bosses we’ve faced, greater even than the Aspect of Death. There’s a good reason for this too; we were there at the beginning. We - or at least those who played Warcraft III - watched him go from a Champion of the Light to a creature of darkness.
This is a path most of the endgame bosses have trodden, from Illidan to Deathwing himself but it was different for young Arthas. Thanks to the lore of WC3, the Stratholme encounter in the Caverns of Time and Christie Golden’s novel, we go to walk with as he went from a good Prince to an unspeakable King. With the others we never got to see all of it. Deathwing, from our perspective atleast, has been evil for as long as any mortal can remember. As for Illidan; well, he’s not called the Betrayer for nothing.
The other thing is that for many, it’s hard to think of Arthas as truly evil. Misguided, definitely but evil with a capital E? Maybe not. Like many antagonists, he did terrible things and affected the lives of most of the racial leaders of the Alliance and Horde, particularly Sylvanas and Jaina as well as the legendary Tirion Fordring. But, as we cut him down, it was hard not to see him as anything other than a victim, despite Blizzard's assertions to the contrary. But, compared to other bosses, Arthas got a lot more screen time and was an ever-present force as we explored Wrath, from the DK starter quests to appearing in dungeons and during quest chains. He was an active part of the Wrath experience and didn't just sit in Icecrown Citadel waiting for us to come kill him, he tried to turn us along the way so he could make us his champions and doom Azeroth itself.
Perhaps it’s this familiarly that bred so much contempt? He was a playable character once and catching up with him after five years in an icy prison; well it brought the Alliance and the Horde together than any other foe ever has but also, in the wake of the Wrathgate, drove a wedge between the factions. If anyone can ever be called a pivotal character in Azeroth, it's Arthas; he's responsible shaping the world as we know it today and his actions led, in part, to the founding of the Horde. He was instrumental in the creation of the Forsaken and the Blood Elves. He nearly wiped out the High Elves and is the reason that much of Lordaeron has fallen to the Forsaken and is no longer habitable. Without him the Night Elves would have never joined the Alliance and the face of Azeroth would be very different to how it is today.
Suddenly Deathwing returned and, in the wake of the fall of the Lich King, he found a world of people prepared to fight for their survival. The odds might be in his favour, Azeroth broken and sundered, but as players, we're ready to take him on. We've killed every endgame boss placed in our path, even Arthas, so what's a dragon Aspect?
Arthas - as the Lich King - is very much the anti-villain. We love to hate him and he resonates with us because he’s a warning of what we could become. He’s a champion who tried to save Azeroth and, instead, wandered down the wrong path without even realising it. He waged a war that saw the Scourge turned parts of the Eastern Kingdoms into a wasteland, indeed he's probably done more damage on his own than the Burning Legion combined. As a result he’s one of the rare immortals of Azeroth. Physically, he might be dead but his name will live on forever.
As we wait for Mists of Pandaria, Wrath is the expansion that players seem to remember with such fondness. Not just for the storyline but for the epic quest chains, the beautiful local and the improvement on TBC. Arthas remains the most important part of it as we prepare to visit the Pandaren, it’s hard not to remember the shadow that Arthas, the Lich King, cast over the world and how lucky we were to escape it. Long live Arthas Menethil, you will always be remembered.