I really didn’t want to have to think about my country’s carceral state while playing a video game and yet, while strolling through Revendreth, learning about its vampiric venthyr denizens and where they fit into the bureaucracy of Death that is the Shadowlands, my mind couldn’t help but make the connections. Revendreth is a miserable place and I can’t decide if I want it to stay as is, be abolished, or somehow reformed.
Let me say first that the zone itself is cool. I loved the moody, gothic aesthetic straight out of Interview With The Vampire. I blame the Anne Rice novel and Tom Cruise’s movie portrayal of the main character Lestat for my love of the snobby, cravat wearing, high-falutin’, family line so inbred and intermarried they’re their own parent kind of vampire, and Revendreth has that in spades. If Revendreth wasn’t a charnel house of pain and guilt, I’d love nothing more than to sip blood out of the finest crystal goblets with these Nosferatu lookin’-ass motherfuckers while we lament about the tacky excess of the nouveau riche.
Now that I’ve chosen my covenant, I deeply miss Revendreth’s signature ability, Door of Shadows. I had grown so used to being able to teleport into those hard to reach places to get at a chest, or out of the path of a hulking enemy I couldn’t solo, that I wish there were a way I could keep access to at least that power while still in the zone.
Questing isn’t too tedious either. It feels like the WoW pacing team knew that players were going to ding 60 either well in advance of—or sometime soon after—arriving in Revendreth and decided, “Let’s make this campaign quick so folks can get out of here and choose their covenants already.” And while I appreciate WoW respecting my time, the result makes Revendreth look like a red smear in my mind compared to the zones that took a little more time and care in unfolding their stories.
But what Revendreth’s story lacks in time, it makes up for in impact—and ho boy what an impact.
Revendreth is the Shadowlands’ Hell, where the worst souls are sent for punishment and, maybe, rehabilitation. The newly arrived engrave their true names and foul deeds on a “sinstone”, then they’re sent throughout the zone to be punished. The method of punishment varies depending on the sins a soul committed in life—one could be shut up in a tomb, or hunted for sport, or just chained up and metaphysically tortured. Anima, the lifeblood of all the Shadowland realms, is extracted during this torture process and used to keep everyone else—including the other worlds—functioning properly. Yikes.
Once a soul has been sufficiently punished they can become a venthyr themselves to continue the cycle, are judged irredeemable and sent to the Maw for eternal punishment, or can ascend to any of the other three zones to begin a new afterlife.
There’s a quest in which you have to find the hidden sinstones of venthyr you’ve been commanded to subdue, then read them aloud to trap them. I wondered if there was some kind of magic imbued in the stone that can compel the unwilling until, as it turns out, it’s just plain ole’ fear and shame that brings your enemies to heel. I was confused wondering why would anyone be afraid of their sins in hell? Mortals feel fear for the wrongs they’ve done mostly out of a desire to elude punishment or community condemnation should those bad deeds be brought to light. But in Revendreth, everyone’s already dead and condemned for their sins, so why would their simple recitation be enough to subdue someone? “Hey buddy, don’t know what you’re freaking out about, we’re all assholes here.”
Even when there’s a character you’re trying to capture who laughs at your attempt to use her sinstone against her, she still submits when you read aloud she’s guilty of murdering her daughter. She expresses pain and remorse, and in that moment, you trap her. I think that’s where my conflict about Revendreth comes from. This is a character who said she was proud that she overcame her sins, had become a venthyr presumably after atoning for those sins, and yet, even after atonement, the reality of her actions in life can still be used to inflict suffering. What’s the point of Revendreth then? Is it a place of true rehabilitation or just a place of where the sadistic can get their kicks torturing others under the guise of “rehabilitation”—something that reminds me of the conversation surrounding America’s prison system.
Revendreth is a gigantic American prison. Conditions are inhumane, inmates’ labor (ala anima) is extracted via cruelty, and—at least in the case of people who are either sent to the Maw or become venthyr themselves—there is no realistic path to true rehabilitation. I think prisons should be abolished (cops too) in favor of efforts that meaningfully tackle the societal issues that lead to crime and violence while establishing programs geared toward restorative justice after crimes are committed. My natural inclination toward abolishing the carceral state makes me want to chuck the whole of Revendreth into...whatever level of oblivion happens after death. But I have to wonder what restorative justice looks like for people who are dead. The core tenant of restorative justice is offenders working with the people and in the communities affected by their actions. How do dead people do this? There are also going to be people who just don’t give a fuck and what should be done with them? I’m not so saved that I think truly abhorrent people don’t deserve some kind of punishment after they die. If Revendreth was working as intended, maybe it is the best option.
But Revendreth, when you get there, is not working as intended which leads me to my next point of tension with the zone: You don’t have a choice when it comes to committing some truly horrible shit.
When you arrive in Revendreth, it’s pretty clear that its leader Sire Denathrius is not on the up-and-up, and the rebellion he’s commanded you with quelling are actually the “good guys.” You can see this “plot twist” coming from several leagues away and yet you’re still forced to kill a handful of people from the faction of rebels you’ll eventually side with. I know WoW is not the kind of game where players can make choices beyond race, class, specialization, or faction, and that consigning some “good guys” to nothingness forever likely doesn’t even break the top 10 of bad things the game has made you do over the last 16 years. But I wish there was at least something my character could say or do as a token gesture of objection—like a speech bubble I could select to express my displeasure whenever a bad actor is making me do something I’m forced to do. At least in Bastion, the zone I hated the most, I had somewhat of a choice—or at least the illusion of it.
Now that my initial journey through the Shadowlands is complete, and while I’ve pledged Ardenweald as my covenant, I kinda wish there was a place where I, me, Ash felt like I could belong. Bastion is where the good people go to have everything that made them good wiped away. Nope. Maldraxxus sounds exhausting with its neverending battling. Revendreth, as I’ve already explained, is a hard nope. Ardenweald is the place where I feel like I could be the most at peace in my afterlife, since I essentially get to be a spirit vet for the very good doggos of all the cosmos, but I still feel like the Shadowlands is incomplete without a home for the perfectly average. Like some kind of Hufflepuff land where the just ok—the not too good nor too bad—can hang out for an eternity before ascending somewhere else.
Where’s that afterlife and can I go there next because after adventuring through four zones, climbing Torghast, and avoiding the Jailer’s assassins in the Maw, I’m tired.