With the arrival of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, the mammoth MMO has added yet more fantasy races and magical constructs to the big ol' pile, all hanging out in the afterlife. Among them are the Stewards, a bunch of beefcake owls that love to work. They're the best. They're also effectively slaves, which is a bit of a downer.
Stewards—which players have also taken to calling swolekin, though I prefer swowls—can be found in Bastion, the third area you'll visit when you begin your journey through the various lands of the dead. It's an impossibly beautiful realm that seems perfectly designed to make you feel relaxed and ready to hammer that screenshot button. It's the sort of place where you'd expect the air to be magically filled with opiates.
There are plenty of sights to soak in, but everywhere you look you'll also find the Stewards scurrying around. They're a busy bunch. And all that hard work has given them a surprisingly buff physique. Just look at those arms!
Clearly they'd be exceptional huggers, and they've got just enough squish to also make excellent recipients of hugs. Bastion would probably be lovely if they were in charge, but sadly that's not the case.
It's the kyrian, striking angelic arseholes, who run Bastion, and the Stewards exist to serve the Kyrian Covenant. They provide companionship, run around bringing the kyrian drinks, perform manual labour and generally get sent around to do menial tasks. They sit somewhere between pet and a working animal, but they are sentient and extremely intelligent, maintaining machines and constructs while the kyrian fly around doing who knows what. It's unusual, too, that the kyrian have wings and can soar through the clouds, but the owls seemingly can't.
The kyrian don't treat them poorly, and the uncomfortable dynamic isn't something Shadowlands engages with directly—or at least not where I'm at, and I've finished with Bastion—but it's one of a few things that you'll notice that will probably make you question if Bastion is really the paradise it's cracked up to be. So much of Shadowlands' story is flung at you through speeches and exhausting exposition, but that doesn't mean there's no room whatsoever for nuance. An uneasy undercurrent runs throughout the quests here, juxtaposed to the heavenly surroundings.
Complicating the status of the Stewards is their addiction to work. If they can't serve, they get sad. This way, the angels can pretend they're the good guys, giving these adorable owls a reason to exist. But how did they get that way. Apparently, they are "born of the magic of Death," but does that mean they're conjured? Designed? It seems pretty convenient for the kyrian, suggesting that they fostered this addiction to a life of servitude.
The dawning realisation that the life of a Steward is deeply fucked up is slightly undermined when Shadowlands asks, "Hey, do you want a cute slave of your own?" This quest lets you wander around to find the 'perfect' Steward to accompany you on your travels through the afterlife. They'll bring you drinks. I picked one. It's one of the smaller ones, and I found it hanging out on its own playing the flute. I give a little cheer whenever it appears. I feel terrible. And I don't get the sense that Blizzard has given me this cute pet to make me confront my own contributions to maintaining Bastion's status quo. Then again, that's exactly what I am doing, so maybe it deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Instead of a companion with no free will, what I'd really like is to play a Steward, with them joining the Horde or Alliance (or both!) as an Allied Race. If you skipped Battle for Azeroth, these are effectively entirely new playable races with their own racial traits, gear, mounts and starting pets. They were easier for Blizzard to implement since they all have similar models to existing races, and they don't get a unique starting area, but otherwise they have the same status as the original races. They were one of my favourite additions in the divisive expansion—even if the grind to unlock them was atrocious—and Shadowlands seems to have even more potential for them. Blizzard is yet to confirm if more are coming, unfortunately.
They'd be a great fit, though. Their proclivity for helpfulness naturally could lead to them wanting to go beyond Bastion, to help out the factions of Azeroth instead. One of the things that sets the Allied Races apart is that they are unlocked via a quest, as well as some other prerequisites, and I quite fancy the idea of fighting off the arsehole angels to liberate them. Or better yet, assisting them in liberating themselves. Maybe their racial could be summoning refreshing, healthy elixirs.
For now, though, they're stuck serving the kyrian. So if you see them when you're exploring Shadowlands, always be nice, and maybe given them a hug.