Ragar speculates about Thursday's WoW expansion announcement
Hello and welcome to the 12th edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAM’s column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. For this week’s column, we’re going to do some speculating. On Thursday, August 6th at gamescom, Blizzard will unveil the newest expansion for WoW. If you’re like me and there’s 15+ hours of flight between you and gamescom, they’ll be livestreaming it on their dedicated gamescom page. Now the question is: where will this new expansion take us and what changes will it bring to the game? Quick spoiler alert for those who haven’t fought Archimonde at the end of Hellfire Citadel and seen the cinematic afterwards – we’ll be talking about that right after the jump.
So Where Are We Going Next?
We’ll start with the obvious question of what the setting will be for this new expansion. The fight began with Gul’dan opening a portal to the Twisting Nether and summoning forth Archimonde, Left Hand of Sargeras and Lieutenant of the Burning Legion. Against all odds the players are victorious and smite Archimonde, leaving Gul’dan contemplating escape to go and craft another plan. Before he can do so, however, Archimonde binds Gul’dan and banishes him through the portal he created, citing that he must honor his pact. With Archimonde defeated, Gul’dan seemingly gone and Draenor’s direct threats seemingly eliminated, nearly everyone in the cinematic is cheering...but Archmage Khadgar remains unconvinced that this is the last we’ve seen of either Gul’dan or the Burning Legion.
So with that as 6.2’s finale, where do we go from there? My thoughts would be that the Burning Legion will play a more prominent role this time in the expansion. While Archimonde may have been our final boss in Hellfire Citadel and there were definitely demons and fel energies in the rest of the raid, it’s not quite the same as actually fighting the Legion itself. Additionally, not only have we thwarted their attempt to conquer Draenor – and through it, Azeroth – we’ve taken down Archimonde. If the Burning Legion didn’t have adequate reason to hate us before, we’ve more than provided it to them now. Of course now that brings about another question: which Burning Legion?
We’ve spent this entire expansion on an alternate universe version of Draenor. In theory, that would mean this alternate universe would have its own Burning Legion, but Alex Afrasiabi confirmed that the Twisting Nether transcends all realities. This means that the Archimonde we slew here is the same one defeated at the Battle of Mount Hyjal. Since they’re tied to the Twisted Nether, their souls are anchored to that plane; should they be defeated on another plane, they’ll eventually reform in the Nether. So we have a group of very powerful demons, led by the Dark Titan Sargeras himself, that heroes from our Azeroth have stepped in and ruined their plans on multiple occasions. If they didn’t want revenge from everything we did on Azeroth, they certainly want it now.
There’s one other point that lends credibility to this theory: the Black Prince, Wrathion. Throughout Mists of Pandaria, he told players that a terrible threat was coming and a divided Azeroth could not hope to stand against it. He tries to play matters to allow one faction or the other to win, believing that only an unopposed Alliance or Horde will stand a chance against the Legion. At the end of Siege of Orgrimmar when King Varian Wrynn allows Garrosh Hellscream to be imprisoned, Wrathion is angry he allowed the Horde to continue to exist rather than allowing the Alliance to conquer all. During the novel War Crimes, it’s revealed that Wrathion was working with Kairozdormu and the Infinite Dragonflight to free Garrosh and send him back in time to the alternate Draenor. When Prince Anduin Wrynn confronted him about it, Wrathion tells him that as the last of the Black Dragonflight, the role of Azeroth’s protector falls to him – and what he’s done is for the best in Azeroth’s coming conflict with the Burning Legion.
Wrathion played a much smaller role in events once WoD began. According to Admiral Taylor’s Garrison Log, Wrathion sought asylum in his Garrison after angering the ogres; the Admiral said he would be a “guest” provided he stay under house arrest and guarded at all times. The journal says Wrathion provided the Garrison with resources to build an inn, warned the Admiral not to trust Ephial (advice he really should have heeded), and was bribing the guards watching him to watch Taylor instead. The last mention in the journal was that he left with several of Taylor’s best followers while they were off competing at the Ring of Blood. The last time he’s been seen was in whelp form during the legendary ring storyline when the player is bringing Cordana Felsong the Tomes of Chaos.
So Wrathion is on Draenor and he has a group of followers somewhere with him. In addition, he’s following the events of the war against the Iron Horde to the point where he knows where you’re going with dangerous fel objects seized from Hellfire Citadel. If we assume the man’s as knowledgeable and connected as he makes himself out to be, then he’s obviously been following the events that led to the summoning of Archimonde, his defeat, and Gul’dan being sent through the portal to the Twisting Nether. He knew the Burning Legion was coming to this Draenor, even after it was originally prevented by Garrosh’s arrival, yet he didn’t interfere. Did Wrathion know that the players would defeat Archimonde? Did he consider this a necessary evil because it would render Archimonde unavailable for whatever assault the Legion was planning on Azeroth? It’s also possible that his original intention was to use Grommash Hellscream’s Iron Horde as that unifying agent to bring Azeroth’s races together before the Legion arrives, and now he’s just playing it by ear. Regardless of whether he’s actually planned all of this or not, recent events with Gul’dan and the Legion would certainly fall in with Wrathion’s timeline of an impending assault on Azeroth.
Villains and Battlegrounds
If we assume that this new expansion is indeed centered around the Burning Legion, now we have to figure out who our main villain is and where the expansion will take place. The Burning Legion certainly isn’t lacking for memorable villain names: Sargeras, Archimonde, Kil’jaeden, etc. Archimonde’s likely out for the near future – he’ll need time to recuperate after this latest defeat at Hellfire Citadel. Sargeras is certainly the biggest name of them all, but he’s your trump card when it comes to end villains. With Blizzard says there’s plenty more story left to tell in WoW, so I don’t see them bringing him back any time soon. I do see Kil’jaeden having a very active role in this expansion since he’ll still be furious after losing face at the beginning of WoD when Garrosh prevented the drinking of the Blood of Mannoroth; my gut tells me he won’t be the main face of villainy this time. No, this time I see another familiar face being our main target this expansion: Gul’dan.
We spent all of WoD chasing after Gul’dan or dealing with his minions, but we never got the chance to face him directly. In addition, it’s kind of our fault along with Khadgar’s that he’s free in the first place since we broke him out of his prison to disable the Dark Portal. A direct confrontation with the most powerful Orc warlock in existence is long since overdue. Of course he’ll likely look different the next time we see him. In all likelihood Kil’jaeden will probably torture him for a while for his initial failure with the Blood, but in the end they’ll view him as a tool for their revenge against Azeroth and Draenor. It won’t be a hard sell for them either – Gul’dan would do anything for power and he certainly has no loyalty to anyone left on Draenor. We’ve seen what fel energies can do to the Orc body from when they drank the Blood of Mannoroth, but what would happen to Gul’dan when he’s exposed to the very source of those dark energies? Could we see the Orc equivalent to the towering presences of Kil’jaeden and Archimonde? What kind of terrible destruction could Gul’dan rain down on us with direct access to the Legion’s power?
That just leaves us with figuring out a setting for this expansion. Where would this battle against the Burning Legion take place? The first thought would be a worldwide invasion since that’s what Wrathion was trying to prepare us for, but that seems unlikely to me. Something like that would imply a Cataclysm-level redo of most of the zones on old Azeroth to fit a Burning Legion invasion storyline. While indeed possible, it’s unlikely Blizzard would do this rather than add new lands for players to explore. Two of the reasons for the Cataclysm zone changes were to rebuild them to support flight and to change the quest flows to fit the more modern designs of Wrath of the Lich King. Since that’s already been done, you’d just be rebuilding already rebuilt work and that feels like a hard sell to players. That means we need to find somewhere new to fight.
So what landmasses are left on Azeroth for us to explore? The first one that pops into mind is Kezan and Undermine, home of the goblins. We saw a brief glimpse of Kezan with the Goblin starting zone, but there’s more to Kezan than that; Afrasiabi said in a Blizzcon Q&A that the goblins do want to go back to Kezan and Undermine at some point. Another possibility is the Emerald Dream, a mirror version of Azeroth where no intelligent beings have altered its surface. It’s always getting thrown out as a potential expansion setting in someone’s speculation post, so we have to include it. I’m doubtful about both of these being main settings for a Burning Legion expansion though. Kezan’s too small and not really a major target for a Burning Legion foothold – it’s always possible, but doubtful. As for the Emerald Dream, as far as I’m aware the Nightmare has been connected to the Old Gods in some fashion, so unless the Burning Legion has decided to invade it anyway, it’s unlikely. It would be interesting to see demons throwing down against Old Gods though.
There’s also the plot thread involving Queen Azshara and the Naga, which has potential. She was, after all, lured by Sargeras into summoning the Burning Legion to Azeroth in the first place. After the War of the Ancients was won and the portal destroyed, the Sundering happened and the Well of Eternity poured into her palace. A voice whispered to her, promising help and great power for their servitude – soon after Azshara, her handmaidens and loyal followers became the first Naga. Blizzard has played with this storyline a little here and there with Lady Vashj acting as her queen’s agent in Azeroth and Outland, the Naga activity in Vashj’ir during Cataclysm and her assaults on Darkshore to try and distract Malfurion Stormrage from Hyjal. Dealing with Azshara would certainly have more of a story connection to the Burning Legion, but I can think of two reasons this wouldn’t work. One is that it would lead to an all or nearly all underwater expansion, which would be a hard sell to players. The other is that the voice during the Sundering before she becomes a Naga seems like something an Old God would do rather than Sargeras; you might still be able to use the Burning Legion connection, but it’s not as strong as it would have been pre-Sundering.
The other main possibility I see, and what I think is most likely, is a new continent. As unlikely as it may sound that there’s just continents lying around that nobody’s noticed by now, bear in mind that aside from some steampunk influences like guns, radios and mechanized armor, much of Azeroth’s technology would still be considered somewhere between Middle Ages and pre-Industrial Revolution. There’s no GPS or satellite imagery to find unexplored landmasses, so all that’s left is looking the old fashioned way. If we look at a map of Azeroth, you see the Veiled Sea to the north and west of Kalimdor. On the other side of the known world, we have the Forbidding Sea along the eastern coast of the Eastern Kingdoms. In the rare occasions where this area has been seen on in-game maps, we don’t see any continents shown in those areas. While this could theoretically be just a matter of “there’s nothing but water between them”, it’s more likely that the waters just haven’t been explored as much, especially given how mountainous the coast of Eastern Kingdoms is which limits the number of settlements available there.
Now if we assume that there’s an unexplored continent somewhere in those waters, then we can easily come up with different reasons for the Legion to go after those territories. Perhaps a previously undiscovered race has made contact with the Legion in search of power? Maybe the remnants of the Twilight’s Hammer have turned to the Burning Legion and have been directed to take a pilgrimage out to this desolate land to summon the Legion in seclusion? There’s also your usual plot MacGuffins of “ancient Titan doomsday weapon” or Old Gods that could be thrown in the mix as well. Once they’re here, we can move to the more interesting plotlines like revenge against Azeroth’s people, potential backstabbing of the Legion by Gul’dan, and more.
We haven’t even touched on other expansion questions like new races, character classes, professions, talent changes, etc. Coming up with those however requires a little more information about the setting we’re going into. You wouldn’t add in a Holy-themed class to a story focused around shamans and the elements – there has to be some context that fits like WotLK and Death Knights or MoP and Monks. With that said though, there’s always room for a little wishlisting for expansion features.
I always like seeing new races, so that would be a great addition, especially if we do indeed go after uncharted lands. For classes I can certainly think of some concepts from Dungeons and Dragons or other games I’d love to see WoW incorporate: Bards, psionic characters (I would roll a Soulknife-style character in a heartbeat), a physical ranged class without pets, etc. The problem there is it just adds one more class that you have to balance around.
Part of me wonders if it would be easier for them to go a different route with new class content. Rather than adding in a new core class, what about adding in a new talent specialization to the existing classes? I’m not sure whether it’s more development work to add than a new core class, but from a balance perspective, it would theoretically be easier since you’re eliminating variables in terms of abilities that need tweaking versus the other specs for that class. These new specializations could even give you the chance to let those classes do something completely different than before. You could bring back weird builds like a Hunter spec that makes them like a melee Beastmaster with more traps, or a variant Demonology Warlock that tanks in demon form. My gut tells me they’re still more likely to go the new class route just because it looks better as a box cover bulletpoint, but it would certainly be interesting.
That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. Are you excited for the new expansion announcement? What are your predictions? Got any classes or races you’re dying to see them add to WoW? Let us know in the comments below.
Michael “Ragar” Branham