With all of the 7.3 story content now out, and Blizzard suspiciously quiet about the next patch in Legion for the first time all expansion, now is a good time to revisit talk of the next expansion
8.0 is going to be a pivotal moment for Blizzard, as this is their chance to prove that the content heavy, constant release schedule of Legion is the future of the game. Ironically, in the first expansion where they stopped promising an expansion delivery schedule, they may meet a schedule that allows a good amount of breathing room to the Legion content without allowing the last tier too much of that room.
More than that, though, I wanted to talk lore, features, and do a little retrospective on the piece breaking down Veil of Shadows, since A – I love talking about it, and B – these kinds of things seem to be my most read and enjoyed posts. 🙂
So, let’s dive in, shall we?
More than anything, a modern WoW expansion is built on layers of lore. While Blizzard’s storytelling, in terms of narrative logic, building to moments, is lacking, admittedly – I really like the lore. The worldbuilding, the individual character arcs and the moments that come out of that, are fun.
The best WoW expansions are those built on multiple, different lore arcs with some interconnection. My theory is that we will see three distinct arcs, each with some interplay. Those themes are-
The Light and the Void – the interplay of these two is the most set-up and robust story arc going into 8.0. Not to say that it hasn’t been bungled a bit in some fashion, since the lore of what happens with Alleria and Locus Walker is not well explained, but this seems to be purposeful – I hope. What is there is a breadcrumb that would allow for further detail and development in 8.0 – and hopefully that is delivered upon. The development of the Void in an ally will help us to understand what it is without asking bosses or enemies to monologue it endlessly.
The Light will also likely continue to play a strong role here. Turalyon will be a bit disheartened, likely, having had Xe’ra destroyed before him. Her behavior in those last moments and the revelation of her deception through omission of the nature of the Naaru, light and void, will also color his actions going forward. What I look forward to most is this – the idea that that servants of the Light, particularly those of the Army of Light, will be in upheaval as they try to find their way with the revealed deception of Xe’ra and her absence as their guiding light.
On top of all of that is the integration of the existing lore elements around both of these. Other Naaru? Maybe! Elune? Perhaps! Old Gods? I’d wager they’ll be there for sure. And then there is Arator the Redeemer, son of Turalyon and Alleria, a literal child of Light and Shadow. His presence on the Vindicaar only furthers the possibility of lore around him and his parents.
The Windrunner Clan – With Alleria back, told about what has happened to her sister Sylvanas but yet to witness this firsthand – the possibilities are endless with the Windrunner family. Alleria has a black and white morality about the Horde, and only knows of them as savages. Vereesa is more neutral, but still has been primarily aligned with the Alliance, particularly during the events of the Isle of Thunder, as she stood at Jaina’s side (a topic which we will revisit momentarily!). I would suspect, in fact, that as much as the end of Legion will be about Antorus and the raid, our non-raid story content is likely to center on exposition regarding this elf trio.
So what will happen? Alleria herself is undergoing a paradigm shift, aligning herself with the Void. She also now possesses a deadened Naaru essence, which could serve as an unpredictable character-shifting MacGuffin. Vereesa is likely to remain mostly an Alliance NPC, and will likely align once more with Jaina Proudmoore as we take to Kul’Tiras. Sylvanas is the wildcard here. Varimathras, her former right hand, now raid boss in Antorus, seems to suggest that Sylvanas has evil machinations in play – an idea that has been plausible since her character development and shift in Cataclysm. She’s also our most dead NPC, and with her multiple deaths, could play into Ilgy’noth’s warning of third deaths, even if the math on that has to be played with for Sylvanas.
And I could imagine a scenario where Alleria strikes down her sister as a fiend, after some plot movement – and that sounds like quite an expansion making event to me!
Jaina, Kul’Tiras, and the South Seas – the third and final lore bit that I think will serve as our 8.0 foundation is Jaina. We know that Blizzard tries to plant the expository hooks early as of late – Gul’dan was very present from the very start of Warlords of Draenor, ultimately serving to lead us into Legion. Jaina…well, hasn’t really been around since the start of Legion, but I think that her absence is actually key to her involvement in 8.0.
Yes, she left Dalaran in a huff, and no one has really had much to say about her since then, but look as far back as the Legion announcement at Gamescom 2015 – Blizzard has known she’d be gone since then, and has made a point of mentioning that even then. Further, well, she’s the key art for this year’s Blizzcon, our token WoW character. Why else would she be there?
Jaina has two very different directions she could take, both of which are interesting. She could be an Old-God influenced villain, fully exploring her turn during Mists of Pandaria and moving her into the bad column, turning on the Alliance for allowing the Horde to continue to exist, and continuing her hatred and rage against the Horde.
However, I don’t think this is the direction she will go. Firstly, because Blizzard Story Corruption(tm) is old and played out, and secondly, because I don’t think that is as interesting an arc for her.
Jaina’s original role in Warcraft was a bridge between the Alliance and Horde, an aligned force who brokers peace and cooperation to focus on the bigger threats to the world as a whole. Her sharp turn in Mists was great character development, since it was sudden, but explained and believable, and was very consistent for all of the content since. She spent every patch of Mists in some sort of open revolt against the Horde, and even while that softened somewhat in Warlords, she has still been very anti-Horde. Her departure at the beginning of Legion has been a continuation of this, and for the first time since her turn in Mists, she has decided that her hatred for the Horde is so great, she’d just rather not help anyone.
This is good for two reasons – it communicates that Jaina is still really salty about the Horde, and it also gives us a narrative explainer that can be filled in later. Conceivably, the story will look like this: Jaina got mad pissed, ported herself to Kul’Tiras to visit her brother and her homeland for the first time in a long time, but hey, oh no, her brother is Old God crazy and also, this seems like a thing effecting the whole sea area around them, but she can’t deal with it alone, and needs help.
Then, it’d make sense – she’ll join back up with our rag-tag bunch of heroes and lore legends, and will have a difficult choice to make – does she continue to shun the Horde, whose forces are willing to aid her quest, or does she come back around in a full circle, re-embracing her prior role as peacekeeper and negotiator?
This is awesome in my opinion, because it plays to so many of the ideas of what Old Gods and the Void do. If Jaina remains mad, continuing to hate the Horde, it gives the Old Gods their opportunity to corrupt one of the most powerful mages in all of Azeroth. If Jaina allows herself to continue to give in to her hate, she’s probably going to end up facing us as an enemy, which is no good for anyone.
I don’t expect that Jaina will be good right away. I do think she’ll fall to Old God whispers first, falling into a bottomless pit of despair about Theramore, fighting all who stand opposed to her. However, I do think she’ll be redeemed, without a full blown corruption arc that ends in her death. She’ll live on, and grow for the experience, using that as the springboard upon which she will catapault back into her peacekeeper role. Alleria serves as our eyes into the Void, and Jaina could herself fulfill a similar role for the Old Gods.
What I love about this is that all 3 themes are interelated. The Light and the Void will play out not just through external, new NPCs, but also through Turalyon, Alleria and the like – characters with whom we already have a strong connection. These themes tie heavily into the Windrunner family drama, with Alleria’s return front-and-center here. The Windrunner’s tie into Jaina’s fate, as Vereesa has served as Jaina’s right-hand, making her a character with a vested interest in Jaina’s fate. And, should things carry on as I suspect, Jaina will find herself very acquainted with the corrupting influence of the void.
This part of the post is best tempered with a warning – this part is a lot of common sense mixed with speculation. Unlike the lore, we have no real way to say with certainty what will happen in gameplay – it could go anywhere. But I’m gonna try!
Level cap upped, probably to 120 – 5 level jumps kinda sucked in terms of inflation in power, so a 10 level jump again makes sense.
Item Squish 2.0 – we’re almost certainly getting an item squish again here. Ion Hazzikostas has talked around the idea in interviews, our health is in multiple-millions, and DPS is crazy absurd right now. As long as Blizzard continues to support 32 bit systems and also desires to maintain reasonable game readability, our current numbers cannot grow much past this point. They’re already, arguably, close to unreadable if not just outright unreadable, so a squish almost certainly will be in 8.0.
New Zones – while I still think we’re due to level through a new approach, as I’ve detailed in the past, new zones are always essential to keep people coming back. An expansion with the lore themes mentioned would have some strong hooks for sea nations. Undermine? Kezan? Kul’Tiras? Naz’jatar? I’ll throw out a bet now – most of our new zones will be islands, and our neutral capital will be Undermine, but there will also be portions of that zone that are hostile and require some intervention. Later this week, I’m going to talk about another zone I think will come out in a patch – but I need to sleep a bit on that city, maybe take some Ny’alotha Quil. Wait, that’s not what I meant to write… 😉
New Dungeons – I do think this one is obvious, but what I think could happen may not be as much so. There were new items added to most Vanilla dungeons in 7.3, loot which uses our current stat paradigm – including pieces that swap base stats based on spec. With that, I think we’re going to see something very cool – level-scaling Normal-mode dungeons for all dungeons in Azeroth, and further, Mythic mode at 120 for all of them, including Keystone options. Why? Well, the bane of an MMO is in repeatable content that you see a lot of. Doing Mythic Plus through 10-12 dungeons is a good variety, but eventually bound to have you push the same dungeon a lot. Doing the same, but with 40-50 dungeons? Oh man, you’d potentially never run out of content. I do think this is a possibility, but I’m not sold that it would for sure happen in 8.0. I do think that eventually we’ll see something like this, though. The strength of some of WoW’s competitors, primarily Final Fantasy XIV, is that dungeons are scaled, so the content remains evergreen. With the current WoW approach to level scaling, though, it’ll be more popular – Final Fantasy XIV de-levels you as “scaling” so it results in some bizarreness, so it is somewhat maligned. (it probably doesn’t help that the leveling roulette frequently results in doing Thousand Maws of Toto-rak or Sastasha, two of the very lowest leveling dungeons and two very boring ones.)
Level Scaling 2.0 – almost pure speculation here, but I think one thing we do all expect is this – leveling 110-120 will scale like Legion did, with chunks of leveling content that can be done in any order you desire. Overall, level scaling has been too popular and appreciated to remove. Here’s where we veer off-course into my ideal state though – I imagine that the game’s content all the way up until 8.0 will be scaled 1-110, alongside dungeons, allowing you to level in any order you want and keeping zone stories viable for experience gain right up to the end. This enables a few things – one, it allows long-time players that never leveled an alt post-Cataclysm to try out redone zones. It would also allow veteran players to run alongside their new player friends, giving a powerful hook to get a newbie into the game. It makes Loremaster acheivements much easier to get, and then would also allow the introduction of new bits of content, like World Quests, to these old zones. Speaking of which…
Revamped Old World – wild, wild, baseless speculation on my part here, but I do think that an expansion with the themes we expect to see will make an old world revamp a valuable part of the expansion. Imagine doing the questing as-is until 110, and then suddenly, Void corruption, Old God influence, and the ability to push that back in a phased, multi-stage campaign. As I’ve written before, I do believe that we won’t be leveling through new zones in 8.0, but instead, will be doing a brand new story campaign through an updated, phased Azeroth. I could imagine such an update would stretch further, perhaps to Outland as well, but I am fairly certain that Kalimdor, Eastern Kingdoms, and Northrend are going to be heavily tweaked to allow us to use them as our stage for leveling content and World Quests at cap.
New Raids – I suspect a multi-tier opening approach, probably with a Kul’Tiras raid, leading into a small Old God raid of some sort like Trial of Valor, then leading to our “main” tier raid in Nazjatar. I think our end raid will take place in Ny’alotha, although what form that would take…who knows? I’ll speculate more on that one later this week!
PvP – I don’t know what to expect here. I do think the Legion systems are fairly strong, but RNG is hugely disappointing in PvP. I expect to see small tweaks to gear acquisition, but mostly staying the course here. I want a new battleground at a minimum, however.
Post-Cap Progression – Artifacts, as we’ve discussed in the past, were a Pandora’s Box type of system. Once they were let out, they couldn’t be caged again. I suspect we’ll be much more in control with Artifacts 2.0, however, likely by forging it ourselves. I’d also suspect that a system similar in design to Artifact Power and Knowledge will also come along, but with the bumps in the Legion implementation smoothed over.
Classes – I only really expect tuning here, not a whole new class or anything. Sure, in theory, Alleria could teach a new class of Void Hunters or some-such, but I don’t think it’s necessary or that the supporting lore would be all that strong. Every new class added since Vanilla has had some existing basis in the lore, and while with Alleria, you could argue it’s no different from Chen Stormstout being the basis for an entire race and class, I do think that the themes Alleria brings wouldn’t be strong enough or different enough from a regular Hunter. Plus, we just got to balanced class distribution on Tier tokens – no need to screw that up now!
Social features – these were talked up during Legion’s detailing at Blizzcon 2015, but since then have fallen to the wayside. I’d love to see B.net fixes like Appear Offline, multi-guilding, better cross-realm support, and additional expansions to group finder and queuing systems.
Overall, it’s the most exciting time to be a WoW fan – with an odd quiet going on now, anything we can speculate is not immediately wrong or right, and it’ll take about…47 days for proof to come!