The game of World of Warcraft is about to go in a lot of interesting directions.
But not ones we expected. While speculation was wild, unchecked, and rampant in the direction of Old Gods, Void Lords, and Shadowy things – the announcement at Blizzcon, a month ago now, was Red vs. Blue, but not the Rooster Teeth one. We are getting Alliance vs. Horde, two warring factions dueling with one another.
And while a lot of people seem perplexed, I think there is something to that theme – although perhaps not the kind of thing that can sustain a full expansion.
But when we look back, over all the expansions in modern times, there is a common theme that emerges – often, there is a front-half story, and a back-half story to an expansion.
Mists of Pandaria, for example, starts the focus on the immediate, native Pandaria threats. We fight back the evil Mantid in Heart of Fear, the Mogu in Mogu’Shan Vaults and later in Throne of Thunder, and cleanse the Sha presence in the Terrace of Endless Spring. As the last two content patches come out, however, now we’re fighting back against Garrosh and his Orc loyalists – still a threat to Pandaria, but a drastic shift in scope, tone, and focus.
Likewise, Warlords of Draenor’s first raid tier has us battling back the Iron Horde, putting down their allies in the Ogre city of Highmaul before heading to Blackrock Foundry to end the manufacturing machine that gives life to the Iron Horde’s immense war capabilities. Then, a sudden shift to Fel Horde, as we must deal with the remaining Iron Horde forces, but this is a vastly different enemy – fel-infused, corrupt, with dark magic and massive Demons ultimately proving our greatest foes.
Legion’s first half story is one of us cleansing the threats to the native peoples of the Broken Isles. We fight back the corruption of the Emerald Nightmare in Val’Sharah, and then push into the Nighthold, which is only vaguely Legion occupied. The majority of the story and threat here is a native one – the Legion-aligned Nightborne. We then take the fight to Gul’dan, who marks our transition into a second-half story of the fight against the actual Legion…not quite. Tomb of Sargeras is equal-parts Warcraft Past and Present, as we fight back Naga, Night Elf spirits, and various abominations that combine Legion influence with the ancient, original occupants of the once Temple of Elune. It is only at the end of Tomb of Sargeras where the Legion fully becomes the threat, with Kil’Jaeden infusing the Fallen Avatar of Sargeras with power, before ultimately challenging us himself.
This then continues into Antorus, which deals primarily with the Legion’s top forces, leading to us defeating the World Soul of Argus, culminating in Sargeras’ imprisonment.
All this stage setting I’ve just done was fairly straightforward, yet it serves a purpose here. If you find yourself disappointed in the idea of Horde vs. Alliance, well…wait a raid tier or two, and it is bound to change.
But what to?
Ah, well, here is where the title ties back in.
The leadup to Blizzcon was filled with speculative posts from many people, myself among them. The speculation went in multiple, divergent directions, but the chief idea among them all was that Old Gods and Void were being pretty heavily set up as the main antagonists. And then Blizzcon came, and we all sort of gave up on the idea, but then people pieced together the things we could see in some of the BfA visuals and panels.
and then there is this character…
So there seems to be an interesting commonality of themes here. There are a lot of things that imply or outright indicate Old Gods. Sea Priests, the holiest ritualists of Kul’Tiras – have tentacle staves and the cloth armor that was datamined in 7.3 with tentacles on it. The general look of Kul’Tiras, drab and dark. The motifs, weathered, with interesting sea-monster-inspired visuals and curvature, buildings made to look like overturned boats. Cursed monsters roaming the landscape. Lastly, of course, our big bad “hint” drop is none other than Queen Azshara, chief servant of N’Zoth.
And that alone would have been enough for me to write to this point a month ago. So why didn’t I? Well, everyone and their mother was coming out with video content and pointing to exactly these clues – plus, it indicates an Act II/III story shift in the expansion, which is the de-facto WoW storytelling structure and has been for the last 5 years over 3 different expansions.
But, this week, a 7.3.5 PTR has gone live. In it, we have the aftermath of Antorus, the Burning Throne. The results of what happens after Sargeras plunges his sword into the (conveniently Old God infested depths) of Silithus. We now have an updated landscape for that region, with crystalline Azerite peeking out, dotting the landscape. Its red-hot surface now a cooler golden yellow, dripping with the lifeblood of the dormant Titan Azeroth.
Well, let’s see, what do our friends at WoWhead have in the datamined flag texts…
A map, you say? Named the Maw of N’Zoth, you say?
This in isolation doesn’t tell us much…
But this Highmountain Tauren broadcast text does. It weaves a narrative, one that is interestingly present in small does through much of the stage-setting we can currently see for Battle for Azeroth.
It tells, to me, a greater tale than the one we’ve been led to believe. It tells me that while the Old Gods may not immediately be the story focus up front this expansion, they are definitely the bubbling undercurrent. But more than any previous undercurrent, whether Garrosh’s boiling bloodlust in Pandaria or Gul’dan’s steady ascendancy during WoD, this seems far more present. Legion has hinted at this quite heavy-handedly. These early bits of transitional lore, designed to move us into Battle for Azeroth after a (relatively) successful campaign against the Legion, draw a clear theme. Old Gods are watching us. They are very interested in us. And the Uul’gyneth dialogue gives away something interesting – wards that were placed to lock away his spirit are no longer working. Old God imprisonments are failing. If one in Highmountain, far from where Sargeras struck his terrible blow, is now failing, just imagine the state ones closer to that strike must be in. Like, say…Ahn’Qiraj. Yes, the broadcast text indicates that Ebonhorn may be empowering the wards at least a bit, but the overall direction of the text tells me that his absence from the Broken Isles should not cause that, if the wards were at their expected power level.
This is an exciting bit of intrigue to me. We see multiple bits of Old God lore already seeping into this story, even before the actual BfA plot hits have happened. We have this, without even seeing the genesis of the burning of Teldrassil or sieging of Lordaeron. This brings me to my final point.
The speculation many of us had is that Old Gods would lie dormant through our initial warring, allowing us to fight and die and bloody up our world, strip mining her for Azerite and taking all that we can get. Two factions, at each other’s throats, while Magni tries to talk us down from the brink. Our conflict, it seemed, would lead to an Old God resurgence. But this new information, this new lore, seems to point in a vastly different and more exciting direction.
The Old Gods are active now. They are making moves already – Uul’Gyneth breaking free of his Highmountain prison to attack and attempt to subjugate Ebyssian, known as Ebonhorn. Azshara, looming as a threat on our radar (just not in game yet). A wound, in Silithus, dangerously close to Old God territory, leaking forth a substance we are about to start harvesting massively for power. Shadow Priests, wielding a dagger that talks to them and speaks promises of power and glory, while also telling of its own dark past.
The Old Gods…are here now.
They are ready to begin working to conquer us from within, using our fractured nature against us, setting the greatest heroes of Azeroth against one another in ignorance of the planet’s pleas for help, while massing their own numbers and power to stage a coup and finally have their ultimate prize – Azeroth itself, awash in blood and shadow.
Oh, and then there is this damn quote.
Dammit, Alleria, you better not have a third death.