The patch 8.1.5 datamining contains some spoilers we are going to discuss, but this post is largely speculation.
So before we start dropping plot points, here’s some filler text for previews of this post. If we were having a conversation, this is probably where I would ask how you’re doing, and then we’d talk about the weather (still got plowed piles of slowly melting snow here), and…
Alright, we’re clear.
So the big point of datamining we’re going to spin off into fantasyland today comes courtesy of a new scenario in Uldir and the Heart Chamber, with Magni, Brann, and MOTHER discussing the fact that Magni’s efforts to heal Azeroth aren’t doing very much and the fact that the Heart of Azeroth is out at all means the planet is pretty assuredly going to die. Still, the trio are trying hard to stabilize the planet and keep things healing.
However, the specificity of the line gets me going.
“Heart of Azeroth detected. Activation of the Heart Protocol signifies that planetary demise is inevitable.”
Now, that isn’t to say that it 100% means the planet is done. We’ve had harbingers of Titan-originated doom appear before, like Algalon, and have been able to turn the tide.
But, I’d like to take a second, after a comment exchange with Alunaria on my recent post about 8.1.5, to discuss an alternative possibility – one that I think, while controversial, would serve a lot of narrative purpose and would enable some interesting outcomes!
The Battle for Azeroth Gets Literal
Currently, the theme of BfA is about a military battle for Azeroth – the two factions trading blows to establish dominance over the other and make key land grabs to enable the triumph of their people. It is also known that the most-likely future state of the expansion is to move towards Old God conflict, to see us working against N’Zoth to end the grasp of the Void on our affairs, moving the titular battle into a very literal interpretation. The easy assumption, one that is well established in the game’s history, is that we will win this conflict and banish N’Zoth, winning the Battle for Azeroth, loosely reunifying the two factions (any Sylvanas-related drama notwithstanding) and leading us into a tenuous peace that would then move to the next expansion.
However, the alternate possibility, one we’ve literally never faced, is this – what if we lose?
Granted, the end of Legion was, in some sense, a loss. We beat Argus and banished Sargeras to the Seat of the Pantheon to be jailed with his fellow titans and Illidan Stormrage watching over him, but this victory came at the cost of the infliction of the Silithus Wound by Sargeras. Now, while this is a setback, I think the overall outcome would be difficult to state as an outright loss – for now. We accomplished a great feat, banishing the character who, for most of Warcraft history, has been the de facto single largest threat to Azeroth and our people.
So what would a loss in this context even look like?
The Planet Is Voided
The primary possibility that exists with current lore support is that N’Zoth and the forces of Void could corrupt the world-soul of Azeroth. This is the outcome that Sargeras was aiming to prevent – by destroying the planet, sure – but his aim was to prevent it all the same. The planet’s weakening at Sargeras’ hands poses a perfect opportunity to do this – we continue to fight over Azerite, capturing the blood of the planet to empower ourselves, our weapons, and our war machines, while the planet continues to bleed out and Magni can’t figure out quite how to solve the problem. The Void has already shown interest in corrupting the Heart of Azeroth, appearing in the Heart Chamber once already with the goal to capture it.
We know that N’Zoth’s ultimate aim is to take the planet, and we can see the forces of Void already at work doing exactly that. While we will be pushing back on his servants in phases, first with the Crucible of Storms in 8.1.5, then with the Naga and Azshara in 8.2, and presumably moving towards N’Zoth himself in 8.3, there is no guarantee of success.
Now, from a gameplay perspective, how would this failure play out? Well, I can imagine a scenario where a raid against N’Zoth fails, and we have an NPC intervene on our behalf to save us, perhaps at the cost of their own life. Khadgar, to me, seems likely here. As the factions begin to align closer together against the Old Gods (and probably Sylvanas too, let’s be real), Khadgar’s chief reason for leaving us be at the end of Legion will be gone and it would help the planet were he to return. Saving us in exchange for his own life would be a logical step for Khadgar, and would serve to raise the stakes and tension even further.
We Lost. Now What?
This is where we end up in 100% uncharted territory. Presumably, we’d get a little post-raid action similar to the Silithus quests from 7.3.5 that were enabled a few weeks before 8.0 prepatch went live. We’d need to tie up a few loose ends – what happens to Azeroth with N’Zoth in charge, picking up the pieces after our defeat at his hands, and moving to make our counterattack.
But if Azeroth is truly lost and dying, it begs the question of what happens to it. Well, I could see a few outcomes:
1. Like Argus, the planet could continue to be, albeit in a state of suspension. It would likely be consumed by void, and so a potential 9.0 could still take place on Azeroth, just with more Black Empire architecture and tentacles.
2. The planet is basically dead, but still exists – in this case, it would be likely that we might spring into action by going to another planet or realm, which would then be where 9.0 takes place.
3. Azeroth dies in every sense and is destroyed by the Void, and we move on to some other place to continue our story.
Now, all of these have problems in both a lore and gameplay sense. In a world where we could end up adding more Allied Races, how do you account for the #3 scenario? Do you even account for it at all? Where would you put a Bronze Dragonflight NPC to fix all of these things? How do you manage capital cities?
What I see happening is a sort of synthesis between a few of these ideas. I’ve talked in the past about a Death-themed expansion and the possibilities that would bear, but in that post, I expressed concern that the theme of Old Gods, Void, and N’Zoth particularly needed more room to breathe than just patch 8.3, but I could also see a world in which Blizzard would do it like they did with Sargeras – just to tick the box and move to the next bit of lore, with the Void Lords still being a possible future threat.
However, the idea of losing to N’Zoth actually makes a lot of sense to remedy my concerns with that idea. Let’s dive into why.
Patch 8.3: We Lose, And The Way Forward Is Death
In my vision of this content, patch 8.3 would see us fail to defend Azeroth against N’Zoth, our petty faction conflict having blinded us to the building threat until it was too late, and our last-ditch efforts fail to contain the Old God. Khadgar sacrifices himself to buy us time to escape, to lick our wounds and regroup to handle the threat. The end of the raid would then be somewhat ambiguous – N’Zoth wins, but what his victory means for now would be somewhat unclear.
In our finale event for Battle for Azeroth, then, the stakes for 9.0 need to be raised. So N’Zoth has infected the world-soul of Azeroth, and the nascent titan has fallen to void. Azeroth is lost…but there is hope yet. Bwonsamdi, The Lich King, other infamous death-related NPCs all come together to offer us a real path forward – the power of death. The Void fears death as a force, with their contempt and desire to end Sylvanas being made quite clear in the Windrunners comic. For the time being, we need to abandon Azeroth to find the means of her salvation – but where to?
Patch 9.0 – Welcome to the Shadowlands
The Shadowlands are, in lore, quite similar to the Emerald Dream. Existing as a parallel plane to Azeroth, mirroring its physical space but plunged into a chilling darkness. We’ve had increasingly more references to it, with Chronicle codifying its existance in the lore, and the 8.1 Vol’Jin quests indicating via Bwonsamdi that Icecrown exists as an anchor between the two planes.
So we have some players that would have some interest in a trip to them, chief among them The Lich King, who would serve to aid our trip as the individual currently ruling the region that anchors Azeroth to the Shadowlands, Bwonsamdi who is serving a mysterious leader who controls his actions, as hinted at in several bits of quest text across BfA. Sylvanas, if she makes it to 9.0 alive, may very well be interested in the trip as well – if she is an ally or enemy is another matter. Calia Menethil, first of the lightforged undead, may also seek to make the trip. The key characters are all lined up for a compelling and varied cast with key roles that span both current factions.
What purpose would our trip serve? Simple – to gain the power of death that the Void fears in Sylvanas, gather intel on the movements of the Old Gods by using the mirror nature of the Shadowlands to scout without being seen, and to gather our forces, regroup after the loss in 8.3, and to strike back at the Old Gods and reclaim Azeroth.
So what happens in the lead-up to this epic showdown? Well, if I had to wager, a safe bet would be that the subplot of Battle for Azeroth will also carry us into 9.0 – that being the descent of Sylvanas. Left with only two val’kyr currently, the Banshee Queen has made new enemies left and right while enraging her existing enemies and steadily eroding her base of support within the Horde. However, she has managed, thus far, to avoid any direct attempts on her life. I imagine that as the end of BfA looms closer, this is likely to change, with Saurfang and Zekhan, Baine Bloodhoof, and the full might of the Alliance wishing her dead (well, more dead). While I do think it would be a disservice to the character of Sylvanas to end the expansion with her death, the possibility looms heavily that she will not make it alive to the end of BfA. As we inch closer to the Void and Old Gods, she will only continue to add enemies, and her use of Xal’Atath in 8.2 will presumably only irritate those forces more. In fact, I could see the Windrunner line being paid off with her death prior to the raid against N’Zoth – for whatever reason the Void wants her dead, it will seek to do so ever more forcefully as we move closer to the forces of said Void.
In my speculation, the patch cycle of 9.0 would largely focus on the immediate threats and needs in the Shadowlands, with storytelling about what the Lich King has been up to since he brought back the Four Horsemen with a new generation, more Bwonsamdi screen time, and likely the very real presence of Calia Menethil and the lightforged undead being expanded upon further. However, the ultimate focus of the content cycle is to get us to (presumably) 9.3, and to a second showdown with N’Zoth. Inevitably, our growth in the Shadowlands and the exposure to the forces of death the void fears so will lead us to victory against N’Zoth…this time. There is just one problem with that.
Avenging the Loss of Azeroth Does Not Fix The Problem
The core concept we’d be guided by in seeking to end N’Zoth is to restore Azeroth to peaceful non-corruption. However, in failing to stop N’Zoth the first time, and needing to take the time we did to build our strength in the Shadowlands, we’re ultimately set up for an even bigger threat – and a scarier prospect.
If this idea even ends up being remotely true, well, then there is only really one foe we could face in 10.0 (this is the earliest I’ve started an expansion hype train, so brace now!)…
That foe would be the Dark Titan…Azeroth.
Take a deep breath, because we’re going off the deep end now.
Azeroth being a foe to us makes a ton of sense to me, from the perspective of future content. The single most influential character in Warcraft lore is, unquestionably, Azeroth itself. It is the key that unlocks nearly all the lore. Sargeras is (was) a threat because he wanted Azeroth dead before she could be turned by Void. The Titan Pantheon converged on our world because of Sargeras’ ill intent for it. The Old Gods seek to corrupt Titan World-souls, and ours is the most legendary. The Void seeks to darken all of creation, and the bright spark of Azeroth cannot stand in their perfect, dark universe.
Now, while all of that is true, what we haven’t discussed yet is why/how Azeroth would turn on us.
This is how I think it would go – ultimately, N’Zoth corrupting the World-soul serves to spawn a Dark Titan. It is the sole purpose the Old Gods have in carrying out their machinations. A world-soul is a state of Titan in development – it has senses and can use a Speaker (Magni in our case) to communicate in broad strokes – visions it sees, feelings, and the like. Azeroth, as a world-soul, has seen a lot of strife. Through it all, there was but one constant – us, the heroes of Azeroth, keeping her safe from the large threats that sought to harm her. In the final hours of Battle for Azeroth, we will fail her, and N’Zoth, whisperer of lies, will tell what is effectively a corrupted child Titan that we abandoned her. Left alone, wounded, bleeding, and with the only voice in her head telling her that we have done wrong by her? Why, it would be harrowing enough to make nearly anyone snap. Now imagine doing it to a child – because that is what it would be.
Azeroth will reach Titan puberty (which, I’m sure, is an awkward time for planetary beings all the same) and emerge with the same things every teen has – a bad attitude, a poor ability to assess situations, and a desire to rebel against their guardians. N’Zoth will no longer be around to whisper to her, but at that point, it won’t matter – we’ve come back and made our glorious return by killing the one creature left that was speaking with her. Azeroth will be our enemy in this scenario, and as a growing Dark Titan, she will be the biggest threat we’ve ever faced. However, we will ultimately have to face her.
Killing the world-soul would solve some of the problems we’ve faced over the years. The Old Gods would cease to have any interest in Azeroth knowing that the world-soul they targeted is gone. However, what effect it would have on the planet remains to be seen. Argus, while a world tortured by a million other malefactors, ultimately suffered a great deal as its world-soul was tormented and imprisoned by Sargeras. As a biome, Argus is not particularly inspiring or desirable.
Beyond that, I can’t even really speculate what would happen – a Dark Titan would indeed be a new threat beyond what the current lore really has in its parameters. I’d have to imagine that even if killing it is the correct course of action, who is to say that we even could?
I find the idea fascinating, however, because from a storytelling perspective, players have so much invested in Azeroth regardless of faction or point of origin within the series. Fighting her, having to witness the birth of the Dark Titan, would be a really loaded and interesting plot point, with a lot of branching paths Blizzard could take to get there and after. It would serve as a more interesting introduction to the Void Lords, as they are kind of just defined as a vague powerful threat now, where Azeroth as a Dark Titan would be a way to sharply raise the stakes.
With that, I’ll take my tinfoil hat off and move on to talking about what is actually happening!