2019 Leak Season – Shadowlands and the Age of Darkness

It’s here, nearly one year after the launch of Battle for Azeroth, and it is time to discuss the leaks.

Or, should I say, “leaks.”

Inevitably, multiple things begin to coalesce around this time of year that make it a likely time for information about the next WoW expansion to be more settled upon. The story closing the expansion has likely already been written and iterated upon, we are only 3 months out from Blizzcon, we’ve seen and completed the 8.2 raid content and are just now patiently waiting for 8.2.5 (which had a CDN file up last week and development notes we’ll be breaking down later today that went up today!), and lastly, of course, we know that at this point, the team has likely been working on 9.0 for close to a year and a half, meaning that most of the principal creative decisions have been made and the design direction for gameplay must be close to settled upon.

Leak posts have a certain amount of nostalgia for me. In 2017, when my blog was still young and fully unknown save for the help of one Alunaria, posting about the Veil of Shadows “leak” sprung my views into orbit as I was linked on both NeoGAF and MMO-Champion. However, that post was about one single “leak” which made it much easier to break down and discuss point by point. With the new leaks, there would just be too much content to break down in a single post, which I think is about how much I should dedicate to these leaks. So this post will encapsulate my thoughts on all of them collectively, with much less detail devoted to the particulars of each individual leak.

Also, a big thanks to Gnomecore and his post on the same matter for the link to the Icy Veins forum post which helpfully consolidates the leaks without forcing anyone to go to the absolute pits of human despair known as 4chan. His post is linked above and a direct link to the Icy Veins post is here.

So let’s begin!

Leak 1: Shadowlands

Right off the bat, this one sort of catches my eye as a direction we could be heading in, given the current lore and storytelling. It does assume that 8.3 doesn’t end the Old God threat, which I think is a double-edged sword – I like that idea because I think we need a full Old God expansion to properly expand the story around these fiends and the massive role they’ve played in the story of Azeroth. However, I also dislike it because I feel like a full Old God expansion will feel very same-y – Legion had to pull in a lot of tricks with sideplots and the like to break up the monotony of fel green. Also, the natural ending to BfA feels like it should be N’Zoth, given that he seems to be pulling a lot of strings, although 8.2.5 war campaign quests should pull back the curtain more.

The idea of two new continents soothes my mind on the monotony front as well – Dragon Isles could be a more colorful and interesting place compared to what I imagine would be the dreary dread of Shadowlands – but my expectations could be exceeded if the Shadowlands evokes death without having to be bathed in gray and black. The new class idea fits, having it be Tinker with a full role spread fits, and having Mail armor fits. An intellect tank would be an odd idea, but I kind of like it – I’m also the weirdo who really wants a Necromancer tank who uses intellect gear but tanks at range via a golem like the Diablo II necro!

From a systems point of view, the idea of scaling doing away with squishes is nice but I also find myself laughing at the thought of the current WoW team being on the ball enough to do away with their squishes and that scaling would make up the gap enough. No new class raid sets for a second expansion in a row sounds so bad I believe it, and the continuation of alternate endgame progression through a secondary talent system sounds fairly possible. Championing the spirits of the dead actually sounds really cool and close to my idea for a Death-themed expansion, so bring that on please. The whole Death’s Vanguard idea is neat, although the lore is going to need a lot of work to bring Elune into that fold. It contains the idea of the Sylvanas double-turn, revealing that she has been working with Helya, so that makes some sense. The whole warring over souls thing both fits but also sounds ridiculous and would need a ton of supporting lore to be delivered – lore I have little faith in Blizzard to deliver.

Overall, I feel like this is pretty possible – it has a mix of no-brainers, cool ideas, and a few really bad stinkers that I could actually see Blizzard doing, and usually the leaks with the most bad ideas end up being closest to the truth, so I think this one is a solid 6/10 leak. I could see it happening (and the accompanying logo and map are nice touches that I actually do like!), but it is still a leak and with the exception of night-before-Blizzcon leaks and the WoD leak, none have been right, so not hanging my hopes on this.

Leak 2: The 4Chan “Dev” “AMA” “Leak”

Supposedly from a member of the art team, so I wouldn’t trust details outside of the modern production pipeline, and it’s on 4chan, so I wouldn’t even trust it in general, but hey! Let’s discuss the presented info.

Azshara survives her raid, which we know now is for sure true, but the post date was on 7/5/2019, before the raid opened, so hey. Still, it was a reasonable guess that we could have made from what we saw on PTR. Goblin and Worgen heritage armor is discussed, with Goblins being gold-themed (duh) and the Worgen armor having both a human, knight-like appearance, and a nightmarish Worgen form appearance. Vulpera and Mechagnomes are discussed as allied races for 8.3, which makes sense. 8.3 is the assault on Ny’alotha, with Sylvanas absorbing the essence of N’Zoth to unify the factions against her, being killed and sent to the Shadowlands (there’s that place again!). Azeroth the titan saves us from Ny’alotha, which is within Azeroth but a separate plane of existence. There will be a Black Empire expansion that spins off from this, with a new world update on par with Cataclysm that is supposedly already well underway with a much larger team than the one that was tasked with the Cataclysm revamp. Guilds get housing, new achievements, mounts, and social features, with the factions being merged and allied races being tucked into customization for existing races. All of the Old Gods will be revived and back in action.

With this, the game systems in this post are at least more promising. Titanforging is gone per this leak, with only warforging remaining and no more Artifact Power grind, and more dungeons available right from the start of the expansion. On classes, Tinker is expected in this leak but with less details, classes are expected to gain some more buttons to undo pruning, and leveling is supposed to gain a new talent system and unique class quests.

Lastly, little extra bits of lore – Bolvar apparently was behind what happened with Vol’jin, Azshara may come back as an ally of ours, and Pandaren Death Knights are being considered (which matches that old Veil of Shadows leak and frankly, I think I would like).

This one reeks of wish listing and also reeks in general from being posted on 4chan. There is a mix of believable elements (Azeroth the Titan coming into focus, Sylvanas dying at the end of BfA, Old Gods coming back to mess things up) and pure fanfiction (Azshara is our buddy?) – and the end result is that it sounds like a few things I could see happening alongside a heavy dose of “yeah right.” Gonna score this one a 3/10 on my arbitrary believability scale!

Leak 3: Age of Darkness

This one also has chan-stink on it, but was posted to Reddit as well, which makes it slightly stinkier. Let’s check the highlights and the lowlights.

It has the only ideas stated around the level squish we expect to see, with us going from 120 to 50. Vanilla will serve as 1-20 territory, TBC/WotLK/Cataclysm for 20-30, MoP/WoD for 30-40, Legion/BfA for 40-50, and the new zones for 50 through the new cap of 60.

It posits a few interesting ideas that push the narrative in a different, but still possible, direction – that the last raid of BfA is actually the Battle of Thunder Bluff (in case you weren’t tired of having raids in Horde capitals yet!), with us fighting Sylvanas as the main expansion enemy prior to N’Zoth unleashing the darkness foretold in Nighthold by Star Augur Etraeus. This idea means that rather than fully new zones, we get a mini-cataclysm, with the new expansion questline introduction unlocking the revamped zones. The story focus sees N’Zoth setting about awakening all of the Old Gods and attempting to seize the power of the Bronze Dragonflight, whil Xal’atath will serve as a sort of antagonist to the Old Gods, having us imprison Sylvanas rather than killing her (tying in nicely to the post-Legion comics about the Windrunners). Southern Kalimdor will be the main focus, with patches revamping Eastern Kingdoms zones. There will be a system similar to Essences to allow unlocking of new abilities, that will resemble closer to the old Glyph systems, with a new talent system alongside that will see brackets at even 10 level increments and mixing in offensive and defensive talents, allowing a choice from each category at each tier. Conquest Points will be used again…as a currency to unlock account-wide bonuses like more damage or higher movement speed.

Cleaning up, we have small details, like the ending of BfA. Besides the aforementioned raid and Sylvanas-jailing, the main points are that 8.2.5 will see us cleaning up after Eternal Palace (you don’t say?) and will lead to 8.3 being set fully in Mulgore, which will become a max-level zone with unlocks and progress similar to Mechagon. Mechagnomes and Gilgoblins are the discussed 8.3 allied races in this leak, and the last part of this leak details that factions will continue, but with some neutrality and the ability to play cross-faction with communication available in-game.

This one I would rate as a solid 5/10 in believability. It has some strong plays (reducing cross-faction burden being really strong) but it also reads the weakest on the lore. I believe the Mulgore thing could very well work – while I don’t think that is ultimately the direction things are heading, it wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Blizzard to decide to keep the Old Gods to their own expansion and to really flesh out that story in the context of its own expansion. Plus, it addresses the cinematic we got in the recent war campaign quests and the Void being afraid of Sylvanas from the connecting comics that Blizzard ran between 7.3.5 and 8.0. It also has a plan for the level squish, which I do think is coming, and uses that opportunity to also refine the talent system, which is a long-needed change.

What’s On The Table for the Future of Warcraft, Anyways?

One thing I think is nice about this leak season, compared to others, is that we have so many directions we can go relative to the other points in the past. Battle for Azeroth as an expansion is not really pushing in any one direction too hard yet, and so from our vantage point today, Eternal Palace done and no concrete story past that point, anything is really possible. Our expectations, as well as a fair amount of in-game lore, point to the Old Gods being the next major threat, but they are flexible on timescale – I could just as easily see them being 9.0 as being 8.3. While Ny’alotha would fit the Argus model well – being a multi-zone mini-continent to give us a lot of additional content to play, it also feels a bit like a disservice to that lore. We can already see the wheels turning for the Heart of Azeroth to be drained of power – the power in it was just used to free N’Zoth from his prison, after all. But, the other thing is this – Blizzard has insisted that this expansion is about faction conflict, and while our running joke as a community has been to scoff and laugh at that idea while points at anything remotely tentacle-y, it could also be the case that they have been telling the truth this whole time, and that the Age of Darkness “leak” with Mulgore as our 8.3 zone could very well be the last patch content we get in BfA.

The thing that is both interesting but also narratively frustrating this expansion is that we have two concurrent plots, neither of which is insignificant enough to be a sideplot. We have the faction conflict, the madness of Sylvanas, and the cracks in the foundation of both major factions, and we have the Old Gods plot, first through actions in Stormsong Valley, Nazmir, and Vol’dun, later through Uldir, and now into Crucible of Storms and Eternal Palace. Neither of these has been low-key enough to be a sideplot, and both have seen a fair amount of movement over the course of the expansion. Wrapping up both could be done in the course of the next 3 patches, but would that be a good ending? I’m not so sure. I think the Old Gods plot deserves more, and while I am certainly no fan of the faction conflict plot, at least with the scenario involving Thrall in 8.2, I am happier with the shape that story seems to be taking.

My larger interest is in gameplay, however, as gameplay is where BfA has repelled me most sharply. Classes are dull and uninteresting, combat feels slower and clunkier in a bad way, the insistence on multiple meaningless grinds as core gameplay has dulled my desire to play outside of my scheduled raid times, and the overall strength of WoW’s gameplay has been ground down sharply by these newfound weaknesses. New classes, new talent systems, un-pruning, and new advancement mechanisms – these are the sorts of things I really care about, and the problem with every leak ever is that gameplay tends to fall a bit to the wayside.

What I like about these leaks, then, is that while I find them all dubious at best, they all at least have something to say about gameplay – yes or no to level squish, expanding scaling to solve that problem, new class, new talent systems, etc – all of these are welcome bits of information that play well with me. I still don’t necessarily trust them, but there are a lot of common-sense revamps that could be made to bring the game up to a far better standard.

Of course, all of these are likely more realistic than my WoW 2 post, but hey – someone has to make these things look grounded, and I guess it is me!

One thought on “2019 Leak Season – Shadowlands and the Age of Darkness

  1. This just hit me: we’ll deal with N’Zoth this expansion, because:

    Developers have explicitly stated that Battle for Azeroth will have two meanings – a battle for terrain and a battle for the Titan. As you’ve pointed out, we see both stories during the expansion – almost equally.

    If there will be a Dark Empire in some way 9.0. and further, then we do no battle for Azeroth the Titan in this expansion. Surely you cannot name world quests a battle? And necklace/Magni story must be resolved, because there will be no azerite in the aftermath.

    Like

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