Welcome back to the new, second of three parts in a series I’m writing this week about where Shadowlands goes from here. Some housekeeping first – part 1 dealt with the bosses of the remainder of Shadowlands (past 9.1), today’s post will be the next expansion and my speculation about that, and tomorrow’s post will be the remaining lore, characters, and plot threads that will even be available for us to visit past that.
Another quick housekeeping item – today is now March 1st, 2021, and I have made myself a March resolution, which I am stating publicly here – I want to write one post a day this month and publish it. There’s no blog community contest behind it, no theme, no end goal short of exactly what I stated – one post each day for March. That’s it!
With the housekeeping about this series and the blog itself out of the way, let’s have a fun chat about what I suspect WoW 10.0 will be.
First of all, 10.0 is a mighty high number, and I am so fascinated to see WoW still alive and active at this juncture. Not because I necessarily thought it would die, but because when I started playing the game in June 2005 (holy shit my life was so different then) I never would have imagined it would be a constant as it has been. I started playing WoW as an out of high school dude who never had a girlfriend or gone much further away from home than his home state and neighboring ones and now I’ve left the US 3 times (two of which to literally circle the globe), gotten married, and have just had so many things change – but here’s WoW, still sort of the same basic ideas present as they were all those years ago.
There’s no good way to segue away from weird age reminiscence, so let’s just move on!
In my prior post in this series, I dissected what I saw as the endgame (literally) for Shadowlands – a fight with Tyrande on the burned-out husk of Teldrassil, as her Army of the Black Moon struggled to contain the Night Warrior powers in their high priestess, and ultimately failed. In that post, I wrote a lot of stuff about Elune, and I will summarize a bit of it quickly before getting to the meat of this post.
Elune is many things in the WoW mythos (and the prior post does dive into that) but for our purposes today, the most relevant are that she represents Balance, between many things but also Life and Death, between Light and Darkness, and is heavily implied by Khadgar in Legion to be the creator of the Prime Naaru, X’era. She may also very well be a Naaru herself, but that is the whispers of many, Velen included. With this, her often representing the role of Balance is well met – Naaru themselves cycling between a Void and a Light phase.
Put a pin in all of that, because we’re going to sidestep to something else now.
Throughout the last handful of expansions, companion novels, and bits of lore from Q&As, Blizzcon panels, and dev interviews, we also know that the WoW universe’s perception of light and darkness is perhaps skewed. Historically, Light is always a force for good and Void a force for evil, but particularly in Legion, the contrast was made less clear, with X’era attempting to enforce her will on Illidan and servants of the Void working with us to vanquish the Legion, most notably Alleria Windrunner. In fact, we are reintroduced to Alleria and her husband Turalyon as a direct contrast of these forces – Turalyon serving the Light blindly, often coming across poorly, while Alleria manages her Void powers much more discreetly and does not lash out. This was also quite nicely the theme that drove the early part of the current FFXIV expansion, Shadowbringers, whose main hook was built around oppressive light, although the form of that is much different than the themes and manner in which WoW is building that tale.
Battle for Azeroth had a lot of Void imagery, especially in the final patch as we tussled with N’Zoth and his Black Empire, but it also had a brief interlude of Evil Light, as the Mag’har Orc quest involved returning to AU Draenor to find that Yrel has conquered the planet, forcing all who remain to serve the Light and leading a genocidal quest against the remaining Orcs who hold out. (Sidenote – what the fuck was up with all genocides to start off BfA? I think the UN would be very displeased.)
Shadowlands thus far has been fairly light on this theme, but we’ve had a couple of hits on it – Anduin’s mastery of the Light is what saves us from the Jailer during the Escape from the Maw scenario, while Revendreth uses Z’rali, an enslaved Naaru, as the means by which the Ember Ward was seared with light by Denathrius to punish the Venthyr of Sinfall, and a sidequest chain and series of randomly cycling World Quests in Bastion discuss a past state in which the Void was invading the zone.
However, I think it is fairly common speculation at this point that the remaining theme that makes the most sense for the future of WoW is the conflict of Light and Void. To that point, there is a fair amount of underlying hints that push in that direction – keeping us exposed to it in Shadowlands, revisiting those themes – all of it feel fairly intentional.
So what is the state of things back on Azeroth and how we end up there?
Well, the remaining clue is in developer interviews. Multiple interviews and developer comments at this point have all pushed a bizarre, unasked talking point, which has since drawn more questions for how weird it was to initially mention – the fact that time moves differently in the Shadowlands. This could be stated for a lot of reasons, but let’s just focus on the actual point for now – Shadowlands time moves slower than on Azeroth, so our simple two-year adventure in the realms of death is longer on Azeroth. How much so, we don’t know. Obviously, this is a slam-dunk Chekhov’s Gun – it has been introduced to the lore with the reasoning that it will set up some future plot point, although what point it would setup is as-yet unknown.
But at this point, the obvious lore hookup is that we’re leaving Azeroth undefended against any number of threats – the Void Lords, the Light, Yrel from AU Draenor coming through to enslave or murder us all, etc – and that once we resolve whatever else remains in Shadowlands, we’re going to land back at home and be in immediate peril. My speculation of the Tyrande at Teldrassil thing assumed it would be back on Azeroth, but let’s just move past that for a moment (could it be a recreation of Teldrassil in the Shadowlands, some sort of ultimate torment, etc, maybe!).
My thinking, tying this all together, is this – Tyrande losing her grasp on the Night Warrior powers and being felled at our hands would be a trigger for Elune to push back, to enforce her will and strike back at those who struck down her blessed warrior. Elune could do this in a lot of ways, but the easiest way to envision it is simply this – by bringing the Light to bear on Azeroth. It could be done strictly as an act of retaliation, but it would also make sense if Azeroth was now crawling with Void Lords, say for example – Elune seeks balance and could very well bring the Naaru to the planet as the means to bring about this balance. This would even work if Tyrande has nothing to do with it – Elune could very well intervene just because of the presence of the Void Lords.
Given the possible length of time we’ll be gone from Azeroth by the end of the Shadowlands, it could be even worse. Azeroth’s greatest champions are mortal and possessed of relatively small lifespans in the grand design, and so if time moves say, 100x faster in Azeroth than the Shadowlands, then we could very well come home to untold catastrophe, with most mortal lives ended, the lands of Azeroth in complete disarray, and no one left to defend it, save for some elves and probably Draenei. Yikes.
That leads me to a bigger point I thought about when I figured 8.0 would be our void expansion…
Azeroth Will Change
New expansions to WoW always sort of come with a weird trope about them – oh look, we suddenly found this old and established landmass and now will do all of our business over here! The Broken Isles were established in WoW lore, but we spent nearly 15 years just skirting around them sailing between continents. Pandaria at least had its Mists, but even that was a sort of handwavy explanation of how we hadn’t seen it yet. Kul Tiras and Zandalar being where they are just further raises questions about why we haven’t been going there before, especially when you consider that any lore considerations (the Kul Tirans being distrustful of the Alliance, etc) wash away just that easily when we do finally arrive.
That leads me to a broader point, though. At this time, adding more landmass to Azeroth is just going to make the game world a jumbled, awful mess, and I think Blizzard is aware of that. You would either need to add more landmasses to the already-cluttered mid-map zone orgy the game has going on, or you’d need to make a 3D globe map with the back of Azeroth populated and pretend that all this time, we’ve been going HAM on just one-half of the globe (this is a popular fan theory because of Ulduar, mostly)(also, Flat Azerothers in shambles).
In another bit of a hunch, I see the time skip that seems built in to Shadowlands as the means to enable something we haven’t seen since Cataclysm – a broad restructuring of the world. If I were Blizzard in this case, I would use the full landmass in a way that it never has been – unifying the continents into a single contiguous world rolled together, and then offering leveling 1-60 (or 50 if we assume they just squish down every expansion) in this new world as well. You could do this via any number of means – Threads of Fate, some sort of journey that mirrors the new expansion leveling or sets up story hooks, or even just letting players level 1-new cap all the way through the main story of the new expansion. I would say to offer these alongside Chromie Time, which should continue, but at the same time the last idea kind of makes Chromie Time feel worthless to a lot of players when you can sprint through leveling to the new cap in what is likely much less time. That isn’t a thought I’ve been deep on, and my suspicion has always been that any massive world shift in the future would come via phasing or a Chromie Time like mechanism where there would be a past and current state for the game world.
Either way, though, I suspect that the current approach of the game has long been building towards the idea of revamping the world and leveling yet again, with the focus being on making it usable in the current expansion (so as to avoid the Cataclysm problem where players focused on the time investment made on revamps versus new content) while also allowing for some additional tweaks to new player experience to draw the potential new players in. And frankly, I think the best long-term trend in WoW is the reuse of existing world content to make the world feel more real and involved. Legion artifacts taking us all over was great because it gave us the reasons to see the world again and explore the revamps of the Cataclysm, which some endgame players had not seen to that point. BfA used pieces of the War Campaign and the launch experience (bitter a pill as that was) to explore and reintroduce pieces of the world that were often less used by players. Shadowlands has very little of this (ICC is back, baby!) but it is still early days and if the next expansion is indeed an aged Azeroth swept by Light and Void, the break may be nice to make the return much more jarring.
As for the characters and themes, well…I think that is worth exploring on its own, and that will make up part 3 of this series, and the final part!