In part 1 of this series, we focused in on the expectations and speculation of what I predict we’ll see in 9.2 and 9.3. In part 2, we explored the idea of a light/void themed expansion still to come, using my part 1 speculation of endboss Tyrande as a jumping off point.
But you might have noticed that short of introductory characters, I stayed pretty light on actual plot points in part 2. Why is that?
Well, I think an interesting thing happening in WoW right now is that we’re starting to inch closer to that point where it doesn’t feel like there are that many established characters or lore points in WoW that we haven’t already tread upon. There are a few high-level themes and some things we could definitely still explore, but I think that looking at the state of play right now, there just isn’t a lot of meat on the bones that do remain. Of course, that is right now, in the beginning of a new expansion – there are still story beats to come and connective lore tissue to build up, so I won’t say it is a portent of doom or anything.
Instead, in this post, I want to go deeper with something a little less speculative in many ways, and dial in more on the remaining lore points, characters, and plot threads we can explore – from now into the future, including some of the things I speculated about in prior posts!
The First Ones
One of the cornerstone elements of the Shadowlands story is the sort of mystery around the First Ones and their role in the formation and maintenance of the Shadowlands. Their obelisks are everywhere, as are their other touches – the Waystone out of the Maw, the Shadowlands map in Oribos, the Great Vault, Oribos itself – all constructs left for the keepers of the Shadowlands by these entities. We know precious little about them, other than that they have some connection to the titan Pantheon and the current keepers of the Shadowlands, the Eternal Ones (or Pantheon of Death). What role did they play in the formation of elements outside of the Shadowlands, and are they the true origin of the Purpose?
The Pantheon of Death
The current keepers who watch over the Shadowlands (or seek to upend it for their own means, same difference) are shrouded in a sort of mystery. There are implications that they are related in some way (Sire Denathrius is called “brother” by the Archon, and the Jailer is referred to the same way by the Primus) but then the Winter Queen also calls the Primus a “dear friend.” None of these are conclusive enough to say for sure that characters are or are not related or the nature of their creation. The 9.1 reveal trailer also adds an additional layer of complexity to things – are all of the Eternal Ones keepers of keys? Does Zovaal already have some of the keys outside of what is likely his own?
All of this layers on to existing unexplored lore – when a Warlock player was able to kill Kyrestia the Firstborne in the Spires of Ascension dungeon, she yelled out that all life in Bastion is wiped out. Is the life of an Eternal One tied to their domain in such a way? If so, that adds a lot of twists to the current state of things – revealing that the Primus is alive (which, I mean, we already expect), but also shedding light on the imprisonment of Denathrius after the raid, among other issues. There’s also the matter of the Arbiter, who clearly is important to our future in the expansion but yet is completely out of things at the moment. Lots to untangle there!
Her role in the current story is best described as “confusing and infuriating.” She’s clearly on a road to some sort of retribution despite the wailing of a majority of the playerbase, who wants her to pay for having clearly crossed a line in Battle for Azeroth that bled over into both factions, and even the majority of Sylvanas stans are seemingly pretty done with her current characterization such that I haven’t seen any players even trying to carry water for a retribution story with her at the center. Yet, the elements in play leave it somewhat open – Sylvanas is clearly a more pliant tool for the Jailer than we would have otherwise expected, as the Torghast cinematics both show her parroting talking points from the Jailer and insisting she will not falter to serve, but she also clearly has concerns over the lack of plan to retrieve the now-imprisoned Denathrius and shows a sorrowful gaze upon Anduin in the 9.1 reveal trailer that implies some second thoughts about the machinations of the Jailer.
Indeed, she has a lot of reason to think the Jailer may not be benevolent as she seems to believe, not the least of which is that the Jailer was responsible for the forging of the Helm of Domination and Frostmourne, the latter of which is the very tool that sealed her fate and changed her from the Ranger General of Silvermoon to cursed Banshee Queen, and it is clear from the Jailer’s intrusion into Oribos to grab Bolvar that the Lich King role was intended as some sort of herald for the Jailer. Sylvanas, if she continues on her current path, will be assisting the very same person who is in some ways responsible for the most impactful moment of her life, one that filled her with hatred and sent her on a quest for vengeance against the mortal perpetrator in Arthas. Yet, if the Jailer was truly responsible in some ways, it creates a tension in Sylvanas’ story, one where the role she serves today is diametrically opposed to her actual desires.
I hope that 9.1 is her last gasp and that the story on-offer doesn’t force us to endure an unbearable Sylvanas redemption no one is asking for, but I’m prepared to be disappointed!
He gets his own item because outside of his role in the Pantheon of Death as a whole, he has a lot going on. Why did he need a herald on Azeroth via the Lich King? What role does he play in the Legion, given that the Legion was at least partially responsible for bringing the artifacts that created the Lich King to Azeroth? What is his current plan, and who are his pawns? Is he truly working collaboratively with Sylvanas, or is she being made into a pawn without knowing? What secrets of the First Ones does he need and to what ends? Also, how’d he get banished anyways?
She’s got a fair amount going on – Sylvanas’ coming boss status is an obvious cue for her to get on stage again, as is the Night Fae campaign’s discovery that she’ll need to split her power of the Night Warrior with someone else or risk dying to it. Will she find someone in time? Will she play a larger role in the raid fight against Sylvanas?
The Shadowlands Time Skip
We know time in the Shadowlands moves more slowly than on Azeroth, but how much so is unknown. Our whole story focuses in on the role we play in the Shadowlands, and short of a last-patch diversion, I expect we’ll be in the Shadowlands for the vast majority of the expansion, in new zones, until Blizzard is ready to ship us back to the shock of a time-skipped Azeroth. The questions there are fairly clear – what threats will Azeroth face in our absence, how many of our established lore characters will remain alive when we arrive back on the planet, and all that feeds into how well we’ll be received upon our return. Characters that seem pivotal to themes we’ll be facing in the future (light/Void) remain on Azeroth, which…seems convenient…
Either way, there will be a lot to explore once we return!
The relationship of light and void has been a recurring theme for years now, and yesterday’s part 2 post went into that in more detail. There are so many potential things that could emerge from this, as the Light has a series of strong and overbearing characters like Turalyon and Yrel, where the Void has Alleria and the Void Lords waiting in the wings, although how capable they’ll be of finding us without the Old Gods is unclear.
Does he live through Shadowlands? Do we un-corrupt him? What is the nature of his transformation as seen in the 9.1 trailer?
They’re a mysterious lot, and hopefully Tazavesh gives us a lot of the fun lore here, because there seems to be a lot they know about what is going on that we don’t!
They’re supposed to be from the In-Between and appear in every Shadowlands zone somewhere, alongside having a couple of different bosses in dungeons and a raid boss in Hungering Destroyer. Their actual nature is…somewhat less known, and it would be interesting to explore. It does feel like we’ll probably end up at a Devourer zone at some point in the near future, but I expect it will be a side-story and we won’t be doing much there save for perhaps a new dungeon. Friendly devourers would be fun too!
Dead Famous Lore Characters
Arthas has yet to be seen, but has been hinted at strongly. There’s more of Uther to see, more Draka lore surely, and Garrosh is supposedly in Revendreth but has yet to be seen in-game (also, scrawny vampire Garrosh would be an incredible plot point, let’s fucking do it Blizzard!). Helya has a role still to play, and the fallout of the issues with the Loa at the end of the Night Fae campaign would be interesting to explore. It seems a longshot now, but Varian could be brought to the stage sometime if they want the gut-punch that would be. There’s obviously a rich history of dead heroes and villains in Warcraft beyond just these, so until we know otherwise, everything is potentially on the table.
They’re pretty strongly hinted at via a collectible in Shadowlands, and Denathrius has all the telltale signs of a Dreadlord (tall and wide, horns, hooves, named Denathrius which sounds like the Dreadlord’s racial name the Nathrezim) but there isn’t much on the table here yet. Obviously, Dreadlord involvement with any story is an excellent retcon trigger, as anything that doesn’t make full sense now can be made to make sense if the lore is a series of events being orchestrated by the Nathrezim.
The best part for me about this is that it follows up on the presence of Lothraxion in Legion and implies he too is involved in nefarious Dreadlord stuff, which also does an excellent job of setting up the idea of evil Light!
The Void Lords
A separate item here, because while they’re likely (in my estimation) to end up involved in any story of Light, they have a lot going on, especially without the Old Gods around on Azeroth at this time.
She’s still alive and out there. Doing what? Who knows.
One thing you’ll notice with these points is that most of them (the vast majority) are tied to Shadowlands and their lore relevance to us dies off when the expansion ends. There are precious few remaining full story beats on the table for today, with the Dreadlords and the Light/Void issue being the longest-term storytelling we can get. There’s other elements that can be brought in – the nature of Azeroth’s world-soul, the characters that will come back with us and how they’ll be changed, etc – but for the future of the game, a lot of new storytelling is going to be needed to bring things up to par.
That is my overall message with this series of posts – I do think there is some ease right now in predicting where the expansions go from here, because there are so few remaining major plot points that aren’t just retreads, but time-skipping means that we could very well do a Light theme in 10.0 and then use that story content to establish a new Azerothian order full of new characters and lore, instead of having to break out and reheat the same RTS characters that most of the MMO-audience of WoW just aren’t connected to.
What will we actually get? Well, time will tell. In a non-COVIDian era, this year would be new expansion announcement time, but between delays in Shadowlands launch, in 9.1, and the possibility of there not even being an in-person Blizzcon for 2021 either, it remains to be seen where we go from here. A commenter on a recent post even speculated Shadowlands might pull a Warlords of Draenor and go two major patches to break away and move on sooner, and I don’t know if I can discount that possibility out of hand so easily!
Either way, Shadowlands itself has a good number of remaining plot points and I am curious to see how Blizzard sticks the landing!