With Sylvanas and Anduin at the forefront
In 1994, Warcraft started with a simple premise: Orcs versus Humans. It was an age-old idea that built off the precepts from classic fantasy novels and tabletop games, and one that endured for decades into the zeitgeist MMO iteration that played off of the classic RTS series.
23 years later, Blizzard would announce World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, an expansion that once again sees the horde and alliance battling it out for supremacy. While it’s an obvious ploy to play up the whole “faction battle” mentality that seeps through the meta, Blizzard also maintains they’ve been building up to the idea for years.
“You really can’t say whether or not Sylvanas planned all this,” Creative Director for World of Warcraft Alex Afrasiabi told me in a closed-door interview this weekend at BlizzCon. “That’s what makes her such a great character…I always wanted to leave it open that it’s possible. But those cards were never shown to anyone. She always leaves you with the plausible deniability, like could she have left Varian another minute to survive the Broken Shore? We don’t want to delve that deep into her mind so that we can give you some of those great horde vs. alliance moments where the player can decide.”
He goes on to sow the seeds of conflict in the expansion even further by explaining: “Initially, we had that big horde leadership scene different. When Vol’jin gives Sylvanas the mantle of warchief, and looks past Thrall, what would he do? Well, he wouldn’t let that happen… he just plain wouldn’t be there. That’s why he’s not in there in the final version. We’re not going to start this fight up now, we’ll wait until a little later [after Legion].” “She’s thinking 10 steps down the road,” Senior Art Director Chris Robinson added. “In our terms, she’s already thinking about two expansions from now.”
But a conflict needs more than just one faction, and that’s where the alliance comes in. On the alliance side, Anduin is spurred into action, because as Afrasiabi puts it “daddy’s dead.” “How could he be the king that his father was? It was up to us to really build that storyline, to have him revisit the Broken Shore, to relive the nightmares that kept him up at night. We’ll continue to see more of that from now, until the launch of the next expansion, when we’ll see the lion of Stormwind taking his troops to battle.”
After players just went to Argus, the usurped homeworld of the eredar, to take on the Burning Legion (a force that seemed insurmountable in prior expansions like Burning Crusade), this is the natural next “big thing” to tackle. As I walked through the halls of BlizzCon the past few years it’s commonplace to hear “for the horde/alliance” battle cries every hour or so. Blizzard clearly knows what they’re doing here, and the idea of a big worldwide event like this will probably play out better than the polarizing Cataclysm did.
Going into the lands of the expansion itself, Robinson explained their new design concept to bring out the character of every area: “We used to, and for a long time, we were thinking about isolated zones, especially the troll empire. We stopped talking about individual zones, like a desert, and how to build around it. Instead, this is way more about choosing a specific place, and then seeing how they’ve grown in these areas, sometimes, for centuries…we want you to go into an area, like a swamp area, and see how that place was formed and how the environment reflects the cultures there.”
Having played the starting zones for both Zandalar and Kul Tiras in a BlizzCon build, I can agree with the notion that the stories of each are enriched by this philosophy. The former is the most impressive by far, showcasing a giant blood moon above a troll necropolis, complete with a very showy NPC and an early quest that involves disguising yourself as a blood troll. Then, bam — I started running in another direction and there was a complete tonal shift to a bright, lush jungle complete with dinosaurs. I went from Zul’Drak to Un’Goro in seconds without it feeling like the transition was jarring. Like most of Legion, it feels worthy of being called an expansion.
Before my time was up though I wanted to check on the possibility of another hero class. Robinson fielded this one, stating, “We’ll do another hero class if it makes sense. I know initially we said ‘no more’ after the Death Knight, but if it works organically, we can do it. In fact we weren’t even going to do the Demon Hunter at first, but eventually we realized, we kind of had to.” Unfortunately, the duo couldn’t answer any questions about WoW: Classic other than a canned “we’re dedicated” response.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth will presumably arrive in the back half of 2018 (we don’t know for sure, but expansions typically do), and will bring with it a new level cap of 120, more dungeons and raids (there will be 10 of the former at launch, with the Mythic+ system returning), the ability to recruit allied races, a 20-person co-op frontline map called Waterfront, a Titan gear mechanic that seems similar to artifact weapons, more kingdoms/islands to explore, and a plunder system that involves exploring uncharted territory.