We’ve discussed before the mythical document which seems to have predicted future Expansions before they even existed. I’ve just taken ownership of the latest volume of Warcraft’s ‘amended’ history as a giveaway on Twitter next month, which effectively re-writes the current ‘canon’ to align with what has gone before and (presumably) what will soon become reality. As we discussed yesterday, once 7.2 hits the live servers, we’re in an interesting place: the Company has already told us what happens next, but apart from a name, nobody has the faintest idea what ‘going to Argus’ will entail. I have my own ideas of what might yet be to come, and in the great Tinfoil Tradition that this site has upheld over the years, it is time to discuss some details.
I think I might need to do a visual for this, two seconds:
The Warcraft Dev team is always trying to stay one step ahead of players, but at the same time it remains very much true to its roots. I doubt a statue of Chris Metzen would exist at Blizzard HQ, cast in the mould of him as Walt Disney, unless that original ‘Orcs v Humans’ narrative wasn’t very important to everything the Company produces going forward. If you look at how that is imagined, it can be defined in quite specific means, too: the same places, key protagonists, and a desire to ensure players are being both reassured by the same stories, repeated time after time. It is a comic book in pixel form: the ‘time is a flat circle’ theory still holds up quite well even on the Broken Isles. The problem, of course, is how you develop your world when people’s demands for content is constantly on the rise, and you have little or no time to work ahead… well, in this game’s existence that’s easy to fix.
You just use the key elements from each Expansion and repeat them, learning along the way.
A smart writer can let characters and situations talk to them: the Warcraft Universe was full of great things well before we went back to the past: the mis-step there was a Company assuming that plot didn’t matter as much as action, which any writer will tell you puts everybody on a hiding to nothing. However, what Warlords did, like it or not, was re-imagine the entirety of Azeroth exactly as The Burning Crusade expansion had, all those years ago. It also returned to front and centre the Draenei, who have been consistently the most popular of the non-Azerothian races since they first appeared. I argue the writers picked this race as a good foundation to assist with reimagining the next chapter of Warcraft’s journey, and using their own homeland as a foundation, Orcs as ‘baddies’ were effectively relegated to the sidelines.
Once it became apparent how many people would play a Demon Hunter? The die was cast, and the Legion became the new, Bigger Bads. However, there were still loose ends to tie up from the abortive push into the past, and so Gul’dan’s dispatch on a platform owes more than just a nod to Arthas’ final elimination and removal from the timeline. Legion re-imagines years worth of reputation mechanics and establishes a new world where the past is no longer ignored as source material. No legacy content is beyond re-engineering either, as this weekend’s cleverly Hearthstone themed tie-in demonstrates. When you’ve used Warcraft as the means to create a number of spin-offs, there’s no problem reflecting back that recycling from other titles. What is important in the Wrath/Legion connection is that this is the moment when the Company understands that to move the whole narrative forward, there really does need to be a seismic shift in attitude.
Back in Legion Alpha, for a brief period, a major player in Pandaria was present on the Broken Isles, but subsequently vanished. The fact they existed at all tells the writer in me that the narrative staff know this person needs to continue to exist, because he’s never been kileed off in the current timeline. Legion however, like it or not, was ‘too soon’ for this to happen, and so it would make logical sense that with that NPC’s very accurate prediction of the fate of Azeroth, they’ll be featuring somewhere in the next Expansion’s narrative. What Cataclysm did for many players was destroy the sanctity of timelines and zones they had come to love. How I feel the next Expansion will work, and how that links with the present is that this will in some way be returned, but with a twist. Make sure your tinfoil is really well secured, because now stuff is likely to get really funky.
I predicted, back in Draenor, of the possibility that Azeroth could be due a much needed and long-overdue visual makeover from the ground up. The Broken Isles has produced architecture that could easily serve as a foundation for this, alongside all the visual elements that were produced for Garrisons. The problem of course is that many of the race-specific buildings for other factions have yet to receive such work: yet there are elements from Cataclysm zones that could easily be used or simply ‘freshened’ to do the job. What we’ve not seen any of yet, but which has been extensively discussed, is that the 1-100 levelling process is in dire need of an overhaul, including how Professions work on that journey. Now we have a system of learning that would work regardless of where you began, that could simply be amended to stretch across multiple dungeons and instances as a player levels, this should be less problematic. However, it is the scaling ability of the external world that offers the greatest single opportunity to Developers going forward, and coupled with visual improvements means it is more than likely the next Expansion will, as was the case with Cataclysm, happen in the locations we already know and love.
Imagine fighting the Legion in the ruins of Scourge domination as a max level player in Winterguard Keep, or even the Frozen Throne, whilst in the same zone people level without being affected at all. Imagine going to Pandaria to discover that you may have defeated the Sha, but now there’s Demons attacking the places and things you love. Yet, at the same time, the existing zones remain unchanged and can be returned to with a low level alt. If this game is to truly evolve and develop the biggest single obstacle is a persistently evolving and living game world: phasing tech now allows this, as does the max level scaling, and in all honestly it can only be a matter of time before something like this comes to pass. How the Company chooses to do it and how they’d integrate it into the timelines? Well, I have my ideas, the question now becomes how they’d do it.
What remains as a constant in my mind however is after announcing the future was a return to the fight with the Burning Legion, Argus is going to be a place I can see us staying in for a while. That means I’ll be honest with you, I’m not really that excited about 7.2 at all any more.
I’m more interested in what happens next.