BlizzCon, the annual convention where Blizzard reveals its plans and celebrates the communities that support its games, is just around the corner. There'll be news regarding Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and much more, but many fans are most curious what the event will mean for the long-running MMO, World of Warcraft. Based on recent rumblings, it seems like the answer is a new expansion announcement.
In a 'Year in Review' video posted to the World of Warcraft YouTube channel at the end of September, game director Ion Hazzikostas said "I know players are wondering, 'What's coming next? Where could we possibly go after this climactic battle that awaits us?' And I can't wait to tell everybody more about it at BlizzCon."
True, he doesn't actually say the word 'expansion,' but patch 7.3 is (as far as we know) supposed to be the last major content added to Legion, and that's now live (save for a Raid coming in patch 7.3.5). So unless Blizzard is going to surprise everyone with the announcement of yet more Legion patches, it seems a safe bet to expect an expansion reveal.
But Hazzikostas asks a good question: where do we go from here? Well, thanks to datamining files on the WoW Public Test Realm, plus a few story beats from Legion, I think I have an idea or two. So let me give you a breakdown of what I reckon the next WoW expansion will contain - and don't worry, I'm going to try to do it without getting lost in the weeds of constantly-retconned lore. Try.
A transition away from Legion
Spoilers for the end of Legion ahead.
So the first thing to know about World of Warcraft going into the next expansion is what plot threads this expansion wraps up. And hoo boy, does Legion's story go back. See, eons ago (shit, here come those weeds) there were enormous beings called Titans. These cosmic-scale entities roamed the stars, bringing order to an imperfect existence while seeking out more of their own kind. This ultimately proved fruitless, and one Titan was driven insane by pursuing such an impossible task. His name is Sargeras. Still with me?
A recent datamine of the WoW PTR suggests that Sargeras will be imprisoned at the end of Legion's story. However, before he's sealed away, he stabs Azeroth (the planet WoW takes place on) with his sword. Normally, having your home planet stabbed by an enormous version of Space Satan would be seen as a bad thing, but it's not all negative - at least depending on your perspective - because something similar has happened before.
Long ago, when Azeroth was young, it was infested with the Old Gods. These parasitic creatures wield immense power and seemingly cannot be killed. In fact, just trying to remove one of these monsters ended up causing the arcane lifeforce of the planet to start spilling onto the surface in the form of raw, magical energy.
As far as WoW history goes, chalk that event up to a Definitely Not Good moment. However, the outpouring of such energy also changed the landscape of Azeroth for the better. The 'wound' stabilized. Trolls who settled near it evolved into the wise Night Elves. Horses which grazed on the nearby grass and drank from magic-imbued streams became unicorns. If Sargeras has opened a new wound, those with ambition could attempt to control the new source of power and reshape the world to their own ends.
The Old Gods return
Those Old Gods I mentioned have been a known threat lurking in the shadows of WoW for some time. We've even fought a few, though they've never been front and center of an expansion. Throughout Legion, there have been subtle clues that foretell of their ascension to glory. The Raid boss Il'gynoth, which seems to be a minion or manifestation of the Old Gods' influence, whispers prophecies of kings being made into pawns, players being lied to, and a return of ancient evil.
If you play as a Priest character, you can obtain a weapon infused with Old God power that will occasionally whisper (yes, it's a talking dagger) that "the God of the Deep writhes in his prison, breaking free ever so slowly. You should hurry and defeat the fallen Titan... there are greater battles yet to fight." Here, "God of the Deep" is likely referring to N'zoth, one of the Old Gods.
And speaking of fallen Titans, let's go back to the aforementioned planet stabbing. Arguably more interesting than Sargeras' final act of vengeance itself is where the wound is: a region called Silithus. There's a lot of history about this place, but basically all you need to know is that it was once among the Old Gods' strongest footholds on Azeroth, and one of them is imprisoned very close by. It's definitely possible that Sargeras' strike could have freed this beast, or the erupting mana could empower it.
Another piece of possible evidence suggesting the Old Gods' involvement comes from a separate datamine that happened earlier this year, which revealed armor pieces not currently available featuring barnacles and tentacle details. That might sound like a simple nautical theme that has nothing to do with slumbering monsters, but it also fits with the idea of taking on a God of the Deep.
A new land
Whether it's a completely new location or a rework of old zones, every WoW expansion has given players a fresh locale to explore. And wouldn't you know it - the armor I just mentioned was also notable for its ties to a region called Kul Tiras. The file names mention Kul Tiras specifically, while the robes themselves seem to feature a map of the nation sewn into the fabric. Could this be our new stomping ground?
Besides the possible connection to the Old Gods, Kul Tiras also has a link to one of WoW's most prominent figures: Jaina Proudmoore. Even if you're a casual Blizzard fan, you've likely seen her around since her introduction in Warcraft 3. The female mage is featured on BlizzCon 2017 promo art, narrated Hearthstone's Knights of the Frozen Throne trailer, and recently received a skin in Heroes of the Storm that plays on a popular fan meme. So yeah - she's been getting a lot of attention lately, and it seems likely that would continue with WoW's next expansion.
Her father, Lord Admiral Daelin Proudmoore, once ruled Kul Tiras and made war on the Horde with his army of warships. With Daelin long since dead, the people of Kul Tiras would no doubt have interesting reactions to Jaina should she find her way home. Some might instantly throw their support behind her and want to instate her as queen, while others could feel that the Alliance has failed them and hate Jaina with every fiber of their being. It's a hypothetical situation rife with potential drama.
It may feel strange that the WoW map started with two continents, and now players seem to be discovering new landmasses every other year, but 1) hey, that's just how video games work, and 2) just because they haven't shown up on a map doesn't mean they weren't there before. We knew about Northrend since 2002 thanks to Warcraft 3, but it didn't show up in WoW until 2008.
And in the case of Kul Tiras, we know that place exists, we just don't know exactly where thanks to the events of the Cataclysm expansion. This upcoming expansion could settle that mystery, get caught up with Jaina, and give us a new area to explore all in one.
A new playable race
Almost every World of Warcraft expansion has added a new playable race or a new class. Burning Crusade added the Draenei and Blood Elves as races, Wrath of the Lich King made Death Knights a playable class, Cataclysm let us play as Worgen and Goblins, Mists of Pandaria doubled up by giving players a new race (Pandaren) and class (Monk), while Legion sorta retconned the timeline to make Demon Hunters a new class.
Warlords of Draenor is the odd one out here, but considering the heavy amount of criticism Blizzard faced for that expansion's lack of content and how much the company made up for it with Legion and subsequent patches, I would think the lesson has been learned: don't skimp on the good stuff. And arguably the best of that good stuff, the thing that every WoW fan dreams of pre-expansion reveal, is what new thing we'll get to play as.
With Legion having just added Demon Hunter, I don't think another new class is in the cards for this expansion. More likely, we'll see a new playable race. Given the story beats I mentioned above, two stand out as particularly likely: Naga and Ethereals.
Naga have been at or near the top of fan-requested races since vanilla WoW, and for good reason - they're f-ing rad. These snake-like beings used to be Night Elves, until they were corrupted by the Old Gods, so the lore fits quite well if we are indeed going to be fighting ancient, hard-to-pronounce threats. Only problem? No pants. The Naga slither around on tails, not legs, so making any lower body armor work with their model may be more hassle than it's worth. Most of them are also suuuuuper evil, but hey, Blizzard made Illidan a good guy so... shrug?
Ethereals also have strong lore ties to the Old Gods and, more directly, their masters the Void Lords (because behind every good bad guy is an even worse puppetmaster). The story goes that the Ethereals' planet was consumed by a Void Lord, leaving them as bodiless beings of pure energy. Blizzard introduced new Ethereal NPC models in a recent patch, suggesting that whether they're going to be made playable or not, the company wants them to look good as they're brought back into the spotlight. The issue with Ethereals is that by nature they're featureless (though this could be circumvented by having different bandage patterns and glow color instead of facial features and skin color), and there's currently no female model.
All that said, there's another option that's been discussed by the playerbase: sub-races. Azeroth is a wide and varied world, with far more species and races than we're currently allowed to play as. And even among what's selectable, we know there are further breakdowns. For example, there aren't just "Trolls" - there are Amani Trolls, Darkspear Trolls, Drakkari Trolls, Sandfury Trolls, and more. Blood Elves are just corrupted High Elves. In Legion, we met Nightborne Elves and Highmountain Tauren. This list goes on for awhile.
Perhaps Blizzard will opt for something not quite as deep as a totally new race, but will instead expand on current options by giving players the choice to choose a sub-race. If this ends up being the case, all I ask for is a female Worgen that doesn't look like a chihuahua strung out on cocaine.
More player customization
WoW is lagging a bit behind the times when it comes to player customization. There are no sliders or percentages to tweak, just a selection of faces, skin/fur colors, hairstyles, and maybe an accessory or two. The advantage to this approach is that it keeps the WoW universe feeling (and looking) coherent. There's no Human so short you'd mistake them for a Dwarf, for example.
The drawback is that every scholarly Mage has the exact same physique as an armor-wearing Warrior, like he's hitting the magical gym for four hours every day between lessons on the difference between Frostbolt and Ice Lance. It's not immersion-breaking (one of WoW's strengths is its exaggerated style), but it means that fewer people get to create their dream avatar.
Even setting aside options like adjustable height or body type, there's room for more customization than we're currently allowed. We've seen NPCs with unique hairstyles, scars, accessories, and so on, but players have been stuck with pretty much the same selection of these attributes since Cataclysm. Let Draenei curl their horns a new way. Let Orcs pierce and decorate their fangs.
Heck, Blizzard could kill two birds with one stone here and make sub-races purely cosmetic, each with a new selection of hairstyles, colors, accessories, and/or other distinguishing features. Throw in the ability to customize your character's dance (a feature that was announced for Wrath of the Lich King but never materialized) and you'll make a lot of people happy.
Okay, me. It'll make me happy, at least.
The return of faction warfare
Once upon a time, WoW was about two factions - the Horde and the Alliance - battling each other while they simultaneously fought more menacing threats. It created a fair bit of animosity in the playerbase, but also made allies feel that much more close-knit. Understandably, some players would like a return to those good old days of calling each other 'filthy Horde' and 'Alliance scum.'
But nowadays, the threats are so large that all-out war between factions doesn't make much sense, even if various leaders still clearly hate each other. Plus, it's easier than ever for players to create a character on the opposing side, and Blizzard now allows a single account to have multiple characters spread across both factions on the same server (something you couldn't do in vanilla WoW). For these reasons, I don't see Horde vs Alliance being a major factor in the next expansion. That said, I have a bit of a wild theory; humor me on this.
Near the end of Legion, we're reunited with Turalyon and Alleria - two characters from Warcraft lore who have been missing for a long, long time. During their absence, these two have trained in powers of the Light (the magic that Paladins and Priests tap into) and the Void (the negative energy practiced by Shadow Priests). Generally these forces are seen as purely good and purely evil respectively, but some events in Legion show that's not always the case; servants of the Light can be forceful and selfish, imposing their will onto others whether they like it or not, and the Void can be harnessed for the forces of good.
One of Legion's final patches also introduced a way of enhancing player weapons, either with Light or Void energy. So my tantalizing hypothetical is, what if Blizzard took that concept further and allowed players to choose a new faction: those that serve the Light vs those that wield the Void? Granted, this would mess with established lore (not sure how you'd have a Void Paladin, for example), but it could grant players a ton of new and fun powers much like Legion's Artifact Weapons mechanics did, mix up the status quo on who's good and who's bad, and introduce all sorts of new party dynamics.
As far as guesses for what WoW's next expansion will hold, this is by far my wildest speculation. But then, making these pie-in-the-sky guesses is all part of the pre-announcement fun.
What about you? What big ideas would you implement or think are coming in the next expansion?