WoW Factor: Speculating about World of Warcraft’s next expansion
It’s really, really weird to me to think that we’re getting an announcement about a new World of Warcraft expansion next week. Admittedly, we haven’t been told the details yet, but let’s be real here: The only conclusion if we don’t get an expansion announcement is that the game is shutting down. Everything has been set up to pull that trigger, everyone’s expecting it, we all know it. And we’ve even seen rumors, datamining, and hoaxes flying about faster than you can say “someone photoshop up a Murloc in Tier 2 Warrior gear.”
Some of the speculation is, of course, complete hogwash. “The next expansion will bring back talent trees!” “The next expansion is about Jaina as a dreadlord!” “The next expansion will have Blue Mage!” But some of it is, at least, stuff that’s been hinted at. So with a week or so to go, let’s take a look at what we know is on the table as being possible, being plausible, and being reasonable.
We all live in a Draenei subrace team
Sub-races are one of those things that people have been asking for so long that the mere suggestion that they might actually exist feels like too much to hope for. Even with datamining providing a pretty reliable smoking gun, I’m still half-tempted to disbelieve it simply because it’s something I want and therefore something I’m pre-disposed to believe. And yet… here we are, four sub-races arranged in the data file.
Heck, I can even poke holes in some of the counterpoints. Sure, this could just be a new way of organizing NPC races… but why now? Why wouldn’t Nightborne already have been in there? Why would it include Void Elves, something that currently doesn’t exist at all? Wouldn’t Highmountain Tauren have been included back at launch?
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that this is indeed a feature that’s coming. There are currently 13 playable races in the game, and we know about sub-races being mined out for four of them. All of them make a reasonable amount of sense. So what else could we possibly get?
First and foremost, we should assume that any subraces would come from the ranks of things that both make logical sense and have at least some connection to the “main” race. You can argue that Nightborne have a bit more in common with Night Elves than Blood Elves, for example, but your average Nightborne wouldn’t feel exactly confused by Silvermoon City. There needs to be a point of connection, in other words.
Second, it seems obvious that the sub-race should come from something that either already exists in game or does not exactly require a long walk. High Elves coming over to being Void Elves, for example, is a path of about four feet at most.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we should be looking at creation options that don’t require developing and rigging an entirely new model, as that seems to be the goal with what’s already there. The Broken, for example, would theoretically make sense as a Draenei sub-race; Murlocs would not for several reasons, but not the least of them is the fact that they’re not actually rigged for displaying armor.
So, with all that in mind, what options do we have for sub-races? Lots of them.
Trolls: Oh, this one is filled with painfully obvious choices. For one thing, we could get proper access to the bulkier Forest Troll models, although that might necessitate making a proper lady counterpart. (And if you do that, make it muscular as well or be forever branded a coward.) But even without that choice… Zandalari trolls. Ice trolls. Dark trolls. Sand trolls. Forest trolls. You could honestly have red-skinned trolls show up and introduce themselves as Spicy Trolls and everyone would pretty much just shrug and say “sure, whatever.” Trolls contain multitudes.
Dwarves: We’ve had Dark Iron Dwarves and Wildhammer Dwarves around since launch. The former seems like a slightly better option in terms of requiring some siginficant changes, but either one is really just a slight lateral move.
Orcs: Brown-skinned uncorrupted orcs have been flitting around since The Burning Crusade. More unique colorations like the Dragonmaw and the Blackhands of Warlords of Draenor exist, too. In summary, there’s no lack of orc options, either.
Goblins: Ah, here we get into more problematic territory. Gillblins could be made into a Goblin subrace with minimal effort, presumably, but that feels like a bit of a patch job. I can’t help but feel like the best option here would be to offer a subrace of Gnomes here with some slight visual distinction, similar to how Nightborne and Void Elves sound to be like the other faction’s elves.
Gnomes: Alternate-faction Goblins? I just made that suggestion, so it makes some amount of sense. Leper Gnomes are an obvious kludge here, although I question the viability of that substitute.
Humans: And now things just get messy. There aren’t a whole lot of racial variants on humans; the only obvious one would be the Vrykul, which would be reasonable if thematically odd. Assuming that’s not where we go… well, the obvious point of comparison are Gilnean humans, but those look the same as normal humans with better voices. Redeemed Forsaken of some sort, perhaps? Light-infused humans filled with holy power? All of the options are messy.
Undead: The best argument for human sub-races as Vrykul is that having undead Vrykul as a Forsaken sub-race makes perfect sense; Sylvannas is deep in bed with the Vrykul, their undead side is well-known, the val’kyr have been a regular thing, the list goes on. There are also some “undead” humans with ashen complexions and red eyes that could fit in here as well.
Worgen: So… technically, I don’t think there’s anything specifically tying the Worgen to humans. It’s just that there are no other sorts of Worgen. I would unabashedly love it if we could have lady Worgen who look closer to the original models, and a pair of sleeker and more “refined” Worgen models/textures would certainly work to differentiate the race. But you kind of have to build it whole-cloth.
Pandaren: Gosh, where would you start? Pandaren are so resolutely their own thing and already straddle faction lines; it’s hard to know where you could even begin making a variant. This is especially clear when you think about the fact that basically all of the Pandaren NPCs already rely upon the Pandaren model, and you have to introduce something new that also could plausibly leap faction lines. That’s a tricky one, and one where I don’t have any good suggestions.
Obviously, there are some fairly wonky points in here. But I think the point is made; while the wonky ones require a bit more work, those are the edge cases and all can be dealt with. And all of this is an exciting thought, at least to me.
With your races and classes combined
This is another one of those persistent rumors, that new race and class combinations are coming with this expansion. Now, if we were getting no new races, this would feel a little bit thin; after all, we usually get a new race or a new class. But adding a bunch of sub-races does fill things in somewhat, and adding new combination options to the overall matrix would thus make a certain amount of sense. It would, at least, feel like enough in the way of new character options.
Among the more persistent rumors are Night Elf Paladin (which we literally see happen in the Paladin class hall) and Draenei/Tauren Rogue (which has been a rumor for so long it’s almost lost all meaning). There have also been rumors about opening up more Demon Hunter options that somewhat mix the line between “plausible rumor” and “obvious fantastical wishes.”
Rather than going class-by-class, I can see four possible outcomes here, all of which feel plausible. The first is a total tear-down of restrictions; every race can be every class. The fact of the matter is that there are already classes with near-total availability, and several classes that are held back more or less arbitrarily (Worgen and Goblin Monks, Pandaren Death Knights, Draenei and Tauren Rogues). While there might be a good reason for some of these restrictions to have existed in the first place, those reasons are gone now; it’s high time to acknowledge that.
Second possibility? A scaled-back version of the first. Open up Rogue, Mage, Monk, and Death Knight to everyone; the reasons for not having them on every race no longer really make much sense. Priest, Warlock, Paladin, Shaman, Druid, and Demon Hunters all have some justification for their restrictions, at least. Add a new option or two for all of the above, and it feels like a big sea change. (Night Elves and either Orcs or Undead for Paladin, Pandaren Druids, Worgen Shaman, and so forth.)
The third is that we’ll just get a couple of new options here and there, maybe two new Paladin options (Night Elves for Alliance, someone for the Horde) and a new Shaman option. This is pretty plausible with Legion’s addition of Gnome Hunters; it made it clear that the game can add a couple of new combinations rather than making a huge change out of things.
Last but not least? No changes whatsoever. Which is also perfectly plausible, since the strongest rumor is for Night Elf Paladins, and that could easily be argued as a one-off exception rather than a rule.
New classes, new races?
I said above that sub-races and new class combinations could be entirely plausible replacements for actually having a new race or class. Given the strong amount of evidence pushing toward sub-races at this point (more so than anything else), I’m more inclined to think that we’ll get those than an actual outright set of new races. This is a good thing, all told; Azeroth is already stuffed to the brim with sapient races, and while there are some that I would love to play (Naga, for example), there are none that jump out as being nigh-on mandatory.
As for a new class, the reality is that we would have to see what the expansion is before making any such speculation, which means that we almost certainly will hear about them immediately. Right now, the game has 36 different specs that cover, honestly, the vast majority of different mechanical options; the rumors about a naval expansion with strong Old Gods influence brings several existing options to mind immediately. (Outlaw Rogues, Shadow Priests, Restoration Shaman…)
So any new class would have to provide a mechanical difference of significant value. Otherwise, the same thing could be accomplished with a bit more visual tweaking. Which brings on the next point…
More prestige visuals
There are various class visuals we don’t have access to right now. Case in point, most of the Nightborne warriors we see have very Arcane-based attacks… but they’re still visibly warriors. They should be warriors. So why can’t we just cut out the middleman and add those Arcane effects to a Warrior.? Why not give more visual customization to the classes that are, let’s face it, already plenty fleshed out?
Sub-races tie into the idea that the races are getting more character creation options, and if we’re being honest the game’s character creator has been awful since the game launched. It was slightly more acceptable a decade ago (albeit still bad), but the Demon Hunter showed that there’s space to do more. So this ties in; letting us choose more “visual” specs for our jobs above and beyond glyphs, letting us have more character creation options, giving us more transmog options now that the wardrobe is place, and so forth.
All of this might feel a bit superfluous, but consider also that this is the first expansion that could benefit from this at all. The new character models came out in Warlords of Draenor, and those took a great deal of work; the new transmog system and increased focus on visuals is from Legion. Now that the whole thing doesn’t have to be rebuilt, character customization can actually be improved, and it’d be more than welcome.
And hey, the seeds of this have been laid for a long while, starting with the green fire questline. So it’s really a continued emphasis rather than a new one.
Actual content, of course
The next expansion is almost certainly going to buff up another 10 levels, and it will include quests. I know! You’re shocked. I would also imagine that we’re getting another expansion-centric means of progression; as much as I had hopes about artifacts getting more love, the time for that to be handled was during the design phase, and we know it’s not happening.
What I honestly expect is that the introductory scenario of the expansion will see player characters “absorbing” artifact power, thus functionally holding on to all of the important power improvements while the other ones are diminished or removed. It may very well start as a core part of the next progression segment; if it’s handled smartly, a great deal of consolidation will be done on the existing artifact abilities so players can move through Legion more easily on alts.
As for what the new progression system will be, I’m somewhat less sanguine about that. We’ve heard rumors about personal ships (which would make sense for a naval adventure), and integrating the artifact system into the core of our characters would be pretty cool as well. It might even serve as a call back to the abortive “Path of the Titans” system that never really got off of the ground, so that would be neat.
Now, wild speculation
One of the more persistent rumors has been about introducing level scaling to the old world and offering another Cataclysm-style revamp. I’m of the rather widely-held view that Cataclysm was bad, so this idea definitely makes me happy; my biggest concern would just that I would want to see it done with a gentle hand. I also see this as potentially getting really messy, depending on how it’s done. Would people still have reasons to go to expansion content? Would it rewrite the game’s core content? What would be there?
The funny thing is that at this point the main world doesn’t feel terribly dated aside from story hooks and such. Outland and Northrend, however, do. Would they be included in this revamp? What would we get from such a rewrite? And while the game can always add new landmasses, what does that actually offer?
So let’s speculate. Let’s say we are going out to the seas and that we’re dealing with the Old Gods. Based on how Blizzard likes to keep things contained, it seems to me that we’re going to be exploring an altogether new chunk of land raised out from beneath the waves, not just general existing islands. We’ll have to deal with the Naga, of course, but we’re also going to need to deal with the minions of the Old Gods themselves.
In fact, we’re quite possibly going to need to go a step further than even that; there are rumors of that same energy over in Outland. So maybe we’re going to have flashpoints everywhere. Pandaria, Northrend, Kalimdor, and the Eastern Kingdoms all have Old Gods either still there or having been there before. Revised spaces in all of the above would give you plenty of things to explore.
But just sailing around doesn’t go well with the theme here. No, I think what we need to do is start searching to understand. We know the broad strokes of what’s happening, yes, but the fact is that fighting off the Legion was dealing with an immediate problem to buy time for the long-term problem. Azeroth is sick, and the Old Gods go straight to the core. We may have the power of the Titans now, but we don’t actually know how to use that, and we have to excise a cancer at the root. So we need to go exploring in the darkest parts of Azeroth, places that might hold the key to uprooting the sickness at the heart of the world.
The Old Gods are patient, and they are slowly freeing themselves. And as the Legion warned us, once they finally work their way out, they’re going to make all of our struggles against demons look like a real good time.
How close am I? Probably not close at all. But that’s fine; that just means I’ll be surprised next week. Which sounds fun.