So at the risk of being dinged for spoiling the current World of Warcraft expansion, let me say this: Azeroth is not going to be destroyed or completely overtaken by the Burning Legion. That’s a given. The threat certainly feels real, and I hope more than anything that when our victory comes it feels like a natural outgrowth of the story rather than an arbitrary “well, the story says you win right now so the Burning Legion just got dumb,” but it’s pretty much a given that we’re going to win out in the end. The basic premise of the game doesn’t work otherwise.
The question, of course, is where we go next.
A lot of people have been speculating whether Legion is meant to be the final expansion for the game for precisely that reason, and while I think that’s obviously wrong on the face of it (it’d be silly to turn down that money, after all), the point stands that from a narrative perspective, this is it. This is the big confrontation that has been built up since Warcraft III, and if you have no doubt that there will be a next expansion, it still raises the question of “where does it go?”
Let’s explore the possibilities.
Look, a convenient unexplored continent!
The thing about Azeroth is that it’s not like Vana’diel or Hydaelyn. Those worlds have a pretty well-known basic layout, and it’s easy to say that the world stops at a certain point. We know where landmasses are, they’ve been well-established. Azeroth, by contrast, is a world that has great landmasses arranged at any point where they would be logically convenient, so there’s always space for another continent to show up.
Not that there isn’t some logic to it anyhow; the southern parts of every extant continent that stretches toward the south (Pandaria, the Eastern Kingdoms, and Kalimdor) strongly hint that the southern tip of the world we currently know is the equator. There’s still probably plenty of world out there to be explored with fair justification, although some of it should rightly include landmasses the size of Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms, so creative work would have to be done to justify this heretofore unheard-of landmass.
What would work about this, of course, would be a chance to explore some part of Azeroth that isn’t directly related to the Burning Legion, possibly even spots where that invasion happened and was defeated through other means. Or perhaps the remnants of the Legion invasion have taken root elsewhere, meaning that we need to go deal with that while also encountering political groups that the Alliance and the Horde may not have realized were out there before.
The down side, of course, is that it’s hard for a new space to seem as if it’s not being handwaved into existence. General speculation currently centers around the idea that all of the unexplored area of Azeroth is just empty ocean, which is certainly possible, but it’s also just as plausible that no one actually knows what’s back there. There are lots of little spaces that we know are out there but haven’t seen in some time or ever (such as Zandalar proper), but that creates the risk of just slamming several places together to fill in the gaps. It seems like the route to go, but I think it’s far from a sure thing.
Heading back to Draenor after all
By contrast, we have little-to-no idea what Draenor looks like. Sure, Warlords of Draenor was a mess and a half, but the end of that expansion leaves us with plenty of opportunity to go back… especially since this time the whole place has no reason to expect it’s ever going to be ripped to pieces. We can explore this place, we have NPCs there who might welcome the return, and we have… um.
The biggest problem here, obviously, is that there is no particular reason to go back here at this point. All of the expansions have involved a certain amount of things rather unceremoniously being dropped in the laps of Azeroth’s inhabitants, from invading demons to invading undead to a whole lot of pandas showing up. Even if, say, the Ogres on Draenor vomited an invasion force up, they’d probably be going to Shattrath or something… and the Horde and Alliance have no particular reason to care about that. It’s alt-Draenor’s problem, not ours.
But the plus side is that unlike the previous example, it’s a matter wherein we know full well that the land is out there, and it was even something that had been promised early on as something we’d see in the game. It’d also have the advantage of making the whole excursion to Draenor seem less pointless after all; we weren’t just going to handle things and then never go back, we went to start by solving a problem and then we returned later to take care of other business.
For that matter, we could just as well have another drifting remnant of Draenor in Outland that was heretofore unknown. Yes, that requires a bit more of an arbitrary expansion, but it’s not like people have been making expeditions to find everything that’s drifting along out there. Who knows what might be floating in the void, perhaps even devoid of inhabitants…
The world-hopping never stops
Of course, there’s nothing to say that we have to stop going from world to world once we’re done with Argus.
Here’s the funny thing: while we’ve always had access to some degree of world-jumping stuff in WoW, it’s rarely been under our own control. The Dark Portal just opened to Azeroth, which was not under the control of either world’s resident; Garrosh managed to use it to jump back in time to an alternate Draenor, but that also wasn’t really under his control. The Burning Legion has a lot of control, but it’s disinclined to let Azeroth’s residents use it. In fact, the end of the Demon Hunter class campaign is the first time I can think of when the power is really left in player hands by the time the story ends, even though there’s not much else to be done with it right now.
The obvious thing to do at this point is to start crusading against the Burning Legion once we’re done with this invasion, but that seems like a pretty long-term and major goal that’s going to require some guidance. It’s also just as possible that something is out there that’s just as attractive to the Horde and the Alliance, and we start hopping to another zone not as defenders, but as immigrants. Perhaps even conquerors, depending on what we find there.
Of course, at that point you have to take care to keep the game feeling like WoW instead of some ersatz Spelljammer sequel or a Planescape campaign. Which it’d be all right with regardless, but one assumes the designers would like to actually still feature Azeroth and all.
So what do you think? Or do you have completely different speculation? Feedback is welcome down in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around… I think I’m going to see where we’re at with 7.2 and what’s there worth speculating about. Speculation is fun; what can I say?