WoW Factor: Speculating about World of Warcraft’s next expansion

When leveling alts was already the plan...

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

Also, more elves make certain people miserable, which makes me giggle.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.

The odds of getting Eredar seem already torpedoed.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.

I, at least, remember when this seemed unthinkable.

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.

If we do get a new race, of course, everyone knows my biggest suggestion.

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

More Blood Knight flair! You know, now that the story has forgotten Blood Knights were ever a thing.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.

And now your legacy of screwing things up is itself screwed up.

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?

To The Mountains of Not Feeling Terribly Mentally Stable.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.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre at wildly inconsistent intervals for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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“The next expansion will have Blue Mage!”

Only if they introduce Miqo’te’s as a sub race of the Saberon’s, Mr.Eliot. <3

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Totally off topic. The click through microtransaction simulator that fills the ads on this page ATM is Dragon Glory. Released Oct. 10 on Steam and already voted the worst game ever on Steam. Here’s the steam review page, because some of these reviews are hilarious in their attempts to describe how bad this game is. Besides, one reviewer did mention Deathwing. Enjoy.


I can see the removal of the artifact but keeping the artifact leveling system (i.e. the weapon we get in the future will have that zodiac sign outline we flesh out with whatever new resource if its not still artifact power). Its a nice level of customization on top of pretty much “stock” characters.

Second for me would be old world level scaling. To me that is a complete game changer. Making old zones relevant and exploration of value. It would also allow the team to create add-on content everywhere (think world quests, invasions, etc). Imagine epic quests that take you all over Azeroth for a unique reward.

Third expand Mythic+ like progression to all old school dungeons. I would love to revisit old dungeons for current rewards but mythic+ challenge. And it shouldn’t affect low level users since you could separate the use of mythic dungeons from normal with keystones (just pops you into another instance).

I’ve always said Azeroth was one of the most beautiful MMOs to explore. Level scaling and world quest like content would make all of that possible. Allowing me to explore all of azeroth instead of being “funneled” into a “max level zone”.

Elder Scrolls Online I know is a different type of game, but the One Tamriel update did wonders for that game. The same content was there, but just being able to go anywhere and do anything (with an appropriate challenge) was refreshing.

It just makes sense in this day and age. But I’m going to play regardless.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I was remarking on the differences between Old Azeroth’s open world questing model and Legion’s, particularly the last two updates, Argus and whatever Vindicator is, on rails funneling the other day. It’s more like a big RPG than an OW MMO.

Danny Smith

Sub races, Azshara and Kul Tiras are really all they have left on the backburner at this point. Legion was so ‘in sub frerfall break glass’ fan service heavy they are really left with only so much existing Warcraft left to finally exhaust until its something new nobody has any idea about.


I actually enjoyed the artifact system, at least some of the ideas in it. At this point in our characters’ lives, I think it’s just stupid to always rely on some random enemy you killed just to kit yourself out.

We’re killers of demons, dragons, old gods, apparently titans, all kinds of things.. why the shit are we relying on a level 114 boar or murloc to give us our next big weapon or piece of random gear? I get the gear chase and all, but it makes everything feel so much less epic. Then again, I think the idea of normal animals somehow being at that level is stupid to begin with.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I’ve been thinking a lot about the artifact system – and I think its a mechanism to combat stat-bloat and exponential power curves expansion-to-expansion. For example, let’s assume that Blizzard finds so way to drop the artifacts without enraging the player base (there could easily be some story-line justification). All of the benefits – ability tweaks, stat increases etc all tick down — not as low as when you started the expansion, but still significantly less than what you ‘ended’ the expansion with.

This would allow Blizzard to smooth out the power curve and huge stat-increases expansion-over-expansion because that ending point minus the benefit of the artifact is significantly less than it would have been otherwise. They can close that gap (which I think most people will agree is probably a good thing).

Additionally, this allows Blizzard to more easily tweak how you move through the Legion expansion (as levels aren’t important in Legion). Tweaking the amount of artifact power you get and the rate of the accrual means that would ramp up in power more or less quickly – allowing you go through content and gain levels — more or less quickly. But you can do that without impacting the rest of content. It’s pretty ingenious (if it works the way I’m thinking it does). It’s like the n-th degree of trying progression to itemization with a configurable master reset button.

In terms of worlds-wide level scaling, I think it only makes sense. If you how WoW handles new content / continents to how FFXIV handles them, one clearly makes better use of existing assets than the other. FFXIV constantly has you going back to old zones with ramped up enemies, new quests, etc. They don’t do level scaling per-se, but their world feels more connected and less linear than WoW’s (while at the same time, having the single most restrictive game-play experience of any modern MMO imo). I think we’ll either see something like FFXIV’s implementation, or a full world level-scaling experience — like the invasion events at the beginning of Legion, and all of the Legion Zones. OR the final option – most likely – a blended approach.

Just my thoughts.

Dug From The Earth

Sub races only make sense for some of the races, and then, from a mechanic and gameplay perspective, just having them seems pointless.


… they use subraces to allow races from one faction, play on the other.

IE: Dark Iron Dwarves on the horde side.

And like some class/race combos, not all races would cross over.

That would give it at least some purpose outside of just a reskin.

As for classes, I dont want any more new classes.

I would however be fine with advanced classes, for the existing classes.
Imagine if every class to choose to enhance their class with the power of the void (like we see done on argus)


I’d scale the old Cata-revamped-vanilla zones from level 1 to 80, thus re-establishing the timeline. Once you finish the vanilla zones (in Eastern Plaguelands or whatever) you should be at around 80 and thus be ready to move onto Hyjal or Vashj’ir. Thus, story line preserved.

And if you really want? Just have a bronze dragonflight dude hangin’ out in case folks really want to level from 60-80 via Outland/Northrend instead.


Level scaling for old world would make me happy, currently with no heirlooms and no dungeons, it is easy to out-level a zone by 4 levels just doing quests, if they did it right it will be one of the best things they ever did for the old content.


I agree, I’m already starting to feel the usual frustration of having to skip quests to avoid becoming a one-shot wonder. If not level scaling, I would be very happy with a cheaper cost for the disable XP gain vendor in Stormwind. We low-level players aren’t made of gold, y’know.


Oh man .. how i hate the cost of disable/enable XP gain, 10g and another 10g, it should be free, it should be right-click option not an NPC which you need to find in the main city, i sent Blizzard a suggestion to make this a free option you can access from the interface, maybe i should write in the forums, make some noise :-)

Dug From The Earth

Here is where they need to push forward, but be careful and clever about it when they do.

I want level scaling EVERYWHERE. I should be able to pick when and where I decide to quest in the world (most of the time).

Now here is where “careful” needs to come into play. Dungeons (and older raids). Dungeons should feel challenging at least somewhat while leveling. However, one of the great things about WoW, is how I can go back and do content ive missed, solo, without stress or roadblocks, because I out level it. This includes raids. I just ran through an entire WoD raid solo the other night because I hadnt ever done/seen it. I think this needs to stay a viable thing and option in the game.

I had come up with this massive break down for how scaling should work with every zone and expansion… and then i realized the simplest way to handle this so that both my points above are address is this:

– Level scaling everywhere, including dungeons and raids, for any content before Legion. (1-100.)
– Just like selecting normal/heroic/mythic modes for a dungeon/raid, you can now select “Original” which will set the dungeons/raids content level to its original level value.

This means you can do deadmines at level 70 and not 1 hit things (new scaling), OR, you can set it to “original” mode, and cake walk the dungeon since you will be 40, and everything inside will be set back to level 15.

You could choose to run a Lich King raid at level 30 as well (new scaling), where it would be challenging, and grant you LK gear but for level 30, and require a normal sized raid. OR, set it to original and run it when you are higher level so you can solo it for transmog gear and mounts.

Id be happy with this system, because it provides me the best of both worlds that I want.

Malcolm Swoboda

I want them to make all of main-Azaroth scaled and possibly redone in a more timeline-generic (though including elements of what has all happened) manner – done better than the Cata crap. Turn Outland, Northrend, Pandaria, Draenor, etc into time-travel locked optional adventures for our characters (especially new ones) and also scaled. Restore those damn removed questlines.