WoW Factor: World of Warcraft’s Lich King 2, Tides of Lichness?

    
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Licheridoo.

All right, I guess we’re doing this now. Yes, this column isn’t just about how Blizzard screws up so badly that a lot of people are still looking at the studio askance; it also covers speculation, and with just about a week until the next World of Warcraft expansion is announced during the opening ceremonies of BlizzCon we thus can turn our eyes toward the datamining that suggests… wow, a whole lot of Death Knights. Which sure does offer some grounds for speculation.

Let’s just cut directly to the chase: There’s lots of space to speculate that what we’re going to be getting is functionally Wrath of the Lich King 2. This is not entirely surprising, there’s some evidence to back it up, and… um… it actually sure does sound like a bad idea for various reasons. But let’s start by taking a step back and examining the evidence and the situation before going over all of that, huh? And coming up with some more entertaining titles for World of Warcraft: Lich and Licherer.

Why did you let me down so bad.

Those wacky death knights

The core of this speculation does, in fact, center around new NPC skins that have been mined out for Allied Races. This coincides with new models for runeblades and a new encrypted cinematic that somehow ties into the Ebon Hold. That’s the “evidence” that we have thus far for World of Warcraft: The Lichening, if you want to limit yourself to things that don’t involve any speculation or pattern recognition.

See… remember when people found new stuff tucked away for allied races? You know, the stuff that served as a forecast of the upcoming allied races actually being added as part of Battle for Azeroth? Yeah, that seems familiar, especially since “make your allied Death Knight” works as a pre-purchase bonus much like “unlock these allied races early” did at the tail end of Legion. So this is hardly without precedent.

More importantly, though, this is kind of the most obvious direction to go right now because we’ve had implications that Bolvar Fordragon may not be as immune to the corruption of his position as the Lich King as we first assumed, we have his daughter bouncing around, and we’ve got Sylvanas off as a wildcard. While nothing is certain just yet, the datamining seems to suggest that N’zoth is going to be dealt with sufficiently by the end of the expansion to not be our antagonist moving into 9.0, but Sylvanas is still out there. And if you’re thinking “undead” and wiring things in, well… having her try for Wrath of the Lich Queen (Not A Banshee) seems to make more than a little sense.

And it also kind of fits Blizzard’s general schematic with its post-Wrath expansions. After Cataclysm, we get Mists of Pandaria, something that people had been asking after for years. After Warlords of Draenor, we get Legion, which I’ve referred to as a fanservice expansion more than once. Here we are at the end of Battle for Azeroth, so what’s Blizzard going to do? Based on history, it’s going to look for what players want and crow about how people are getting just what they want so please love us again.

You thought wrong.

Augh, not the fanservice

Here’s the thing: literally wrote a column about why fan service content like this is kind of thing is a bad idea. And I don’t think that Blizzard actually gets why Wrath was a high-water mark for the game, based on subsequent actions.

The reality is that what made Wrath of the Lich King great wasn’t Northrend, or the Vrykul, or fighting the Azure Dragonflight, or Ulduar, or any of that. In fact, it also wasn’t vehicles or deep lore callbacks. What makes the expansion still sit so high in people estimations was that it hit on a good balance of mechanical choices that developed forward from the foundation that had worked so well at launch and in The Burning Crusade, making individual specs feel unique and fun while avoiding making anything feel mandatory.

It was an expansion that touted accessibility, offering more raid options for people who didn’t want to form huge groups and letting people gear up via badges instead of just by lucky drops. It also made dungeons easy to get into in ways they hadn’t been before (there were interviews at the time about how many more people started running dungeons when the queue was added, but I can’t find them any longer and thus don’t trust myself to count numbers there). It provided a steady stream of new dungeons, too, and new content targeting a variety of different playstyles. It was more accessible than the game’s earliest days, but it also still had some loopholes and hadn’t flattened the game down to truncated playstyles.

More succinctly, a lot of people look back fondly at Vrykul and Northrend and Ulduar and so forth because they’re a reminder of the other things the expansion did well, not simply as elements unto themselves.

Leaving aside the question of the whole fanservice push that I wrote about at length, there’s the simple reality that trying to copy the surface of that expansion without the substance has more of a chance to backfire than succeed. And if we are getting back to Northrend, it’s hard not to look at the situation without feeling as if it’s an effort to win back the crowd with King of the Lich Wrath. Copying the notes without the music won’t do it.

In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet.

But let’s not panic

Having said all of that… well, I’m not really excited at the prospect of Lich King II: The Wrath of Sylvanas. But there are two things to temper that not-very-excited element.

First and foremost, if that is the route we’re going, it’s certainly possible that the intense negativity around BfA and the positive response to WoW Classic actually will inform whatever goes into the next expansion. I’m always leery of the developers learning the wrong lessons from these things, of course, but acting as if that’s inevitable is just regular old original-flavor cynicism. It’s entirely plausible that the expansion will include things coming back that we enjoy, and gosh, I am willing to bet that after Blizzard screwing up for the past year, at least someone is probably bursting with better ideas about the future.

Second, the reason I mentioned that the evidence for Lich vs. Witch is thin upon the ground (so far) is that there are explanations that do not, in fact, rely on that being the next expansion. For example… just unlocking Death Knights for all races, that’ll do it.

For most of the various races, unlocking additional classes requires no change beyond selecting it on the character select screen. There are only five that really require a bit of extra work, and two of them are minimal, since Paladins need a racial mount and Shamans need totems. Druids need their forms, of course, which takes a bit of time… and then you need to explain Death Knights and Demon Hunters, since both are pretty much fixed groups.

And realistically, the limitations on Death Knights are a bit more arbitrary racially. There’s a reason only some races can be Demon Hunters because of how the Illidari worked, but Death Knights was just “who was up around the Plaguelands before Wrath,” a list that could easily include Zandalari Trolls, Dark Iron Dwarves, Mag’har Orcs, and Kul Tiran Humans.

So for all we know, the next expansion just expands lots of existing limits on races and classes and that’s why we’re seeing these things in the files now. We’ll find out in a week, won’t we?

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week 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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Alyn
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Alyn

Same as it ever was–

ratstewcruz
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ratstewcruz

Couldn’t stop smiling at all the title riffs. Eliot, you’re the man.

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Jeremy Barnes

Legion was a well received expansion, no? So doing that again is a bad idea?

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Aiun Tanks

This reminds me of when you hear that a modern studio is going to revisit a popular old classic cartoon you loved as a kid.
Only they do it with an awful art style, change the characters’ personalities to something unrecognizable, and incorporate modern (awful) music, and you end up hating it. Hating it so, so much.

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Jokerchyld

If any of the various leaks are anything to go by Death Knights will return with new races and a new starting area. Blizzard looks to be changing the foundations of the game (level squish, viable max level content in older zones making the world more alive, etc). There are even hints of housing (though I think that would be great is a far stretch given their lack of commitment to it thus far).

So I think 9.0 will be more than just a “sequel” or revisit to the Lich King but rather an enticing factor for larger changes they are looking to implement.

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sirradoria

Wrath of the Lich King was also great cause it was THE end to the Frozen Throne campaign.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

The next WoW expansion will be called: “Wrath of The Bolvar!”

Calling it now.

hurbster
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hurbster

I don’t remember people asking for Pandaland.

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zoward

No, but at least it ended up being one of their better expansions regardless. We didn’t ask for Battle for Azeroth ethier.

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NecrococoPlays

WoW rehashing old content (a la BC/WoD) is just a safe play, like remaking the same film franchise over and over. It’s unfortunate, to say the least. I was really excited about the shadowlands leak, and the implications of everyone dying as part of Sylvanas’ plan to be lord of death/defeat N’zoth, or whatever. I like the idea of Lich Bolivar coming into play to challenge Sylvanas (or vice versa) but I also know that Blizz doesn’t want to lose Sylvanas as a character. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle that. I half expect a “she was doing the right thing all along!!!” type storyline. I also think it’s interesting that they’ve brought in her sisters, and that one of them is fighting the pull of the void. Almost as if, in Blizz’s worst-case scenario, we lose Sylvanas as a character (almost 100% sure they’d either bring her back or find a way to “restore” her) and gain two other Windrunners.

I like the theorizing about changes in faction, now that it seems the horde and alliance are united for Azeroth, and the implications that will have on race/class and faction as a whole moving forward. But, people have been theorizing about that since the two factions joined forces against the Lich King, right?

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Utakata

“And realistically, the limitations on Death Knights are a bit more arbitrary racially. There’s a reason only some races can be Demon Hunters because of how the Illidari worked, but Death Knights was just “who was up around the Plaguelands before Wrath,” a list that could easily include Zandalari Trolls, Dark Iron Dwarves, Mag’har Orcs, and Kul Tiran Humans.”

I am going to go with this more prosaic explanation before I get too “excited”.

One thing about the Zandalari Troll DK’s, would they be Arthas Menethil’s, Bolvar Fordragon’s or Bwonsamdi’s products though? And yes, let’s not forget Sylvanas Windrunner…

…this also suggests Azeroth has too many Shinigami’s trying to spoil the stew. /sigh

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NecrococoPlays

Exactly. They say in-game Bolivar has been making Death Knights to expand his forces which is, I suppose, to justify new players showing up as DKs? Although a new DK plays through the entire storyline from Arthas to Bolivar to now, so I don’t know if that’s necessary – at least, for the sake of explaining new DKs.

You raise a really good point about the Zandalari and their relationship with Bwonsamdi, and while I don’t know much about Bwonsamdi yet (I just started BfA) I’m wondering if he would be for or against whatever entity Sylvanas is suspected to be serving. Leaders in the horde have stated that her recent powers are either new, or she’s simply avoided utilizing them thus far.

Part of me thinks this will be a Bolivar vs. Sylvanas situation – especially if some of the leaks prove true about us winding up in the Shadowlands (which, from what I understand, will require us dying – and falls in line with the trend of other MMOs having main-PC dying and coming back). Perhaps our only way “back” is via the help of Bolivar and Bwonsamdi. Or perhaps Sylvanas is using us to overthrow Bolivar, who is accumulating power to a concerning degree as a result of corruption.

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Utakata

Mr. Bwonsamdi is an interesting character, I’ll tell ya. I think he’s based from Baron Samedi of Haitian lore.

FWI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baron_Samedi