WoW Factor: Beyond the Spires, a speculative WoW expansion exercise


Let’s get something weird going here for the last of these speculative exercises. I could keep doing this for a while now, if we’re being honest, but I’m going to stop here, and I wanted to make this particular one be really out there… while also being less cosmic than our previous entry. I also didn’t want to fill another thing with speculation about what would happen when the Jailer is fought, so that’s another reason to be less cosmic this time around.

So for our last entry, we’re once again coming to the end of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, with the Jailer defeated and the story that had been the fixed point since Warcraft III resolved by every possible definition. And… nothing weird happens. There’s some wrap-up with Sylvanas (blah) and all the other threads (blah), but at a glance, everything seems pretty normal. Azeroth has a future, the world soul within is healing, and there’s a general sense that things are coming back together once more.

Right up until the ships arrive.

At first it’s not clear what the heck is going on with these new arrivals. The races that crew the ships look similar to elves, but taller and with tusks and shades of skin ranging from azure to verdant. Other ships are crewed by what seem to be dwarves, but with stony patches along their skin. Vrykul, too, but smaller and often with strangely glowing eyes. They don’t speak familiar languages, but they’re not opening fire when they see other ships.

So it takes a while for communication to be established. But once it is, the chorus from these new arrivals is clear: “What the hell have you been doing over here?”

Despite what had been thought, all of ancient Azeroth’s landmasses had not been Kalimdor prior to the Sundering. There were other continents, and the ships of the Kingdom that have been arriving come from just one of those continents. While not immune to the various things that have arrived on Azeroth over the years, the Kingdom has its own problems, its own conflicts, and its own issues to explore. The reason the high trolls (half-elf half-troll crossbreeds from generations of interbreeding), duergar (Earthen that followed a different development pattern from the more familiar dwarves), and vrykul are finally seeking out the other continents is simply due to issues with their necromantic priests no longer working properly.

Welcome to a nice big culture clash as Azeroth’s champions find a new kingdom that’s filled with all sorts of things that have been happening that no one on the other half of the world had any knowledge of whatsoever. You thought that everything important in the world was happening right on these strips of land? You thought wrong. And now there’s a whole new set of things to deal with, new creatures, new dynamics, and new political realities.

The what?

See, Warcraft III established the idea that there was another continent out there and the conflicts between those continents and factions. Now, as we start a new story… there’s another continent out there, and a whole lot of additional stuff to learn, a whole world order to be reshaped.

In practical terms, this means the long-rumored addition of a third faction to the game, which also means the point when player characters can start crossing factional lines more easily. The hostility between the Horde and the Alliance is now established with the three-way split; while Horde, Alliance, and Kingdom are all theoretically at peace, some hardliners won’t be satisfied unless their faction is the only one controlling anything. Choosing your faction is a simple matter when you turn on At War; otherwise, you can raise your reputation with every faction, with other factional races starting Unfriendly and quests available in major cities to work on that.

Needless to say, the three listed races also get added as playable options, initially being the only ones who default to starting in the Kingdom. They have a new starting experience that sends them out to the rest of the game as delegates through the rest of the world’s quest zones, forging a (temporary) allegiance with either the Horde or the Alliance through the game’s leveling content.

This expansion also brings in the new Style system, which allows for every single class to have multiple overlays that determine how the class looks without changing its functions. So, for example, High Trolls can be Paladins… but their default style is Gladekeeper, which replaces the swirly light effects for nature energy more like a Druid. This also coincides with a variety of races gaining new class options based on the Style system, although it falls just shy of being able to play everything on every race.

And yes, a new base class is introduced as well. The Tinkerer is a mainstay in the Kingdom, a damage dealer and healer that wears mail armor and can use ranged weapons, a two-handed melee weapon, or a weapon and offhand for healing purposes. Yes, it might seem a bit like a Shaman with different flavor and equipment, but that’s also true of Monks and Druids, so that’s just where we’re at.

There are more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Lastly, to touch on gearing systems, the game goes a very different route from how gear had been allocated before. Essentially, every boss will drop a token related to the boss, multiple tokens for larger group sizes. You bring this token to your equivalent of the Great Vault and trade it in to get a roll on the boss loot table, getting a random piece of gear that you can use. However, you can also feed multiple tokens in for a higher chance of getting the item you want.

You can also opt to convert a token into a generic token that pulls from a “standard” list containing a bunch of items you can use, and that token can be upgraded and improved. And yes, multiple tokens like this allow you to narrow down the list again. So even if you’re only doing lighter runs, you can eventually game the system to get good stuff out of the vault along the way.

I freely admit that this is a convoluted system to an extent, but the point here was to find another deterministic gear system that wasn’t just like one of the gear systems already put forth. You must have noticed that by now, right? This has kind of been a recurring goal of this particular project.

See, yes, all of these speculative exercises contain some form of deterministic gearing… but none of them contain the same one, and there are systems beyond the ones proposed here that would also work. They all feature new areas to explore and new places to see, but not the same ones. They all shake up faction restrictions in different ways. They are, in short, all meant to embrace the same vision of the future without copying one another.

And that, I think, is a worthwhile takeaway. I don’t know any better than you do what’s coming next for WoW, but I do know that these priors are kind of an important assumption to start with. You can get there a lot of different ways, but whatever happens next, there are a lot of options. If the next expansion fails to even brush against these possibilities, it’s not because they weren’t there.

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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