This year’s opening ceremony for BlizzCon did not feature the usual kickoff of a new major World of Warcraft reveal followed by a lengthy explanation; instead, the explainer was offloaded to the first panel after the opening ceremony diving into what’s next for WoW. Of course, we know the broad strokes as this is the first installment of the game’s Worldsoul Saga, which promises to take care of a lot of existing loose ends, investigate big lore questions, and also feature plenty of Earthen along the way when The War Within kicks off next year.
Naturally, there’s a lot to still be learned about the expansion and the content contained therein, and this panel didn’t have the time to cover everything in relentless depth. (There’s another panel tomorrow that will cover more, never fear.) But if you wanted more information about The War Within beyond the cinematic trailer and a quick feature overview, read on!
First and foremost, it’s important to note that any ambiguity about the Old Gods has been settled with this reveal. The Old Gods are indisputably dead, and the Harbinger of the Void, Xal’atath, is moving with full knowledge of that fact. Yes, Xal’atath is free from other confines and is moving to bring a new darkness to fruition while heroes feel the Radiant Song calling to them.
Xal’atath is thus reaching out to the Nerubians of Azj-Kahet, the last city of the race but also one very different from the cities overrun and demolished by the Lich King in Northrend. Indeed, the Nerubians have accepted the gifts from the Harbinger of the Void to evolve into a new and more powerful form. Players should expect a lot of bugs with pointy bits, skittering limbs, and far more eyes than anyone should be comfortable seeing… as well as the “evolved” Nerubians that are four-armed humanoid creatures.
Of course, this also means bringing in plenty of familiar characters. Post-Shadowlands Anduin is front and center, for example, with his new haircut and stubble making him look very much like the protagonist of any number of bland shooters from 2005-2014. (Just pick one; they’re all the same.) There’s also Thrall and Magni Bronzebeard, as well as Alleria Windrunner sporting a new haircut, outfit, and a new outlook on life. She’s officially a Void Hunter tracking Xal’atath with a particular rivalry with this particularly void-based elf.
Despite the name, you cannot adventure inside of these characters. You need zones for that, and the zones start on the subcontinent (read “large island”) of Khaz Algar. Indeed, this is where everything will take place, with the Isle of Dorn’s surface being the introduction to the expansion as a whole. The capital city of Dorn Agal is located there, along with the Earthen that inhabit the area. There are three factions of Earthen at play: The Oathsworn, who guard a passage straight to the core and follow the edicts of the Titans religiously, the Unbound, who have abandoned the edicts and live more on the surface, and the Machine Speakers, operating the forges and having a middle path of following the edicts but revising as necessary.
The Earthen do have a problem in that they cannot currently reproduce and thus their numbers are consistently diminishing, but that’s where player intervention comes into the game and will allow us to ultimately unlock Earthen as a player race. This allied race can belong to either faction and has the usual plethora of customization options; no word on class restrictions, which may in and of itself be indicative.
Beneath the Isle of Dorn lies the Ringing Deeps, occupied primarily by the Machine Speakers of the Earthen who are dealing with a massive Kobold incursion under the mysterious Candle King. Needless to say, this will require a fair amount of effort for players to deal with, including areas where the open air has broken through and natural light filters down.
Our journey continues further below, though, and in Hallowfall players will encounter the Arathi, a faction of zealots banded around sacred flame who are caught between a large number of rocks and a lot of hard places. These militant people are in a large hollow with a vast underground sea and a huge radiant crystal that serves as an artificial sun, battling both the Nerubians surging up from beneath as well as monsters flooding in from the sea waters.
Does that sound bad? It actually gets worse for them, because that huge radiant crystal has started switching from being full of brilliant light to being a void-tainted shadow beacon. That’s bad. You don’t need to be told that it’s bad, but just so you’re clear, it’s very bad. Not a good time for anyone, except maybe the Nerubians.
Not coincidentally, the Nerubians are in the next zone down, which is Azj-Kahet itself. The city is built over ancient ruins of… Azj-Kahet, with the Nerubians constantly building new layers upon a decayed foundation of its prior establishment. There’s a lot going on here, including a fair number of Nerubians who are not exactly on board with the arrangement their queen has made with Xal’atath. One of the things that the designers were focused on was making sure that these underground zones felt diverse and unique, not just endless expanses of rock in every direction.
Players will have dungeons to explore as well, which should be unsurprising; there are four leveling dungeons (the Rookery, the Stonevault, Priory of the Sacred Flame, and the City of Threads) and four max-level dungeons (Cinderbrew Meadery, Darkflame Cleft, The Dawnbreaker, and The Old City), with each one corresponding to one of the four zones. There is also a raid of Nerub’ar Palace in Azj-Kahet, with players moving through various operations to ultimately face off against the aforementioned Nerubian Queen at the end.
But that’s all boring stuff, or at least the expected stuff. You want to know about what’s actually new going into this expansion, and the developers promise that they’re carrying forward a lot of philosophies from Dragonflight with three major pillars. First, they want to design evergreen features instead of features that will get left behind in the near future. Next, the expansion should have something for everyone. Last but not least, the goal is to respect player time rather than forcing anyone to everything on one character.
With all that in mind, it makes sense that one of the chief new features of the expansion is Delves, scaling seasonal content for one to five players that’s considered part of outdoor exploration. This content is role-agnostic and lets you bring along an NPC companion, starting the first season with Brann Bronzebeard, whom you can kit out to respect your personal needs. There are 13 Delves with bosses, puzzles, and the like to adventure through, and at the end players will be rewarded with mounts, minions, and loot.
And the loot is a major component, as this also links to an outdoor row being added to the Great Vault. Yes, if you prefer doing world quests and Delves and the like to Mythic+, raiding, or structured PvP? The game is now acknowledging that you are also eligible for weekly rewards and should be getting more stuff. Please clap.
Players will also gain access to the new Hero talents. Hero talents represent both the new leveling advancement for levels 71-80 as well as a new evergreen system for the game. To start with, every single class will receive three Hero talent trees, with each spec choosing between two of those trees. As an example, the three Warrior hero talent trees will be Mountain Thane, Slayer, or Colossus; Fury can choose Mountain Thane or Slayer, Arms can choose Slayer or Colossus, and Protection can be Mountain Thane or Colossus.
The trees will be very similar to current talent trees in terms of swapping abilities, and each tree has a few rows with different choice nodes but should end up in the same place. (A comparison was made to the artifacts of Legion, where you largely are choosing which order you unlock things rather than if you get everything.) Clearly, the idea is to add an extra layer of customization alongside the broad decisions between talent trees.
Last but not least, we got some more details on Warbands, which is not so much a single distinct feature (there is not a Warband UI, for example) and more of a general header for a wide variety of different features designed to tie together all of the characters on a given Battle.net account. Among the two features we already know of, transmog will be revised to be more alt-friendly, meaning you will unlock appearances more easily even if your character does not specialize in the armor type. Similarly, reputation and renown will be shared across your account, although we don’t yet know if this will be exclusively moving forward or retroactive.
There’s doubtlessly a lot more to learn, and more will be uncovered tomorrow in the next panel as well as in the future as we approach the expansion’s release at some point in 2024, but this should provide at least a solid overview of the main features and takeaways. We’ll have more coverage of the panel tomorrow and the ongoing details about the expansion.