Saturday, October 21, 2017

Evidence of Subraces?

WoWHead has actually uncovered some potential evidence of potential subraces coming in the next expansion.

Whoo-boy!

The article lays it out fully, but the gist is that there are four sets of "race" data in the 7.3 files that you would get with any kind of character model that can equip armor. Now, this is not an uncommon thing - any humanoid race that can equip different kinds of armor, like Naga or Vrykul, will have similar files.

The distinction here is that each of these has a non-zero value for determining the background for the character select screen. The aforementioned NPC races do not have such a thing.

The four races they found are Highmountain Tauren, Nightborne, Lightforged Draenei, and "Void Elf."

Now, obviously these are all tied to Legion, and would probably have to exist for this patch, though of course the Highmountain Tauren and Nightborne would have to have been in since 7.0.

Speculation abounds, of course. In the case of the Tauren and Draenei variants, it doesn't seem like it would be too hard to add those to the existing factions of their brethren.

The elves are less obvious. Nightborne, while certainly related to the Highborne that would become the High Elves and then the Blood Elves, are still probably more physiologically similar to the Night Elves. But dialogue between Silgryn and Lady Liadrin aboard the Vindicaar suggests that the Nightborne would be more likely to join the Horde, connecting with Quel'thalas.

The Void Elves, of course, would probably be brought in by Alleria, and if we assume that she's recruiting among the High Elves, that this would probably be a Blood Elf subrace.

So perhaps the elf subraces would allow players to get the other faction's elves.

A lot of questions come up with this. Obviously, the first is whether this is actually indicative of what we're going to hear about at Blizzcon, but if we assume that's a yes, then we have the following:

First off, would subraces be purely cosmetic or would they have their own racial features?

Second, is this it? Because there are some other very obvious subrace options for, for example, Orcs and Dwarves.

Third, is this going to be something one can change in-game with ease? Or will we have to either start new characters or pay to change things?

Fourth: are there going to be class restrictions on any of these? Because I'm really tempted, if this is real, to have a Lightforged Draenei Death Knight (I don't roleplay, but I do have a story in my head for my Death Knight, and it would actually make a lot of sense for him to leave Argus officially redeemed by the Naaru.)

So, big caveat here is that this is all datamining, and not even in an Alpha or Beta patch. But given that, according to the pattern kept by every expansion except for Warlords, we're due for new races, this might be a way to give people something like that by bringing in stuff that has existed in-game for a long time.

Not that I don't want truly new races.

Speculating on Expansion Seven Features

While WoW has still been fundamentally the same game since Vanilla - you do quests and dungeons to get experience and loot that lets you advance in power - the game has gone through some pretty radical mechanical revamps. In recent expansions, we've also had features added that aren't necessarily intended to extend beyond the life of the current expansion, with elements of those features that people like carrying over in new forms.

So what new stuff might we see in the next expansion?

This is very tricky, as it requires us to extrapolate a lot from what we've got now. But we can make some guesses and certainly imagine what carries over.

New Thing: Ships?

The Vindicaar has functioned as a mobile town on Argus, allowing us to have a home base in each zone. Now, the funny thing is that technically, I'd imagine that each zone simply has the Vindicaar in it, as you'll never be in a zone on Argus where the Vindicaar is not. But it gives the impression that you're flying to each of the different areas of interest on Argus.

A similar thing could work with an island-hopping expansion, having you park your ship off the coast of each zone, and using the ship to travel between the zones.

Having a ship that you could build up and customize would also be a way to take the Garrison/Order Hall concept in a new direction.

New Thing: Alternate Character Advancement:

Artifact weapons gave us a way to keep "leveling up" after hitting the level cap. I hope that they'd tread carefully here, as while I think the talent-tree-like initial trait system was interesting, the grind for more Concordance of the Legionfall is not terribly interesting (and the Netherlight Crucible aspect is frustratingly RNG-dependent. Frankly, I think that WoW could stand to back away from RNG significantly - I miss the Cataclysm Justice/Valor point system for getting gear.) Having a system somewhat like artifacts, but different, could allow players a little more customization. Actually, if you wanted me to pick a model I like, I'd point to the Honor Talent system, which allows you to get several talent "slots" filled out early on, but then increases your options for each of those slots as you go.

Recurring Thing: Level-Scaling Zones and Dungeons:

While it did make it hard to have a single plot throughline for the Broken Isles (though Order Hall campaigns and the Light's Heart stuff provided that,) I think the level-scaling on the Broken Isles was a fantastic feature, and allowed every zone to feel relevant at endgame (though the Broken Shore and now Argus have kind of dimmed their significance.) I have to imagine this is going to be an evergreen feature going forward. The question, then, is if they'd consider doing this retroactively to older zones.

Recurring Thing: Mission Tables:

Frankly, I would not mind losing the whole Mission Table thing. Even though Legion has been much better about forcing you to go out and do stuff if you want to really advance your character, I feel like losing the Mission Table stuff would not hurt the game very much. Bodyguard followers/champions are fun and something I'd like to keep, but if we're going to have followers, I'd rather have them acting as buffs in certain zones or something than having to send them on missions constantly. That being said, we've had them two expansions in a row, so they'll probably keep the system around.

Recurring Thing: World Quests:

World quests are, I think, a pretty good evolution of the daily quest system, and again, give old areas relevance at the level cap. Keep 'em!

Recurring Thing: Class Orders:

I really like that there was a bunch of class-specific content in Legion, and would love to see them continue to to that. Having new portals and such to the order halls established in Legion would be cool. The question is whether they could stay relevant. While the flavor of the order halls is essentially timeless, many of its features are pretty clearly Legion-specific - artifact forges, command boards, troop recruitment NPCs, etc. I suspect we'll be saying goodbye to these places, which is a shame.

Recurring Thing: Selected Artifact Traits:

While I think our weapons are going bye-bye in 8.0, some of their features would be welcome additions to their respective specs. I don't know how these would be worked in (maybe just as talents) but I hope that some of the cooler and less weapon-specific things could be kept.

Two Weeks Until Blizzcon - Picking at Plot Threads

With Blizzcon only two weeks away (technically 13 days, as it's past midnight when I write this!) and the announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion practically guaranteed, I thought it would be fun to go over hints that we've seen recently of what might be coming. Consider, for example, that Deathwing's interest in Netherdrakes (which led to the creation of his Twilight flight) was teased two expansions ahead of time, and that Blizzard has only gotten more ambitious in setting things up that there are almost certainly in-game hints at what is not come not only next year, but also probably the expansion after that (and maybe even the next.)

I'd like to write another post speculating on mechanics, but if you read this blog, you'll probably notice that I'm more of a lore junkie than a virtual gearhead.

What I want to do here is not talk about what I think is coming, but instead look back at threads that have been spun, as it were. A lot of threads have been paid off pretty well - especially in Legion - and to be certain, not every thread is going to pay off - sometimes people change their minds on which direction the story is going.

Now, I'm also going to limit this to Wrath and later, as nothing big really springs to mind from earlier WoW that hasn't been addressed or doesn't seem like a dead end. Of course, there are reverberations of events from as early as vanilla that would still fall in my valid territory. Also, I'm only human, so I might miss some things, and it's also possible that some things I think are unimportant are actually a big deal.

Let's begin:

"There Must Always Be a Lich King"

The big question here is why. We're led to believe that the Scourge would run rampant as a full on zombie apocalypse if it weren't for the Lich King holding the reins. But doesn't that seem like it would be fine? I mean, if we had defeated the Scourge as an organized force with a command structure and strategic thinking, shouldn't it be a cakewalk to mop up some zombies? If the implication here is that Arthas was holding the Scourge back, we also have to ask: why? Now, maybe some small fragment of his soul was left, or perhaps there was some practical reason (keeping the living around to make fresher corpses,) but these don't feel totally satisfying. If it was just a lie, well, I guess we bought it, though it would have been nice to have a chance to roll the old WIS (Insight) check on that.

Plot-wise, though, this device allows for the Scourge as an entity and the Lich King as an figure to continue to exist even after our victory. That may have simply been a way for Blizzard to keep the Scourge in their back pocket if they wanted to bring them back, which the Death Knight campaign definitely hints at. We'll get to that further down the line.

"The So-Called Grand Admiral"

While Varimathras' coup d'etat in the Undercity during Wrath is clearly getting paid off in Antorus, another Warcraft III-era Dreadlord made an appearance in Wrath but then literally walked through a portal and was never seen again. Mal'ganis was the dreadlord that tormented Arthas, but even with the soul-stealing Frostmourne, the demon escaped to corrupt the Scarlet Onslaught. But we didn't see him later in Wrath and we haven't seen him in Legion. What is that guy up to? Is he just on some other front in the war right now?

"They do not live. They do not die. They are outside the cycle."

Herald Volazj says this as he dies in Ahn-Kahet, but it's not obvious who he is talking about. Who? And what cycle? (See below when I get to the "Circle" and the "Rings.")

"Um... no clever thing here, but N'zoth and Deathwing"

While it never showed up personally in Cataclysm, N'zoth had its fingerprints (tentacle-prints?) all over the expansion. Sending its own forces to back up the Destroyer (they're pretty good at giving everyone a unique epithet, but Deathwing and Sargeras both get the same,) the only time we may have actually physically been in N'zoth's presence was when L'ghorek was being corrupted in Vashj'ir. While we didn't get too many specifics about N'zoth then, we've gotten far more info on him since. Actually, the Cataclysm-era toy, the Puzzle Box of Yogg-Saron, makes plenty of references to N'zoth and its apparent home of Nyalotha, which will, well, come up later.

"Kaja'mite and Kezan"

Ok, I'm grouping these together even if they're not totally the same thread. But they're both goblin stuff. First off, we found out that the goblins had apparently begun as small and unintelligent creatures who were enslaved by trolls, who then became super-intelligent thanks to a material called Kaja'mite, which allowed them to build a super-advanced civilization. At some point, this intelligence faded and they declined into their current hyper-capitalistic, ingenious-but-insane culture. So here's my big question: what the fel is Kaja'mite? Are we talking Old God blood like Saronite? Is it something infused with the blood of Azeroth like the Well of Eternity? Is it some other thing, amybe not blood?

Then, we have Kezan. Goblins from levels 1 to about 5 quest through part of the island, but it's clear that there's a lot more there, including the fabled goblin city of Undermine. There is a volcanic eruption that necessitates your departure from Kezan, but it's unclear if the whole island is destroyed. What's going on there now?

"We Shall Return"

With the Draenei finally getting to return (albeit probably temporarily) to their homeland, I would imagine the people of Gilneas don't want to have to wait 25,000 years as well. The end of the Gilneas and Silverpine questing leaves things a bit ambiguous - I've interpreted it that the Alliance holds Gilneas but that the Horde has full control of Silverpine, but we haven't heard anything about that since.

"How dead are the Old Gods?"

Cho'gall seemed to commune with and be possessed by C'thun - so just how dead was C'thun at the end of AQ40 (and Yogg-Saron at the end of Ulduar?) Maybe it's simplest if all we have left is N'zoth, but something tells me that even if you take out the most important part of a continent-sized goo-and-tentacle monster, it's not going to be totally dead.

"Where the hell is Kul Tiras?"

After getting Gilneas and Tol Barad in Cataclysm, it seemed odd that we wouldn't get the island nation that was supposed to be just off the coast of Dun Morogh (roughly where Vashj'ir is.) This is also Jaina's homeland, so... well, let's just say there's been a lot of rumors about this location lately.

"How does killing an ancient time-traveling dragon in a future that never happened help us?"

Murozond might be dead, but technically he hasn't even happened yet. Nozdormu is still (I think?) fated to fall to this bizarre corruption, and even if his death in End Time counts, we have no idea what kind of stuff he got up to, or from our perspective, will get up to, before that moment.

"How fares Zandalar?"

According to info we got on the Isle of Thunder, the island of Zandalar was slowly sinking beneath the waves, which is what prompted the Zandalari to begin this wild crusade to reunite the trolls and conquer the world. We don't know how King Rakastahn is doing, or who the hell the Prophet Zul is.

"Horde leadership issues"

At the moment, the Orcs only kind of have a leader in good old Varok Saurfang, and the Darkspear Trolls went from having their leader as Warchief to having no leadership, seemingly, at all. Thrall is clearly in retirement (much as his voice actor/former VP of the Creative department at Blizzard Chris Metzen is) and so there are some positions to be filled.

"Where is Wrathion?"

Given that the little scamp was all about preparing us for this invasion (which he actually inadvertently helped cause,) Wrathion's absence from Legion has been a pretty big surprise. What is he up to?

"Who is 'The Master?'"

In Warlords of Draenor, we find that Admiral Taylor's garrison was betrayed by a necromancer hiding among his officers. This necromancer killed basically everyone there at the bidding of his "master." Who is that master? I've had theories ranging from Ner'zhul to Kel'thuzad to Bolvar, but we haven't heard anything else on the matter since.

"So does anything from Draenor matter?"

I liked Y'rel, and there's a version of Thrall's dad who we can, with some relative ease, go and talk to. But it was an unpopular expansion. So other than having Gul'dan 2.0 there to set off Legion, is there going to be any longterm consequence of Warlords (ok, also Maraad's death, which made me very sad. And they set up Draenei Vigilants! How the hell did we not come back from Draenor with Vigilant Maraad?)

"Just about everything Ilgynoth and Xal'atath say"

Holy crap, these are each probably worth a post (in fact I think I've at least done an Ilgynoth post.) There's a huge amount to go through, but let's narrow it down to a few factoids:

Xal'atath seems to imply that there was a fifth Old God on Azeroth that was consumed by the others (possibly Xal'atath is a remnant of that one. Also could explain why Y'shaarj was the most powerful if it was the one to consume the fifth.)

It's also implied that by ending the Emerald Nightmare, we actually woke up N'zoth.

We hear more about this Nyalotha place, which definitely seems like Warcraft's equivalent of Rl'yeh to me (consider the lines "In his house in Rl'yeh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming" compared with the line "In his house in Nyalotha, he lies dreaming." Also, was it "emerald dreaming?" (see above. Also sorry.)

"The Circle"

Holy crap, guys. The circle. Everyone talks about The Circle or The Rings. We first hear the echo of Medivh mention it in the pre-Broken Isles quests in Karazhan, and then we've got Ilgynoth talking about it. I think we hear Sargeras talking about it at some point. What the hell is the thing? What does it mean?

"Alleria, the Void and the Light"

With Alleria doing Void stuff and the audio drama really putting forth some more nuanced and morally complicated portrayals of both Light and Void, you've got to imagine they're going somewhere with this.

"Who did Odyn give his eye to?"

This is cheating a little, as it's something more from Chronicle than the game, but we know Odyn gave his eye to some power in the Shadowlands that allowed him to create the Val'kyr. What power was it?

Probably tons more threads:

This is what I've been able to think of, relatively free of concrete speculation. With the story of demons and also Titans save Azeroth herself being put to bed this expansion (obviously leaving just enough room for a return if they want) I'm definitely seeing a ton of Void-themed ideas there, though also a decent number of Scourge-related (or at least undead-related) ideas as well.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Imagining Subraces in WoW

The idea of a sub-race in an RPG allows you to add more cosmetic options without necessarily requiring you to create new mechanics or even story. Many racial variations exist in-game among NPCs, but are not available for players, despite the fact that there is plenty of story justification to allow for these groups to play alongside the existing iterations of the playable races, as we'll see below.

So what could we do with sub-races?

Human:

Oh boy, let's just start with the elephant in the room. Warcraft's humans are all basically white people, and even though there are (or were) seven human kingdoms, they're all variations on European cultures. Now, there are a handful of faces and skin tones that allow you to create pseudo-Asiatic or black human characters, but especially when you consider the NPCs, it's basically all white folks. The fact that in Warcraft, humans are descended from the Viking-like Vrykul reinforces this idea of whiteness being equivalent to humanity. I can't really defend this other than saying that I think this flaw in the game's world was done with thoughtlessness rather than conscious bigotry. Unfortunately, this isn't the only problematic race in the game (Trolls are probably the biggest offenders, though Tauren and Pandaren have their issues as well.)

Anyway, aside from creating entire "lost kingdoms" of humanity that borrow from other real-world cultures, I think just fleshing out appearance options is all you can do. Maybe give us more than one "Asian" face to choose from, and perhaps different hair textures. And maybe have some non-White human NPCs.

Dwarf:

This is pretty obvious and built-in, especially given that since Cataclysm, we've officially had all three major dwarf clans inducted into the Alliance. So let players make Dark Iron and Wildhammer dwarves. This could be as easy as just adding different skin color options (that would alter eyes or tattoos for Dark Irons and Wildhammers respectively) unless they wanted to make more official subrace options.

Gnome:

This one's a bit tricky. Aside from leper gnomes, we don't see a lot of variants on the Gnomes. Mechagnomes are different enough that I don't think they'd count as the same race (same with Earthen for Dwarves.) This might be an argument for only giving races with obvious subraces the option (to be fair, in D&D, this is the case, with only one type of Tiefling but three kinds of elves.)

Night Elf:

You could make the distinction between Highborne (like the Shen'dralar) and the greater Night Elf population more pronounced. At the moment, I think the only real difference is hair color. One wild idea is if you were to make High Elves, though lore-wise it would make most sense for this to either be an Alliance-playable variant of Blood Elves, perhaps starting in the Human starting zone, if not getting their own unique one. The Nightborne could also be an option here, though I think they'd make the most sense as a new race.

Orc:

There are actually a few options here, especially as we saw the various orc clans fleshed out in Warlords of Draenor. You could easily have Mag'har brown-skinned orcs (I don't know if you'd want to have alternate-Draenor Frostwolves or just stick with the main universe.) You could also have the grey-skinned Blackrock/Dragonmaw Orcs, whom we did see brought into the Horde (at least partially) during Garrosh's reign. While canonically I think most of them went with Garrosh after he escaped, I imagine some might have stayed under Vol'jin. Also, let's not forget that even though he doesn't look it, Saurfang, who is the de facto Orc leader, is a Blackrock.

Troll:

I'm not going to delve into the problematic nature of the Trolls as I did for humans, but one area where the distinctions is not so problematic (within the race) is that we actually have some firmly delineated Troll empires with their own variations. Zandalari, Gurubashi, Amani, Drakkari, and Farraki trolls all have pretty different looks and feels to them. While the Darkspear would technically fall under Gurubashi, you could add in some new looks and features to allow for some or all of these other empires to get representation. The question, though, is what brings them into the Horde. The role of Zandalar in the next expansion would determine a lot for this idea.

Tauren:

Again, setting the problems of Warcraft's "noble savage" race aside, what might we see as variations? Well, if we want to set the bar low, we could do something as simple as just allowing us to have tattooed Grimtotem Tauren. If we wanted to go farther, though, we could add in the Taunka, who are technically a different race but obviously very closely related. I don't think Yaungol would work, given that there's no real lore connection that would make them part of the Horde (also, they're technically only as related to the Tauren as the Trolls are to the Night Elves.)

Undead:

The question here is how much physical variations we could tolerate. Technically, any undead in any form that serves Sylvanas is a part of the Forsaken. That includes undead High Elves (almost always Dark Rangers) as well as ghosts, skeletons, abominations, and the like. I think the undead elves would be easiest to implement, and skeletons could be just a skin option (existing Forsaken already have lots of exposed bone.) Ghosts and abominations would probably go a little outside the whole "humanoid form" that you need for a playable race.

Draenei:

We've actually got two great options for Draenei sub-races. First, there's the obvious: the Broken. The only thing about the Broken is that it would have to be class-restricted from Priests and Paladins. But otherwise, they've been there since BC, and they're truly just Draenei who have been hit with some nasty curse. The other option is new, which is the Lightforged. These guys do look different, but not so much that you wouldn't call them Draenei. Technically, this could apply to other races, as Turalyon is one as well, though with X'era dead (um, spoilers, I guess?) I don't know if new Lightforged are capable of being created. If nothing else, let us get some of those beards that the Lightforged have. My Mage needs a good wizard beard!

Blood Elves:

The most obvious thing here would be High Elves, but those would be an Alliance variant. That being said, depending on how official this sub-race option would be, you could actually implement that without too much trouble. There aren't really any other variants that don't involve being consumed by magic withdrawal or taking a big step on the path to becoming demons.

Worgen:

Actually, the only real variant I could imagine is if you had Night Elf Worgen. The cosmetic effect might only manifest when using your Two Forms ability, but it would make sense in-lore. I'd settle for a Warlords-style model revamp.

Goblin:

Ok, the craziest here would be to allow Hobgoblins, which are those ogre-like guys that Goblins hand out with. Beyond that, the only other variant I can think of are Gilgoblins, but I don't know if that's something Blizzard really wants to go deep on in-lore. Like with Worgen, I'd settle for a Warlords-style model revamp.

Pandaren:

Ironically, you could have made Wandering Isle Pandaren and Pandaria Pandaren quite different, but I think the whole point of the Wandering Isle was to justify playable Pandaren having just as little knowledge about Pandaria as any other playable races. We already have Black and Red Pandaren as fur color options, so maybe that's all we get.

So that's what we've got. I think that subraces as an option are definitely doable, but only if Blizzard is willing to leave some races out. In fact, in most of these cases, you get some of the benefit of new playable races without needing to implement new zones and leveling experiences (the exception might be the High Elves, who would not logically be starting in Quel'thalas, given that they'd probably be Alliance.)

I know this is something players have been hoping for for a long time. The question is whether people would find it a suitable major feature for an expansion, assuming this would take the place of adding new races.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Character Incentives in the Next Expansion?

Most expansions in the past have introduced new player options that could encourage a player to roll a new character. Burning Crusade, Cataclsym, and Mists of Pandaria gave us new races (and one should recall that before Blood Elves and Draenei, there was no way to have an Alliance Shaman or Horde Paladin.) Wrath of the Lich King, Mists of Pandaria, and Legion each gave us a new class. The only real exception here was Warlords of Draenor, which focused on revamping old race models rather than giving us new races to play.

Mists of Pandaria and Warlords kind of upset a pre-established pattern, which was that the game would alternate between new races and new classes. In fact, if you ignore the Pandaren (or shifted them over to Warlords) but kept the Monk, you could argue that the pattern sort of survived.

If this pattern has any merit to it, this would mean that we're more likely to see new races than a new class. And I think that, given the massive class revamp in Legion, I would bet the developers are more interested in tweaking and refining existing classes at least for now than dropping a new one into the mix (while Pandaren came in right after Worgen and Goblins, there's never been two new classes in a row.)

I could certainly speculate on new classes, but I'm going to make a fairly confident assumption that that there will not be one with expansion seven.

I should also note that there are other ways they could introduce new character options without adding a new race or class. For example, sub-races like Dark Iron Dwarves or Mag'har Orcs could be implemented, providing a cosmetic alternative.

But let's assume for now that the new addition will be playable races.

The first thing to consider is what the expansion will actually be about.

The general consensus is that it will have something to do with the Void and the Old Gods. There are tons of references to them in Legion, even as we're fighting a separate threat. And the spoilers about the end of the Antorus raid suggest that there might be a real opportunity for the Old Gods to strike out and possibly escape their prisons (or at least N'zoth. We don't really know how dead C'thun and Yogg-Saron are.)

Given the potential prominence of the Old Gods, it seems highly possible that Azshara and her Naga will also play a big role. That could be anything from the first raid tier to Azshara being the final boss, or even for her to be a kind of Garrosh/Gul'dan figure that pulls us into the subsequent expansion.

So let's go through potential races:

Naga:

Blizzard has floated the idea of playable Naga for a long time. Yes, there are anatomical questions to deal with (like how pants and boots work on snake bodies and also how you deal with the fact that female naga seem to have four arms) but story-wise, a rebel group of Naga could be really interesting. (You'd also get another race that could reasonably be Demon Hunters, which would be cool.) I actually put this at a somewhat high probability, though if the Naga are center-stage to the expansion, it seems it would only be fair to make them a Pandaren-style neutral race lest one faction be left with a less relevant race.

Ethereal:

This is another perennial favorite. Ethereals would work fine anatomically, though aesthetically you'd have to do some creative work to make them distinct from one another. The Ethereals are connected to the Void pretty directly, though more on the Cosmic "Void Lord" side of things - though that could be an interesting note in an otherwise slimy Old God expansion. The story might be a little similar to the Draenei, but they'd replace piety with a kind of scrappy and perhaps reckless instinct for survival.

Arrakoa:

The right time for these guys was probably Warlord of Draenor, but the broken Arrakoa were an early example of the good guys using void while the bad guys were using the Light. You'd have to work to get them in there, but the connection is not entirely imagined.

Ogres:

Again, would have been a great Horde race for Warlords. The Ogres have always seemed ready to be a Horde race, and Cho'gall's connection to the Void is definitely something you could explore. Too bad we've killed both versions of Cho'gall, so it would be kind of crazy to bring him back.

Vrykul:

I'm just kind of tossing this in here. Frankly, I think Vrykul would fit better in a resurgent Scourge expansion, where you could also explore their connection to Helya and the Shadowlands, though I think a lot of this is a ship that has sailed. Also, even more than the Ogres, you run into a size problem. I think Blizzard isn't likely to make any playable races bigger than Tauren or smaller than Gnomes.

Broken Draenei:

This might be better as a subrace, and is probably not in the cards given that we've had two expansions with some pretty serious Draenei stuff (as someone who has loved them since their introduction in BC, I've been overjoyed to see them finally getting some time in the spotlight, though I think it's probably time for them to step aside so Worgen or Gnomes could get some attention.) Still, the Broken have an interesting and mysterious connection to the Void. It's strongly hinted that the Blood of Sethe, which crippled the Arrakoa Outcasts, was what the Horde used to poison the Draenei who would become Broken, and Sethe seems like he might have some connection to the Void (let's not dive down the rabbit hole of his similarities with Hakkar the Soul Flayer.) We also found Broken on Argus, who have turned to some kind of power to ward off the Legion... which I will bet has something to do with the Void (see the Broken who went crazy with it in Mac'aree.) It's a connection, though again, this might work better as a subrace.

Beyond these, I don't really have any obvious suggestions for new races.

It is, of course, possible that we won't get new races. But given that "balancing" a new race, at least from a gameplay perspective, is not terribly difficult, I imagine Blizzard is happy to add new ones to get people excited about a new expansion.

A New Beta Version 8.0...etc Coming Up: Confirming What We Were Already Pretty Sure About

So, according to MMO-Champion, WoW's Beta build has been updated to an 8.0 number.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that Blizzard has an 8.0 in the works, which would mean expansion seven (obviously Vanilla WOW was 1.x.) That should not be a surprise, given that WoW is still a fairly popular game and we've gotten an expansion every two years, with an announcement about a year in advance.

As suggested on MMO-Champion, this Beta build probably has nothing to do with the actual closed beta that lucky players will be invited to test at home, but is probably going to allow players to do something at Blizzcon, which is of course in only a couple weeks.

We saw similar things at past expansion announcements: the Demon Hunter quests on Mardum were open at Gamescom in 2015, and some later nixed Shadowmoon Valley quests were available at Blizzcon in 2013, and I believe that you could play a low-level Pandaren Monk on the Wandering Isle at Blizzcon 2011 - so it stands to reason that players will have access to some of the new stuff at this year's Blizzcon.

While I would say this provides pretty strong confirmation that we're getting an expansion announcement at Blizzcon (aside from the strongest confirmation: that it's an odd-numbered year) the fact is that we don't really have any direct evidence of what that expansion would entail.

But even if the consensus on rumors/speculation are accurate (namely a South Seas/Void/Old God expansion) that still doesn't actually tell us much about the content that would be playable at Blizzcon.

Often these playable previews seem to involve what I call "new character incentives" like new races or classes. Warlords had neither, so they just had stuff in one of the two starter zones.

I think I'll probably write a whole other post about what kind of "NCIs" we might see in expansion seven, but the possibility of a playable preview at the 'con does not guarantee that such a thing will exist.

Still, even though the fact that Legion is getting ready for its final raid tier should all but guarantee that the next expansion gets announced soon, this really puts another nail in the coffin in the idea that they wouldn't.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

That Chart of Magical Elements and Classes

So, there's a cosmological chart that is at the beginning of both existing (and presumably will be in the upcoming third) volumes of Warcraft Chronicle. I'm kind of obsessed with it, as it details the way that magic and the grand forces of the games' cosmos interact with one another.


We essentially have three layers of magical realms or forces before we get to the material plane, also known as "reality."

The Emerald Dream and the Shadowlands stand just outside - and while there are pockets of unique areas in both - like the Heart of the Dream or Helheim - much of these realms are mirrors of the existing world.

Then as we travel out we get the elements. The four primary ones have Titan-crafted planes, namely the Firelands, Skywall, Deepholme, and the Abyssal Maw. Spirit and Decay don't have their own planes, though one could make the argument that the aforementioned Emerald Dream and Shadowlands could stand in for those.

The outermost circle is what I like to think of as the Primal Forces. And we get the name of the force, the magic affiliated with that force, and the entities who best seem to embody the force. The Light and the Void are both also "realms" of a sort, though probably so alien in their purity that it would be hard for mortals to survive within them, or at least remain who they are. Disorder has a realm in the Twisting Nether, which seems to be where Light and Void collide and annihilate each other to produce destructive energy. Life and Death, again, don't have full planes as far as I know, but they could very well claim the Emerald Dream and Shadowlands, respectively. Order does not seem to have its own equivalent of the Twisting Nether. If anything, though, I'd think that the Arcane is tied to the physical cosmos, as unlike the Nether, Order seems to be a careful balance of Light and Void.

Many of the classes, particularly those with any kind of magical ability, can fit into one of the six primal forces.

Paladins wield the Light, and are thus pretty firmly associated with the top of the chart, allying with the Naaru and using Holy magic. Of course, as we're learning on Argus, it seems the Light "in a vacuum" so to speak, is not automatically good, even though when it comes to mortal affairs, it tends to be a highly beneficial tool.

Priests also call upon the Light, though they also delve into Shadow. In fact, with the Legion design (and probably going forward,) Priests are almost perfectly at 50/50 between the Light and the Shadow, with Discipline becoming much more thematically hybrid between the two. Again, on Argus we're learning a bit more about the Shadow, and how it is not necessarily evil, even though, again, when it comes to mortal affairs, it's often a threat.

Demon Hunters are pretty pure practitioners of Fel magic, putting them in that Disorder domain (oddly not called Chaos. I wonder if there's a particular reason for that.) As beings that are nearly demons themselves, it makes sense that they'd affiliate with Fel, though we also do have to throw in a little Arcane/Order there, as the tattoos on a Demon Hunter are actually Arcane wards to contain the chaotic magic within them.

Warlocks are also, of course, masters of Fel magic. On the other hand, I wonder to what extent they dip into other types of magic. Shadow Bolt and the Voidwalker minion seem tied much more to Shadow and Void - the Voidwalker is classified as a demon but really ought to be labeled an aberration; it's not clear if there's been some kind of fel corruption to make your Voidwalkers actually into demons, though I'd suspect it's kind of grandfathered in as they probably decided to make Voidwalkers distinct from demons only relatively recently. Still don't know what the Legion is doing using them. Also, I'd argue that some Affliction abilities, like Unstable Affliction, seem like they could be Necromancy, rather than Void or Fel magic, though there's not a ton to support this except that the Old Horde's Necrolytes seemed to be Affliction Warlocks. And then one might even wonder if Warlocks also use some Arcane magic, though perhaps Fel can do things like gateways and summoning portals just fine.

Death Knights are obviously, firmly in the Necromancy realm, though it gets a little more complicated as one goes into the inner rings. One of the two "binding" elements is Decay, which is used by Dark Shamans to force the elements into servitude (we saw the effects of Decay in the Barrens and the Kor'kron Dark Shaman fight, where the elements were all polluted and toxic.) It's not entirely clear if Death Knights are using "decay" in that same sense, though having an ability like Death and Decay does lean me in that direction. Likewise, Death Knights have some control of the elements - though really just frost. Is this a combination of Air and Water, with Decay as the "binding agent" used to control them? Perhaps, though perhaps the chill of the grave is not exactly tied to the elements, but is more just pure necromancy. Finally, Death Knights are tied to the Shadowlands, the dark opposite number of the Emerald Dream (though having nothing to do with the Nightmare.) The Shadowlands have not been explored much in game, but I would guess that both the ghost-realm where you have to run to your corpse to revive and also Helheim are both in the Shadowlands - as are the areas you visit in some Wrath quests like the Alliance ones in Howling Fjord and the Horde one in Dragonblight. Apart from the note on Warlocks above, other classes don't seem to be in this territory, though you could argue Hunters actually get in there a little bit with abilities like Black Arrow.

The only class that very explicitly deals in Void magic is the Priest, and that's obviously primarily Shadow Priests and Discipline Priests. That being said, Rogues have always been said to employ some mysticism in their arts, allowing them to use their Stealth ability, and Subtlety in particular seems to employ Shadow magic to aid in striking from darkness.

Mages are very clearly practitioners of Arcane magic. The "arcane" spells used by Mages clearly draw from this power in a pure form, but while they employ Frost and Fire spells as well, it seems that they are conjuring these elements not through any kind of shamanistic request but through manufacture. It's possible that Mages are actually creating tiny portals into the Abyssal Maw for frost and the Firelands for fire, but I'd suspect that they are simply employing Arcane magic to create these elemental effects (I've even wondered if they are actually manipulating time to create heat and cold, given that temperature is technically just the speed at which particles within a system are bouncing around.)

Druids are probably the most obvious "Life" magic users, and their deep ties to the Wild Gods (in the form of Ancients or Loa) puts them pretty firmly in this category. They're also tied very closely to the Emerald Dream, which seems to be where the Wild Gods call home. Of course, Druids (particularly Balance) do seem to draw on the power of the Stars, which appears Arcane in nature. Given the mysteries surrounding Elune's nature (is she a being of Light or the Arcane, and is she connected to the Titans or the Naaru, or both?) it's possible that Druids are actually more like Mages than they might like to think they are.

Now what's interesting is that both Shamans and Monks are kind of tied into this Life magic, but not quite as directly.

Shamans negotiate the balance between the four primary elements: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. Good shaman employ "Spirit" in order to maintain this balance, though destructive Shaman employ its opposite number, Decay. It's not exactly clear what the connection is between Life/Nature magic and Spirit, or Death/Necromancy and Decay, but what is kind of interesting is the way that Shamans may focus on the primordial elements, but they also have a strong connection to the spirits of ancestors long since dead. Might shamans actually have a more benign connection to the Shadowlands? Also, bizarrely, the ability Ancestral Recall states that it yanks the Shaman through the Twisting Nether, even though there does not seem to be anything else in the class that relates them to that chaotic realm of Fel magic.

Monks are less focused on the elements in general, but employ that same "Spirit" element as their primary fuel, which they call Chi. Of course, with abilities like Breath of Fire, a specialization called Windwalker, and a host of healing abilities themed with Mist, it's possible that a Monk is actually not all too dissimilar to a Shaman, except that the focus is far more inward - mastering the self rather than calling upon spiritual allies.

Rogues and Warriors are largely classes of the material plane, simply using physical training to do what they need to do, though as I mentioned before, Rogues may employ some Shadow magic to aid in their stealth.

Hunters are probably also in this category, though they seem to also like to pick up skill from various areas as well - a handful of nature magic, as well as some Arcane shots and even possibly Necromancy (in the form of Black Arrow.)

So that seems to cover all the player classes. It's pretty clear that some primal forces are represented more than others, but it's a fairly good spread. I think this would be a good place to start both in brainstorming new classes and also in creating new figures and threats for the future of Azeroth.