Re: Artifact Chains & the Broken Isles

Kinda have a few random thoughts I wanted to get down. This is not going to be terribly organized because, without going into too much detail, the next couple days are going to be kinda stressy and hectic. So this is me trying to clear the decks in my head a bit, which means a bit of wordsplatter about the Artifact weapon chains coming in Legion and some miscellany about the Broken Isles within the context of Azeroth as a whole.

Artifact Weapon Chains

Something we can automatically tell about the Artifact chains, at least from what little we’ve been told so far on the class preview blurbs, is that all of them are going to involve going to some old and new locations in order to perform some of the steps necessary to acquire the artifacts themselves.

Without coming up with an exhaustive list, we’ve got what appear to be Legion-inhabited world(s), Icecrown Citadel, Karazhan Catacombs, Dalaran, somewhere under Tirisfal Glades, the Terrace of Endless Spring, and Light’s Hope Chapel, aside from a bunch of new locations in the Broken Isles themselves. We can probably assume that this is going to be a lot of solo scenario-driven questing that uses assets that are otherwise used elsewhere in the game. But it’s pretty interesting to consider that there’s a team of quest designers who sat down to generate 36 unique experiences that are meant to deliver on an epic, personal and meaningful story about an artifact weapon of immense power.

It’s just surprising to me to see that they don’t seem to be trying to find ways to use multiple locations for the same artifacts. From an asset creation standpoint it’d be more profitable to do it that way, and yet if the existing blurbs are any indication, we’re not going to see much duplication if any. Depending on how long these artifact chains are, it’s really a pretty broad amount of content that’s going to be wrapped up in this.

The disadvantage, of course, is that for players who really only focus on a single main character, that means the rest of the questing experience has got to feel full. Players who alt at all run the risk of being overwhelmed, but players who don’t alt are at risk of feeling like the content is once again not thick enough if the artifact chain fails to deliver.

At the same time, I think this is a good experiment for Blizzard to embark upon w/r/t content creation and I really want to see how it turns out when they double-down on it.

The Broken Isles

Okay, so, here’s where I start waxing poetic about the shape of the world of Azeroth.

Part of the immersion problem I’m having with the Broken Isles right from the get-go is the part where they don’t really seem to be a group of broken islands. Thal’dranath and the Broken Shore? Sure. But aside from that, all the rest of the territory in the continent appears to be largely contiguous… y’know, like a continent and not an archipelago. Someone says to me “Broken Isles” and an archipelago of really damage landscapes is what comes to mind, and that’s without considering how the Broken Isles have appeared previously in the game canon.

Now, of course, it’s easy to argue that Blizzard has got every reason to diversify the expansion content, especially when it comes to building on places that only had a bit of representation in the RTS games; not all of Draenor was a dry red wasteland, just as not all of Northrend was an arctic hellscape. So if the Broken Isles are really more than just a cluster of islands that were barely big enough to hold some Stormreaver bases and the Tomb of Sargeras (and some random ruins from Suramar) then quite frankly that’s perfectly fine.

The other problem I run into when it comes to the Broken Isles is the part where we haven’t really got a compelling reason as to why this place hasn’t been on the map until now. We all knew Northrend was in the world when WoW started, but no one went there because the Scourge owned the place. The whole narrative about Pandaria was that a) everyone on Pandaria thought the rest of the world was wiped out in the Sundering and b) anyone who could remember that Pandaria even bloody existed in the first place couldn’t find it because Shaohao’s mists hid it from everyone. So those places had a pretty good reason to be off the map.

The Broken Isles are probably slightly west of the Maelstrom, occupying the space between it and Vashj’ir. It just starts to strain credulity that something the size of the continent we’re seeing in Legion would be completely missed by all of the air and sea traffic headed to and from the Eastern Kingdoms. And we’ve been given no indication that the continent has been concealed as Pandaria was or is as out of the way and outright hostile as Northrend was.

And overall, when we look at the conceit we’re being given for the expansion (find the Pillars of Creation hidden in the Broken Isles in order to seal the Hell Rift that Gul’dan tore open over the Tomb of Sargeras) then the questions just keep coming. Why were the Pillars localized to this particular area of Ancient Kalimdor? Isn’t it convenient that these areas survived the Sundering/Shattering so effectively? How do the Pillars relate to the Halls of Origination in Uldum and bloody HOW can the Titans’ technology be so distributed across the surface of the planet with no discernible connectivity between them?

It’s possible that some of these questions get answered, but it’s also possible that a lot of them won’t be, in lieu of focusing the narrative on the fight with the Legion in the expansion. But with how many links are getting drawn between the Broken Isles and past content, it’s interesting to consider the possibility that we won’t see things like ruins of a Stormreaver base from Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, or anything about why Deathwing didn’t go to his own lair and chose to flee into Deepholm instead.

None of that impacts my excitement for the expansion, which is still pretty high. It does drive home the idea that the method Blizzard has used for worldbuilding in WoW basically requires a certain malleability, and consistency in certain areas takes a backseat if it gets in the way of gameplay. Which is ENTIRELY Blizzard’s prerogative, and I don’t say this to impugn what they’re doing at all. It takes a certain kind of nerd to even notice that something doesn’t add up, because in a lot of cases it has got exactly zero impact on the story being told.

I still believe that aside from all of the other ways that I feel rewarded for being a part of the world of WoW, I’m always going to appreciate the opportunity to watch it evolve and change over time, and really get a sense for what a long-form development looks like from the outside. It’s really remarkable, and it’s hard to articulate why.

That’s likely a whole post unto itself, though.

Re: the LEGION Leveling Paradigm

One of the revelations from the first LEGION panel that really stuck with me is the idea that players will be able to choose how to advance through the leveling zones instead of having a strict order to work with. So once you finish the Broken Shore starting experience, you’ll choose one of four leveling zones to go through, and then continue however you like until you reach max level, when Suramar, the endgame zone, will unlock and provide the gateway into raiding content.

What I love about this paradigm is that it allows for the zone stories to really stand on their own, making them modular adventures in and of themselves. This feeds into the idea that the expansion is really more similar to a sourcebook or campaign setting from the old D&D days, which provides a set of locations and plot hooks to engage your players without specifically saying “you can’t go here until your characters are this tall.” It makes the expansion into more of a true “expansion set” that augments the existing world of the game and gives new landscapes where stories can be told.

Of course, one of the first things I came across after hearing this announced was players commenting that “only four leveling zones demonstrates how little content will be in this expansion.” What that made me think of is wondering what past expansions would have looked like if the same paradigm had been applied, where you had bookend experiences in the form of a starting experience and at least one endgame zone, and everything else was modular and complete-able in any order.

That ends up looking something like this:

Burning Crusade

  1. Introduction: Hellfire Peninsula
  2. Leveling Zones: Zangarmarsh, Terokkar Forest, Nagrand, Blade’s Edge Mountains
  3. Endgame: Netherstorm, Shadowmoon Valley, Isle of Quel’danas

Wrath of the Lich King

  1. Introduction: Borean Tundra or Howling Fjord
  2. Leveling Zones: Dragonblight, Grizzly Hills, Sholazar Basin, Zul’Drak
  3. Endgame: Storm Peaks, Icecrown, Hrothgar’s Landing


  1. Introduction: Mount Hyjal or Vashj’ir
  2. Leveling Zones: Deepholm, Uldum
  3. Endgame: Twilight Highlands, Mount Hyjal (Molten Front Remix)

Mists of Pandaria

  1. Introduction: Jade Forest
  2. Leveling Zones: Valley of the Four Winds, Krasarang Wilds, Kun-Lai Summit, Townlong Steppes, Dread Wastes
  3. Endgame: Vale of Eternal Blossoms, Isle of Giants, Isle of Thunder, Timeless Isle

Warlords of Draenor

  1. Introduction: Assault the Dark Portal –> Frostfire Ridge or Shadowmoon Valley
  2. Leveling Zones: Gorgrond, Talador, Spires of Arak, Nagrand
  3. Endgame: Tanaan Jungle

Now, clearly there are differences when you compare this directly to the LEGION model.


  1. Introduction: The Broken Shore
  2. Leveling Zones: Val’sharah, Stormheim, Azsuna, Highmountain
  3. Endgame: Suramar, Thal’dranath

First off, we know that the Broken Shore is going to be a scenario-like experience, similar to the Assault the Dark Portal experience from WoD. That doesn’t compare 1:1 with a full questing zone like Jade Forest or Vashj’ir, but at the same time, if you compare something like Jade Forest with Vashj’ir, the former has much more content and a more fragmented story rather than the very linear experience of the latter, and that difference is important, since it also shows that not all questing zones are created equal.

Second off, we’ve got situations where you have two complete zones that are used as the entry point into the expansion. Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord are both very thick zones, on par with what Hellfire Peninsula was in BC. The difference between that and the experience in WoD, where Frostfire Ridge and Shadowmoon Valley were faction-exclusive zones, also means that strictly counting up the number of zones isn’t really a fair comparison.

And it’s important to point out that while it appears that Cataclysm really lacked for zone content (PS: it really did) the fact that so much of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor were also altered dramatically means that it just wasn’t brand-new content that was added. That doesn’t forgive the dearth of the content, but it really has to be noted that there’s a reason why it happened.

Now, taking all of that into consideration, and also knowing that Blizzard could conceivably add additional patch content beyond Thal’dranath in LEGION, what can we conclude?

  1. Four leveling zones isn’t exactly unheard of. If you discount the opening zone of the game, then BC, Wrath, MoP, and WoD all had at least four zones dedicated to advancing from the starting level to the level cap.
  2. Having two endgame zones was more common than having one. In BC, both Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley set up the endgame raids, while Wrath did the same thing with Storm Peaks and Icecrown. The Molten Front addition to Mount Hyjal in 4.2 of Cataclysm doesn’t really match up with an entire zone, but as patch content it’s on par with something like the Isle of Quel’danas or the Timeless Isle in terms of intent. In MoP, Dread Wastes feels more like a leveling zone rather than an endgame zone, even though it does set up Heart of Fear rather meaningfully.
  3. Yes, it’s reasonable to argue that LEGION will only ship with five questing zones and doesn’t have the problems of Cataclysm‘s Azeroth revamp to blame for it, but WoD was effectively only five zones if you didn’t choose to play a character of the opposing faction.
  4. However, comparing any of the zones in WoD (and it’s reasonable to assume that Broken Isles zones will be more similar to Draenor zones than to anything prior) to older content isn’t a 1:1 comparison: bonus objectives, rare spawns, and discoverable treasures are all content that simply weren’t used in older zone design paradigms. So while it’s reasonable to say that LEGION might not have as many zones, the fact that the zones will likely be more content heavy per square foot than other zones will likely be true as well. And the statements made by the devs that this gives them greater opportunities to employ the leveling zones as endgame content (without having some area of it cordoned off for endgame, as was done in WoD, sounds pretty compelling in and of itself.
  5. If past expansions had used the LEGION paradigm, it probably wouldn’t have looked that different, but you’d have had lots of content still around to be endgame content. Remember the Venture Bay PVP area in Grizzly Hills? Imagine if that had stayed relevant in Wrath‘s endgame.
  6. And maybe LEGION has less questing content per square foot, but it’s entirely possible that the reason for that is Order Halls, profession quests, and Artifact quests, which unlike Cataclysm‘s issues are actually all relevant endgame content.

I think given the struggles we saw with content saturation in WoD, it’s reasonable to be skeptical of Blizzard’s professed intentions with LEGION. But as always, where I draw the line is when one property of the design (in this case, the number of zones) is removed from the context of the rest of the design and used to bludgeon the devs. Players were convinced that having only five experience levels to advance through in Cataclysm and MoP meant that there was less content than in BC/Wrath, which had ten levels, and yet the experience wasn’t the reason for that. Numbers mean different things once you consider them in context.

I’ll never say no to more content in the game, or to more player choice and agency in the game. But I’m willing to grant the devs some grace when the car looks smaller but I haven’t had more than a glimpse at it.

But y’know, that’s me, acting like the devs are people again. *shrug*

BlizzCon Reactions: Class/Order Halls

I like the delineation about what went into their process for picking locations for the order halls (and yeah I’m going to stick with order halls because it just sounds cooler). The Fray Island example is perfect because for a certain set of warriors, the place has got nostalgic significance, but for the total set of players, it doesn’t really have any visual significance.

What’s interesting about the Dreamgrove is that we didn’t really see enough of it to really get the sense of how it’ll be different from other druid hotspots, like Moonglade specifically, or the Emerald Dragonshrine, in terms of places that are intended to be close to the Dream. It serves as a good model, though, and what Craig communicated about how it’ll be much more centered around accentuating the class feels like it could really pop. We’ll have to see, though.

Class-specific content is a great addition, and it really feels like that’s a guiding force in this expansion. Class-specific content in the order halls, spec-specific artifacts with their own narratives… this expansion appears to be all about putting the focus on the character, and that’s a cool follow-up to the Garrison Commander story we got in Warlords of Draenor that was pretty cool, even if it was generic for all of the players in the game. The isolation that was inherent with that story is completely absent with the order halls, because even if you as a specific class can’t go to another class’ order hall, there’s still a sense that they’re in the world, and it’s really twelve orders of heroes all aligning against the Legion rather than you, a singular commander with fort full of soldiers and followers fighting against all the threats on Draenor.

The Scouting Map, combined with the World Quests system, gateways into a broader discussion of the impact of Diablo III on LEGION‘s changes for endgame content, so I think I’ll get back into that one later, but as an advancement over the quest hooks you got from your garrison in WoD, it feels like a solid way to go.

Every class getting a Death Gate feels like a great addition, if for no other reason than this: it was always something that was AWESOME about Death Knights, Druids, and Monks, and if this expansion delivers on the concept of world-spanning orders for all of the classes, I think it’s a great way to tie into that.

Something that Craig didn’t really delve into was how the order halls will be different from Garrisons, but a lot of that seems to be subtly communicated in other ways. Professions won’t be in play, because they appear to be going back to Dalaran (more on profession stuff later). While we still don’t have a lot of specifics on how class champions will work, Craig is quick to point out that they’re going to be different from followers because they’ll be more prominent characters and act as a gateway to content rather than robots you send out to do content for you. At the same time, it also feels like “Garrisons” has become a dirty word with a lot of negative connotations to it, because it was clearly a huge focal point of WoD and it just didn’t end up gelling with the playerbase. So I think we can expect a LOT of elements in Order Halls to be a different beast from Garrisons if for no other reason than the say “look, we know it didn’t work out, let’s try something else.”

Personally? My dream scenario is having a system like the Garrison that exists throughout the game, but that’s another post entirely. Let’s move on.

BlizzCon Reactions: Artifact System

So I was too busy at BlizzCon to really generate reactions while they were being announced, but I still wanted to get my thoughts written down on how the announced changes are going to play out. Expect me to hit a bunch of different subjects on this, though I don’t know if I’ll get to everything.

First off, the Artifact system: it’s amazing to get a clearer sense of how this system is going to work.

For anyone who didn’t watch the panel, here’s the rundown:

  • Every spec has a specific artifact, complete with a spec-specific questchain associated with acquiring that artifact. And you can preview that artifact on the official site.
  • The artifact has what basically amounts to a talent tree, complete with unlocked active abilities and multiple ranks of passive abilities that augment powers that you already have as that spec, or new passives that grant effectively new mechanics.
  • You advance through the tree by gaining artifact power, which you get by completing content like dungeons, raids, winning battlegrounds, etc.
  • You can also continue pumping artifact power into the weapon after you’ve maxed out the tree in order to increase it’s power.
  • Relics will grant additional ranks in specific passives to allow for further customization, but the artifact has a limited number of relic slots.
  • You’ll have the ability to customize the appearance of the weapon, unlocking variant models and color tints depending on the content you complete.

First impression: to a great extent, this brings back pre-Cataclysm talent trees, but mitigates many of the issues that were inherent to the original talent design.

  • Because the abilities are keyed to the artifact, you can’t dip into another spec’s abilities to complement what your spec can do; that was something the devs struggled with because some versatility within the class was expected, but a lot of builds just weren’t feasible if the player had that wide of a choice matrix to work with.
  • Because talent points were granted by level, it meant that there were a limited number of points, which enforced decision-making on the part of the player. However, the devs noticed that a) some the decisions weren’t really decisions, since spec-defining abilities were always taken, and b) the prevalence of people looking up optimized builds online further automated the choices players were being asked to make. Having artifact power being a virtually unlimited resource that you can generate means that eventually you can unlock the entire weapon, and the only optimization is going to be “what do I pick FIRST.”
  • It also encourages play by locking more player power behind going through content, which the old talent system couldn’t do once you hit max level. This puts a greater emphasis on endgame content, essentially supplying an alternative advancement system, gated by the volume of content you engage in.
  • Part of the rationale behind the abolition of the old talent system was that hitting a level and choosing to make a dot crit 1% more often didn’t feel like a cool reward for leveling up. It’s interesting to see passive talents that modify baseline abilities crop up in the artifact because it feels like it’s a similar trap, but the fact that you’re spending a resource on those ranks rather than getting the rank as a reward for leveling up feels like a subtle distinction. It’s a GOOD distinction from a psychological standpoint.

However, I feel like there are some unanswered questions and potential drawbacks to the system that I’ve got concerns about.

  1. There’s a looming fear that people are going to be expected to fill up the artifact before their character is complete (or, to an extent, before the character is raid-worthy). If the implementation of the system makes it so that it’s a very labor-intensive process, then you’ll see a lot of players burn out under the pressure. However, if the implementation makes the process overly simplistic, it just feels like a hassle, begging the question of why we needed to resurrect talent trees in our weapons rather than just bringing back talent trees.
  2. Because of the emphasis on the quest for the artifact, and the specific relevance of the artifact to the overarching narrative of LEGION, I feel like there’s a risk that when we get to the end of this expansion and start up the next, folks will be wondering “wait, so, am I going to be unlocking a new artifact in 8.0 that’s going to have a whole different spread of abilities?” It’s similar to people wondering if the Garrison was intended to be an expansion-locked system or if it was something we’d have with us later. I can appreciate that Blizzard wants to get the expansion out there first and see what the system does before saying exactly how that’s going to play out, but the bottom line is that Blizzard doubled down on Garrisons in WoD and it didn’t deliver on the promise well enough, so doubling down on artifacts might also potentially blow up in their faces.
  3. I’m not looking forward to coming across a version of the artifact that I love but that requires me to do content that I don’t enjoy. To an extent, this is the same problem as having unique armor sets for stuff like challenge modes and PVP advancement, but with how central the artifact is being made, it feels like it’ll take on even more importance for players because they really don’t get to look at another weapon for the entirety of the expansion.

Overall I’m very excited to get to play with this system and really see it in action, so here’s to hoping I have the opportunity to join the beta test.

RE: BlizzCon 2015

Let’s go down the list.

World of Warcraft: Legion

Breaking the past tradition of WoW expansion announcements at BlizzCon, Blizzard sent a crew to Cologne, Germany, for gamescom to announce Expansion Six, named LEGION. Blizzard is being more conservative with their release of information about the expansion in development; essentially, a couple of the big PR flubs that happened during WoD’s development have burned them on showing too much of their hand too early. That being said, game development is about iteration, so while we probably won’t have the same explosion of information that we’d get with an announcement, we can probably expect a good amount of time to get spent on expanding on what was revealed at gamescom, as well as showing if there’s been any evolution on ideas like the class halls, class champions, and artifact weapon systems.

Aside from all the LEGION talk, expect some discussion about how Team 2 is going to maintain interest in WoD while we’re all waiting on the beta.

Predictions: The concept of Artifact weapons being the only dropped weapons in the game sounds like something that’s going to get walked back. That feels a little too weird. That said, a more solid date for the LEGION beta feels like it might be announcement worthy, given Chilton’s last-minute announcement at gamescom about a 2015 beta.

Diablo III

The total absence of demo stations and panel presence for Diablo already sends a signal that there won’t be any major announcements. Speculation is certainly there, however, that Blizzard might choose to forgo doing a boxed expansion and just incrementally add features to D3:RoS over time in order to keep interest in the game. Even without doing that, though, the great success of Patch 2.3 certainly will keep players invested for a solid amount of time to come: if the game laid fallow with what it has now, it would certainly still have players by the time Blizzard unleashes whatever the next entry in the franchise will be.

Predictions: More info on Patch 2.4, and that’s really it. There straight up isn’t time for anything else.

Starcraft II

Legacy of the Void‘s release date is imminent, taking the immediate post-BlizzCon spot that Warlords of Draenor had last year. At this point, there’s nothing more to talk about with the game’s release, just as there was nothing more to say about Warlords last year with only days remaining before it went live. That doesn’t mean there won’t be nothing, though: expect plenty of lip service about what Team 1 plans to do to keep interest in SC2 alive, both for eSports players and everyone else. And a lot of that lip service is probably going to come true, eventually.

Predictions: Future plans for Allied Commanders and other multiplayer options like Archon Mode feel likely. It’s far too soon to speculate on future boxed expansions for SC2 (what do you do at this point, a Xel’naga campaign?) and SCIII feels like a barely a dream at this point. Personally I plan to ask about if the mod community is going to get any love or whatever happened to the Warcraft 1/2 compatibility updates discussed years ago.


The possibility for a new adventure feels like it might be there given the amount of presence and buzz the game is generating, but there haven’t really been any hints about it so far, and The Grand Tournament has barely been live for six weeks as it stands. It doesn’t feel out of the question, but I don’t know if Team 5 can really support churning out content as quickly as they have during the first years of the game’s wide release.

Predictions: Expect some rage over the Warsong Commander nerf to pervade any Q&A, but aside from that, the championships ought to be fun to watch as always.

Heroes of the Storm

With the release out of the way and one very successful franchise-oriented expansion already in play, I think the big thing we can expect from the first post-release BlizzCon will be an emphasis on Heroes‘ staying power as an eSports MOBA. Given how long Eternal Conflict has been out, it feels like it might be the right time to talk about the next free expansion, though whether that’s something that lines up with another franchise is certainly up in the air right now.

Predictions: Time to double down of Heroes eSports presence, and maybe give a clearer sense of how the team can keep making new maps without making the game too complicated for non-professional players.


The closed beta is opening in less than two weeks, meaning the hype train going into BlizzCon will be IMMENSEExpect Twitch streamers and fansites to be leading the charge in the closed beta, similar to what the Hearthstone beta looked like, and know that Team 4 is going to have to squeeze a LOT of discussion into only two panels.

Predictions: Given how recently Junkrat and Roadhog were revealed, I don’t think new characters are anywhere near guaranteed. That said, I strongly suspect that with a release of the game coming in 2016, we might see some indications of the transmedia plans that Blizzard has: could be comics, could be a TV series, could just be webisodes, but everything they’ve done with Overwatch so far screams accessibility outside the game alone.

Warcraft Movie

Nothing’s been said yet to solidify the idea that Legendary will release the full cinematic trailer on us at BlizzCon, but between Duncan Jones lobbying hard for just that and all of the grousing over SDCC exclusives, it feels like it would be a great way to generate early buzz for the film and build some bridges that Legendary has otherwise been ignoring. I don’t expect blood in the streets if there’s no trailer, or if the trailer is viewable at BlizzCon but not on the DirecTV stream, but you’ll hear opinionmakers screaming about it either way, and that’s going to shape the community’s feelings on the matter.

Predictions: No panel presence says we shouldn’t expect any new information, but I’m 50/50 on a trailer or teaser trailer.


I’m excited to go to the con this year without the added stress of bearing a press pass. That was a lot of fun last year but it was also exhausting, moreso than I was expecting, and given how the last week has been and what I’ve got in store between now and the show, I honestly really need BlizzCon to be a vacation and not a work trip.

All that being said, this is shaping up to be a pretty strange show, since it really feels like it’s going to be something that lacks a major product announcement in the opening ceremonies and instead capitalizes on maintaining the excitement for current and announced projects. That makes it sound similar to BlizzCon ’08 and ’10, where the major announcements took the form of D3 class reveal videos and Metzen’s glorious “Geek Is…” speech, but I also feel like the community might actually be willing to appreciate something that Blizzard struggled to hammer home in those years (and in 2012, when there was no BlizzCon): the show is about the celebration of the community that’s grown up around Blizzard’s games, and it’s not just supposed to be a hype machine for their products.

So if we go into the show just expecting a fun weekend where the devs are mixing it up with their biggest fans and dropping lots of science on Blizzard’s IPs without doing something designed to boost the stock price, then I think that’s ultimately fine, because it gets to the heart of what Blizzard is about.

It’s not about making new games, it’s not about making the best games, it’s not about making genre-redefining games that alter the landscape of gaming forever. It’s about fun, and the joy of gaming, viewed through the lens of Blizzard’s games, both new and old.

I’m looking forward to it, just as I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of friends and colleagues whom I wouldn’t have the pleasure of knowing without Blizzard’s games to knit us together.

So I’ll see you guys in Anaheim.



… but I can see how they might end up shaping the design sensibilities of the guys who’ve been developing RPGs in a post-D&D world. The problem isn’t alignments themselves, but when the forces that represent those alignments end up being lopsided. The alignment system (and specifically the application in the grander cosmology of the D&D franchises) is supposed to be about balance. And when the application of that system results in a universe that is inherently out of balance, I’ve got some issue with that.

For example, take the most powerful semi-omnipotent forces we have in the universe of Warcraft.

The Titan Pantheon represents Law. Their whole spiel involves ordering worlds, creating systems that will create and regulate life.

The Old Gods and their lieutenants the Elemental Lords represent Chaos. They go to war with each other when they aren’t going to war with someone else, whether it’s the Titans, the Titans’ creations, or any other force they come across. Harbinger Skyriss definitely implies that they’d go to war with the Legion if the opportunity presented itself.

The Naaru represent Good. When it comes down to it, their job involves fighting against Evil wherever it’s found, whether it’s the Legion or the Illidari.

And the Burning Legion represents Evil. They’ve got both lawful and chaotic elements to them, but the chief objective of the Legion is to destroy the creations of the Titans so that Sargeras can create a new universe under a new order. This differentiates them from the Old Gods, who want to destroy everything because destruction.

And yeah, there are other powerful entities at play, like the Ancients, the August Celestials, Elune, the loa, the gods of the Arakkoa, but all of them feel like they’re lesser players in the game, and to an extent aren’t as easily identifiable with a single extreme on the alignment grid. You’ve got lawful and chaotic and good and evil loa, for example.

Maybe it’s a property of how Blizzard needs to constantly create new enemies for us to fight against, but it feels like there’s a lot more evil in this universe than there is good. Fighting the Legion, or groups that were created by the Legion, or the Old Gods, or groups being controlled by the Old Gods, has defined virtually every conflict we’ve had in the game up until the Iron Horde. (And with 6.2, with the Iron Horde basically joining the Legion… well, yeah. Pattern holds.)

Meanwhile, we’ve never directly encountered the Titans; we’ve dealt with constructs they’ve left behind, constructs that more often than not have been corrupted by evil forces (like all the Watchers in Ulduar) or are programmed to kill whatever steps into their area (like all the Watchers in Uldaman and Uldum) because they’re a glorified security grid that can or must be compromised. The closest we’ve gotten to the Titans is Algalon the Observer, and against all logic and reason he spared Azeroth after we wailed on him for a few minutes. So the Titans are mostly absent and for the most part imperfect.

The Naaru made a big showing during Burning Crusade, showing up to rescue the draenei and the Sons of Lothar and helping them fight against Illidan’s dominion over Outland. That beef expanded to include the greater Legion when Kael’thas betrayed the Illidari (and yeah, Rise of the Horde implied that by rescuing Velen and the exiled eredar, the Naaru were opposing the Legion even then). But what was demonstrated about the Naaru repeatedly is that they have a life cycle: deplete the Light enough within one and it becomes a destructive creature of the Void. Beat the hell out of that Void creature, as we did with Entropius, and there may be a kernel of Light left in it, such as what Velen used to purify and jumpstart the Sunwell. Generally speaking, though, the light-dark life cycle of the Naaru happens over the span of millenia. So to a great extent, the Naaru have the potential to be as malevolent as they are good, with everything depending on where you encounter them in their life cycle. And with all the Void-stuff we see in the Legion, one could argue that the Legion may have a bunch of darkened Naaru enslaved to their service.

Meanwhile, look at the evil and chaotic forces arrayed against us. The Old Gods do not live and do not die; they are outside the cycle. In the comics, even C’thun’s corpse still had enough juice in it to empower Cho’gall, as well as attempt to corrupt Med’an. Yogg-Saron sounds triumphant when we kill him in the sepulcher at the bottom of Ulduar, as though we’ve released him from his ultimate prison. Y’shaarj was killed by the Titans but his last breath created the Sha, which were powerful corruptive forces across the continent of Pandaria. The Old Gods can’t really be stopped, only delayed. To an extent, having this kind of immutable eldritch horror that always finds a way to resurface is okay… it works in Diablo, after all, and the Old Gods beat us over the head with it whenever we interact with them, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

Between the past… resilience of Nathrezim dreadlords and Alex Afrasiabi’s recent tweets about Archimonde, we’re now being led to believe that with every demon in the Legion, regardless of where or when they’re killed, their souls just yo-yo back to the Twisting Nether, and can be summoned back from there at any time. The Nether spans all realities, so it’s the same Nether whether we’re in Main Universe Azeroth or Alternate Universe Draenor.

So the Mannoroth that Grom killed in Demon Fall Canyon during the Third War is the same Mannoroth Grom kills in Tanaan Jungle in the opening cinematic for Warlords of Draenor, and it’ll be the same Mannoroth that we’re fighting again in Hellfire Citadel in Patch 6.2. (This gives Mannoroth’s big line in that cinematic a whole new meaning: “Did you bring these mongrels here just to watch you die?”) And the Archimonde we fought and killed at Mount Hyjal in Warcraft III (which we then just re-lived during the Hyjal raid in BC) is the same Archimonde we’re fighting in Hellfire Citadel. It’s not an alternate universe version, but instead the SAME GUY.

So I guess the supposition is that if we go to the Twisting Nether and kill the demons on their home turf, then that permanently ends those demons (just like we had to go to the Firelands to permanently end Ragnaros). And maybe that makes it so the Burning Legion can actually be beaten.

But that’s ultimately the problem I have with Afrasiabi’s comments. He’s acting like this was always the case. Like we should have always known that the Legion was basically unkillable, and that every demon we’ve killed, every big boss like Archimonde, the Eredar Twins, Brutallus, Mother Shahraz, Magtheridon, Supremus, Malchezzar, down to every satyr or felguard or succubus ever, even potentially Gul’dan and Illidan (because both of them ended up being more demon than orc/night elf by the time we killed them) wasn’t ever really dead. They were just delayed.

Learning that now, ten years after starting this journey, feels like a punch to the gut. It takes a ton of satisfaction out of killing those guys when now, after the fact, we’re told that all it did was just delaying the inevitable, not because these guys are saying “you may have killed me but the Legion will win” but instead “I’ll not really dying, this is just A SETBACK”. It feels like a breach of contract. It feels like something we should have been told ten years ago, so that we knew that it was just buying time. Moreover it feels like something that characters who know more than us, like Wrathion, should also already know.

Because what the hell is the point in Wrathion trying to create an army that can defend Azeroth from the Legion if the Legion is infinitely capable of coming back again and again, because they get to ignore death and no GOOD force in the universe can do the same thing?

It’s out of balance. It’s artificial, it’s backhanded, and it shakes my faith in the narrative cohesion of Warcraft as a franchise because it feels like with a handful of tweets, Afrasiabi has just changed the rules that govern the entire conflict.

And to a great extent, it feels like it’s happening because someone really loved alignment grids in D&D and couldn’t think outside the nine-part box.

Here’s all the reasons why the Tae Kim leak is (probably) fake.

1. New Hearthstone expansion in April, over 75m players worldwide, 2v2 mode. To be fair, I don’t disbelieve the 75 million players number, but I also feel like Blizzard would have said something about it if the numbers were that far beyond the 20 million mark we heard about back in September. The Q4 earnings call will be taking place sometime in the next couple weeks, so we’ll get confirmation then for sure.

As for a new expansion, I’ll roll to disbelieve on that one, based on the release timing of the game so far:

  • Hearthstone: 3/11/2014
  • Curse of Naxxramas: 7/22/2014
  • Goblins vs. Gnomes: 12/8/2014

It was just over four months from the game’s release before Naxxramas was released, but it was then another five months for GvG to come out. There hasn’t really been a lot of talk about the next expansion post-GvG, but it doesn’t feel logical for them to have a full 100+ card expansion added with GvG only being in play for 4-5 months. Also, there’s the absence of an event for the announcement to take place at; there are no cons happening in April that Blizzard has frequented in the past.

Could Blizzard announce something at PAX East this year? That’s possible, but it still seems unlikely that it would be more than a new adventure mode. The more Team 5 adds cards to the game, the more punishing the game becomes for new players, and the part where part of Hearthstone’s appeal is the low barrier to entry, very frequent expansions are a bad idea.

As for 2v2 mode, that sounds like one of those ideas that would get batted around internally, but it introduces a ton of issues on its own. It changes the scale of the game dramatically, which really makes me doubt if it’s something that’s being discussed at more than a conceptual level. This isn’t quite a red flag (because the exact phrase used re: 2v2 is “experimenting”) but it feels a bit dubious at best.

VERDICT: Plausible but unlikely.

2. Overwatch release in 2015, business model in flux.: Blizzard only announced the game would be in beta in 2015. Given Blizzard’s propensity for long testing periods, it’s unimaginable that Blizzard would be able to convert the game from what we saw at BlizzCon into a fully playable platform in a year.

As for the business model shenanigans, that feels like a red flag for me. Overwatch has to be free to play with microtransactions. Otherwise, people are going to stick with Team Fortress 2 for their cartoony FPS needs.

VERDICT: Implausible.

3. Executives have low expectations for Heroes, senior staff to be laid off. I call bullshit. If the company didn’t have faith in the game based off how the alpha’s been doing, they’d have terminated the product rather than allowing it to proceed into beta. And liquidating the senior staff from Team 1 means killing off the guys producing Legacy of the Void.

Expecting Heroes to obliterate the rest of the MOBA market when LoL is already so entrenched? Yeah, that’s far-fetched and I agree that Heroes might not make a huge disruption to the market. But “low expectations” feels like an exceptionally punishing way to refer to a game that’s just going into closed beta and clearly will get a lot of iteration before release.


4. Legacy of the Void is ready to go, just waiting on a release date. Bullshit. It’s waiting on a beta test. The recent balance tests might be a clever way to mitigate the length of the beta, but it’s not a replacement for a full-on beta.


5. WoW quadrupled art outsourcing, next expansion is feature-complete. Okay, I’ll admit that I’d never considered the concept of art outsourcing before, because I’d never heard of it. Something about it doesn’t sound kosher, but it’s not a fake thing: Blizzard has a couple openings right now for Art Outsource personnel, but that’s for Overwatch. So for Blizzard to be willing to spend a bunch of money on outsourcing the art for Expansion 6 doesn’t sound unbelievable, especially if you buy into the theory that they authentically want to get their expansions out in a faster cycle.

The feature-complete line is what seems to be tripping a lot of people up. In software development parlance, “feature-complete” means that all of the intended features for the game are implemented, and the product is ready for testing and bug-fixes before it can be released. To put that in more familiar terms, “feature-complete” means that the game is at the end of alpha and is ready to move into beta testing.

So let’s review: Warlords was announced in 2013, and was released four months ago. It’s pretty commonly understood that there’s at least some production work done on the next expansion during the testing period of the current expansion, meaning that Expansion 6 has likely been in production for at least 7-8 months. If you want to tell me that the game is at the end of an alpha stage and will be ready for beta in the near future, you’re asking me to believe that Blizzard is going to put an expansion out for beta testing before they even announce it. I call bullshit.

I’m willing to buy that Blizzard will announce a new expansion for WoW at BlizzCon this year. Hell, I expect it. And I’d be pleasantly surprised if they told us that the beta test for it was imminent after BlizzCon, rather than just doing presentations and then making us wait six months before we have anything playable. But I’m not willing to buy that they’re already almost done with alpha. That’s weak tea.


6. Diablo 3 team moved to a new Starcraft project, similar to Warframe, Left4Dead, DayZ, Smite, and other MOBAs. Oh wow, where to start…

Okay, could you argue that there are commonalities between D3 and Warframe? Yeah, potentially. A third-person action shooter with RPG elements and procedurally-generated levels set in the Starcraft universe sounds pretty neat, but it’s when you rattle off the list of other games that it gets confusing.

Left4Dead: FPS with an emphasis on AI-controlled zombies. There’s some weight to this, since Michael Booth, the guy who created L4D, has been working for Blizzard for some time now, directing an unannounced project.

DayZ: Survival horror MMO, again with a ton of zombies. Gameplay involves finding the resources needed to survive in an open world environment.

Smite: It’s a MOBA, with the quirk that it’s in a closer 3rd-person perspective rather than the top-down isometric version we’re used to in MOBAs.

So, if I’m reading this right, this will be a co-op game like Warframe, with a behind-the-hero view like in Smite, with AI-controlled enemies like in L4D… then where does the DayZ element come from if the world is supposed to be procedurally-generated and not persistent? Where do the MOBA elements come in if the primary comparison is supposed to be Warframe, which is predominately a co-op game?

All of this feels like some rampant speculation about a potential game that would keep Booth’s attention and justify his presence at Blizzard. The crux of the leak, though, is the statement that Team 3 is now working on this project, which Blizzard flatly denied, according to Kim.

Booth making a game that draws on L4D or at least plays upon his expertise as an AI innovator makes plenty of sense, and if you’re going to pick a franchise in Blizzard’s wheelhouse that would benefit from something that had more innovative AI, Starcraft certainly jumps out as a candidate. But the part where Blizzard shot down Team 3’s involvement makes me doubt the whole affair, and throws up a big red flag for the whole leak. So many other sources are saying that the D3 team was waaaay to excited about what they were doing for it to be feasible that they were sundowning D3.


Let me be clear: I don’t think Kim is making this stuff up. He’s reproducing lines that someone else is feeding him, though for what purpose I have no idea. I don’t know who benefits from saying that Team 3 is gutted, Team 1 is getting beheaded because of Heroes, while Teams 2 and 5 are ramrodding out product faster than Blizzard has ever demonstrated before. Conjuring up some pipe-dream game based on a bunch of currently hot properties like Warframe and Smite only works because of the link to Booth, whose name is never mentioned in the leak.

This smells really fishy to me, which makes me disbelieve pretty much the whole kit of it. So I caution anyone from putting a lot of stock in it.

What’s wonderful is that the next quarterly earnings call will be coming up soon. If Hearthstone’s numbers really are over 75m, then maybe Kim’s leak has more credibility. But if the numbers aren’t, I’ll be perfectly willing to call the whole thing a hoax.

On the Om’riggor

The question: at what age do orcs participate in the om’riggor?

The answer: The Om’riggor, or the orcish rite of adulthood, is mentioned three times in the text of Christie Golden’s Rise of the Horde.

Piecing together all of the specific and relative time references used in the text, we can extrapolate this:

At age six, orcs begin learning how to use weapons.

At age twelve, young orcs can join in the less-dangerous hunts for talbuk.

Orgrim and Durotan became friends at the autumn Kosh’harg. Their friendship continues into the next summer. When they encounter the ogre during their contest in Terokkar Forest, Durotan recalled going on the talbuk hunts, but wasn’t yet of the age to join in the hunts against the ogres or gronn. This implies that there is a non-trivial gap in time between when an orc participates in the talbuk hunts and when he can join the ogre hunts.

Orgrim and Durotan undergo their om’riggor (in summer and autumn respectively) after meeting the draenei.

Orgrim and Durotan’s first Kosh’harg as adults is once again in the autumn.

What’s concrete is that Orgrim and Durotan are both older than twelve when they perform the om’riggor.

What’s not as concrete is whether or not they had participated in the talbuk hunts before they became friends, since that happened in the last year before they participated in the om’riggor.

Conclusion: It is safe to operate under the assumption that an orc who has passed his/her om’riggor is at least twelve. It is probably more feasible that the age for the om’riggor is greater than that, but no other concrete evidence is given to delineate what it could be.


Spoiler Warnings: This entry will contain spoilers for certain quests in Warlords of Draenor, as well as story spoilers for Christie Golden’s Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War and War Crimes. 

Anyone who’s picked up the Inn or Tavern in their garrison has probably come across this guest quest-giver by now.

So what's your name?

So what’s your name?

The Problem

If you look at the skin tone, the hair color and style, the facial markings that are visible beneath the cowl, and the dagger she’s wielding, every outward sign indicates that this is Shandris Feathermoon. Additionally, the quest reward from the initial quest is a Sentinel’s Companion, which matches with Shandris’ past role as a Priestess of the Moon (which, in WC3, summoned an Owl Scout to scout around).


Harder to tell with the mask she got post-Cataclysm, but even without the facial markings for confirmation, all of the other details signal it.


The problem comes up when you read the quest text for both the initial and repeatable versions of the quest she offers.

“The Huntresses” quest text:

I do not wish to come out of the shadows, but I mean you no harm. My purpose here is my own secret to keep, I simply needed a warm place to bed down for the night.

I can see that you are not the type to be easily swayed into leaving. Very well, perhaps you can aid my in my search.

I am looking for someone, it is not important who. All you need to know is that I will reward you for any sign of high elven weaponry that you should come across.


This is… it can’t be.

I must be off, here is your reward. I do not part with it lightly…

“Fate of the Fallen” quest text:

I feel that I can trust you, perhaps. You have, at least, not spoken of my secret to anyone, and for that I thank you.

I have need of your aid again, and in return, I will share some of my own information. I am here, you see, to find an elf by the name of Alleria. She was lost years ago, on Draenor. It is my faint hope that the twisting nether brought her here.

I do not know if such a thing is even possible, but do keep an eye out for any signs of high elves as you travel.


Another one? How curious.

I may not be much closer to finding her, but these arrows bring some comfort to me, at least.

Here’s what’s weird about the quest text: it seems pretty evident that the quest-giver is someone who a) wants to keep their identity secret and b) has a personal stake in Alleria’s fate. There’s a pretty short list of people for whom those two criteria are true, and it really comes down to Vereesa and Sylvanas Windrunner, Alleria’s two surviving sisters. Moreover, Shandris doesn’t normally meet either of those criteria. She’s never even met Alleria.

And the last weird thing is this: the Sentinel’s Companion Pet Journal entry indicates that it comes from a quest called “Little Sister Lost” which doesn’t exist in the game data. The description of the pet then reads “the companion of a night elf sentinel, rarely given out as a gift.”

The most obvious bit of dissonance, then, is this:

  • The Cowled Ranger is definitely a night elf, sporting a night elf weapon, and handing out a night elven owl companion as a reward…
  • … but the quest text and the title of the non-existent quest in the pet journal both suggest that it’s one of Alleria’s sisters who is looking for her, neither of whom are Night Elves.

To put it another way: the quest-giver is deliberately intended to be Shandris in disguise, but there’s no existing justifiable lore reason why she’d be looking for Alleria.

Possible Solutions

Sylvanas in Disguise: She’s not really well-loved in the Horde right now, and she’d have to disguise herself to visit the Alliance garrison. And from a meta perspective, she’s worn a night elf body before (her original model prior to Wrath was a modified night elf), so this wouldn’t really be that much of a shift for her.

The reason this fails is because of what just happened in War Crimes: Sylvanas’ plot with Vereesa to kill Garrosh before the end of his trial failed, specifically because Vereesa lost her nerve and revealed the attempt to Anduin. The very specific quote I’m looking at comes from the end of Chapter 33 in that book: “Sylvanas Windrunner, Banshee Queen of the Forsaken, would never again make the mistake of believing she could love.” As the end-cap of a book-long plot where Sylvanas was attempting to reconnect with one of her sisters, it stands to reason that she would be less than interested in trying to find Alleria for the same reason.

Vereesa in Disguise: She’d have to disguise herself going into the Horde garrison, and while her last scene in War Crimes suggested that Anduin kept her secret, it’s possible that he informed Varian of it, making her persona non grata with the Alliance as well.

The reason this fails is because Vereesa’s not a night elf, and why she’d choose to disguise herself as Shandris Feathermoon who is in turn also traveling incognito beggars belief.

Shandris On Assignment: The solution that meets the most criteria but requires the most assumptions is this one. Recall that in Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, Vereesa and Shandris worked together while skirmishing against the Horde in Dustwallow Marsh during the attack on Theramore. They were among the only Alliance leaders to survive the destruction of the city, specifically because they were outside when the mana-bomb dropped.

Shandris has had a history of making friends in battle pretty readily (she called Jaina Battle-sister after the defense of Mount Hyjal where they first cooperated) so it stands to reason that she might have struck up a badass sisterhood with Vereesa during their shared experience at Theramore. Assuming Vereesa was unable to travel to Old Draenor on the possibility of searching for Alleria there, asking Shandris to do it makes sense, since Shandris would have the resources to do it.

Shandris traveling incognito, however, is the only hitching point for this (if you accept all of the other assumptions). She’s a lauded commander of the Alliance. If it was a named NPC who would be a valid candidate for running the Lunarfall Garrison, she’d certainly be someone I’d put on the short list. She also worked with Thrall’s Horde just as readily at Mount Hyjal, so in a post-Garrosh world it would stand to reason she could probably waltz into Frostwall Garrison without much concern. Finally, the list of guest NPCs who make appearances in the Inn/Tavern has plenty of characters who really don’t have much reason being faction-neutral.

However, I can accept that Blizzard didn’t want to build faction-specific quest-givers for the Inn/Tavern guests, and for whatever reason, Shandris was built to be traveling in secret.

Internal Miscommunication: I can also buy the possible explanation that all of the conflicts in this quest are the result of last-minute changes internally at Blizzard, where the quest text was written to support Sylvanas and Vereesa as faction-specific quest-givers (hence the “Little Sister Lost” quest title in the pet journal) but was later changed to the night elf Cowled Ranger, which resulted in the pet reward being changed to something more appropriate to a night elf character.

Status: Unsolved

Why such attention was paid to making the model into Shandris in disguise is really the most mysterious part of the whole affair. Regardless of any reasons you could conjure for why Shandris of all people wants to find Alleria, her being in disguise doesn’t make sense when none of the other faction-aligned guest NPCs have any reason to conceal their identities. Why someone who’s in disguise as a night elf ranger would end up have all of these accouterments that suggest Shandris when there’s all of these other lower-profile night elf rangers to imitate only adds to the mystery: if it’s NOT supposed to be Shandris, why all the clues suggesting it’s her?

Maybe we’ll see something about this in a future content patch, but if it’s a seed for future content, it’s pretty well-buried. If it’s an artifact of some past design or just one of the quest-designers having fun with us, it could amount to nothing. And right now, with how the repeatable ends and with zero evidence to suggest anything Alleria-related in WoD, the likelihood that there’s nothing here is pretty high.

I personally like the headcanon that Vereesa saved Shandris’ bacon during Theramore, and as a reward Shandris is hunting for Vereesa’s sister on Old Draenor, despite the fact that Alleria being anywhere near a past version of Draenor is… well, calling it a moonshot would be a pretty terrible pun given all the circumstances. But the bottom line is that the quest hinges on players finding a silver-lined arrow in the Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, which the NPC, whoever she is, recognizes as belonging to Alleria.

Is it foreboding that we find this arrow on a grave? Is it Alleria’s grave? Or the grave of someone killed by this arrow? THE MIND BOGGLES.

I want to believe there’s something deliberate here, but hell, we all thought that Arator’s big appearance in Honor Hold was a deliberate thing, and it amounted to nothing. Sometimes, the little notes are just in there for no rhyme or reason.


Rulkan is the Orcish Jaina Proudmoore

Focus on a young couple. They go through a fairly traditional courtship, filled with the promise of a great future for their people. Suddenly, however, a dark threat appears over the horizon. She advises caution, but he chooses to rush in headlong, and each choice he makes draws him further and further down a path of darkness. At last she realizes that she no longer knows the man he’s become, but a timeless and fervent love still survives.

You look at that story and it’s easy to assign it to Arthas and Jaina and what they’ve been through together, but with the new narrative we’ve got in Warlords of Draenor, it’s actually something that plays perfectly well with Ner’zhul and Rulkan.

For Arthas and Jaina, the threat was the Cult of the Damned. For Ner’zhul and Rulkan, it was the Iron Horde. Both Arthas and Ner’zhul made a fateful choice that broke their relationships: for Arthas it was choosing to cull Stratholme in order to save Lordaeron, and for Ner’zhul it was reviving the Dark Star to keep the Iron Horde from slaughtering the Shadowmoon Clan. After that break occurs, both Jaina and Rulkan take the survivors into exile, while Arthas and Ner’zhul continue down a path of destruction. And ultimately, both Jaina and Rulkan are willing to put past hatreds aside in order to combat the greater threat; Jaina works with Thrall and the Horde against the Legion invasion at Mount Hyjal, and Rulkan enabled Prophet Velen and Yrel to assault Ner’zhul in his place of power at Anguish Fortress.

The idea that Rulkan joins the Alliance Commander as a follower is pretty much where her story stops at this point, but the commonalities with Jaina’s story up until the Battle of Mount Hyjal is something that really sticks out to me. Combine that with all the Cult of the Damned-like qualities that have been impressed upon the new Shadowmoon Clan in WoD-SMV, down to Ner’zhul summoning an Army of the Dead during his boss battle, and it really feels like Blizzard made an active attempt to align Ner’zhul’s narrative with Arthas’ as strongly as they could. I think it’s a pretty interesting turn, since it amps up the connection with the Lich King story (and Ner’zhul of all people going down in a launch 5-man really feels like a plant for future content), but it does so without really altering the existing Ner’zhul story.

Moreover, it infuses what I feel is a lot of additional character into Rulkan, who was essentially killed off introduced in Rise of the Horde as a way for Ner’zhul to get duped by Kil’jaeden. Having her alive completely shifts his state at the start of the Iron Horde narrative (one of Kairozdormu’s “blades of grass”) while also putting a strong female orc character squarely in the Alliance narrative.

I’m pretty hopeful that we’ll see more of Rulkan going forward, because I feel like her addition to the narrative was for a greater purpose than even what we’ve seen so far. Callbacks to WC3 are great and all, but I’m really interested in seeing some new story as well, and Warlords has delivered on that while setting the stage for even more. We’ll see.