World of Warcraft: Shadowlands takes players to an Afterlife full of wonder
With the eighth expansion to World of Warcraft around the corner, said corner is about to lead players into the great beyond. The Shadowlands. The Afterlife.
Last year World of Warcraft had the distinction of celebrating its 15th anniversary, which not only marked somewhat of a videogame milestone but served as a testament to the sheer size and scope of a world that has evolved and changed over the course of a decade, plus. Plus -- think about that for a minute.
In 2020 "WoW" is showing no signs of slowing down, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is the eighth major expansion for Blizzard’s long-running online RPG and is bringing with it the next fascinating and cosmic chapter in the intricate Warcraft story.
It immediately sets itself apart from what we’ve seen before...
Shadowlands is currently in the final stages of polish at Blizzard and is set to arrive in the coming months. Where it'll immediately set itself apart from what we’ve seen before, is a narrative and setting that shifts the focus away from the mortal realm of Azeroth to that of the Afterlife. A cosmic location situated in the stars, Shadowlands is a place where souls from all worlds end up whenever their health-meter reaches zero. But, like anywhere it, too, is a location steeped in history (albeit a timeless one) and home to various regions, characters and mysteries.
The very idea of setting the next World of Warcraft expansion in the Afterlife has meant the team at Blizzard had to dust off many a lore book (and probably a scroll or two) to expand on a place that until now has only been mentioned in passing.
“Everyone is familiar with the concept of Shadowlands being an Afterlife for mortals who die on Azeroth and other worlds,” Steve Danuser, lead narrative designer on World of Warcraft: Shadowlands tells us. “But apart from dipping our toes into some related realms, no one had fully crossed over and seen what the Shadowlands looked like in-game. This was a great opportunity to define both the visual and thematic aesthetic of the Shadowlands, and what they mean to the living on Azeroth.”
Home to four infinite and distinct realms, from the heavenly to the peaceful to the ominous, it’s the latter that Warcraft fans might be the most aware of. Maldraxxus -- the home of necromancy and the birthplace of the Scourge -- as called forth upon Azeroth in the PC strategy classic Warcraft III. Even with this familiarity and history, Shadowlands immediately answers the question -- what is Maldraxxus?
“Maldraxxus was a really exciting opportunity because we got to envision this realm that had untold eons of warfare taking place upon it,” Steve explains noting the timeless nature of the Shadowlands. “Against some of the other cosmic forces that might've challenged the Shadowlands, or that the Shadowlands had to proactively strike out against, it gave us a chance to develop a deep history of conflict at a cosmic level. But it also allowed us to tell some very personal stories.”
Compared to the bright lights and shiny white architecture found in Bastion, Maldraxxus is -- at least visually -- dark and gloomy. 'The bad Place', so to speak. But as they say, don’t let the exterior fool you. It’s the home to the armed forces of the Shadowlands where war, honour, and order go hand-in-hand with a cosmic reality that defies explanation.
“When you come into a new zone for the first time, it's the visual that you get, those first hits -- the colours, the shapes, the creatures within it that really set the tone for what you're about to experience,” Steve enthuses. “Art and story go hand-in-hand. When we were developing the Shadowlands, we knew that we wanted to have some places that looked idyllic and we wanted places that set you a little more on edge that had a darkness to them, and that was where Maldraxxus and Revendreth came in.”
“You see these fearsome creatures that you sometimes fight against,” Steve continues, talking about the abominations that call Maldraxxus home. Creatures that have shown up at one point or another in Azeroth. “But some of them, you'll also align with and you'll find out that they have this noble drive behind them. Some of them are trying to set things right in a world that has descended into chaos.”
But, like that first impression this highly anticipated aspect of the expansion is all in service of bringing this new location to life...
When it was first announced many looked at World of Warcraft: Shadowlands as a means for Blizzard to reintroduce fallen characters, have the story perhaps focus on their Afterlife journey. But, like that first impression this highly anticipated aspect of the expansion is all in service of bringing this new location to life.
“When you get to Maldraxxus and you meet people like Draka, you're reminded of the life that she led on Azeroth, and you see how the echoes of that affect her decisions that she makes in the Necrolord campaign,” Steve explains. “Or you meet people like Vashj, who was very prideful and defiant in life, and she's retained a lot of those characteristics because that's what made her successful. It looks monstrous, but there are some great tales of heroism over the ages of Maldraxxus as it has fought to defend the Shadowlands against enemy incursions.”
In typical Warcraft fashion, everything is not what it seems when you arrive in the Shadowlands -- Anima, the life essence that drives all things in the afterlife, is mysteriously gone and in short supply. A drought of spirit in a very real sense, that in turn is affecting each of the realms and Covenants in different ways.
“In the case of Bastion, you see a crisis of faith playing out,” Steve continues, noting that the spiritual Kyrian of Bastion are beginning to question eons of order. “A system that had worked for a very long time has now stopped working and that has had grave repercussions on the people who are supposed to be dedicated to this life of service.”
“In Ardenweald, you see the effects that the Anima drought has upon this ancient forest and the job it has of restoring fallen ancients and wild gods back into the cycle of life. In Revendreth, you see the effects of Anima being hoarded and taken from those who need it for carrying out the realm's noble purpose of rescuing souls that are on the brink of being lost to darkness and helping them find some form of redemption.”
In Maldraxxus the lack of Anima means fewer soldiers, infighting between the various houses that reside throughout the realm, turning on one another, leading to destruction. Blizzard describes the turmoil here as “a very Machiavellian story” full of political intrigue and mystery.
“This lends a very different feel to the realm of Maldraxxus than some of the other zones that you'll be adventuring through and that sense of internal conflict of these rival houses forming alliances, turning against their opponents, perhaps even outside forces coming in and affecting the balance,” Steve concludes. “That was a really fun theme to explore and it gave Maldraxxus a different sort of flavour than the other zones that you'll adventure in in the Shadowlands.”
In setting its sights on the afterlife Blizzard is continuing to challenge its players by dropping them into a larger than life story full of twists and turns and surprises. And here, in the Shadowlands, that larger than life Warcraft feel is about to take on new meaning.