Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in an interview with the Narrative Director for World of Warcraft, Steve Danuser, and Lead Quest Designer, Maria Hamilton. We had a great conversation about how things currently sit narratively, hints about what’s to come, and some interesting insights on their choices with quest flow and types of quests in Dragonflight. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in!
Danuser had previously confirmed the general timeline of WoW, but he did touch on it briefly in this interview. The start of Classic was year 25, and everything which happened between then and Shadowlands happened between that year and the year 35, where we have the beginning of Shadowlands. As he previously mentioned, the events of SL took place over about two years, which leaves us with almost a three-year time skip, and then the events of Dragonflight start in year 40.
He also reiterated some of the reasoning behind the time skip, “People use the phrase time skip because that gets used in a lot of media and a lot of times, shows or books might use a time skip to hide some things, or to tuck some story away that will get revealed later. Honestly, that was not our intent here, and that’s why I’d never use that phrase. It’s not a skip in the sense of we’re skipping over some story that we’ll then drop on you later. It really was just a desire to move the chronology forward, give the world a little breathing space, and let some of our younger characters age up a bit so they can play a bigger role in storylines to come.”
Interestingly, he’s made a point of younger characters aging up so they can play a more significant role in the story a couple of times. Often this type of thing has to do with children because when it comes to game ratings, there’s a lot you can’t have children do and still expect a certain rating level. These restrictions relax a bit when it comes to teens and young adults. However, I can’t think of any prominent children who have been around but are not part of the action. Taelia was around and has done some stuff in both BfA and SL, but I would have classed her as a young adult, so that wouldn’t seem like it would apply. Li Li Stormstout could fall into this category, but I’m not sure how she would come back into the story at this point. Perhaps her wanderlust will take her all the way to the Dragon Isles.
After the recent release of the Dragonflight Legacies shorts, I wanted to clarify the order of events between them and when the events of the dracthyr woke up. My interpretation from playing is the Evoker starting story, was the timeline went roughly like this: The events of the Dragonflight Announcement cinematic, Emberthal wakes a bit early, and Nozdormu shows her some of what she’s missed, the reset of the dracthyr wakeup and the events of the Forbidden Reach happen after that Wrathion reports to the other aspects what happened, and then Azeroth’s Heroes are summoned to the Dragon Isles.
I was close on this timeline, but there’s one significant change… Emberthal wakes at the same time as the rest of the dracthyr, and at the end of the Forbidden Reach storyline, as everyone else is evacuating, she stays behind. At this point, after everyone else has left, Nozdormu senses something about her and follows her. I hadn’t considered that being the point at which it happens, but it makes sense because it is only after the dracthyr have started settling in the capital cities that she shows up again and fills them in on what he’s told her. For me, this also seems to damage the theory that the Nozdormu in Legacies was a future Murozond version of him. It’s still possible though. It could be future Nozy going to see her and not current Nozy.
One exciting tidbit Danuser dropped regarding the timeline of things is why Ebyssian and Wrathion head over to the Forbidden Reach. He said, “They get this feeling, like they can sense something is going on, something related to black dragons and that’s what draws them to the Forbidden Reach. They find that as the Primalists have come back, it’s started an alarm that was setup by Neltharion long ago, that causes the Dracthyr to start waking up.” This was interesting because it implies that the alarm was somehow related to the Primalist activity rather than keeping the incarnates locked up since the waking up and the black dragon’s arrival happen before the Primalists are directly trying to release Raszageth.
With the revamped Uldaman dungeon, we’ve recently discovered some books that make it seem like the dragons have been mind controlled by the titans, either knowingly or unknowingly. Danuser clarified this a bit in that it was more about predisposing them towards (or away from) something rather than controlling them directly. He also clarified that the wellspring is a naturally occurring spring touched by the energies of Azeroth, which is a force of change. He further explained, “the Titans and their servants don’t like uncontrolled phenomenon, they like controlled outcomes. They like to put guardrails around things and make sure that they get the outcomes they want. Part of the reasoning for building Tyrhold where it was, was to be able to say ‘hey these energies need to be controlled. We can’t just let random outcomes happen because those can be bad sometimes.’” He also likened it to putting fluoride in water, which helps lead to a good outcome but doesn’t ensure it completely. In this case, an inclination towards order is the fluoride.
As a huge Ysera fan, one thing which has bothered me about a datamined conversation that indicated that in order for her to return to Azeroth, Malfurion has to die, is that if he dies at this point, it feels like her sacrifice was for nothing. He had that one moment during the taking back of Darkshore that was awesome, but since then, nothing really. Unfortunately, according to Danuser, that is down to choices of pacing in storylines and only having so much time that can be spent with only so many characters. However, he did go on to say:
“I want to make it clear this isn’t us saying that Malfurion doesn’t matter [and] we want to get him out of the way, it’s not that at all. If anything, it’s a setup for his eventual return. The way to think of this is, if you look back on mythology there’s the story of Persephone, and she was this nature goddess, and she got tricked into eating some berries that caused her to have to spend part of her time in the Underworld and that’s why there was winter and why there was spring. That kind of metaphor really fit the story we were telling with Ardenweald and the cycle of life and death and how the night elves are intertwined with that.
So, we kind of used a version of that, in order for Ysera to come out of the shadowlands and do some things she needs to do, someone has to take her place, someone has to fulfill that end of the bargain. So that’s what Malfurion is doing, but there can be some benefits from that time in Ardenweald. Ardenweald is a place of restoration of recovery, and now that the anima drought was dealt with, Ardenweald is getting back to what it was supposed to be in the first place, and it has ties to the Emerald Dream. So there’s every possibility that Malfurion can come out of this with not only a new perspective on some things, but perhaps with some new energies that he can tap into. So we look forward to continuing that storyline when it makes sense to do so.”
I didn’t think he’d be able to speak on that as much as he did, but it’s exciting to think about. It makes it seem like no matter how things specifically happen, it might not be permanent and could lead to an even better Malfurion. I’m honestly really interested to see how all of this plays out now. I’m excited to have more time with Ysera potentially, but also, it sounds like her return might not completely eclipse her daughter leading the greens because it could be only a temporary return. Maybe. It’s a lot of interesting things to consider.
Questing in Dragonflight
One of the aspects of questing in Dragonflight that I have enjoyed in the Alpha and Beta, is that it feels like a return to Classic WoW in that there was a lot of room for the smaller “slice of life” type quests where we are just spending time with people getting to know them and the area of the world in which they live. I was inquisitive about the seemingly intentional shift towards these types of stories right in the main storyline rather than as side quests. Hamilton sad it was a very deliberate shift on the team’s part because those kind of moments and stories make the world and people feel real. Mixing those in with the main storyline ensured everyone would also experience those moments.
Additionally, Hamilton also explained how the addition of dragonriding opened up a ton of options for the quest design team because of the speed of travel, momentum, and verticality the zones could be designed to a size they hadn’t previously done, and that opened even more possibilities. Moreover, several quests will directly involve using dragonriding to complete. She further explained, “For us, it’s all about finding a cool way to pace things out and tell the story. That’s our job, to collaborate with our narrative partners, figure out the story that we are going to tell, and figure out the gameplay that compliments that.”
Hamilton also talked about how one of the big takeaways from Shadowlands was how to make things more alt friendly right from the get-go. For example, once players have completed the DF storyline once, their alts can go back and do the zones in any order they wish, or level a different way entirely. She also reiterated all the account unlocks they’ve added to ease the experience of leveling and gear alts with regards to renown, repeatable activities, dragonriding progress, and various progression systems.
She also highlighted some design from Zereth Mortis we’ll see in DF, “We also really like the unlocks in Zereth Mortis where once you had reached a certain point, you could understand the Jiro and then you could do the Jiro stories. We liked the idea of that, and building that into the renown tract such that when you do certain things, now you’ve unlocked the ability to do some more content. As Steve mentioned, we have managed to hold some things back, we very much liked being able to hold back the Lordaeron story for 9.2.5, and we said let’s try to do more of that. So far, so good, so we’ll see how well that goes as well.”
Those are the biggest areas we hit on, there are still some things I haven’t included because I’ll dive a bit more deeply into them in my regular WoW Column. However, I did want to mention that they also reiterated work on the UI overhaul isn’t done. They are still working on adding more things and looking at feedback. While I’m writing this, we’re sitting at 10 days, 16 hours, and 16 minutes from Dragonflight launch, and this is the most optimistic I have been about an expansion in years. I can’t wait to get in there for real.