WoW Wednesday: The Future of the Battle For Azeroth

Battle for Azeroth has taken quite a few interesting turns and detours from its previous expansions. The general opinion is that, despite slight improvements to gearing over Legion’s static artifact system, the war for the world has taken a large step backward. Even with the heavy advancements with the Essence system and character progression Rise of Azshara introduced its clear that reception is less than positive for the expansion overall. Now that we are officially over halfway into the newest adventure in the wide World of Warcraft, we can begin to take some guesses as to where things might just take us next. What does the end of the Blood War have in store for us?

With the launch of Azshara’s Eternal Palace, we’ve seen the realization of N’zoth’s ten thousand year plan. The Old God of the deeps, with the assistance of Azshara, Xal’atath and the Champion of Azeroth, has managed to break his titanic prison. Those taking the fight to Azshara’s personal chambers will get to witness the event in full below. Despite her intent to use the Heart of Azeroth to become a goddess of her own, N’zoth instead unleashes his full might from the depths and buys his own freedom when she fails.

And then it simply ends. Frustratingly.

With Blizzard’s method of storytelling in Battle for Azeroth, it’s highly unlikely we’ll get much answer as to what the fallout of such an event is in the near future. Like previous installments of the War Campaigns, including the latest, its incredibly likely we’ll only see further story advancement during the next mini-patch in 8.2.5. With Xal’atath’s freedom in the Crucible of Storms its unclear where the Old God storyline is going from here, though its been made clear that Azshara is not gone forever. Rather instead, Blizzard employees have teased that the patch was named as such for careful reasons.

The only firm direction or knowledge of the plot we know is in direct correlation to the recent War Campaign. With Baine Bloodhoof’s rebellion in freeing Derek Proudmoore, he has since been imprisoned in the Heart of Orgrimmar. In the sanctum of Garrosh’s True Horde, Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner imprisoned the Chieftain with a bloodthirsty guard. Assisted by Thrall, Saurfang, Jaina Proudmoore and Mathias Shaw, players fight off rabid Sunreaver Mages in their hunt for justice against Proudmoore. Managing to free Baine, they teleport away to Thunder Bluff where Thrall and Jaina divine the next steps Sylvanas will take.

It is incredibly likely that Sylvanas will besiege Thunder Bluff and its people in order to seek her justice. This is the popular choice among storycrafters for the direction in which Patch 8.3 is going to go, as while the groundwork is present for N’zoth’s rise it is underdeveloped in several aspects. With the Great Gate of Mulgore featuring as a Warfront during Battle for Azeroth’s testing and development cycle, the groundwork IS already there for a large, zone-based raid or even a revamped Mulgore quest hub. With the War Campaign having been a major focus of the expansion’s earlier progression, it makes sense to resolve it in the last major patch.

That begs the question, “Where do we go from there?” With the large factional divide present throughout Battle for Azeroth, its incredibly unlikely we’ll see much of a peace accord fall together at Thunder Bluff. Even if the Alliance and Tauren pin Sylvanas against a cliff-face its been made clear that the Warchief will not surrender as Garrosh did. Clearly in an effort to tie off this expansion we’ll need some large ‘bad guy’ villain to unite the two factions in an alliance of survival. The Heart of Azeroth will undoubtedly be retired in lieu of the next expansion’s main gameplay system, as well as the concept of Azerite being widely available for our gear.

Logically, the conclusions all point towards one major brewing entity: N’zoth. While it is incredibly likely we could see something come right out of thin air as happened with Warlords of Draenor and Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard seems against such a notion. Previous expansions since Warlords tend to set up the narrative for the next expansion. Gul’dan’s escape at the Black Gate led to Legion, whereas Sargeras’ defeat lead to Battle for Azeroth. While we have had light teases into new concepts such as Helya’s return, the Dragon Isles and the Infinite Flight, it’s far more likely to lead into a Void related expansion.

As such, for 8.2.5 we could certainly expect that patch to deal with the fallout of both Azshara’s Eternal Palace and Baine’s Liberation. Patch 8.3 will most likely feature one of two things. The first is a siege upon Thunder Bluff if not a Great Gate Warfront, much to the chagrin of players who experienced the Siege of Orgrimmar several expansions ago. The second, and in my opinion less likely, possibility is the rise of N’zoth and his attack on the Heart Chamber in Silithus, it being Azeroth’s most vulnerable point. However, it makes much more narrative sense to tide the ‘big baddie’ to the next expansion and wrap up the war plot with a strong lead-in.

Falling in line with this theory, a poster on 4chan (which was later reposted to the WoW subreddit) posted a ‘leak.’ Most 4chan leaks, unlike other sites such as ResetEra, have historically been largely false. This particular post, made on the /b/-Random forum, is most likely just as fake as others. It does offer up an incredible wealth of possibilities for the narrative to travel in a hypothetical Patch 9.0.

This ‘leaked’ expansion, entitled Age of Darkness, sees N’zoth interrupting the Siege of Thunder Bluff during their final battle. Seeking to take Kalimdor as the first sect of his Black Empire, N’zoth rallies the Infinite Dragonflight and attempts to finally turn Nozdormu, the Aspect of Time, into their leader. Using their aid, he attempts to alter time to where the avatar of his brother, C’thun, was never defeated. Utilizing a revitalized Twilight’s Hammer cult, he then seeks to awaken C’thraxxi and Old God forces across the Eastern Kingdoms and Northrend.

Even if this isn’t the plan for the future, other thematic teases for upcoming expansions seem incredibly bleak. From Vol’jin’s quest throughout the Realm of Shadows and the Horde’s new-found crusade on behalf of Death itself, to the fanatical vengeance of the Night Elves on behalf of their new Night Warrior, conflict on Azeroth between the two factions will not end here. The war, however, does need to come to an end sooner than later; Ion Hazzikostas, Warcraft’s game director himself, has expressed interest in completing the relatively panned expansion promptly. With a brutal war on the horizon, and dark possibilities at every turn, there’s only one assured direction for Azeroth’s future.

A new giant threat will eventually arise. Let’s just hope this one is worth focusing an entire expansion around.

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WoW Wednesday: What Are the Old Gods?

With the Rise of Azshara on the horizon adventurers in Azeroth are about to come face to face with one of the world’s greatest living enemies. However, behind her stands a literal force of nature that has worked to shape the eons of time to its will. Like so many other worlds they continue to writhe into the deepest crevices of a slumbering Azeroth and seek to corrupt it from within. This week it is apt time we discuss N’zoth, the Old Gods, and what exactly the most evil creatures of the universe seek to accomplish.

When it comes to N’zoth and his brother Old Gods we first have to answer the question of, ‘What is an Old God?’ Known in their tongue as Shath’Yar, these titanic monstrosities of twisted flesh are spawns of the Void Lords. Ethereal beings unable to act on the physical world, these Void Lords hurled sleeping Old Gods out into the Twisting Nether, intent on seeding them into worlds like Azeroth. Worlds with slumbering Titan Souls. Once embedded onto these sleeping worlds the Old Gods would then corrupt them from the inside out, seeking to create Dark Titans that the Void Gods could then wage their celestial wars with.

It is estimated that Azeroth is only one of hundreds of worlds to be infested with Old Gods. Dozens of Old God worlds can be seen in celestial areas of the game from Telogrus Rift, where Void Elf characters begin, to the Star Augur Etraeus encounter in the Nighthold. Upon looking on a similar slumbering world, the sight of a Dark Titan drove Sargeras to madness. From there he formed the demonic Burning Legion to scour the universe of these slumbering worlds so as a Dark Titan could never be born.

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The Old Gods and their Void masters are unknowable, chaotic entities at war with the other cosmic faction of the universe; the Naaru and the Light. The Old Gods and Azeroth are merely one more battleground in this cosmic war. This makes the sheer magnitude of one Old God far scarier in comparison to what we may one day face.

When the Old Gods fell to Azeroth they quickly took rule during its primordial age. It was a time where the Elementals still freely walked the material plane, and their ferocious wars constantly shaped the landscape. The four Old Gods, C’thun, Y’shaarj, Yogg-Saron and N’zoth quickly subdued these forces and raised their Black Empire. Two races, the N’raqi (commonly known as the Faceless Ones) and the A’qir rose from the twisted organic matter that seeped from their dark masters. These servants quickly stormed Azeroth by force and began to wage a systematic war on the elementals, casting Azeroth into a shadow of chaos and suffering.

During their journey across the cosmos, the Titan Pantheon stumbled across the sleeping Azeroth and were horrified by what they saw. The Elemental Lords, now conquered by the Old Gods, waged war against each other’s masters as each eldritch horror sought to dominate the planet. Seeing the Old Gods as forces of utter chaos and evil, the Pantheon began to wage their own war with the goal of ordering and protecting the greatest Titan Soul they had yet encountered.

Fearing that their combined presence would damage Azeroth’s World Soul, the Titans created legions of metallic soldiers. These Titanforged took the battle to the elemental servants of the Old Gods, eventually managing to best them and seal the totality of the primordial forces into new Elemental Planes. Turning their sights onto the dominion of Y’shaarj, the largest of the Old God’s domains, they began to cut a bloody swath towards its seat of power. Fearing their servants would be unable to defeat the Old God, Aman’thul, the leader of the Pantheon reached down to rip Y’shaarj from the surface of the world. In doing so the horrific beast was torn to shreds and killed instantly, but its final breath cursed the land it stood upon and would later give birth to the Sha.

From where it was torn apart, Y’shaarj created a wound in the very flesh of the planet. There its lifeblood came to the surface in a potent and horrific whirlpool of magical power. This pool would later become known as the Well of Eternity. Horrified by what had occurred, the Pantheon realized that the Old Gods had infested the planet too deeply; tearing them from the surface of the earth would undoubtably kill Azeroth and its sleeping Titan Soul. Instead the Pantheon decided to imprison the Old Gods and their minions deep below the surface of the world.

The campaign was long and brutal, but the Titanforged swept across the face of Azeroth one league at a time, imprisoning the Old Gods in ornate structures and safe-checks. C’thun was the first to be captured and was bound deep in the fortress-city of Ahn’qiraj, located close to the Titanforged stronghold of Uldum. N’zoth was imprisoned in a similar manner, though the location of his cell has been lost to time. Yogg-saron, the God of Death, was the last to be imprisoned of his kin. So ferociously did he fight to stop the advance of the Titanforged that after his imprisonment in the city of Ulduar, he was kept under strict watch by six Keepers, embodiments of the Titans on Azeroth.

Ordering Azeroth, the Titans knew that the Old Gods would attempt to work free of their prisons. To an extent they already had; the Earthen and several other Titanforged creations had begun to succumb to the Curse of Flesh, a disease that turned metallic creatures mortal and opened them to the influence of the Void. The Vrykul, who originally had iron-forged skin, were afflicted the worst of all as their kin began to produce smaller and weaker offspring and mutations of themselves. Even as their tenure on Azeroth came to a close, the Pantheon had already lost to the eldritch gods; they would not unmake the world. Only as a last resort would they scour the planet clean of its life, its soul, and the Old Gods’ influence.

Over time, both independently and together, the Old Gods began to work on subverting their prisons. As the bonds that held them weakened, effigies of their true nature bubbled to the surface as the avatars players encounter in famous raids today. Over time each Old God worked to free themselves of their own prison while preparing for the greater future. They would call this moment of their freedom the Hour of Twilight. It would be then that their true forms would break free of their prisons and Azeroth would once more become theirs.

As the ages wore on each played their part. Yogg-Saron, chained in the roof of the world, began to whisper into the minds of his Keepers. One by one he turned them against each other and pit their armies into war with the other. Odyn and Helya he pitched into eternal conflict. Ra’den, the Keeper of the South, fell dormant after the slaying of the Titanic Pantheon and was kept so. Using Loken he turned Thorim against the other keepers and placed Ulduar solely under his puppet’s control. Those who resisted were slain, such as the heroic Tyr. Content with his victory, Yogg-Saron forced all of his controlled keepers into a dormant slumber and waited.

N’zoth worked to create newer armies in the deep places of the world. His first and greatest acquisition was Neltharion the Earth-Warder. Using the Black Dragon Aspect’s connection to the deep earth, he twisted the dragon’s mind until he was little more than a puppet of rage and hatred. Using his knowledge and power, Neltharion was pitted against the other Dragonflights and decimated their forces. Deathwing, as he would come to be known, depowered their magical acumen and scattered the Old God’s jailers to the far corners of the world.

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Queen Azshara and her legions of Highborne were next to join N’zoth. Fallen after the Sundering of the World and the defeat of the Burning Legion’s first invasion, Azshara’s followers were on the brink of death. Sensing an opportunity, N’zoth granted them power with a price; swear fealty to him and he would rebirth them in the waves. To Azshara he made her a Queen, a prophet to his new legion of followers.

C’thun sought to scour the world clean of the remnants of its mortal followers. Calling his mighty Aqir armies, he waited for them to breed in the bowels of Ahn’qiraj. When the force had become too great to contain, he unleashed them onto an unsuspecting nation of Kal’dorei. Thus the War of the Shifting Sands had begun, and would only abate when the shattered Dragonflights rallied to help the Night Elves. Even then they could not oppose C’thun himself and instead sealed Ahn’qiraj away from the mortal world. Stopped only by his new prison, C’thun instead burrowed deep and began to find his way to other places for his Aqir to free themselves.

All of this and more they accomplished in their dream-like slumber. Together the three Old Gods attempted to subvert time itself by trapping Nozdormu in the timeways. Its chief defender occupied, they then attempted to rewrite the War of the Ancients and bring the Hour of Twilight to Azeroth ten thousand years earlier. To this end they created the Infinite Dragonflight and corrupted a future incarnation of the Bronze Aspect of Time. Working throughout history, this Infinite Flight has been seen making rapid and great change across all of Azeroth to hasten their masters’ freedom.

Together the Old Gods also worked to corrupt the Emerald Dream. This realm outside of normal perception was a near blueprint of Azeroth’s pure state. In twisting it, they would seed their corruption into every corner of Azeroth. As such, when the Night Elves tried to create a second World Tree to fight back the encroachment of Saronite, the essence of Yogg-Saron, the moment to strike came. When Nordrassil’s roots touched Yogg-Saron’s prison the linked Old Gods began to invade it en masse. N’zoth, however, began to make a more permanent plan. Nordrassil was eventually corrupted and cut down by the Kal’dorei, but the God of the Deeps had already planted his seed deep within and created the Emerald Nightmare.

As the years drove on, mortals would fight the Old Gods time and time again. Cho’gall, the once Warlock of the Shadow Council, became their Prophet and a champion of C’thun. Under his command, the Twilight’s Hammer cult worked to awaken C’thun, Yogg-Saron and N’zoth, and succeeded. C’thun’s awakening made the world aware of the Qiraji armies once more, and his avatar was slain as mortals rallied. Yogg-Saron’s awakening alerted Algalon, a Celestial Titanic Observer, who nearly purged Azeroth of all life. Again mortals ventured into the titanic prison and slew this God’s avatar.

But these were just avatars, scabs of fragments of their true selves. Their true power is embedded deep beneath the crust of Azeroth’s titanic flesh, and there they remain to plan. While players have ‘slain’ their avatars in the past, their true bodies remain far out of touch and out of reach. The death of an Old God has not occurred since the beginning of Azeroth’s recorded history.

Yet they have not relented. Even still their plans are being acted upon as N’zoth seeded a Remnant of the Void within the very Heart of the Emerald Dream. The Hour of Twilight nearly came about under the ministrations of their pawn Deathwing. Using Azshara, N’zoth worked and succeeded in corrupting the Kul Tiran tidesages into K’thir. On Zandalar, G’huun, a titan experiment that had birthed a fifth, true Old God, worked to escape its prison and free its brothers. So deep was its corruption that even the Shadowlands, Azeroth’s plane of death, was thrown into utter chaos and disarray. Even the Heart of Azeroth, the relic intended to heal Azeroth’s mortal wounds, was attacked by the Old Gods in a bid to corrupt it.

It goes without saying that the Old Gods are vicious, chaotic and monstrous entities intent on defiling Azeroth itself. Having nearly corrupted the soul of the world for their dark masters, now they seek their freedom to continue their dark reign. Whether together or alone, the dark lords of the shadow break free of their prisons an inch at a time. Unlike the mortals waging war on their land, that time is on their side.

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