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With World of Warcraft’s The Worldsoul Saga now out of the bag, players of the MMO are hungry to know what will be included in the first of the trio of expansions coming to the game over the next couple of years, with The War Within set to arrive in 2024.
In the second part of our interview from Blizzcon – read the first here if you’ve not yet – we spoke further with lead visual and development artist Gabe Gonzalez and assistant lead on encounter design Drew de Souza on what exactly players can look forward to in the opening chapter of the upcoming trilogy of expansions, and how breaking down the barriers between Horde and Alliance was just the beginning of a more connected World of Warcraft.
VG: Speaking on the War Within specifically, how do you intend to ease returning players into the new expansion?
GG: Well, there’s definitely going to be things that are going to be familiar to returning players. There’s going to be common themes that we’ve seen before in previous expansions. Like Kobolds is going to be a cool familiar Classic flavour thing that we’re going to see again. We’re going to see familiar themes that we’ve seen with the Dwarfs in the Earthen. Even though the Earthen and the Dwarfs are completely different cultures and they’re very much unique in their own type of way.
So there should be enough familiarity for a returning player. And that’s really the aim to… we’re always trying to strive for the most amount of clarity for the storyline and how everything connects. It’s 20 years in the making. So that’s one of our main focuses. But in terms of familiar themes that the players can look forward to from previous expansions, I think there’s going to be a lot of things that players are going to be excited about.
VG: What new features in the expansion you think WoW players will be most excited by?
GG: Well, Warbands sounded like it was a pretty-
DdS: I’m excited for that one too. Yeah, just the opportunity to show off all your characters on the Warband, on your login screen. And that real analysis of what’s a player accomplishment versus a character accomplishment is awesome. It gives you an opportunity to play with different friend groups or do different activities. And it always feel like you’re making progress as a whole. So that’s really exciting.
Delves are also really exciting. This is a new way to engage with the outdoor world. Something really cool is they actually use airlock tech, so they almost feel seamless. Like you walk into a cave and now you’re in a Delve. And it gives you that opportunity to engage with the world in a different way, which is really cool. And then as always, we’re excited to visit different locations and check out different dungeons and that sort of thing.
VG: And can players expect the events of War Within to change much of the traditional WoW hubs like Ogrimmar and The Undercity? Are we going to see some areas in the base game change because of things that might happen in The War Within?
GG: Maybe. We’ll just have find out.
DdS: We’ll have to see…
GG: Well, we’re definitely adding Khaz Algar, a whole new continent to the world, so it’s definitely going to have a pretty permanent imprint on the map in that way. We’ll find that obviously most of the experience is going to happen underground. So in that sense, yes, we’ll definitely see that mark be left behind by this expansion of the world.
VG: Can you speak a little on the new Earthen race we’ll be seeing in The War Within and how they’ll differentiate themselves from the existing races in the game?
DdS: Yeah, I think this is almost like a, I’m looking for the right word, regenerative form of what a dwarf was. These were placed here by the Titans to watch the Causeway and protect the Core of Azeroth, and they didn’t quite go down the path that our Bronzebeard dwarf friends did or our Dark Iron dwarfs did. This is the pure form. And we see that in them. They still have stone skin. And they actually have jewels coming out of their skin. You can even change the colours of those, which is really cool. And there’s some connection on … there’s some story beats there and what that means even. So they have that core identity that’s very connected to a dwarf, but it feels almost pure, the essence of it.
VG: With recent changes like cross-guilds and the like introduced during Dragonflight, it almost feels like we’re in a new era of WoW where the old lines of Horde vs Alliance are no more. Do the Earthen carry on that new normal of not being beholden to one particular side of that conflict?
GG: I feel like definitely the Earthen are not … they’re not really meant to be designed to be associated with a specific faction or anything like that. I think obviously there’s a little bit of, obviously like I mentioned before, there’s some connection with dwarves and some of that language. Obviously, like Andrew was saying, there’s some history there, some connection in the lore. And some folks associate Dwarves with Alliance.
But I think when it comes to the Earthen themselves, visually they’re meant to be very agnostic to either faction. So they’re really meant to fit in with either visually, I guess, at least. They’re pretty flexible in that sense. When we design characters that are meant to be more agnostic of both factions, we don’t necessarily think too much about how aesthetically, I guess, it might fit within each of the factions. We just focus on making that allied race the coolest it can be regardless of faction or where they might align or anything.
But I guess to delve a little bit more into that, I think what we’ll find going into War Within is that really the story and we as players is more about rallying together towards a common goal.
VG: I think I felt that, especially in that wonderful cinematic (see above), that there’s a real sense now of blurring the lines between players, and more having them come together to work towards a common goal.
DdS: You see a little bit of that in the Earthen culture themselves. We talked a little bit about what’s next. They’re almost fragmented. They had this purpose and they’ve been scattered. They’re finding themselves. And we need to reconnect them. And as we saw in the opening cinematic, there’s clearly a problem bigger than the Horde and Alliance in-fighting. And what you saw with Thrall and Anduin would acknowledge that. So we need to come together, we need to get to the bottom of this, and we need to bring them together to do it.
GG: I would say also, just to add on to that, a lot of the things that we do within the art team when it comes to, I guess, to go off on bringing people together and things like that, I feel like there’s some of that when it comes to player customization. I think our philosophy has been recently a lot more, it’s been about how can we be more inclusive about different ways of representing yourself, adding as much variety as we can. And I think you’ll see that in the customization options. You’ll see really these really cool beards, these really cool ruins that are … even hairstyles and things like that, that they can fit any gender identity.
DdS: Yeah. And even to add on to that, Hero Talents do come with that Classic fantasy aesthetic. Player expression is at the forefront of what we really want with that system. And that even shows a little bit here with … you can do a lot of awesome, unique customizations to your Earthen. You can express your class in a lot of unique ways. We’re giving a lot of player expression to the fantasy they want to portray and that aesthetic.
VG: So to end on, what do you think players will be most drawn to in terms of making themselves and their characters feel unique and represented in the new expansion?
DdS: I think Hero Talents are probably … that system will actually unlock at level 71, so pretty early on you’re going to say, “I want to be a Mountain Thane” or “I want to be a Farseer.” And you go down that path as a player and start expressing your fantasy. And as we continue through the campaign and maybe unlock the Earthen Allied race, you’ll have even more opportunities. But I think that’ll be the first thing that you hit on where it’s like, this is the fantasy I want to chase, this is me.
GG: I would say, I guess, for my part is just going to be all the cool gear that we’re going to loot. From all the different types of … the Arathor, the Earthen, maybe some Nerubian stuff in there we can loot too. So obviously it’s always going to be a ton more gear that we can collect, customized transmog over. So that’s what I’m really excited about personally.
World of Warcraft: The Worldsoul Saga will kick off in 2024 with the release of the first expansion World of Warcraft: The War Within. That expansion will then be followed by Midnight and The Last Titan, although exact dates for those expansions are yet to be confirmed.