Since its launch in 2004, World of Warcraft has taken its players, myself included, on adventures spanning lost continents, alien worlds, and alternative time lines, to safe guard the world of Azeroth. During the course of these expeditions, players learned much of Azeroth’s history, filling in blanks and illuminating lore which has existed since the earliest days of the game. With the pending release of the eighth expansion, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, players will pass beyond the mortal veil into the realm of death itself.
Shadowlands offers the same general features as other expansions; leveling advancement, new spells and abilities, new zones, new gear, new weapons, new reputations, and new endgame content. The difference between Shadowlands and previous expansions is this time players will not simply save the world, but the knowledge with which we gain addresses the biggest question of existence, “What happens after I die?”
This is the element of Shadowlands that has my strongest interest. Blizzard has proven themselves skilled story crafters, introducing minor characters and plot points in one expansion only to have them develop into significant facets of story telling in subsequent releases. Lillian Voss’s journey from a newly risen undead in Cataclysm to her current status in the Horde is an example, but Shadowlands offers something far greater.
There are religions on Azeroth. There are grand cathedrals devoted to the teachings of the Light, the powerful benevolent force of the universe. What will be the impact of the world’s champions returning from Shadowlands with all the answers asked by those followers? We will know how souls are judged and treated and the pathways to redemption or eternal damnation. What do we do with this knowledge?
It is easy enough to suggest we will be sworn to secrecy to protect society, but is this a reasonable expectation considering we will know the fate awaiting a loved one for their actions, or our leaders for their calls to war or peace, or ourselves for all the acts we have committed?
If Blizzard decides the truth of Shadowlands will filter into society, I hope we see the effect in game, perhaps as prophets or recruiters on street corners preaching the way to join their desired Covenant. Will new churches and cults dedicated to the Covenants appear, and will how will they treat each other, or the people not introduced in committing to a Covenant before their time? How will this impact the relationship between the Alliance and the Horde? There is much potential here to shake up the status quo, even if it begins in the background of the next expansion.
There is also an alternative and no less radical path forward. In an earlier article, I speculated on a time jump in the expansion following Shadowlands. This was based on comments made by World of Warcraft Game Director, Ion Hazzikostas, concerning how time flows differently in the Shadowlands; “We will have to see how this difference in time will effect our characters when we come out the other end.”
What if the aforementioned difference in time is not our disappearance for years, but days? Since we are living and as such, not intended to be in the Shadowlands, will our minds be able to contain memories from there? Imagine, we return from Shadowlands after weeks or months, but only remember pursuing Sylvanas for her war crimes against the Alliance and betrayal of the Horde, defeating her and her loyalists in battle, and that’s all? Life and the afterlife continues as intended.
The answers to these questions will likely not be known until the very end of Shadowlands, but ripples of consequence from our actions there will be felt and grow in unexpected ways. Until then, I look forward to the adventure ahead, and pondering what lies beyond the horizon.
A parting question, will you want to know your eternal fate?
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