Predictions for WoW The Dark Below
by Tyler Edwards, September 18, 2013
MMO fans have been abuzz with the recent news that Blizzard Entertainment has trademarked the name, "The Dark Below." With the titles of the next expansions for StarCraft II and Diablo III already known and Project: Titan delayed, it seems likely this could be the next World of Warcraft expansion. Iíve decided to put together a list of my predictions for what storylines and content TBD might bring. Many of these predictions will likely prove wrong, but if nothing else, it will be fun to look back in a few months and laugh at how far off I was.
It will exist:
Of course, we donít even know for sure that The Dark Below will be the next WoW expansion. You might say that TBDís validity is TBD.
But it seems very likely. Some doubt was cast on the idea when the trademark of TBD was immediately followed by a similar trademark application for the obviously fake title, Corgis Unleashed, but there has now been a trademark application for it in Europe, as well. The European application is listed as coming from the same law firm that registered Reaper of Souls, the confirmed expansion for Diablo III.
This wouldnít be the first time that Blizzard has attempted to throw players off the scent. When dataminers discovered Halloween masks for Goblins and Worgen and correctly guessed these would be the new playable races in the third expansion, Blizzard hastily added masks for several other NPC races in an attempt to discredit the rumor.
This is around the time we would expect to see the next expansion title trademarked, assuming it will be announced at Novemberís BlizzCon.
Furthermore, The Dark Below already has some mentions in WoW lore. Ozumat, the kraken used by the Naga in Cataclysm, bears the title "Fiend of the Dark Below."
To put on our tinfoil hats a bit, Blizzard has mentioned that Mists of Pandaria was something of a late addition, supplanting a different expansion concept they had already begun developing. Cataclysm had many hints of future content involving the Naga and the ocean, so The Dark Below may be the follow-up expansion that was pushed back by Pandaria.
Azshara is the main villain:
If weíre going to be dealing with Naga, thereís only one obvious choice for the main villain: Azshara.
For those who arenít experts on WoW lore, Azshara - also known as the Light of Lights, the Flower of Life, and countless other pretentious titles - was once the queen of the Night Elves. Beautiful and seemingly benevolent, she was loved by her people, but she did not love them in return.
She used her vast powers as a sorceress to reach into the Twisting Nether, contacting the demons of the Burning Legion. They promised to remake the world in her image by destroying all those she saw as unworthy, and she ushered them into Azeroth, sparking the War of the Ancients. This devastating conflict shattered the world and sent much of Night Elven civilization to the bottom of the sea.
Azshara and her Highborne servants were blasted beneath the whirlpool of the Maelstrom, but they did not drown. Instead, they heard the whispers of the Old Gods, who promised survival in exchange for service. Azshara and her people were then transformed into the serpentine Naga.
Fast forward to the events of Cataclysm. The Throne of the Tides dungeon saw the Naga invade the elemental plane of water and abduct Neptulon, the lord of water. If they were to succeed in corrupting him, the Naga would gain total dominance over the waters of Azeroth.
So letís recap. Azshara is an inconceivably powerful sorceress who became even more powerful with the aid of the Old Gods and may also control the element of water. That sounds like an expansion-level threat.
Not all underwater:
The signs are pointing at a water-themed expansion, which raises the grim specter of underwater zones. Underwater areas in MMOs are, to put it lightly, controversial. Some people love them, while some people would rather gouge out their own eyes with rusty forks and dance naked on hot coals than play through them.
So an entire expansion at the bottom of the ocean doesnít seem like a particularly smart move on Blizzardís part. Thankfully, there are a lot of forms an ocean expansion could take that donít need to take place underwater.
A popular piece of fan speculation is that Azshara may use the power stolen from Neptulon to raise a new continent in the Great Sea. The ruins of the ancient Night Elf empire are found beneath the sea, so thereís a lot of lore to work with there. Ruined isles raised from the deeps would also make for a very interesting and unusual environment to explore.
Another possibility is that The Dark Below will involve a lot of island-hopping. There are a lot of interesting island locations in Warcraft lore that are not yet in-game: the nation of Kul Tiras, the Troll empire of Zandalar, the tomb of the demon lord Sargeras, and the Goblin capitol of Undermine.
Certain areas of the expansion may not have anything to do with the ocean at all. Itís possible that The Dark Below could refer to underground areas, the domain of the Old Gods. The ethereal realm of the Emerald Dream, another location known to be stricken by the corruption of the Old Gods, could also make up a zone or two.
While there may be one or two underwater areas, there are plenty of other potential settings for TDB.
New character models and fourth specs:
For some time now, one of the hottest topics in the WoW community has been the issue of the gameís aging character models. Blizzard is known to have been working on updated models for the gameís oldest races for some time now, so it seems likely their release is imminent. A new expansion provides the perfect opportunity.
Creating new models and animations for nearly all of WoWís races will tax the art team considerably, so itís pretty unlikely a new playable race will be added at the same time. But there needs to be some kind of "new hotness" to draw people in.
A new class is possible, but they just added the monk class, and putting in another so soon seems unlikely, especially considering that monks donít seem to have proven very popular. That leaves one other possibility: fourth specializations for all classes.
Ever since druids were given a fourth spec, the other classes have been clamoring for their own. Itís an issue thatís never going to go away, and Blizzard would be wise to settle it sooner rather than later.
Some people believe fourth specs for ten classes would be too much work to be practical, arguing that itís equivalent to adding three new classes, but this isnít really true. A class is more than the sum of three specs. The specializations of a class will always share many core abilities, as well as an overall look and theme. New specs would only require a few new abilities, many of which would likely be passives, whereas a new class has to start from scratch.
Fourth specs would add a lot of excitement to WoW by bringing fresh options to the old classes, and it seems the most logical choice in the gameís current state.
This is the prediction Iím most likely to regret making, but I believe the next expansion will see player housing added to World of Warcraft.
Itís something that people have been asking for forever. It was planned as a feature as far back as WoWís original beta. Blizzard has often said they would like to do it but are merely unsure of how to implement it. And itís one of the few major MMO features that WoW is completely lacking.
The timing seems right, as well. WoW has slowly been embracing more "fluff" features, like transmogrification and cosmetic minor glyphs. Thereís also Sunsong Ranch, the player farm in Mists of Pandaria that almost acts as player housing lite. Sunsong proved far more popular than anyone could have expected, so that might show the desire for player housing is there.
And if you want to be cynical, housing opens the door to all sorts of things they could sell in the new cash shop.
If the next expansion has an ocean theme, that could provide a good opportunity for housing. Players could buy their own islands and build on them to their heartís content. Or perhaps players will be given their own ships that can be used as housing.
It also wouldnít surprise me if Blizzard put a unique Warcraft spin on the concept of player housing. Maybe it wonít be housing so much as fortresses, complete with daily quests to defend them from increasingly difficult attacks by NPC armies. Or maybe players will be able to build entire towns like in the old strategy games.