Most Warcraft fans expected an expansion announcement for the massively multiplayer RPG at last weekend’s BlizzCon 2023. But to hear Warcraft game director Ion Hazzikostas tell it, Blizzard Entertainment’s bold decision to debut the next three expansions at once made even its own leaders nervous.
"There were definitely a few like, wait, we're really showing all the logos? We're going to tell them all of that? What do you mean, Chris?” said Hazzikostas, referring to executive creative director Chris Metzen’s opening-ceremony debut of the expansions, which are expected to fully roll out by 2030. “You're going to say where it's going to be?”
The three expansions will be part of a single story arc, The Worldsoul Saga, which is expected to tie up some loose ends from previous expansions (what sword?) and answer core questions about the Warcraft universe (what are those Titans up to?). The first will be The War Within, which takes players to the center of the world in Azeroth, debuting later next year. Following that will be Midnight, with a strong void-tinged theme, and it'll all end with The Last Titan.
It is the first time that Blizzard has ever breathed a hint about anything more than a single expansion to come. Franchise director John Hight told us that being more transparent about upcoming content has already paid off during the current Dragonflight expansion, but the team wanted to go even further in laying its cards on the table.
“To be able to sustain WoW and even grow—and we've been able to do that—we have to evolve,” he said. “We have to look at not just how we've approached things in the past, but the way our players are playing today and what they want.”
That spirit is what led to the bold expansion announcement approach, Hazzikostas said in a PC Gamer interview.
“It has been our plan for some time. Speaking it out loud makes it real, and it signals to players that we have a big ambitious plan for the future of this game, and lets them know,” he said. “But it also helps set expectations that the story of The War Within, obviously it's going to have a satisfying internal conclusion, but not a complete conclusion, because it is part of a larger arc.”
That means cliffhangers are fair game, much as they would be in a Marvel movie, where the next chapter is known to be on deck.
“And so again, better to have set that expectation from the outset than to reach the end of War Within and have it feel like a little bit of a bait and switch, if not all of the threads are tied off and everything is resolved–because they won't be,” he said. “When you went into watching [Marvel's Avengers] Infinity War, knowing that Endgame was following, you weren't upset that it ended on a cliffhanger that in a way you might have been.”
The end result should be better storytelling, he said.
“I think that clarity is tremendously helpful across the development team from a creative perspective,” Hazzikostas said. “Knowing with certainty where we're going lets us do deeper storytelling and world building today, knowing with confidence that we are foreshadowing, we are planting seeds that are going to lead to someplace. And it's exciting all across the board.”
He emphasized that the three expansions will include just as much content as previous ones: “Four zones, eight dungeons, raids, new levels… That's what an expansion is, and that's not something we're trying to redefine here.”
For fans, the news was bittersweet: Learning that there were three full expansions on the way as part of a huge story arc was a confidence-builder in WoW’s future. But knowing that there wouldn’t be a new expansion announcement for up to six years made some players, including me, a little sad.
Still, Blizzard’s demonstrating a stunning new transparency about upcoming Warcraft work, including the content calendar published last December; the now-weekly updates about upcoming announcements, blogs and sales; and now this three-expansion announcement.
That change is a welcome breath of fresh air from a company that has long kept things very, very close to the (locked) chest.