What’s on the other side of Azeroth? For a long time, the answer has been, “Nothing but ocean.” Recently though, this may have changed. Game-wise, Azeroth is running out of space, and there are only so many islands that can emerge from the fog before it becomes cliche. But this isn’t just about zones… it all ties into something deeper.
I’m convinced there has been a shift at Blizzard since the Activision merger, which has affected WoW’s future expansions on a fundamental level. Simply put, they’re milking WoW more than they originally intended.
Several years ago, I speculated that Blizzard only intended to create five expansions for WoW. Back then, I think this was true. Today though? I strongly question whether this is still the case with Activision and Blizzard deciding to milk their cash cow for all it’s worth.
To be clear, “Plan A” is still possible. It’s still perfectly reasonable to suggest WoW will be treated similar to Dark Age of Camelot. Once the main expansions are out by 2014, Blizzard will move the bulk of it’s MMO crew to Titan, and WoW will only receive smaller content updates for those who continue to play.
But then there’s “Plan B”, which Blizzard may have switched to. And what’s “Plan B”? It’s simple. They’ll continue to make expansions indefinitely until WoW’s subscription levels no longer justify it.
This leads to a bit of a conundrum lore-wise. Blizzard once had a loop hole for endless content. At the very first BlizzCon, Metzen mentioned that the dormant portals could be activated to lead to a new worlds, allowing for all sorts of endless content. Unfortunately, Burning Crusade taught Blizzard something else: Players prefer Azeroth. (This was mentioned in an interview months after BC was released.) Later, WotLK’s popularity would confirm it. Azeroth, though, is running out of space.
To solve this, Blizzard’s first tactic was obviously to switch from macro to micro. With Emerald Dream shoved off into a book, most of us were expecting an expansion that entailed everything in the Great Sea. Instead we received Vanilla 2.0, the Elemental Plane we originally expected in Emerald Dream, and a handful of zones added to the Vanilla continents (Vashj’ir being a clever addition to Khaz Modan).
As it stands now, Blizzard is slicing up the remaining unexplored lands as thinly as possible. Pandaria was once expected to be a single zone. Now, it’s an entire expansion. The opposite is being done with areas outside of Azeroth. They’re being minimized and used as filler. Check out the Elemental Planes for a great example. We once expected each of them to at least be their own leveling zone. Instead, we received one full zone, a daily quest hub, and a few instances. Azeroth itself is obviously being prioritized.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but what do they have left to work with? There’s only so many zones they can tack onto the Vanilla Kingdoms and possibly Northrend. There are also only so many islands to be found in the Great Sea. Some have suggested Blizzard will try to present us with some kind of “Southrend”, but Pandaria has pretty much filled that role as far as concept and geography goes. A “floating continent” of sorts up in the sky is possible… I suppose. But the most promising suggestion is that we finally travel to the other side of Azeroth.
When it comes to the “other side of Azeroth”, many like to point to the globe of Azeroth within the Halls of Lightning, or even better, the hologram Algalon pulls up when he’s preparing to reset the planet. Both of these are dubious, but they’re all we have to go on. Neither globe shows Azeroth as it was (before the Sundering), nor do they show the planet as it currently is (no Pandaria). With that in mind, they both show nothing but ocean on the other side of the planet.
Fortunately for Blizzard, they have another loophole to provide more content… the Cataclysm. Blizzard could easily claim that Azeroth’s altered shorelines are partially due to new land that emerged on the other side of the planet when Deathwing returned.
Granted, it’s also plausible that we could someday see an Outland 2.0 (and Northrend 2.0), fixing it so the timeline no longer jumps around as we level up. Blizzard *has* established that they’re still willing to leave Azeroth, but only for short trips to individual zones and instances. This would allow them to still use Outland’s dormant portals. [Edit: It's also how we may finally see the Emerald Dream. It won't be a full expansion, but we could see an instance and/or zone.]
As always, we’ll just have to wait in see. Once Titan is out though, we should at least know which plan Blizzard has decided to use.