Azeroth – Is it running out of zones?

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.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 4:27 am

Thank you for this post. I have been so curious about this. Time to actually read it!

2 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 4:37 am

I wouldnt X out Emerald Dream honestly. It can still happen, and it could be one of those cool Xpacs that open up new zones with patches since in reality it will be amazingly big if it were to happen. Also as far as Titan goes the Blizzard people have already started to play it so it seems to be further along than expected. The Other side of Azeroth is a plausible Idea. New planets are very plausible also.

I wouldnt go as far to say that they are milking WoW. Most of us know that Cataclysm was in fact a terrible expansion. Subscriber losses have gone down, and there might be a chance that they will go up this quarter and even during Mists release. Honestly World of Warcraft is still the best MMO on the market at least in the fantasy area. They wouldn’t risk making Titan and hoping it is as good.

They will probably do an Annual pass and allow you to play both WoW and titan. That would be incredible in so many ways. I am thinking that you are convinced in most of your Posts that WoW is dying, and it might be. Although both you and me are also dying in a sense. Hopefully not rapidly though. Have faith in the Warcraft universe. Be thankful that Blizzard didnt merge with EA =P

3 Raegx March - 2012 at 6:10 am

There was a list that was posted in ~2006/7 that had a list of the complete list of WoW expansions as planned during initial release. That list has probably changed over time, but the initial ‘leaked list’ reflects what we have seen.

I wish I could find the original image of the list, but here is a transposed copy posted in 2009 on MMO champ.

If this list were true, we see one more expansion planned after Mists.

4 Michichael March - 2012 at 8:15 am

Just a bit of a editorial correction…

“…Metzen mentioned that the dormant portals of could be activated to lead to knew world, …”

would be better written as… “Metzen mentioned that the dormant portals of Outland could be activated to lead to new worlds,”

5 Cocles March - 2012 at 11:16 am

@Michichael Thank you. I rewrote several parts right before posting (when I was half asleep), and of course it’s now biting me in the rear. I’m going through now to fix the typos and syntax.

6 Cocles March - 2012 at 11:46 am

@Milan I don’t think will be an Emerald Dream expansion, but I do think we’ll eventually see it as an instance and/or zone. It’s fine for us to “visit” other world’s, but Blizzard won’t have us staying there as we stayed in Outland for a couple years.

I in no way think WoW is dying. Sure, subscriptions have dropped by about two million, but it’d be a huge exaggeration to say the game is dying. The tone you’re sensing probably comes from my belief that WoW isn’t written as well as it used to be. Sure, the quality of the writing is there… but the quest writers don’t seem to have as much lore knowledge as the original writers did. I admit, Hyjal is the zone that gave me this attitude. There are some other example, but Hyjal is the big one. It’s as if the quest writer had a list of names and a lore “cheat sheet”, but no sense of which characters were more important and why. Malfurion is just some dude standing in a field. That moment should have been huge. We see it again a couple patches later with Malorne. He’s just some random mob that pops up out of nowhere then disappears. Both of those moments deserved a machinima cinematic a’la Wrathgate.

7 Cocles March - 2012 at 11:50 am

@Raegx Yes, I discussed that list here:

As the disclaimer in your post pointed out, the list was pure fan-speculation. That said, it was a good read. The guy made some accurate guesses, so who knows?

8 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 12:59 pm

If they did do something with the emerald dream it could possibly be Malfurion’s time to shine. Who knows though. If the game goes well and they feel like they might need to go with the Dream then why not? Just go ahead and pop N’zoth in there as the main bad guy.

9 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 1:05 pm

And I am greatly disappointed that we did not really get anything as epic as wrathgate this expansion.

Also what about a time travel expansion? I know it seems far fetched, but Nozdormu did mention the cycle of his corruption will repeat and that he might become murozand. Maybe he isnt taking losing his powers so well, and he goes crazy or is corrupted by old gods.

This gives us a chance to relive moments in the past games, and maybe even see some stuff that we were not aware of before.

Also with as many characters as WoW is bringing back does anyone thing that we might see Gul’dan at some point? I know he is dead, but some demonic magics could bring him back. Would make for a nice raid on Argus.

10 Cocles March - 2012 at 1:34 pm

I’m certain we’ll see Illidan again, but I’m not sure about Gul’dan… it’s possible though. And yeah, Malfurion will definitely shine when we finally get to really wander around the Emerald Dream. I wish I could find that dang interview where they talked about “staying on Azeroth”.

11 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 3:45 pm

I think I heard it. I like how metzen during the trailer of Mists said “In due time” To a fan that yelled “EMERALD DREAM.” I am not sure about Gul’dan either, but knowing blizzard Sargeras could have summoned him from the dead or some stuff and made him fight us. Illlidan might be around Argus. Burning Legion brings him back and wants to torture him for eternity? What a hell that would be. He escapes maybe trains the new Demon Hunter class. Great possibilities.

The Azshara expansion would be at its best before Argus/sargeras honestly.

12 sheppo March - 2012 at 4:48 pm

I think it’s important to remember that Pandaren aren’t a new addition to the lore, and much of what we hope will be tied in to the coming expansion is just going to turn things back around in the main story themes we’re familar with in WoW… elementals, old gods, burning legion, titans, and of course the war between the alliance and horde. There’s plenty of content to be had there without ret-conning islands in to existence

Outland, I think, was a massive departure from ‘classic fantasy’ that we had with vanilla. But if you ask most long-time WoW players what their favourite expansion is, both in terms of aesthetics, game play, and the feeling of wonderment, it was TBC, and playing in Outland, and the reams and reams of new lore it bought, as well as reinforcing a lot of the well known back story. The caverns of time certainly helped with that latter aspect.

Personally, I feel like the lore, as we know it today, allows for much more expansion on azeroth – and the emerald dream, which is.. well, i dont need to explain what that is. There’s still plenty of scope, and that’s even before you look at the non Azerothean realms and planets in the lore.

I think ultimately, it feels like, with MoP, blizzard are trying to remember what was good about vanilla WoW.. what made it unique, and what old-timers loved about that vintage of the game.. whilst still trying to remove or improve on the bad, and I definitely hope we’ll see some recurring themes towards MoPs closing months. Specifically titan, old god, or burning legion based.

I wouldn’t say we’re running out of things to do in WoW until we have been to the homes of the burning legion, the titans, and killed off all known old gods, at the very least. 🙂

13 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 5:14 pm

For sure Pandaren are not an addition to the lore, but technically all of the other stuff on Pandaria is.

14 sheppo March - 2012 at 5:30 pm

@Milan – each expansion needs addition to the lore to make it compelling. Each expansion so far, and in fact, each major content patch in vanilla did the same. The story arch remains as was before, it’s just the fine detail.

We know MoP is ending on an assualt on the Horde capital city, and we know there’re heightening tensions between horde and alliance… so in affect, new race, new continent and new macro storylines aside… MoP isn’t adding anything new to the major lore components than we already knew about. 🙂

sure, we can argue it’s padding out what should have been a single zone in to an entire continent, but with expansions being released ever more frequently is that such a bad thing if the content we’re delivered on release is compelling, and enjoyable? 🙂

15 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 4:30 am

I understand that it needs an addition to lore to make it compelling. I am sure I came across as being a person that enjoyed that.

16 King Craze March - 2012 at 4:44 am

I think blizzard will over shoot 5 expansions because in TBC there is a huge amount of components introduced two new races and a whole new bunch of zones then they scaled it down in WotLK with a new all race class and a continent it was smaller then TBC on its core components and Cata has two new classes and a few new zones and now MoP with hopefully Kul Tiras and Emerald Dream zones including Panderan and Monks on a scale it seems blizzard are cutting back on content and i predict 1 more expansion with Azshara and the real lead up to the portal to Argus giving us time to deal with a new whole world Argus and hopefully a new race or class added to the game but this is all just speculation.

17 King Craze March - 2012 at 4:47 am

also i know lore and changes to the world are not included but they less take less time to suss out id expect westfalls new remake took a day so all of wows zones would not take too long to redevelop

18 Milan Sovilj March - 2012 at 7:46 pm

@King Craze I don’t think there is any way that Blizzard is cutting back on content in all honesty. I feel like Mists of Pandaria is bringing the most content of any expansion. Hell it is pretty much all new story anyway.

19 yellowmenace March - 2012 at 4:21 am

Undermine, slew of islands, Kul Tiras / Tandred Proudmoore, Queen Azshara, Bloodsail Buccaneers, Old Gods such N’Zoth, Calia Menethil, Bolvar, Sylvanas, future of Blood Elves and Silver Covenant, Argus, Sargeras, remaining splinter of Emerald Nightmare, Dwarven Council of Three Hammers infighting, …

And that’s just off the top of my head, seems like plenty of material for more expansions to me.

20 King Craze March - 2012 at 9:09 pm

well what im trying to say is blizzard most likley has a plan and there trying to stick to it and to release the games on time they seem to be releasing games 10x quicker then before and its not only due to tech but its most likley so that they can release Argus on WoWs 10th anneversairy so that they can announce TITAN at the same time and really pump blizzards fans back into WoW and also maybe do if you buy a WoW annual pass with your copy of Argus youll get TITAN and ? month membership and honestly wows greatest expansion is WotLK because it had more cool additions to the game like new two person mounts seige engines and more with The Wrathgate and Notherend it was very big and quite alot of lore in there well thought out lore
and Cata had more lore but less cool gadets and additions a few new raids and doungens and small zones nothing exciting The Wrogen and Goblin were good but no gadgets only deep intracet lore with a few additions that had to be made it would of been good if they added somthing like as epic as the wrathgate in the last expansion but honestly Blizzard are really shoving down games to us far too quickly in my opinion but thats just what i think about blizzard going add a few zones add a few new changes to some previous zones redo quests to introduce new lore get some lore/storyline raids in there and slap a race or class in there for good measure they dont introduce new gadgets like a few new mounts like different dragonflight mounts a new couple of seige engines and make them more and the lore is not well thought out it is correct but its blizzards game so they could just jump up and say the Forsaken have found a way to become alive and normal again due to a magical break through

21 mynsc April - 2012 at 9:06 am

I agree that they’re trying to get more out of it than they originally planned, but I definitely don’t think it’s because of Activision. The answer is much more simple: like they said countless times, the success of WoW took them completely by surprise.

This had many consequences, one of them being that the game is still going very strong even after so many years. I definitely don’t think they were expecting this when they planned their initial expansions and now, of course, they have to rethink them. It’s common sense really: you can’t stop making new content for a game with 10 million players just because that’s how you planned back in 2004.

As for the lack of remaining zones issue, I’m probably in the minority here but I’d absolutely love it if they would do another Outland, although I’m not really sure how they could tie it to Azeroth in any meaningful way. And that would be very important, in order for people to feel attracted by the expansion’s story. Their answer to this seems to be making a completely unique world right inside Azeroth, aka Pandaria, but I’d like them to go one step further. It probably won’t happen though until the very end, when we’ll pay Sargeras a visit.

22 Milan Sovilj April - 2012 at 6:19 pm

I would love if they did more Outland type stuff. I can only imagine what sort of other interesting worlds are out there.

23 Milan Sovilj April - 2012 at 6:20 pm

Could anyone imagine another war with a race from a different world? Instead of an Orcs v Humans type things it could be Orcs v humans v some strange race hell bent on destroying them.

24 Lowestofthekeys April - 2012 at 8:41 am

From a business standpoint, I believe the big wigs at Activision and Blizzard will continue to churn out content for WoW. It’s a cash cow (and it has probably reached a plateau with the highest point of subscribers being in 2011 though this happens in just about every type of business), and despite the fact that the lore may be limited they will strive to “squeeze pennies from a stone” until the franchise dies.

The situation is unnerving because the driving force behind it is the management of sales, while consumer satisfaction takes second place, but once again this is a common trend with companies (just take a look at how the RIAA and MPAA treat their consumers).

Either way, I feel as if in the coming years Wow will undergo the “naruto treatment” in which menial content is created as “filler” to bypass time for other content and lore to be elaborated on.

25 TheOtherCanadian April - 2012 at 11:58 pm

As for new places to put zones, there is another possibility besides floating continents and islands appearing out of the mist. They can add new zones underground (or underwater).
-old gods are usually described as “chained beneath the earth”. They also have a city named “Ny’alotha”
-Nazjatar (the Naga capital city)
-we’ve probably only seen a small fraction of the Nerubian city (cities?).
-the dwarves have probably tunneled deep under Ironforge.

I think there is probably enough stuff buried inside Azeroth for an xpac or two. I’m not sure how claustrophobic the player base is though.

26 King Craze April - 2012 at 4:21 am

i Agree with theothercanadian there are heaps of unused zones and places you could have a cool little thing where Muradin wakes up and returns to his normal form in the process the city of ironforge collapses and takes gnomergan with it there can be 2 new zones derived from that or Orgrimmar splits in two due to not only the left over scars of the cataclysm destabalising azeroth but the chaotic magics the dark shaman are channaling in ragefire chasm giving 1 zone that can be used to make a raid end of garrosh or the outland can collide into another planet which is inhabiteded by demons who purposly wanted this to happen remodelling outland withmore zones and helping put in sergeras return to azeroth

27 rc April - 2012 at 2:37 pm

I know this is a month old article but Metzen mentions staying on Azeroth around the 28 min mark.

28 Cocles April - 2012 at 12:38 am

Thanks for posting that. Necro threads don’t really exist here, so new/added info is always appreciated. 😉

29 chris June - 2012 at 11:18 pm

they could also go to the home of the burning legion for an expansion. i wouldnt mind it.

30 Levi October - 2012 at 11:59 pm

If you look very carefully in the beginning cinematic, when the whole title comes into play, WORLD OF WARCRAFT And such, you can see azeroth slowly scroll in the circle, you can see Northrend, Kalimdor, Pandaria, and Eastern Kingdoms, but nothing else.

31 LilTerra December - 2012 at 6:44 am

I want illdian to kill Malfurion. thats all

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