The release date of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands expansion is only a month away, and we (as the Lorekeeper team) recently published our latest deep-dive article in Turkish which covered the zone of Maldraxxus.
In preparation for that article, we had the opportunity to participate in an interview with the Lead Narrative Designer Steve Danuser, and he kindly answered all our questions in detail – some of which involved topics that cover up how death and Shadowlands work in general.
Before we start, we’d like to give credit and huge thanks to Garth Holden (SA Gamer) and Slava Ipatov (Cybersport) who also participated in this interview and asked amazing questions – all of which can be found in this article.
So without further ado, let’s get to it!
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers to some extent. Please read at your own discretion.
GENERAL SHADOWLANDS QUESTIONS
What happens when you die in the Shadowlands?
The answer to that depends a little bit on what your nature is as a being. As we’ve seen before in the Legion expansion, where if demons came to Azeroth and died on Azeroth, they would go back to the Twisting Nether. Because that is the realm they are from… That same kind of rule applies to beings that are of Death magic. If a Kyrian for example, was on Azeroth and was killed, their essence would go back to the Shadowlands and be reformed there.
Mortal souls are different. Mortal souls begin in the mortal plane: Azeroth, other worlds etc. And when they die, that soul with all its anima that it’s built up in life, crosses over into the Shadowlands. And in the Shadowlands, the threat to your existence is real. If everything goes the way it’s supposed to go, you should be able to exist for eternity; either enjoy or endure whatever afterlife you are a part of. But if something happens to your soul there, if something destroys it, that soul is gone. There is no afterlife beyond Shadowlands. That’s why stakes are real in these battles, in these conflicts. The threat the Jailer poses to the Shadowlands and the other realms beyond it is very real and it has high stakes.
What happens to the soul in the Shadowlands if someone is raised from the dead?
Undeath is a force that has definitely touched Azeroth throughout history. Obviously the Scourge, and the storylines from Warcraft III with the Lich King, Arthas and all of that, is a prime example of undeath in Azeroth. But actually undeath on Azeroth dates much, much, much further back. If you go back to books about the Dawn of the Dragon Aspects, you will see Galakrond, and the force he used also had Death magic, necromancy as part of his power.
Like all the cosmic forces, Death has touched Azeroth in numerous ways over the ages. And one of most visible and pronounced in the modern age of Azeroth is the Forsaken and the undead who are animated. That may lead you to the questions: “For people like the Forsaken, are their souls in the Shadowlands? Are their souls in Azeroth?” The active raising of someone like the Forsaken, someone who has intellect and mind intact, means that their soul is being anchored to their body.
In life, for a living being, the soul is anchored to the body through the force of Life. It is a living body, therefore Life is a force that’s holding the soul to it. But in the case of a Forsaken, in the case of someone who is raised from the dead, it’s a different force, because life isn’t present within them. And so that is the force of necromancy, that is anchoring the soul to the body. Now it’s a different process than a living being, than someone who is kind of held together through the power of Life (with a capital L, as one of the Cosmic forces of the universe). So that Forsaken person, that undead person is held together by the power of Death, and that can have an effect on the soul. And we’ve seen that being raised can result in certain different circumstances. One person who’s raised may be very much intact. They may essentially be the same person that they were in life. Others are more aggressive, more hateful or more scornful than they were in life. And part of that has to do with the manner in which they’re raised. There’s all kinds of factors that go into that. So I would say that being raised that way is something of an imperfect process. It’s something that isn’t as defined and easily categorized as the living is. But make no mistake about it: Someone who is Forsaken, someone who is an intelligent undead like that, they do have their soul anchored to the mortal realm. Even if for a time it had crossed over in the Shadowlands and was brought back.
We’ve done some stuff that’s involved with time travel and alternate realities. What happens to those souls when they pass on? Do they go to the Shadowlands?
This is a complicated question. How do you deal with things like alternate Draenor? There was a Draka there. What is that Draka? Is she alive? Is she dead? Is she related to the Draka in Shadowlands that we see? Or is there another Draka? We know that in Warlords of Draenor, Velen of that universe died. Does that mean there is a Velen in the Shadowlands? But what about the Velen in Azeroth? All these things are very complicated questions.
The way I would have you think about it is think of a rope… If you look at a rope, it is one thing, right? It’s something that you can grab onto, you can hold it, you can see it; think of that as a character. Think of that rope as Draka or Velen.
If you look at that rope more closely, you can see there are different threads that make up the rope. There are different twines that pull together, and you can pull off one of these threads if you want. But it’s still a rope, and each of those threads you can think of as one of the realities of the character, one of the streams of time… There is a thread that is the Draka from Draenor we visited in the Warlords of Draenor. There is another thread that is Draka on Azeroth as we know her… And there are many other threads that could be other realities that we never peered into. But all of those threads at some time come together to make that rope. And remember also that, as you’ll see, that there are many characters in the Shadowlands when they refer to time, they usually say that time is not a construct of Death. Time and Death are not related. Death is about eternity, not linear time. The manner in which these threads come together, that can take a very long time from mortal perceptions. Those threads can be separated for a time, but sooner or later, they do combine to make one rope that is that character. You can think of it as the threads of that rope, all the individual threads, are just waiting. And over time, they will come together but they can exist as separate entities for a time. That still doesn’t change the fact that they are part of one rope.
I want to ask about [something in relation to] Draka and Durotan. Can souls feel if their significant other dies, or can they even see them or visit each other in some common ground like Oribos? Do they know that they are both in the Shadowlands?
The players have witnessed in terms of what Draka experienced after coming to the Shadowlands, she has some different things to care about right now. She’s been put into situations that have forced her to focus on what happened to her original House, how she can work to defend the Shadowlands, how she can root out the treachery that’s taking hold of Maldraxxus. All of these things are taking the focus away from what her mortal life was. Now that doesn’t mean that her mortal life or mortal concerns are gone. But again, the beings that are now in the Shadowlands, both these mortal souls and these beings that are native to the Shadowlands, don’t think of time or perceive it quite the same way that we as players coming in do.
The players coming into the Shadowlands are still alive, they still have their bodies, they’ve crossed over into this different realm and they’re all about solving the problem. They’re trying to fix the Shadowlands, stop the Jailer, save Azeroth from any of his schemes that he’s trying to inflict upon the world. So they have a very immediate sense of time in that “We’ve got to get this solved so we can protect our world,” whereas souls in the Shadowlands don’t perceive things that way. So, Draka and Durotan, obviously some point along the way, did get separated. Where did Durotan go? We don’t know as of yet. Does Draka know? No, she doesn’t really know. But those strands of rope I mentioned before, think of those as strands of fate. Different souls that have crossed over or intersected one another through life, I think there is probably something that draws them, that keeps some tether between them even in the afterlife. The way the Shadowlands is set up, when things were working the way they were supposed to and anima was plentiful, all this machinery of Death was functioning the way it was supposed to, there was an opportunity for souls sometimes to travel to, have completed one obligation and be able to move around whether that was to travel to Oribos and encounter someone there, or maybe to travel to some of these infinite afterlives that are out there in the realms of Death… So, don’t give up hope that Draka and Durotan might be reunited someday. But right now Draka has a job to do and that is front and center in her mind in terms of what she needs to do in order to perhaps earn the respite that she’s due and be able to visit the mortals she cared about so much in life.
The principal powers in Cosmology, do they also go to the Shadowlands? Or do they go back to their own place? Like the Burning Crusade goes to Twisting Nether, where would a Naaru go?
So that same rule that we established in Legion for a being of an influence goes back if it’s killed in the mortal realm or some other realm, it goes back to it’s home realm, it’s home plane. That’s true for demons and that’s true for other forces as well.
So if Naarus are fighting in the mortal realm for example, a Naaru is struck down; its essence would go back to the realm of Light and would reconstitute there. Now there are exceptions to that rule… If a significantly powerful force intervenes in such a way, it can throw that process off, it can either delay it or subvert it in some way. But it takes a significant influence for that to happen; it’s not something that casually happens.
For example people have talked about Bridenbrad, the hero who died in Northrend. We saw the Light intervene to save him and pull him away. That’s the case of one of the forces having a direct tie to a character and going out of its way to kind of yank it out of the normal cycle a little bit and do something different with it.
Those cases are the exception rather than the rule. So if you destroyed a being of the Light, it would go back to the realm of Light and to really destroy it, you would have to go to the realm of Light and destroy it there.
Taking into consideration the fact that the Shadowlands isn’t in its best condition right now, are there any Shadowlands realms where it doesn’t feel like you are basically requested to have an eternity of servitude? It feels pretty rough that, like you know you work hard, you retire, you die, you get drafted again…
It is true that the realms we’re visiting are the core to the functioning of how the Shadowlands works as a Cosmic force in the universe. There is a responsibility there. Much is asked of the souls that go to Bastion. Again, we wanted to play with that, that notion of visually looking at it and seeing this kind of idyllic paradise, but they have a huge responsibility placed on their shoulders. Maldraxxus has a huge responsibility. Revendreth is all about taking these souls that have potential to either do something great or to be lost to darkness, and trying to save them. And Ardenweald takes care of these very important nature spirits that need to go back into the cycle and preserve that. So all of these realms have very important duties that they have to accomplish in order for the Shadowlands and realms beyond to function. But we have said that the Shadowlands is a place of infinite afterlives, and I certainly picture that there are places that are free of obligation, places that could just be an idyllic paradise for someone or a place of just unending punishment and torment, because they were just that bad, or just needed to endure something to pay them back for what happened in life… Any of those possibilities that you can imagine exists somewhere in the Shadowlands.
That’s why when we talk about certain characters and you try to pick which afterlife they would go to, keep in mind that there are limitless other places they might end up within Shadowlands. Maybe we’ll get peeks into some of those, maybe we won’t. But any of those characters that you know and care about can exist somewhere in this realm. And when it’s someone you like and care about, you hope they’re in a happy place. You know, like Durotan: If everything went great for him, he’s probably in this endless hunting ground where he has his wolves around him and he can just go out there, he doesn’t have to worry about any dark forces wrecking his world. He can just enjoy that forever… And you know what, maybe Draka can someday fulfill her obligations and join him there. Who knows? We’ll see…
There have been rumors in the community about origins of a new class: Necromancer. Maldraxxus looks like a good start for that. Is it a hint for players?
While Maldraxxus is all about necromancy and we are exploring some flavors of it that we haven’t seen on Azeroth before, it was not meant to imply that there is a new class coming or anything like that.
It really is just the story of the realm of Maldraxxus and the inhabitants that are within it, and it’s not meant to be something that we’re going to give to players as a new class or something like that.
Are there any Shadowlands realms that you wish we could go visit but maybe there wasn’t enough time or the story would have gone too long if we went there etc?
If you ask any storyteller or designer or artist on the WoW Team “Did you ever wish you could do more of those things?” every one of us will say “Oh yes man, we had so many great ideas that we explored and we went a different way for whatever reason!”
So the answer is, yes. There were always other things that we could explore and some of those will be realized in some of the updates to Shadowlands that you’ll see come out over time and things like that. And others may be down the road, we will find a way to introduce those… Whenever we bring a new toy (think of each expansion is giving us new toys to play), new places that we can go, places that we can revisit down the line… I think certainly in the future, even after we’ve got expansions coming after and the Shadowlands is kind of been told and the story is complete, there will still be opportunities to return to Shadowlands and maybe see some of those other realms come to life.
I like to think of this expansion as opening a lot of doors for us, or at least creating lots of doorways that we could go through in the future. And that’s one of the most fun things about it and that it really sets up the universe of Warcraft to have even more alleys to explore and avenues in the future that’ll be really exciting.
How does it feel going back to a story that’s going to weave through zones as a single pathway after going through a very “Pick where you’re gonna do your Adventure next” approach?
It feels really good. What we wanted to embrace this time around was to go back to some of that linear narrative that leads you through the expansion. We just didn’t want to force players to go through every bit of a zone at a time before working their way through the story. What we’ve gone for this time really encompasses the best of both worlds. Because we do get to tell a linear narrative that builds up and has points of tension and rises and falls in certain ways that you can’t get if you let the choice go to the player. So we get that opportunity to tell that kind of story while still giving players a big sense of choice. Choices are a huge theme in this expansion. Both the presence of it and in terms of how the afterlives see it, the things they’re imposing upon the souls that come to those afterlives.
We also wanted to give players the choice to pick a Covenant and use that as the lens through which they see the big parts of the story through. And having those choices have different meanings, different consequences and gives you opportunities to make different choices on other characters. As you may have just seen on our most recent Beta update, when you play through the storyline on one character, you can elect to skip that storyline on a subsequent alt if you want to, and just engage with the world in the way that you see fit. And kind of going through and just playing World Quests, Dungeons, Side Quests… However you want to engage with the world, giving you that sense of choice how you, as a player, want to go through this.
I like to think of it as us getting the best of both worlds, of us having all the benefits of a linear storyline while still giving a ton of agency to our players to engage with that story in whatever manner they see fit.
We know there are six elements and one of them is Spirit. Does Spirit have any connection with Anima at all?
When you look at the Cosmology chart, which is an interpretation of these forces, it’s one way to structure them and visually understand them, you’ll certainly see parallels between some of the elemental magics and some of the higher forms of magic that you see. I think of the elemental magics as being of “primal” magics and then those big forces of Order, Disorder, Life, Death, Light and Void; those are structured end of high magics.
A lot of the storyline that we’ve seen play out across Azeroth and some of the other worlds is how those more primal forces intersect with the more structured or high magic forces. I certainly think that there are echoes of spirits and how Anima is, but again, Anima is something that is tied to mortals, that’s something unique to them. When you think of the mortals and the mortal realm, when you look at that Cosmology Chart, it’s the mortal realm that’s in the middle of all of it. So one could interpret all of those other forces have echoes that kind of resonate out and touch the mortal realm in ways. So you could say that there are some things about Spirit and its function as an elemental force that exists at this Cosmic level. And there are echoes of how Anima what means to a mortal soul and how that feels the Shadowlands and what goes on there. So certainly thematic echoes, but they are different things.