MALDRAXXUS SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
What made you decide on having Draka as one of the main characters of Maldraxxus? Why Draka?
When we were conceiving Shadowlands, thinking about the zones and the stories we want to tell, the themes that we want to explore with the storyline, we knew that we had a vast number of characters to draw on who had died and gone to the Shadowlands; so we didn’t have any shortage of possible characters. So we kind of went through a process where we wanted some that felt like “Oh, yeah. It’s natural that this character would appear!”
For someone like Uther, going to Bastion was a natural fit; someone who had lived a life of service, who had been at the forefront of the Warcraft III storyline and just really had carried on as this kind of pillar of Azeroth, someone that characters in the world still think about and relate to.
But we also wanted to choose some characters that didn’t seem like obvious fits; characters that felt a little either off the beaten path or that would have to make you think about it and go through the mental exercise of figuring out how they would fit there.
We talked about lots of different options and really settled on Draka as being someone who is interesting, who is integral to the true line of the story of Warcraft, going from Draenor to Azeroth, that story of the orcs; she’s a big part of that… But she also wasn’t someone that we had seen a ton about or had gotten to explore. She was a character that both had the right ingredients for someone to go to Maldraxxus and also had some kind of blank slate characteristics about her that we could fill in through this storyline. So it was just a really interesting opportunity to take someone who had forged themselves, started off facing challenges and become a great warrior to give her another chance to do the same thing in this afterlife that is all about strength, contention and improving yourself.
How challenging was it to reflect things that we normally consider “evil” on Azeroth – like plagues, abominations, necromancy and such as normal or even beneficial to some extent in Maldraxxus?
That was a fun challenge. If you’re just looking purely from a visual standpoint at all the different zones in the Shadowlands, the ones you see at least, it’s very easy to look at a place like Bastion and think “Oh, it must be the good guys!” and then you look at Ardenweald and say “Oh, everything is pretty. It must be perfect there. It must be a paradise!” Then you look at some place like Maldraxxus and “Oh, it must be terrible. People must be suffering!”
We really wanted to play with all of those expectations. Those visual cues are meant to lead you in and make assumptions, and then we want to play with those assumptions and show you that there’s much more going on than first meets the eye.
Maldraxxus does have all these very familiar elements of undead, Scourge looking stuff. There are the Necropolises all over the place, there are plagues, there are all these monstrous looking beings. But when you delve into the story (and yes, there is some treachery and deceit going on), when you look at what Maldraxxus is really about, it does have this noble purpose. So it was very fun and rewarding to tell the story of this place that on its surface seems monstrous and frightening, but really does a much larger role in what’s going on in the Shadowlands.
If you think of all these different realms that we’re visiting in the expansion as being parts of this grand machinery of death, the phrase that we’ve used before, Maldraxxus is the defense mechanism. And sometimes to defend something, you need to get a little more virulent and aggressive. That’s the nature of Maldraxxus where the inhabitants of it are always striving and being in conflict with one another that allows the strongest to rise to the top and therefore the Shadowlands will have the strongest defenders. So the nature of Maldraxxus is necessary for the job that it is supposed to do.
What was the most difficult part about creating Maldraxxus, and what is your initial decision to make Maldraxxus a covenant of warriors, powerful necromancers and monsters?
It certainly was a challenge to take all of these themes that were visually familiar to players and to amplify them. But also to give new context to them. Context is always what’s really important in terms of telling a story.
There is what your eyes tell you, and then there are the other layers that you experience as you play through storylines and what you pick up on and perceive. The characters that are in this world are very important to helping us tell that story. So I think certainly, there is that challenge of once you’ve decided to express Maldraxxus as this very aggressive looking, contentious, with toxic pools and lots of bones and flesh and all that sort of things, that does present you with challenges in terms of telling a more complex and nuanced story.
You ask yourself, “Will the players be able to pick up on this? If they are playing through this realm that looks very aggressive, can they care about these characters? Can they still have that same emotional investment in their well being that is the hallmark of classic Warcraft storytelling?” And we had many debates as we were making the expansion. How far can we go with some of these things? Are we gonna be able to tell that kind of classic Warcraft story in these very different feeling places? And that is why it was so gratifying, even in the beginnings of our Alpha play tests, once we were getting people from the outside and they were running through these zones, all of the questions for us melted away. Because they were just playing WoW they way that everybody always plays WoW; where they’re running through these gorgeous zones, they’re interacting with cool characters, they’re fighting bosses, they’re getting loot, they’re doing all those things that make World of Warcraft what it is. And that was immensely gratifying for us as storytellers because then we knew we could have that burden lifted from our shoulders and just focus on telling really cool, powerful stories. Because we had no doubt that the audience would be able to understand it and pick up on the same kinds of storylines that we’ve held on other expansions that were arguably more visually instantly relatable places.
So even in Maldraxxus, this place of contention, and it’s very chaotic nature at times, there are still these classic hero’s journey stories that play out through characters that you care about and get invested in. And you want to help as a hero of this world of Azeroth that you come from, even in this magical, far away realm of the Shadowlands.
Many players have compared Maldraxxus to Icecrown. Is there anything in common between these two locations? And what inspired you as you created the design of Maldraxxus?
I think it is clear when you look at Maldraxxus there are a ton of echoes of that classic image of undead and Scourge represented in Warcraft III and Wrath of the Lich King expansion. There is no question that there are visual and thematic ties there.
Giving the players that kind of playground to venture into, and frankly seeing how our artists today could take some of those same themes and really dress them up with all the visual fidelity that WoW is capable of delivering that wasn’t able to earlier in those days, it was a great treat for us both from an artistic standpoint and from a storytelling standpoint, to take some of these themes and infuse them into the modern game in a new way. So when you look at Icecrown (zone), obviously it’s filled with all kinds of undead, many of which you see different versions of in Maldraxxus or different incarnations I would say…
You saw some Abomination, for example, that were stitched together out of rotten flesh, and sometimes their parts were kind of leaking out and all this nasty stuff… While in Maldraxxus you see the higher form of that. Places like the House of Constructs where they take the finest pieces and assemble them into these big beefy creations that still recall those abominations. But you can see that they’re a much higher form of magic and much higher success rates on these creations in terms of their fierceness, the power that they possess. So in all cases, you see something that’s familiar, but now you see the higher form of it. Maldraxxus is really the place where necromancy as a force as we’ve seen it in Azeroth was formed, where it was born.
You can also see echoes of the rooms of the Death Knight blades and some of those themes also carry forth into the Maw. As someone who’s seen the Icecrown Citadel, you can look around at places in Torghast and some of those themes feel very familiar. And that’s all part of the storyline that we’ll be exploring as we go deeper into the Shadowlands.
Maldraxxus is called the “Defender of the Shadowlands”. Who was it supposed to defend it from before the current events? Was it the Legion or the [Old] Gods etc?
Maldraxxus is supposed to create an infinite army to defend Shadowlands against all kinds of threats. Now, what would those threats be? If you play through the Shadowlands story, you’ll encounter several situations where outside forces have made incursions into the Shadowlands.
You see a place in Revendreth that seems to be touched by the Light. You see places within the Bastion where there is a memorial to an attack from the Void. And as you saw in the Afterlives short, Maldraxxus forces were spying on the Legion – which raises lots of questions…
But while the history of Azeroth is one part of our storyline, the universe Azeroth habits is much, much older. And the places like the Shadowlands and other realms that are on that Cosmology chart date back to the very beginnings of this universe.
As you can imagine from reading the Chronicles book that tells you some of the story that went on before the mortal races were really taking control of Azeroth and their kingdoms were rising and all that stuff, you can assume then that there was even more history that you don’t know or haven’t heard about. And part of that involves conflicts between these cosmic forces.
When you think of the Cosmology chart, there are many ways to look at that, there are many interpretations of it. One way you can think of it is that it’s almost like a balance, like a scale where it’s keeping these different forces in balance and maybe that’s the nature of the universe, or at least one way of looking at it… And if these forces are always striving to gain power, kind of oppose or take power from another, you can imagine that these different forces throughout time have waxed and waned and influenced, and we’ve only seen little bits and pieces of that. But there is certainly the potential for great wars between some of these forces to have occured; different team-ups maybe, where some of them joined forces to oppose another force that had gotten too powerful.
The universe is simultaneously trying to stay in balance while also each individual force is trying to rise up and gain power. So it’s that balancing act that occurs all around this universe with Azeroth and the mortal plane is right at the very heart of that conflict.
Is Maldraxxus ever used as an offensive force? Have they ever stepped in to help Azeroth that we didn’t know about?
There were certainly times in history where Maldraxxus felt the need to go on the offensive. Whether they think another force is rising, that they need to preemptively attack in order to defend the Shadowlands; that certainly is something they would do. Whether any of that was visible to Azeroth or to people from Azeroth in the past… You know, there have been a number of beings throughout history who have been able to observe things beyond the mortal realm, who have peered beyond Azeroth and seen things coming. We have seen examples of that with Medivh and how he peered in on the Legion and saw some of the things they were up to. He was aware of that and worked preemptively to defend Azeroth from that.
So you might assume that there could have been figures throughout Azeroth’s long periods of history that we don’t have a lot of detail on, that there might be other figures who might have had insight on the other cosmic forces. And maybe they could involve forces from Shadowlands but maybe that knowledge was lost in time, there might be stuff that waits to be discovered.
Maldraxxus looks like a dark and toxic area. Is it the right place for fallen warriors of the Alliance? Would Varian Wrynn appear in Maldraxxus?
We touched on this in an earlier question, just in terms of how fearsome Maldraxxus looks and how at first you might think it is just a place for bad guys to go, but that’s definitely not the case. Maldraxxus benefits from any soul that has that natural drive and contention, whether it’s to better themselves or to overcome rivals. That can be for a good cause or it can be for a bad cause. Maldraxxus doesn’t’ really care about morality in that sense. It has a job to do, and it needs the best people around to do that. And in some cases those are monstrous people who’ve done bad things and in other cases it can be very noble ones. Again, just because Bastion is a place of light, service and duty, that doesn’t mean that everybody who has a noble heart inherently goes there. There are countless afterlives and in Maldraxxus, there are definitely people who have been noble spirits, noble hearts like Draka who still embody that kind of striving and wanting to be better.
Varian Wrynn is an interesting case where you can make arguments for him going to a lot of different places that we’ve seen in the Shadowlands, and probably places that we haven’t seen as well since the Shadowlands is this realm of infinite afterlives…If you’ve engaged with the Shadowlands story so far, there has been no sign of Varian Wrynn but certainly he has a figure that looms large in the history of Warcraft. He’s not part of this storyline, but who knows what the future might hold… Through his son Anduin, Varian’s presence is always there. So we feel like we’ve told that story pretty touchingly and well in Legion, and it wasn’t something that we felt we needed to address again just in the beginning of the Shadowlands story.
The Primus is a very interesting character. Was it intentional on his behalf that he just left, or was there a completely unexpected case of his disappearance?
The Primus is one of the Eternal Ones. He is part of this Pantheon of Death that rules the realms of the Shadowlands and again, think of all the time that passed before the present day of the mortals crossing over. The Primus was in charge of Maldraxxus for countless eons and his singular focus was on building this unbeatable army that could defend the Shadowlands. And that was really all that he was about and that’s why he founded those five different houses to embody different virtues. If you think about that way of Maldraxxus, whether it be strength or cunning, all of those things are important for being part of this army that’s got a job to do.
As you play through the storyline, you come to learn that the Primus began to suspect that there was something going on. You’ll see hints that he was involved in whatever happened with the Jailer’s imprisonment. And over time, as he’s always the most tactical thinker of all of the Eternal Ones, he began to suspect and see some evidence that perhaps the Jailer’s influence was seeping out even though he was supposed to have been locked away all this time. And that leads the Primus to suspect that there may have been allies. His absence was about investigating that and trying to get to the bottom of it. The Primus has been gone for a while though, so it’s left to those who are left behind to guess and determine what his fate was and what impact that has on it. But I think it’s a safe bet to say that he probably found out some of the bad things that were happening and probably some bad fate befell him. As the storyline plays out in Maldraxxus, you get some messages that he left behind; both as encouragement and as trying to guide the heroes forward.
The Primus, being this long thinker and very strategic mind, could conceive of a time when the Shadowlands would face a grave peril, and he could conceive that perhaps it would take someone from the outside of Shadowlands coming in to help set things right. So he may have put things in place to help that person, whether it be hiding a rune blade inside a rock or leaving messages behind… When you look at the storyline from a high level, you will see the genius of the Primus start playing out, and even though he’s not a character that’s present in the storyline, his impact is very much felt in Maldraxxus and the realms beyond.
What is the meaning of the name “Maldraxxus”? Is there an etymological approach to naming that area?
There are reasons for every name that we come up with, and some of them are deeply thought out and considered, and there is something in the etymology of the name itself that can set something bigger. In the case of Maldraxxus, though, that was one of the names I came up with, I believe. I just wanted to go with something that recalled themes of the Scourge that we’ve heard before; you know, places like Naxxramas… X is a big letter in terms of that Scourge-y kind of sound.
“Mal” is a word that usually hints at bad or dangerous things. So I wanted that sense of danger. But there is a joke in the community that Maldraxxus is the perfect heavy metal album cover location and really, that’s what we wanted the name to sound like. We wanted it to sound like someone could go “MALDRAAAXXXUSSS!!!!” and have it be that kind of growly, metal, aggressive sound because that fits the theme of what’s going on there. Sometimes you choose the name because of the sound rather than any inherent meaning in it. And I would say that was the case for Maldraxxus.
Could you please name five heroes who would most likely go to Maldraxxus after they died? I mean the ones who we will not see in the Shadowlands…
Well, I’m not the Arbiter so I would leave that job to her. And I also don’t want to mention a character because if they don’t show up, people will be disappointed by that. I would just say to keep an open mind as you’re looking at characters from Warcraft’s past and that it’s a good thing for fans of the Shadowlands to debate and say “You know, someone like that could have gone to Maldraxxus” or “They could have gone to Revendreth because, maybe, they needed some redemption.” I think that those are healthy discussions to have and you don’t always have hard answers about stuff like that.
If you are arguing for Maldraxxus that someone could go there, just ask yourself: Were they someone who in life strived to better themselves? Whether it was for the sake of someone else or for the sake of themselves. Either way, were they someone who was working to make themselves smarter, stronger, better at magic? If the answer to that is yes, then you can absolutely make the case for that character going to Maldraxxus. And from there, what House would they have been sorted into?
As you saw in the case of Draka, she went to an unlikely House at first. She would’ve assumed that she would have been at the House of the Chosen right away, but the system had other things in mind for her. It needed her to get that knowledge from the House of Eyes; so when she did get to the House of the Chosen, she could be an even greater asset to them there.
So there are all kinds of things to unpack, talk and think about.