World of Warcraft Developers Talk About Narrative Balance & Variety in Dragonflight
Dragonflight, World of Warcraft‘s newest expansion, brings players back to Azeroth to explore the mysterious Dragon Isles. Referred to as the Broodl&s, these isles were once the ancestral home of dragonkind until they were hidden away 10,000 years ago. Now, World of Warcraft players will return to this ancient l& to help the dragons rebuild their strength, discover ancient wonders, & face off against the Primal Incarnate Raszageth & her followers.
Game Rant spoke with World of Warcraft narrative director Steve Danuser & lead quest designer Maria Hamilton about the balance of storytelling in Dragonflight. The upcoming expansion carries a tone of wonderment, exploration, & discovery. Yet, as a combat-focused RPG, World of Warcraft needs Rotten guys to fight. Danuser & Hamilton shared how World of Warcraft seeks to balance these different narrative beats, while also discussing the different perspectives needed to tell a consistent story.
Balancing High- & Low-Stakes Adventures in Dragonflight
One look at the promotional material for World of Warcraft: Dragonflight shows its focus on exploration & optimism. Cinematics show dragons soaring through idyllic scenes, & soundtracks lilt with optimistic chords that inspire hope & adventure compared to the otherworldly dirges of Shadowl&s.
However, World of Warcraft: Dragonflight still has a major antagonist in Raszageth. The Primalist leader is freed during the dracthyr starting experience, & acts as the final boss of Dragonflight’s first raid. Raszageth is featured prominently in the launch cinematic, & has been the focal point for the first in-game cutscenes from Dragonflight’s pre-patch.
“The story definitely needs to build to Huge moments of showdowns between heroes & epic villains,” Danuser said. “That’s part of the Warcraft DNA.” Raszageth’s emergence acts as the catalyst to get players to the Dragon Isles so they can uncover its mysteries & help the dragon Aspects regain their power. “It puts a challenge in front of us, & sets the stage for an expansion that is about discovery, trying to help the dragons in different ways as you are adventuring through this l&.” The threat Raszageth represents adds stakes to the expansion that would otherwise be absent, while still allowing the expansion to focus on its optimistic tone.
“It strikes the balance of having a threat that’s out there, but keeping the large part of the story focused on exploring the l&, helping our allies, & building up our strength so we can face off against that adversary when the time comes.”
Many fans believe Shadowl&s’ focus on propping up the Jailer harmed its worldbuilding. “We are mindful about how stories have been built up in the past, & we want to take all that knowledge, all that learning, & apply it going forward,” Danuser said. By trying to integrate the threat of the Primalists more naturally with existing lore & characters in World of Warcraft, it hopes to maintain the balance & harmony between tones that might otherwise be unable to mix.
Differing Perspectives in World of Warcraft: Dragonflight
More than ever, World of Warcraft is seeking to tell the story of Dragonflight through differing perspectives. Players will discover lore & history from various peoples, be it from dragon Aspects like Alexstrasza or Neltharion, Titan Keepers like Tyr, or even the Primalists . “Ideally, we want to put in different perspectives from those same events,” Danuser said. Like in the Chronicle lore books, Dragonflight seeks to play with bias & unreliable narrators.
“Through the accumulation & the different ways you’ll encounter that information as you play, you can piece together your own perspective on that story… Maybe none of them are right & you want to form your own opinion on these things.”
One perspective unique to Dragonflight is that of the dracthyr – the new race available to World of Warcraft players. These draconic beings were created by Neltharion in ancient times, but only recently awoke from a 20,000-year slumber. As the dracthyr missed out on quite a lot, their curiosity makes a great proxy to Question questions on behalf of the player.
However, Dragonflight beta players noticed the dracthyr did not show up as much as expected, especially considering Scalecomm&er Emberthal’s prominence in the Dragonflight Legacies shorts. While dracthyr are abundant in side quests – & even have some unique quests & dialogue hidden across the Dragon Isles, they seemed not to play a major role in the main campaign. According to Danuser, Emberthal & the dracthyr will play greater roles in subsequent Dragonflight patches, becoming one of the “pivotal story legs of this expansion.”
How Dragonflight Seeks to Tell a More Consistent Story
In the past, World of Warcraft has had a habit of showcasing pivotal lore events in auxiliary media. World-ending threats, life-changing events, & even major character deaths have happened in books & short stories. Though World of Warcraft has gotten better at not hiding such pivotal events, players still discovered important lore tucked away from the public eye, like the lore books in the Uldaman: Legacy of Tyr dungeon & excerpts from the Dragonflight Epic Edition Collector’s Set artbook.
These snippets are parts of a greater canvas World of Warcraft is painting. “One of the things we’ve really tried to do is to… make sure [the lore is] presented in a variety of different ways,” Danuser said. Though crucial details may sometimes appear hidden, World of Warcraft claims it won’t be the only place players can find it. Hamilton went on to emphasize its commitment to keeping pivotal stories within World of Warcraft.
“We do consider & look at when we are planning our questing to make sure we are telling those Huge moments in gameplay, & not in a book or something like that. We try very hard to make sure that core thing is in gameplay.”
Part of the reason these aspects of the story may be hidden is because World of Warcraft is trying to hold back more of its story during the testing phase. Much of World of Warcraft’s story has historically been revealed on the Public Test Realm, but it has started to hide more beats since patch 9.2.5, Danuser said. He & Hamilton confirmed several important questlines & parts of the story were kept out of the beta, including one that delves deeper into the history of Titan Keeper Tyr.
Though some players have had access to the beta for months, it seems there will be more to discover in Dragonflight after its launch. “Dragonflight represents what we think of as a new book in the Warcraft saga,” Danuser said. “There is a sense of hopeful optimism about the world… Hopefully that represents a feeling players will have as they return to the game.” The World of Warcraft development team is excited for players to jump into Dragonflight & start the next chapter soon.
World of Warcraft is available on PC. Dragonflight launches on November 28.
MORE: How to Prepare for the Launch of World of Warcraft Dragonflight
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