WoW’s game director says he’s keen on organising its scattered story for new players: ‘that is a weakness … Chris Metzen and I chatted [about it] a bunch’

In a recent interview with WoW’s community council (thanks, WoWhead), the game’s current director Ion Hazzikostas was asked about the current state of the story, and how dang hard it is to introduce new players to its extensive lore.

For context, World of Warcraft’s had a long-standing issue: a ton of lore can only be found in secondary media—novels and the like. In chatting with our resident WoW-liker and guides writer Sarah James, she mentioned that she had to pour through massive google documents assembled by players just to get a birds-eye view on the whole thing. 

One is over 30 pages and she can’t remember where she found it, “I’m sure those links are from like, 2014”. As I look at this thing—with the only comment on it being a skeletal thumbs-up from 2017—I’m rapidly feeling like this whole exercise is an object lesson in just how scattered the story’s become. She also points out that “a lot of the story happens in the Warcraft games too, so that obviously predates the MMO.”

Hazzikostas seems open to the idea that WoW can change how it tells its stories in the years to come: “I can completely acknowledge that is a weakness … Chris Metzen and I chatted [about it] a bunch recently.”

Metzen was the former senior vice president of story and franchise development at Blizzard, retiring in 2016. He’s back on board for the upcoming Worldsoul Saga in the role of executive creative director after an advisory stint last year. He’s known as the guiding hand for a lot of WoW’s earliest stories—including those original Warcraft games.

“I don’t know that gameplay is always the best vehicle for that in particular,” Hazzikostas says, mentioning how (for a new player) churning through several expansions worth of backstory could get overwhelming. He uses the example of Anduin Wrynn, who’ll be a central character in the upcoming The War Within expansion. 

“What was his journey? Where did that start? … What has he lost? Gameplay isn’t fully the right way to get someone caught up there, but—in-game journals, the ability to view cinematics, things that don’t require you to go to YouTube and watch cinematics there … [that’s] something we’re definitely discussing.” 

Full disclosure—I’ve played WoW on and off for years, but it’s not been my main narrative love. I played during Vanilla, The Burning Crusade, Wrath, a dash of Cata, a dash of WoD, and a good chunk of Dragonflight. But from where I’m sitting, WoW has built up a kind of debt in making its story secondary for so long.

For example, Hazzikostas mentioned YouTube. Just anecdotally, I’ve noticed a phenomenon with Dragonflight which, after its latest patch, has been decried for having a “bad ending”. This wave of criticism has spawned from the cinematic for its latest raid, Amirdrassil. I don’t think the cinematic itself is great; the dialogue has that slow, agonising ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ pacing that a lot of WoW cinematics have.

However, it doesn’t exist in isolation. Immediately afterwards, you’re put into this lovely epilogue sequence that I shan’t spoil here. It’s not going to win any awards or anything, but even as someone only passingly familiar with the major story beats—I liked it. It was genuinely very sweet. 

But thanks to the fact that most players watch the game’s story on YouTube—because they’ve arguably had to for years—that bumbling raid cinematic is going to be considered “the end” of that expansion’s story, when it legitimately isn’t. 

It doesn’t help how, if you don’t want to tackle the raid’s Normal difficulty (either because you don’t have a guild or don’t want to deal with turbulent pick-up groups), you didn’t have access to said epilogue until the last part hit Raid Finder.

“There’s no specific plans to announce,” says Hazzikostas, “but that’s the kind of thing we kind of want to move towards. Otherwise when creating new content, where possible nowadays, we have more tools at our disposal.” He uses an example of leveraging phases to ensure that older world-states are accessible to players, letting them go back to the world as it was to delve into loose story threads if they want.

I’m cautiously optimistic. Dragonflight had its issues, but it does feel like WoW’s shakily getting its story legs back again after the disasters of Shadowlands—like a newborn fawn, stumbling for sure, but starting to walk. Considering how genuinely solid The War Within cinematic trailer was, I’m rooting for people who love this world to feel like it loves them back again.

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