Know Your Lore

Know Your Lore: BlizzCon and the nature of new lore reveals

In just a few short days, BlizzCon 2017 will be here — and with it, a cavalcade of announcements. At this point, it’s almost a certainty that we’ll see a new WoW expansion reveal. If we do, we can expect an absolute glut of new lore and information to process over the next several months. New characters, new storylines, and potentially new races as well — it’s a lot to cover.

But with every glut of information comes a cautionary note, one we should keep in mind while combing through what BlizzCon has to offer. Not everything announced will make it to release. Not everything we see is set in stone. And as is the case with all announcements, nothing is finalized until we see it released to the world at large — especially the lore.

Expanding the narrative

World of Warcraft is a game with an ever-changing story. Over the years, we’ve seen changes to lore we thought we knew like the back of our hands. What we need to realize is that this story we’re dealing with shifts over time. It’s not rock-solid — it’s fluid. What we perceive — the solid “facts” of the story — are considered facts based on our perception, not the author’s.

And when the author is an entire team of creative staff, those facts can change. In most of these cases, the changes aren’t outright retcons. They’re simply a presentation of that known material from a slightly different perspective. With that new angle of perception, the view of the story changes…and information we thought was a solid fact turns out to be one piece of a much larger puzzle.

What we’ll be getting at BlizzCon is just a piece of that overall narrative. Some of it might make perfect sense; some of it might be confusing. BlizzCon isn’t meant to deliver the entire story, it’s meant to give us just enough to capture our interest. We’re meant to be left wanting more — we’re meant to be left with questions unanswered. Those questions will be answered once that new expansion — whatever it happens to be — is released.

Until then, we can speculate on what’s to come, we can try and predict what we’ll see. But none of it is set in stone until that new game is in our hands.

What’s canon at BlizzCon

There are exceptions to this, of course. Pretty much every BlizzCon to date has included a Q&A session where lore questions are answered. If something gets a definitive answer at a Q&A panel, we can safely consider that information canon. Blizzard is pretty careful not to directly answer questions that might reveal too much about upcoming story. They’ll directly answer questions they feel are safe reveals — information that isn’t going to give anything away. {PB}

For now, any story information regarding upcoming content can be taken at face value as well. But there’s a catch to that — we also need to be aware that BlizzCon is just a snapshot of one point in the development process. Something regarding the new expansion may be absolutely true on Friday. Three months from now, the developers may change their mind. Because that upcoming material hasn’t been released, Blizzard has the freedom to make those changes. They can outright strike something from the narrative if it doesn’t suit the story they’re writing.

And they also have the freedom to change that story once it’s been released. They are the author of this particular story, after all. We’ve seen this happen with Illidan’s tale in Legion. At the end of Burning Crusade, we thought we’d vanquished Illidan for good. In Legion, it turned out we were wrong. The story didn’t change — our perception of it altered. We were given a different window to look through, one that shed more light on what actually happened. It wasn’t a retcon — it was one of those narrative shifts that happen from time to time.

Development changes

We’ve seen this kind of thing happen again and again, with every expansion. It’s happened before expansions, and it’s happened during expansions as well. In Cataclysm, datamining produced two sets of voice files revealing two different villains. One of these — Benedictus — ended up remaining in game, albeit in a slightly different villainous role. The other, Grand Magister Rommath, never made it to the final release build. In both cases, those original datamined voice files were never used.

In regards to expansion changes, Mists of Pandaria had a major one before it was ever released — the entirety of the Jade Forest was shut down on beta servers. Quests were changed, and the zone was given a rework. Those early iterations of the Jade Forest storyline never made it to live — we got a vastly different experience instead. In Warlords, datamined dialogue indicated a different story, including an established relationship between Maraad and Yrel. That relationship vanished by the time Warlords was released.

Even Legion saw these kinds of changes. In beta, Highmountain’s quest chains included a very familiar face — Wrathion was heavily involved in the main storyline. His influence and presence was scrapped before the expansion went live. There’s no mention of him in the expansion now.

Generally speaking, the information we’re given at BlizzCon is broad enough in scope that we won’t see it change too much. We’re given a vague overview — we’re not told the entire story. This serves two purposes — first, we’re left with a lot of questions and curiosity. Second, we’re given a broad narrative — which means all the little details hidden in that narrative can still be adjusted as needed. We don’t really need to know what’s being discarded or changed. Once it’s changed, that information is no longer relevant.

Ongoing narrative

What you want to keep in mind going into BlizzCon is that what we’ll be seeing isn’t a final product. We’re seeing a work in progress. It hasn’t been finished yet. We’re getting a sample of what’s to come — we’re not getting a definitive look. As a game with an ongoing, serialized narrative, that narrative is always going to be fluid and changing. Not just in the game itself, but in the development process as well. Especially in the development process — because that’s what “development” is all about.

A word on a page isn’t final until the book is out in circulation. Before that release, a book goes through several revisions and re-writes. And even after that book is published, revisions or corrections can be made. New editions can be released. The same applies to the narrative in a game — we get a look at a game in the middle of that revision process at BlizzCon. We aren’t being handed a complete novel at the door.

Does this mean you shouldn’t get excited about what we see? Heck no — we’re going to get a glimpse at a new chapter of the game. That’s exciting! And the glimpse we get is deliberately designed to leave us with questions that beg to be answered. We’ll be looking at all the lore we have and trying to predict those answers right up until the expansion’s inevitable release. That’s what makes dealing with lore so entertaining, after all.

But realize that in all our searching, there’s only going to be one right answer to all those questions. We won’t know that answer until we’re finally stepping into that brand new game. Until then, we’ll have a lot of fun trying to figure it out.

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