All the ways a time skip could work in WoW Shadowlands
A time skip happening after (or perhaps during) Shadowlands isn’t out of the question — Game Director Ion Hazzikostas informed us that time does not work the same in that realm as it does in Azeroth, after all. But it’s not as simple as time moving faster or slower or even at a constant rate — time is chaotic there, we’re told. What does this mean for us Maw Walkers who are entering the Shadowlands to save Azeroth from the imbalance caused by the Jailer?
Well, we have no idea. But here are some ideas I have for what could happen to Azeroth if Shadowlands has a time skip in store for us.
We could end up somewhere else
One of the consequences of time being chaotic could be that we end up somewhere else entirely — an alternate timeway, similar to the one we explored in Warlords of Draenor. Note that I’m not saying we will end up doing this. But humor me for a moment and consider this one possibility.
We’re going to the Shadowlands to foil the Jailer because Sylvanas destroyed the Helm of Domination and opened the portal there in the first place. It’s possible we’ll end up foiling her ally only for that to work into Sylvanas’ actual plan — maybe she has a backup plan for if the Jailer is foiled, or never really cared all that much about his plans in the first place. Instead, she used the chaotic flow of time in the Shadowlands to actually travel to a world where Kel’Thuzad is just starting to corrupt Arthas and instead kills both the Necromancer and Arthas before the Plague can spread. The Legion invasion, the Third War, and the destruction of Silvermoon (and thus, her own death) never happen in this world.
We follow, but because of the strange time of the Shadowlands, we arrive after she’s done it. Decades after she’s done it. We arrive in a world where Lordaeron never fell, the Orcs were never encouraged by a prophet to go to Kalimdor, and Azeroth is only now facing down the barrel of a new Legion invasion without the experience of our trips to Outland and the Third War to help them cope. It’s a completely different Azeroth.
I don’t expect that to happen, but it could. Chaotic, unpredictable time means it could go backwards as well as forwards.
What if no time at all passes?
Instead of a time skip, what if we skip over all the time we spend in the lands of death?
I mean, chaotic and unpredictable doesn’t automatically mean we’ll jump ahead or that we’ll spend a few weeks in the Shadowlands while ten years pass on Azeroth. What if we spend the entire expansion there, then as soon as we’re done, we return to Azeroth to find everything more or less exactly as we left it, much less time having passed back home while we were taking our necromancer’s holiday in Ardenweald or what have you. It could happen, and it would mean that tensions that would seem pointless to us after our long strange trip among the mixed up zombies would still be raging back home. We could come out longing for a break and some peace and quiet only to immediately have to clash with some new threat because there hasn’t been any room to breathe back home.
You could call this one a reverse time skip, I suppose, as for us years may have passed but nothing changes in Azeroth. But we have to keep in mind that with the way time works in the Shadowlands, we can’t rule out the possibility.
A time skip thousands of years in the past or future
What if it’s not just a time skip, but instead a huge leap?
There are whole eras of the Warcraft story set at huge removes from the present day. The Black Empire and the arrival of the Titans are so far removed that we don’t even know when they happened for sure. The coming of Sargeras to Argus, the ancient Troll empires and their wars with the Aqir, the Sundering, even the relatively recent Troll Wars with the High Elves and Humans took place thousands of years ago. There’s a lot of history to be explored, and we could very well go into the Shadowlands, do what we went there to do, and pop back out to find ourselves essentially stranded in the distant past trying to get back home.
But it doesn’t have to be the past, either. What about coming out of the Shadowlands to find ourselves in an Azeroth thousands of years down the road — a world where the Horde and Alliance don’t even exist, where the Orcish monarch Andtharr rules over New Stormwind, where whole new nations and ideologies are present? An Azeroth utterly unlike everything the player has ever seen in Warcraft? The question not only becomes how to get back to their own time, but if they even should and risk changing this future they’re presented with?
All of the above
We could even use the disjointed nature of time in the Shadowlands to make all of these possibilities happen. Imagine an expansion where we explore time itself, trying to repair a time streak broken by the chaos in the Shadowlands and the way the portal to that realm opened into Azeroth, leaking its chaotic, fractured timescape into the land of the living. The Bronze Dragonflight may not have an empowered Aspect anymore, but Nozdormu still lives, and his flight still follows him — maybe they band together with the Heroes of Azeroth to try and fix the crisis created by this interaction between Shadowlands and Azerothian time frames, and in the process the Infinite Dragonflight is finally born?
Imagine fighting alongside Azshara, the way she was before the Sundering, to ensure that the Well of Eternity implodes and history follows the path we remember it. Imagine having to step aside and let Anduin Lothar die. Imagine having to save Kel’Thuzad from Sylvanas, and knowing why she is there, what she’s trying to avoid.
And of course there’s always the old chestnut of us coming back to Azeroth and it’s ten years later — but that one feels pretty easy compared to some of these other ideas. I kind of hope we just break time open like a piñata in Shadowlands. Let’s go nuts, travel back thousands of years, change history several times, do entire raids set in the distant past or future. Let’s finally mess up time the way we should have in Warlords of Draenor.
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