There’s a three year gap between the end of Shadowlands and the beginning of Dragonflight; what does that mean for Azeroth?
World of Warcraft players are all experts on keeping track of complicated timelines. You think I’m kidding? This is the disambiguation page on Wowpedia for timelines. Figuring how many years it’s been in game since the First War is less a fun pastime and more a labyrinthine collection of tomes and scrolls with each player slumped over a desk like Deckard Cain in the Diablo 3 cinematic.
If you’re like me, you remember the consternation at the idea of a time skip that popped up during Shadowlands.
What would a time skip mean? How long would it be? Would we even be aware of it? These questions and more raged across the forums, sites like ours, and across social media. When I saw Steve Danuser, World of Warcraft’s Lead Narrative Designer, had chimed in to let players know that yes, some of the quests on the Dragonflight alpha do in fact indicate that it’s been roughly five years since the start of Shadowlands, and that we spent two years hanging out in Oribos trying to and eventually succeeding in stopping Zovaal, I was pretty excited.
Steve outlines the how and why of the Dragonflight timeskip, and it’s nothing so dramatic as the way time flows in the Shadowlands. It’s just that the decade from Arthas’ return to the assault of Deathwing to the coming of the Legion to the threat of the Shadowlands was basically an extremely fraught period of time and we could all use a break.
Letting Azeroth catch its breath
With Shadowlands representing the closing of one book in the Warcraft saga (as we mentioned in interviews around the release of our Eternity’s End update), it felt like an opportunity to give Azeroth and its inhabitants a bit of breathing room before Dragonflight ushers in the start of our next major storyline.
Shadowlands began in the year 35 after the opening of the Dark Portal, and Dragonflight will begin in the year 40.
Given that the events of Shadowlands took place over the course of two years, that leaves a few additional years that we are fast-forwarding through. Our purpose here is not to have a litany of events take place outside the game that you need to read about in a novel or other media to understand the state of the world. The goal of the fast-forward is to provide the people of Azeroth with a slice of “normal” life without a major threat looming over their heads.
What this means, based on the further details Steve lists in the post, is that for the past three years things on Azeroth have been, if not normal, at least as close to normal as they get. The frantic pace of events that came with World of Warcraft itself, some four years after the Third War, has been not exactly relaxed, but less ‘on the boil’ as it were. I’m sure there have been bandits and monsters to deal with and adventures to be had in the meantime, but the major threats we’ve been quashing for the past ten years died down in the meantime. The Horde and Alliance have kept to their wary truce, the skies didn’t open up to reveal a terrifying vista into another plane of existence, and no giant masses of tentacles and snark attempted to drive mortals insane with fear or re-create the pulsating foment of the Black Empire. Sure, sometimes a bunch of Kobolds tries to steal your cow, but you know, that’s something you can hold off with a gift of a few brand new candles.
One thing Blizzard isn’t doing is putting in big changes to the game world that took place ‘off camera’ or in a novel somewhere. The goal is to have those kind of events happen purely in game through questlines similar to those we saw when Lordaeron was reclaimed in patch 9.2.5, not to just present them as old news that took place in the time skip. While that might work as an excuse, it robs players of getting to experience these events — I can see pros and cons to both approaches, but ultimately I can understand why Blizzard chose to do it this way.
Who knows, maybe the Green Dragonflight will let the Night Elves set up shop on the Dragon Isles.
I feel like this is a positive move, although I think I still would have preferred an expansion that took place during those three years with our characters not having to worry about which planet annihilating threat we were facing this time. I’m looking forward to seeing what Azeroth gets up to with a sort of summer vacation.
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