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WoW The War Within isn’t “depressing” like Shadowlands, Blizzard says

While new World of Warcraft expansion, The War Within, will deal with darker, serious themes, it won't be "depressing" like WoW Shadowlands.

A purple-skinned elf woman with tattoos on her face wearing a golden circlet grimaces into the camera

I’m just going to come out and say it: World of Warcraft Shadowlands was, potentially, the game’s bleakest expansion to date. Marred by confused storytelling and a general sense of hopelessness, framed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Shadowlands strayed too far from the fantasy that makes Warcraft so great. While Dragonflight has recaptured some of that magic, it generally felt overly hopeful and one-dimensional, so I asked associate design director Maria Hamilton and game designer Ion Hazzikostas how WoW The War Within will balance the light and darkness, literally and figuratively.

During my exclusive preview of the World of Warcraft The War Within alpha, Hamilton tells me that the next chapter of the MMORPG‘s three-part saga is “not necessarily a serious expansion,” but that the stakes are “huge.”

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As a result, TWW isn’t a “darker story akin to Shadowlands,” but “there’s more at stake. This is the fate of Azeroth, this is the planet itself. Something has happened, and it is very very serious, so it’s a serious stake, but not necessarily a serious expansion.

“There are moments of people experiencing turmoil and doubt – we kind of set Anduin up for that, and now we’re going to see how that plays out. The tone is more serious, but when I say ‘dark,’ I mean we’re going into dark and scary places, but not necessarily depressing places.”

WoW The War Within isn't "depressing" like Shadowlands, Blizzard says: An elf woman with purple skin and a long black cloak stands conjuring purple balls of energy looking out over a shadowy area

In my roundtable with Hazzikostas, I ask a similar question: The War Within feels like a bit of a reset for the franchise, so how will the team go about acknowledging the game’s past while continuing to move forward and kick off new storylines?

He calls the idea of TWW being a reset button “pretty accurate. If Dragonflight was taking a step back and taking a deep breath, returning to Azeroth and not instantly having a world-threatening archvillain, this is beginning a new arc. It’s exciting to begin something that we know is a bit of a magnum opus.”

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And having played a few hours of the story during my WoW The War Within alpha preview – a tiny fragment of a much larger whole – I can say it’s pretty brutal from the onset. There are some major plot twists, and moments of joy are quickly balanced out with moments of sadness. The War Within is, as per its name, a war, and my emotions are already in tatters.

So if you’re planning on diving back in when Dragonflight concludes and the WoW The War Within release date rolls around, we have a rundown of all the best WoW addons – I didn’t have any during my preview, and I’ve never missed WeakAuras so much.

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