Shadowlands Storytelling from Ion Hazzikostas Interviews - Sylvanas, Nathanos, Narrative Lessons Learned from BFA
The lore of Shadowlands with a focus on Sylvanas' characterization was discussed in recent interviews with Ion Hazzikostas, including past parallels to Garrosh and the the challenges of developing a character that elicits passionate community responses.
We also noticed when going through the press kit, that Sylvanas was not present in either the "Beyond the Veil" cinematic or any new press kit assets--so Blizzard isn't trying to give away any hints as to her future story quite yet.
Wowhead's Exclusive interview with Ion Hazzikostas - Class Balance, Covenants, Season 1
Wowhead's Shadowlands Interview with Ion Hazzikostas
Group interview (Different than Wowhead's Interview)
Classes and the MetaOnly 3 Torghast Layers Available at LaunchNo Flight Master WhistleNo Legendary Transmog at Launch
Storytelling and LoreShadowlands Delays and Working From HomeEngagement Metrics
Concept Art for Covenants and Zones
Interview Summaries and Discussions
3 Pieces of Loot From Mythic Raid BossesGreat Vault Loot Doesn't Include Final Bosses Until Defeated Once
Similarities Between Sylvanas and Garrosh
In a group interview with Ion Hazzikostas, Windows Central asked if the similarities between Sylvanas and Garrosh will continue in Shadowlands, as both leaders had a turbulent rule over the Horde, culminating in a rebellion at Orgrimmar's gates. While Blizzard
recognized the parallels
in BFA interviews, Ion sounded confident that the two leaders' stories will diverge more in Shadowlands. And who knows, with Garrosh making a
cameo appearance in
, perhaps he'd make a proper appearance in the expansion, which could further contrast these two personalities.
At this point, their storylines have already diverged quite significantly. Garrosh ended Pandaria in chains, escaped, and tried to rally a resistance and chagce the course of time and history to preserve the Horde that he imagined. Sylvanas departed on her own terms, after she was revealed in front of the Horde. She is in full control and set in motion a series of events that we've seen come to fruition. There's a lot of complexities and things that differ about their characters, and I think as Shadowlands unfolds, I'm pretty confident (without giving away spoilers) that as Shadowlands unfolds, talk of parallels between those two characters and their narratives will diminish steadily over time.
Storytelling Lessons Learned from Battle for Azeroth
Polygon then asked about storytelling lessons learned from Battle for Azeroth, and Ion responded that Shadowlands marks a shift back to larger epic narratives instead of a focus on political dynamics. This ties into the earlier question about parallels between Sylvanas and Garrosh--it seems we'll move away from faction politics to cosmic-wide threats, which may put Sylvanas and the discussions surrounding her in a new light.
On the storytelling front, one of the achievements of BFA is the integration of cinematic storytelling with gameplay storytelling--really trying to tell bold and ambitious stories using cinematic beats as capstones to gameplay arcs. That's something we intend to continue through Shadowlands, with cutscenes and cinematics that have been encrypted all the way through beta that we'll be seeing in the next few weeks. I know Terran Gregory and his team are very very eager to see everyone's reactions as am I. It's some of the cinematic teams' coolest work yet.
Something that's different between expansions --- BFA was definitely at times trying to tell stories with a lot of different characters and political dynamics, and that isn't necessarily World of Warcraft's strength when it comes to our storytelling medium. Shadowlands gets back a bit towards larger epic narratives that are focused on existential threats and the efforts of heroes, and villains to overcome those things. There is still all the nuance, all the characterization, all the storytelling out there in quests and in external media. But what we're trying to make sure of is that we focus on the bigger, more-digestible beats that our game can deliver better just through the medium of in-game MMO storytelling while having layers and layers of depth for the fans who really want to pick apart every character's motivations.
Developing Characters with Strong Community Reactions
As a followup, Ion was asked about the creative process behind depicting a character such as Sylvanas that the community holds strong opinions on, especially when many speculative theories surface around such a character which may not line up with the actual intended story or motives. Her fate has been unclear for several expansions now, and the more the story progresses, the more impassioned players tend to react.
We're certainly been surprised . There are times when the community is looking for clues and reads into hints that weren't intended to be hints, simply just a clever turn of phrase or something that one of the writers or quest designers found inspiring. And suddenly there are all these fan theories--which is part of any fandom nowadays. It's an honor to work on a game to help craft a world that inspires such breadth of passion. It also is a big responsibility.
We know that particularly when navigating storylines involving beloved or hated characters, almost anything that we do, no matter which direction we take - Where does Sylvanas go? Which one of these many many paths awaits her? - we're going to piss a good chunk of people off. And we're going to make others gratified and we're going to confirm that they were right all along. We need to be mindful of what is out there so that we can be sensitive to that range of concerns, so that even though we're going to disappoint people with an specific outcome, we're trying to let them down gently when possible.
At the end of the day, we have these stories in many cases planned out well in advance, but we are mindful of the nuances of them--as we're creating a cinematic, fiddling over specific animations, facial expressions, intonations as we're doing multiple takes of a voiceover. It's "let's be careful not to diminish this character. Let's be careful not to make this come across in a way that we don't intend that people may take it"...because those are lessons we've learned in the past. And so it's always this ongoing interplay and it's fun all around, but it's definitely challenging as well.
Fate of Nathanos Blightcaller
In a later interview we conducted with Ion Hazzikostas, we inquired about the fate of Nathanos--if his words were just bluster to Tyrande or if there's a real chance we could meet up with Nathanos again in Shadowlands. While Ion couldn't say too much, it seems very likely we'll encounter Nathanos again and his words to Tyrande were chosen deliberately. However, based on Sylvanas' cool dismissal of him at the end of
, his time in the Shadowlands may be less welcoming than expected.
There is certainly a chance. We'll see for sure, I'm not going to give a specific answer to that but he said what he said for a reason.
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