|...and what a wild cave to be in! Weeeee! Wooooo!|
I remember the first time I entered this cave in game.
I was playing a Druid: this place is just outside the starting area on Teldrassil. The dark and scary place was full of Imps that liked to do nothing more than beat me to a pulp and repeatedly kill me. In those early days it got so frustrating that I almost gave up both the character and the game altogether. Caves became places I'd avoid, that frustrated and annoyed in equal measure. After a while, I began to realise something disturbing. Underground was where ALL the bad stuff lived, things that made me nervous in cramped situations with few places to manoeuvre. Too much danger was hidden in the dark below my feet and I actively began avoiding caves if at all possible.
So tell me: why am I now so excited about the potential of AN ENTIRE EXPANSION that could stick us back in the one place I hate most on Azeroth?
|From beneath you it devours.|
The answer is because underground is EXACTLY where all the bad things have lived, throughout the long history of the game. Pretty much every expansion we've played has seen us as players pitted against something unspeakable that's appeared from beneath our feet: whether in the sands of Silithus, imprisoned in the Citadel at Hellfire, plotting from Old Kingdom in Northrend or in the vast expanses of Deepholm. The ground shrouds the past, and ancient secrets, and the potential to tie every strand of the last eight years back together in a knot of terror the like of which we have already experienced, but will never have seen in this form. Everything that was ever bad can rise out of the dirt to get us, and probably will...
It is because the past is so important that this is the perfect future to pursue: everything that has happened has been leading back to this moment. It gives the developers a chance to turn the wheel full circle, to return the game back to where it began: The Sundering. 10,000 years ago, there was no Kalimdor or Pandaria: Azeroth was one huge continent. Everything joined, both above and below, until Queen Azshara called forth the might of the Burning Legion to the world through the Well of Eternity. If you remember, you've been deliberately manoeuvred to ensure that the Sundering actually happened back in Cataclysm: this is all our fault, in essence. We were prime engineers of the single most catastrophic event in Azeroth's history, which broke the massive continent apart, and destroyed the Pandora's Box of horrors the past had sealed inside.
|Planet P? I don't think so...|
Azeroth's past is littered with encounters that culminated in epic underground battles. The Silithid owned the sands to the south of Kalimdor, their burrows stretching across the lands, the Old God C'thun still whispering in the tunnels and burrows that housed one of the most mighty and devastating armies in the entire continent's history. Further south lie the tombs and pyramids of Uldum, home of ancient Titan Machines which hold the ability to destroy or create life itself. Overlooking them all, in the Caverns of Time, the Bronze Dragonflight were perhaps the only race who truly understood the significance of the darkness beneath, what secrets it held and what fears it could create. Except now the dragons have left us, the mortal races forced to find their own path after the Aspects departed following Deathwing's demise... except one Aspect still remains very much alive and well.
|Proceed to Phase Two...|
It's been pointed out that Wrathion, the sole heir to the Black Dragon Aspect Empire, is well aware of a significant danger approaching Azeroth, a future far more troubling than the current war between the Horde and Alliance. He mentions this to every player who takes his Legendary questline, and this is demonstrated visually in game by very suspicious green fire hurtling towards Azeroth itself. Many people have therefore postulated the Legion may have a part to play in events forthcoming, but they're not rising from the ground, that's the sky... and this is where we take the cue from the Warcraft RPG, which so many others have done in the last few days:
The Dark Below is a place inhabited by demons, devils and infernal creatures, from where some sorcerers take their power directly and sometimes have a patron beast to foster their magic.
What if those green flares are simply reinforcements for what's already being amassed in the caves of the Blasted Lands and the ground beneath the Twilight Highlands over the years? What if the friends of the Legion KNEW there'd come a moment when this planet would finally lay unprotected leaving it ripe for total destruction?
What if Pandaria's current malaise has something to do with all of this?
|Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go...|
If we go back to Ulduar we will recall that we prevented the Titan Defence System (represented by Alganon) from sending re-origination codes back to Titan HQ, thus preventing the planet from being reduced to ash. What we don't as yet know for certain is who else might have picked up that 'amended' signal as it was transmitted, and whether Elegon's corruption might yet mean the signal that was transmitted wasn't as complete as it could have been. We are aware from history once the Titans upped sticks and left Azeroth that the Old Gods appeared and corrupted just about everything they touched with the 'curse of flesh.' This bought the Titans back and caused a massive slapfest that ended with the Old Gods that remained being shut away from the planet's eyes, but clearly this didn't render that many of them incapable, amply demonstrated by the number of times they've risen up to try and beat the stuffing out of us in recent years. Needless to say, with the massive outpouring of negative energy currently focussed not simply in Pandaria but also around Orgrimmar, with huge pillars of blackness rising into the sky, possibly visible from space, anyone watching 'up there' might take this as a new sign. Maybe even as a separate signal that all is not well on ground level and it might now be the time to make a move.
|The Maw of Madness|
I doubt we'll see a Starcraft/Warcraft crossover bringing a massive army into play from the heavens, but there are plenty of places in Azeroth that could be utilised as portals. Ancient places hidden away in secret groves, once protected by dragons but now deserted and ready for control. We know full well that death is very often merely a setback for the most dark of villains. We also know that possibly one of the most sacred of areas on the entire planet has itself been reduced to a charred heap of blackness. What if simply destroying Garrosh is not enough to ensure the influence of the Sha remains buried? After all Shaohao planted those emotional seeds into the most fertile soil on the planet, and then allowed the ground to remain undiscovered for nearly 10,000 years. Can we really expect a quick fight in Orgrimmar will solve the problem we've inadvertently found ourselves a part of? Perhaps more significantly: what if this massive burst of emotional energy can be felt beyond the reaches of Azeroth itself? What if the Vale of Eternal Blossoms wasn't simply protecting Pandaria, but the entire planet from attack both above and below?
|My ancestry, underground.|
What we must never forget, and we appear to do with frighting regularity, is just how little time we spend ensuring the problems we leave behind are adequately dealt with. It's not just a symptom of the game world either: we are sloppy and slipshod with the way we interact with so much of the world around us. Elementals have always been a source of tension, for instance. Our efforts to fix the problems created in Deepholm were not exactly met with enthusiasm... in fact once the Earthen Ring had helped repair the World Pillar, they were pretty much told to leave and not come back. There is a great deal of anger and resentment buried in the earth, most caused by our own treatment of the environment around us. If what remains of the four elemental energies, the Old Gods and the Sha all decided they wanted to get their revenge simultaneously, we'd be so far up the creek that paddles would become completely pointless, except to fitfully defend ourselves with once we grasped the depth of trouble we were in.
If the Legion knew all this was going down and we were up said creek, and that the last remains of the defence grid the Titans had set up around the planet had been nullified by an Old God's actions, acting through the Curse Of Flesh known as Garrosh, I reckon they'd decide this was absolutely the best time to launch an attack.
|Dragon's Den. I'm not financing repairs on this...|
If I wanted an expansion idea that would allow my gamers to come full circle, I could do a lot worse than dig beneath the surface of Azeroth. There's an awful lot of dirty laundry to air, a ton of bad guys to resurrect, and a hatful of potential to seize. The best bit of all? There'd be no need for additional cartography. All the new stuff happens in the same places we already live in, at the same parts of the map we're used to. We just need to get three dimensional and start looking down as well as up...