If I Had Designed World of Warcraft

One of the reasons I try to take a break from World of Warcraft now and then is that it grants me some perspective on the game. My disaffection with the current state of the endgame has caused me to look back at my entire love/hate relationship with WoW.

My warlock sitting in Kel'thuzad's chair after killing himWhile there have been many good times, there have been design decisions I’ve strongly disagreed with from day one — not the least of which being its existence as an MMO.

So that got me to thinking about how I would have preferred things to turn out, what WoW would have looked like if I had taken the reigns. Perhaps it’s a bit narcissistic, but what’s a blog for?

The setting and world:

When Cataclysm was announced, I found myself thinking, “This is how WoW should have started.” Now, I don’t mean that classic should have been about Deathwing or the elementals. But the idea of Azeroth recovering from the apocalypse would have made a great basis for WoW to start with.

Azeroth already had a pretty good apocalypse in the form of the second invasion by the Burning Legion in Warcraft III. I was always disappointed by the lack of acknowledgement of this in WoW.

Admittedly, WC3 wasn’t terribly exact about the extent of the damage, so I can’t quite call it a retcon, but the overall impression was one of utter devastation. The Alliance was portrayed as a ragtag gang of survivors squatting in ruins and being led by the greatest jackass in the universe pre-Garrosh simply because they didn’t have anyone better.

So I would have depicted the world as being completely ravaged by the Legion and the Scourge. Rather than lacking a main plot as classic WoW did, the story would have focused on rebuilding civilization and defeating the last remnants of the Demons.

Instead of having the two continents as separate leveling paths, I would have designed Kalimdor for lower level characters and reserved the Eastern Kingdoms for those pressing on towards level cap. The idea being Kalimdor was where the Legion fell, whereas the Eastern Kingdoms was conquered outright.

The main hub cities would have been Orgrimmar and Theramore. Potential secondary hubs for the Eastern Kingdoms include Kul Tiras, Stromgarde, and Stormwind.

My warlock doing the Theramore's Fall scenarioSpeaking of which, I would have been more thorough about including the entire world of Warcraft. Gilneas would have been available from the start, as would Kul Tiras. (Seriously, Blizzard, how much longer do we need to wait for Kul Tiras?)

Stromgarde either would have been intact — because if anyone is badass enough to survive the Legion, it’s those folks — or at least given a proper send-off and a sufficiently epic end, as opposed to being randomly wiped out by ogres or something.

I also would have tried to make more of the dungeons based on previously established locations. Grim Batol, the Oracle Caverns, the Ruins of Lordaeron, and the Barrow Deeps are all dungeons I would have included with launch.

Populating the world:

I would not have included separate playable factions in World of Warcraft. The races would instead have been in a state of relative peace, though they wouldn’t necessarily have been best friends. I’d have probably devoted a good chunk of the story towards the races learning to work together despite old grudges.

A lovely display of sportsmanship following the Wyrmrest Accord world PvP eventI know many will disagree with my view —  most notably Metzen himself — but I think the Horde and the Alliance have long since outstayed their welcome.

From a lore perspective, it just feels sloppy and cheap to still have them fighting. Blizzard devoted an entire blockbuster game to putting to rest the wars between the factions, and then they just outright ignored all that well-crafted story when they made WoW.

Making the races at peace but not necessarily close allies also strains credibility less than cramming every race into one of two factions whether it makes sense or not. To this day, I have absolutely no idea how, why, or when the Night Elves joined the Alliance. The only justification I see for it is that it’s slightly less crazy than them joining the Horde.

Finally, segregating players just isn’t a good idea for an MMO. My aesthetic choice of race should not determine who I can play with.

As for players themselves…

Gnomes would not have been a playable race. Sorry, little guys.

I’m tempted to say Forsaken wouldn’t have playable, either. This pains me, because I really like the Forsaken, and I think the Undead are one of the cooler races, but it really strains credibility to have them working with the other races. They probably would have been more interesting as a neutral villain/anti-hero faction.

Rather than having separate starting zones, I would have made everyone start at Mount Hyjal. Instead of being random shmucks, players would take on the role of veterans of the fall of the Legion, and the game would immediately have sent you to clean up the remnants of the Demons and the Scourge, establishing them as the main threats early on.

Though separate starting zones was a really good decision from the perspective of alts, so maybe Blizzard had the better idea.

My warlock at the shore of the Well of Eternity in Mount HyjalClasses would have been largely the same. I’d have included an option to use ranged weapons without a pet, either as a hunter spec or another class. Dark ranger? Shadow hunter? A ranged rogue spec?


I would have made Wrath of the Lich King the first expansion rather than the second. I wouldn’t change much about it, honestly. Maybe wouldn’t have included the plot with Malygos going mad with sanity. Seriously, how does that work?

I would have added Blood Elves as a playable race here, in addition to death knights as the new class. Next to the Forsaken, Blood Elves have the most reason to hate Arthas.

Burning Crusade would have come next. With the Legion and the Scourge dealt with in Azeroth, it makes sense to expand into Outland. I would have presented Outland as a more obvious threat, and given players’ expedition there a clearer purpose.

My rogue chatting with her ghostly skull companionIllidan would have featured prominently, but not as the cliche stock villain they turned him into. He would have kept his traditional role as the anti-hero who believes the ends justify the means.

Kael might still have gone mad, but he would have done so in a way that makes sense. He wouldn’t have randomly decided to start working for the guy who destroyed his homeland and murdered everyone he ever cared about.

Draenei would have been added as a playable race, but I would not have carried out the infamous Draenei retcon. Not so much because it blew up Warcraft’s backstory (although it did), but simply because I found the old Draenei infinitely more interesting.

Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria probably never would have existed on my watch, as my other decisions render their plots somewhat redundant. Which would have been a shame, as a lot good did come out of these expansions. Goes to show you Blizzard’s direction isn’t without merit.

The Sha of Hatred in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaMy other expansions probably would have been a sea-themed expansion featuring the Naga and other horrors of the deep followed by an Old God expansion focused on the underground regions of Azeroth, such as Azjol-Nerub.

It’s fun to speculate:

I hope this didn’t come off too rant-y. While these ideas are very much couched in my long-held complaints about WoW, I mostly intended to this be a fun way to imagine what could have been.

What about you? What would World of Warcraft look like if you had been at its helm?

3 thoughts on “If I Had Designed World of Warcraft

  1. Interesting post – good lore “logic.”
    Hmmm…If I designed WoW? Well, Shadow Priests would be the most powerful class because *insert convoluted lore reason here*, and they would rule Azeroth, and all other classes would have to pay gold taxes, and…
    yeah, probably a good thing I’m not a designer 😉

  2. Finally, after trying (and failing) to post a reply to this entry on my blackberry (dammit!) and never really getting to use this computer because my kids come home and use it to read Homestuck, play LOL, play WOW, and possibly do homework ( in that order)…..

    If I had designed WOW I’m pretty sure people would be screeching in discontent and the franchise would not have been nearly as successful. I mean, I love what they have done with the overall gameplay in terms of class construction, controls, dungeons, raids etc etc but as I came into the WOW world simply because I loved the warcraft story and didnt want it to end, I knew nothing about MMOs and still don’t know nearly enough, in my opinion. So who am I to say whether certain decisions would have been better or more beneficial to gameplay…but as I’m fantasizing here, here goes:

    1. Storywise: Get rid of people like Richard A Knaak, or at least CREATE the plotline and make him stick to it before letting him butcher existing characters while adding too many Mary Sues to the story to make it even remotely credible. Seriously. I know he is a friend of the Metz but how on earth does he keep getting writing gigs? He’s a worse writer prose wise than Salvatore (and that’s saying alot, at least Salvatore knows how to craft his own world properly) and he’s given the task of creating the backstory for the Night Elves of all people. The ones with the richest, most complicated lore. He makes the mystical relationship between Tyrande and her Goddess look like that of two good ol’ buddies going out for cheeseburgers and slapping each other on the back, he makes Malfurion (the ultimate druid badass who took down ARCHIMONDE) look like a preoccupied old geezer who lacks passion or awareness of anything other than leaf and grove, not to mention butchering Illidan’s complex, dark, and at rare times noble character in order to make him more attractive as a raid boss. Never mind what he did to Maiev in the latest story arc, or countless other characters….Look, I know Blizzard tells him to write some of this stuff but creating an amazing story and proceeding to butcher it with less than mediocre writing really makes the game less credible to me, and also more difficult to enjoy. There are hundreds of thousands of writers out there that can work with the rich lore in WOW and come out with something to rival a Game of Thrones (rape scenes notwithstanding), and no doubt, they are very reasonable to hire, also. Warcraft had an amazing story!! Why ruin it??? Maybe I should just stop buying his books altogether….

    2. Story wise: I am a fan of the undead, I love my lock and where the story has gone, At the same time, having played the Frozen Throne over a dozen times I tend to agree with you when you say the undead should remain a neutral/evil faction, or a separate faction of some sort. Sylvanas was very much of the mind to say “I’m done with you people, leave me alone” by the end of the expansion and I could hardly blame her. I have a difficult time seeing the orcs just randomly accepting something representing rogue scourge into the horde…..Especially with what Thrall just went through. I have an easier time seeing why the Night Elves joined the alliance….their World Tree just got obliterated, Kalimdor is being encroached on and they need help incorporating themselves into the new world, so to speak. To be honest, I too felt that it cheapened the story somewhat to have everyone conveniently start fighting each other again when they all seemed on the brink of making peace with each other, but from what I understand that was only an uneasy truce. Both sides have screwed each other up pretty badly and there are alot of old hatreds and resentments that cults like the twilight’s hammer could build on to bring about the release of, say, the Elder Gods themselves. A big problem I had was introducing Worgen into the alliance as late in the game as Cataclysm. Great story, I see no reason why they couldnt have come in earlier.As for the blood elves….Yeah, I guess it makes sense that they joined the horde, the alliance not only refused to help them but treated them like total crap when they were obviously in dire straits I would have had them join the horde much earlier on, is all. As for the goblins, they should have remained neutral, or joined the horde as a thumbs down to alliance for choosing gnomes (there is real racial hatred between these two peoples) . As for the Pandaren….I still see no reason why they took sides with both factions against each other. I wouldn’t have put them in at all, other than to be a neutral faction. Anyways, enough babble.

    My races:

    Gnomes (i have to, my son is an avid gnome player!–and make tinkering more useful in battle! this makes them more fun to play)
    Night Elves (male druids only! Female warrior only! I 100 percent agree!)

    Trolls (amazing backstory on these guys)
    Goblins (*there would still be a neutral faction of these guys somewhere, and again with the tinkering in battle)
    High Elves- (those remaining, would be given a choice in the next expansion to embrace dark magics or not, thus creating new sub classes)
    Tauren (no reason not to)

    Bonuses are provided for doing diplomatic quests to the opposing faction. you can either choose to be a character that promotes peace or war betweeen the alliance and horde. Interesting storylines for both.

    Classes: everything except for Paladins

    First Expansion: I agree. Go to Northrend and kick some LK butt. starting with Kel’Thuzad in the Plaguelands then go on from there. Death Knights aren’t a bad idea but they should not be usable with anything other than vanilla races. Paladins would be created to counter Death Knights.

    Second Expansion: Go to Outland. Make Illidan and his Illidarii a FACTION not a damned raid boss. Here’s why. They never explain very well in the expansions the crap the Illidarii have to go through to keep the demons off their doorstep, or the fact that the skull of Gul’Dan is taking over Illidan’s mind completely due to his being shattered over his failure at Northrend. It made some sense but still…. I would say , instead of making Illidan an insane badass and vessel of Gul”Dan to whom creating a new Well of Eternity is just a sideshow, make him a messed up badass who is desperate to create a new Well for a good reason (and who deeply mistrusts Gul’Dan at this point, as well as maybe trying to get rid of Kil’Jaeden). I would also have some of the ethereals cautiously working with the Illidarii to get artifacts in exchange for other things (im sure they’re not too happy about Kil’Jaeden either). I dont know. We rooted for Illidan and then we had to kill him as a raid boss? I was never too pleased with that and so I never did it.
    I would say, work with various factions, get gear and groups together, then get rid of Doom Lord Kazzak (which is a task in itself!!!!) and then go on to find a way to take out Kil’Jaeden, or at least prevent the Lord of Lies and Trickery from returning. Kill Lady Vashj? Nah. She’s waaay too cool of a character, who has her own reasons for having the Well built. I’d say, have her retreat when she knows she’s screwed, and declare victory. Kael’Thas? Again, they never explain exactly why he starts working with the Lord of Lies. He does it in the story because he thinks Illidan is crazy and without Illidan’s help he feels he’ll never be able to rebuild Quel”thalas with Arthas around, so he resorts to taking help from the biggest jerk of them all. Desperate measures….I loved Kael, and don’t at ALL like him having been a raid boss twice. How he goes from having tons of integrity to less than zero is a mystery to me. Instead? Have him embrace darker magics and start a NEW faction among his people (which you can join if you choose). His ultimate goal would be to assist Illidan with building the new well so he can bring his people to a new paradise, and destroy Kil’Jaeden who is the progenitor of the Lich King. His people would also work with the ethereals. Akama and his Draenei are also a huge part of the expansion and you find out more about the Eredar and their journey to the light in this story. (damn you blizzard). Help Maiev escape. She may found her own faction in the future.

    Races: No new. Classes: Demon Hunter and Warlock (for those Warriors and Mages that Curry Favor with the Illidarii or Kael’Thas)

    Other Expansions:

    The rise of Deathwing would be backed up with the rise of the Naga. NOW you get to see why Vashj wants that well so badly. Azshara and her people have been waiting for centuries and, with the rise of Deathwing and the Twilights Hammer cult, are ready to make the tides of Doom rise up all over Azeroth.

    Murlocs (pushed out of their homes by the rise of the naga (who have a history of enslaving them), they come to the Alliance to beg for help. Initially no one wants to work with them but it’s fairly easy to find a hook when every Night Elf worth their salt hates the Naga)

    Naga. Some of the clans have fallen into disfavor with the Empress for calling her on serving Gods which in their visions, annihilate all life once they are freed. In desperation to break free from her madness, they talk to Kael, who talks to the blood elves, who talk to the horde. Initially there would be mistrust but if the Naga prove themselves there would be at least be a temporary pact where the Naga clans who have joined let the Horde use their waterways in exchange for protection.

    Water fighting this expansion! Enter all sea creatures and dungeons. The Maelstrom would be
    the final goal, Enter Pandaren as a Neutral Faction. Garrosh Hellscream enters as chieftain and this time LEARNS from his mistakes. Perhaps even comes to see humans for being not so bad. Why not???

    And on and on.There could be endless expansions, though I have to say one of the big things I would have changed is how much damn grinding you initially had to do in the game, You grinded for the sake of the grindiness of grinding. It’s annoying and probably a reason alot of people stopped playing. Also I would hire tons of new, innovative people each new stretch specifically to keep quests and scenarios interesting, not the “get me ten blood elf ears, bring me the head of this night elf or orc general, etc etc) that permeates every level of WOW.

    Massive post again. Dammit. All in all, not sure that my decisions would have been great ones. I sure know I would have tried to stick to the integrity of the story and not ruin it for the sake of doing so. Still having fun with the game though…..

    • To be fair to Knaak, he collaborates with Metzen on the story, and nothing he does is without Blizzard’s approval. And I don’t think his stories are that bad anyway. He’s not Christie Golden, but he’s done some pretty cool stuff.

      I’d largely agree with most of your ideas, save playable Murlocs and Naga. Naga shouldn’t be playable for the same reasons Forsaken shouldn’t, but more so, and Murlocs are too much a joke race at this point.

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