In this zone preview, we sat down with Senior Game Designer Steve Burke to talk about Val’sharah and learn more about what you’ll experience there.
Within these densely forested lands, you’ll find the very heart of druidism. This is the location of the Grove of Cenarius, where the demigod first met Malfurion Stormrage and later began his training. This is also where the Emerald Nightmare’s influence bleeds into Azeroth, corrupting the land. You'll also find key places such as the tainted world tree Shaladrassil and the dungeon Black Rook Hold—an elven fortress that dates back to the War of the Ancients.
Enraptured Woodlands Composed by Edo Guidotti and Jason Hayes
Q. How would you describe the zone’s ambience? What’s it like?
Steve Burke: We were really shooting for what would be the closest to the Emerald Dream realized on Azeroth. Every square inch of this forest has been manicured by the druids for hundreds of years. We’ve got the Grove of Cenarius here, so that’s the fount of all druidism, right? That’s where all these uber Arch Druids have trained, so a lot of big history has happened there.
Then juxtaposed with this, we have the Emerald Nightmare. It was exciting, but it was tough for us to pin down how we would execute on that. We had some fits and starts, but I really like where it landed. You’ve got this big transition of “Hey, in the last week or two the World Tree that’s there has become completely corrupted.” It’s spreading throughout the forest, and I think we’ve got that really cool battle line drawn right through one of the Arch Druids’ groves. It’s just being taken over so you really get to see that cause and effect and contrast. Seeing what it does to the druids and the creatures—the centaur and the dryads—is really cool. We also have Xavius, who’s a villain who has a little bit of familiarity, so we didn’t have to do too much to establish him. You get to hate him right away.
To break that up, we really felt we needed Black Rook Hold for something a little different. We have a Gilnean village at the foot of Black Rook Keep, where they’ve carved out their own little area that wasn’t being used by the druids. It’s that classic little village in the shadow of the keep above.
Q. Which locations would you say are some of your favorites, and why?
Steve Burke: Black Rook Hold is definitely one of my favorites. This point of interest (PoI) in particular is my favorite because I had a blank slate. I could say, “OK, as a designer what makes the best PoI?” Not just art, but the gameplay and hitting that fantasy. I sat down with Julian Morris and other leads and talked about previous points of interest where you could stand in them and just digest the whole thing. It’s not accessible, and you can’t necessarily reach it, but you can get that goal of, “Oh man, I can’t wait to get into that place or up over the hill.” It kind of tells its own story just by looking at it. The setting already kind of speaks to you, and then we can focus on the little local stories and just have fun weaving you through. Especially something this epic where you gradually get there in the end. You’ve kind of solved a mystery—or set the stage for a dungeon, in this case. It’s really great.
Another one is the Grove of Cenarius, and that is one of my favorites just because of all of the history. This is Cenarius. This is where he is. It was hard making this zone just in regard to how much druid lore we have out there. All these big characters—how do we do service to them all? If we threw everything in here, your head would be spinning. You’d get to spend two seconds on this character, and then you wouldn’t be able to really know them.
So we’re talking about the story that we want to tell as you go through the zone that takes up a little bit of player bandwidth just to say, “Ok there’s Xavius again and the Legion has empowered him. They’ve kind of resurrected him and now he’s impacting this force.” So a part of the story. How many characters do we get to fit in here without blowing the player’s mind? It was just clear Cenarius had to be here, but he’s so big and he’s so powerful, how can we have a crisis here if he’s part of the picture? He can just blow anything away, right? I like the way it landed where he’s just so interconnected with the Emerald Dream that when the Emerald Dream is under assault by the Nightmare, it has affected him in a very serious way. So we got to have him in the zone visibly, just not in a state where he can really impact events.
We can also still play with big characters—we’ve got Malfurion, and later we have Tyrande in there. That was tricky, since both Horde and Alliance interact with her. With her chasing after Malfurion, who’s been lost, there was enough urgency that it felt OK for her to use you as a Horde player, to set our differences aside for right now. For her, it’s a matter of making some very difficult choices between her husband and her duty to the Temple of Elune.
With the Temple of Elune, it’s under siege, and there’s a lot to lose there. This was something I always wanted to build towards—we’ve never seen anybody of Elune’s stature physically in the game. How do we get that to happen?
Q. Why do you think a player would want to start in this zone first?
Steve Burke: I would say they shouldn’t—they should save it for last. It’s tricky though. All of the zones are great. I hope this is where druids are going to want to go. They should feel like this is their place, and if they don’t, I’ve done something wrong. That was day one where I was like, “Ok, I get to play with Val’sharah. Obviously, we have got to play these druids up in a way we just haven’t done before in the game.”
There’s been a lot in our lore that talks about how important they are, but here I just wanted to give them a story that would be super intimate to them—playable and appreciable by everybody, but one that would really resonate with them. Their Class Hall is here, but I wanted the zone and the zone story to be something they could connect with in a special way, so hopefully we did that.
Q. What is it that will bring them back to this zone?
Steve Burke: Mechanically, we have World Quests—that’s the easy answer. Storywise, there’s an epic story that goes through and touches on Black Rook Hold with Illidan. We’ve got the level-up dungeon, which is the Darkheart Thicket underneath the World Tree, and we’ve got the max-level dungeon with Black Rook Hold, so that will definitely bring you back.
But yeah, the World Quests—hopefully we set the table for you so that it will bring you back and put you into that familiar setting where you can keep helping to push back the Nightmare.
Q. Is there anything else that players should look forward to here?
Steve Burke: There are a lot of little touches everywhere, but I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who’s looking forward to that exploration.