My primary concern with Mists of Pandaria is that a return to faction conflict as a substitute for an iconic enemy and an overall lighter design theme indicates that Cataclysm’s open-ended plotlines will remain unresolved. As opposed to other long-standing mysteries, many of Cataclysm’s stories are extremely pressing.
Resolution of the N’zoth Plotline(s)
Neptulon, Azshara, and the Naga
Chief among them is the conflict with the Old God N’zoth, who was responsible for corrupting Deathwing. On its own, N’zoth isn’t a particularly visible threat to us yet, but the Puzzle Box of Yogg-Saron indicates its involvement with another Cataclysm plot line: the Naga abduction of Neptulon the Tidehunter. Using the box can generate the following whispers:
At the bottom of the ocean even light must die…
The drowned god’s heart is black ice…
In the land of Ny’alotha there is only sleep…
In the sleeping city of Ny’alotha walk only mad things.
Ny’alotha is a city of old, terrible, unnumbered crimes…
In the sunken city, he lays dreaming.
The fish know all the secrets. They know the cold. They know the dark.
We see that the drowned god inhabits the sunken city of old, terrible, unnumbered crimes at the bottom of the ocean with mad things that know the dark. This city is likely Nazjatar, home of the Naga, which is apparently called Ny’alotha by the Old Gods. Given his propensity to corrupt one of the great Aspects, it is well within N’zoth’s power to do the same to Neptulon, especially if Queen Azshara assists him with her legendary magic. Leaving them alone for an expansion will give Azshara time to establish complete dominance over both the Abyssal Maw and all of Azeroth’s waters. I’ll return to this point later.
The Emerald Nightmare
The Puzzle Box and a line from the novel Stormrage point to N’zoth’s involvement in a second unresolved plotline: the Emerald Nightmare. The box also includes the following quotes:
In the sunken city, he lays dreaming.
The silent, sleeping, staring houses in the backwoods always dream…It would be merciful to tear them down…
What can change the nature of a man?
The stars sweep chill currents that make men shiver in the dark…
The void sucks at your soul. It is content to feast slowly…
Have you had the dream again? A black goat with seven eyes that watches from the outside.
And from Stormrage:
Curiously, only then did Malfurion truly sense that the ancient evil, though it fought to keep its grip there, did so from somewhere deep in the depths of Azeroth’s own seas.
The first quote from the Puzzle Box combines with the quote from Stormrage to indicate that the evil within the Rift of Aln is N’zoth, who (again) resides in Nazjatar at the bottom of the ocean. The second and third quotes reference events from Stormrage: the fall of Goldshire into the Nightmare and the insanity of Fandral Staghelm (which culminated with his presence in the Firelands in 4.2).
The final three quotes are perhaps the most disturbing of all: the first two reference the Twisting Nether and the third sounds like some sort of ascended Satyr living with the Burning Legion in the Nether. The quote from Stormrage can be inferred to support this theory, since “truly [sensing]” N’zoth’s presence would indicate that Malfurion’s first guess as to the source of the evil was from somewhere else. Until now, the Old Gods and the Burning Legion have existed as two separate threats, but the Emerald Nightmare may be the opening stage for these two threats working in concert, even in the extreme likelihood that each is secretly protecting its own interests.
The Black Dragonflight
Lastly, we are left to wonder how N’zoth , Thrall, and Wrathion will affect one another. From the Deathwing raid and the events of the novel Twilight of the Aspects, we know that Thrall is able to fill in as the Earth-Warder. From the 4.3 questline rogues complete to gain their legendary daggers, we also know that Wrathion, the Black Prince, has no intention of working with the other Aspects:
They wanted to hold me, to keep watch over me – a prisoner in all but name. But I will NOT be held accountable for the sins of my father. My destiny will be my own.
The questline also has players kill off the remaining members of the Black Dragonflight, leaving no other candidates to fill the position of Earth-Warder. N’zoth becomes implicated when we observe the final stage of the daggers: imbued with the essence of the Old Gods. The quest is still on the PTR, so the exact means by which the daggers gain their corruption is unknown – perhaps it is a side effect of using them to kill Deathwing. Still, it seems that the Black Dragonflight and the Old Gods are still intertwined.
I believe that Wrathion will return whenever we deal with N’zoth, so this is not a particularly pressing issue; instead, the more current question is whether Thrall will return to the Horde given the potential lack of a more qualified Earth-Warder and the conflict between his diplomatic ideals and the focus on faction conflict in Mists of Pandaria.
Resolution of the Elemental Plane Plotlines
There are three critical events that take place in Cataclysm which affect the stability of the Elemental Planes: the defeat of Al’Akir in 4.0, the abduction of Neptulon (also in 4.0), and the defeat of Ragnaros (4.2). This leaves only Deepholm with its proper leader, Therazane the Stonemother, while the Skywall and the Firelands are currently leader-less and the Abyssal Maw has been taken over by the Naga. It is known that the elements are constantly warring against one another, and the current state of the plane is not stable. For reference, the Elemental Plane has three layers: the Skywall at the top, Deepholm and the Abyssal Maw in the middle, and the Firelands at the bottom. In other words, the roof and foundation of the elements are now in chaos.
In Cataclysm we learned the process by which a new Dragon Aspect is chosen (at least, how a new Aspect of Magic is chosen). We have no such knowledge of how an Elemental Lord rises to power. Is it possible for any of the players in the Elemental Plane – Therazane, (corrupted?) Neptulon, Azshara, or N’zoth – to assert dominance over the realms of Air and Fire? Will we see those two elements completely wiped out? Probably not, even if only for gameplay reasons – shaman would lose half of their powers.
The Fate of Azeroth
Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm both delivered important story events regarding the relationship between the Titans, the Old Gods, and Azeroth. In Uldum and its associated instances, players “shut off” the re-origination device that Algalon the Observer would have activated. It has also been some time since Algalon visited Azeroth. Have the Titans been informed of the events that have occurred since Vanilla WoW and the defeat of C’thun?
My plot-related concerns may be unfounded if the in-game timeline of Mists of Pandaria ends up being very short, and indeed it may be: the discovery of Pandaria and the progression of the Horde-Alliance war does not involve uncontrollable legendary factors such as the vastness of the Scourge or the location of Deathwing. While it would be implausible to, say, have defeated the entirety of Arthas’s lieutenants and armies in two or three months, World of Warcraft will never see either faction completely destroyed. Great military campaigns can take place in much shorter time frames when all parties are equally mortal. The plotlines above absolutely cannot be left quietly unresolved. For that reason, I believe that WoW 6.0 must be set mere weeks after Mists of Pandaria and only several months after Cataclysm, rather than the lengthier gaps we have seen between expansions in the past.