Death is an inherently scary subject matter. Everyone’s a little scared of it, even if they won’t care to say it. In World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, however, Blizzard had a chance to explore beyond the bones and graves with the game’s 4 zones that act as the Afterlife in Azeroth. In a special deep-dive interview we spoke to Ely Cannon, Art Director for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands about what makes the Ardenweald so much more than your average afterlife.
Ely Cannon is an Art Director on World of Warcraft. Since joining as a senior level designer for the game’s Burning Crusade expansion in 2006, Cannon has been responsible for ensuring players have an enjoyable time in Azeroth. Now, he’s making sure players enjoy their trip to the afterlife in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.
The Ardenweald is one of several zones that make up the Shadowlands in World of Warcraft. It’s a somber forest, that looks like it’s permanently bathed in starlight. The Winter Queen is the ruler of this zone, supported by the Night Fae . Unfortunately, things are in disarray in the Ardenweald as an Anima drought forces the Winter Queen to let parts of the Ardenweald die and choose which ones can survive.
Designing The Ardenweald
Looking at the Ardenweald, the first thing you notice is its surreal beauty. The entire forest is permeated by this serene calm,with the blue glow giving it an ethereal feel. Despite that, the large trees of the Ardenweald still feel somewhat rooted in their design.
” We definitely wanted to hit this vibe of a night-time forest. And we had some early photographic reference of some Northern England forests where the sky itself was very deep, blue saturated color,” Ely says.
Despite being a part of Azeroth’s afterlife, the Ardenweald focuses little on death. There’s a refreshing lack of morbidity in this grove, focusing more on death’s role in life.
Ely says setting the direction of the Ardenweald early on was instrumental in getting this right.
“So this is a conversation we had pretty often early on,” he says. “One of the things we absolutely wanted to avoid is an entire expansion that was morbid, that was downtrodden. Now, there’s a real balance to strike there. Because, obviously, the theme of death can be very morbid in and of itself. But it doesn’t have to be”.
An early concept for the entrance to the Winter Queen’s court.
Looking At Death As Part of Life
Instead, Ely says that they chose to focus on the cyclic nature of death and rebirth. Since the Ardenweald is a resting place for powerful spirits, they never stay down for long. Cenarius, for example, rested here after his death in the Third War before returning in Cataclysm.
“The theme is that this is a place where nature spirits -very powerful nature spirits like the Loa and the Ancients come to hibernate after death, after they’ve served the wild, to spend some time rejuvenating and regaining their energies so that they can go out into the natural world and serve the wild again,” he says.
A Crisis In The Ardenweald
But Ely says that the Ardenweald players will get to see in Shadowlands isn’t exactly running 100% as it should. There’s an Anima drought, and the Winter Queen is now making the hard choice of choosing groves to die for the others.
“This zone is actually a very hopeful place during normal times. It happens that when we find it in the game it’s going through a drought and is really going through a tragic period of time”, he says. “But in reality the zone of Ardenweald itself, this purpose that it serves is a very hopeful one. Because it really- it’s a point of return, it’s a point of rebirth, it’s a point of reincarnation. It’s a place where these spirits that had been worshipped by nature lovers in the World of Warcraft come to be reborn, come to be reinvested into the world. And in that way, it’s actually an upbeat place that, unfortunately, when we find it, is really going through a troubling time.
…And that’s a central theme of this place right, wild spirits and wild gods come here to basically be reclaimed and rejuvenated
The Gorm may look similar to Starcraft’s Zerg, but their role is entirely different from the space bugs.
Hungry, Hungry Bugs Of The Ardenweald
As Ardenweald places a focus on the cycles present in nature, there was going to be some representation for decay. The Gorm are exactly this- they consume unused parts of the forest, allowing life to grow there. Despite their similarities to Blizzard’s insectoid Zerg, the Gorm serve a more natural purpose in the Shadowlands.
“Now decomposition is of course part of death, but it’s definitely part of the central part of the forest, right: things grow, they die, and they are reclaimed through decomposition to the forest and become life again. And that’s a central theme of this place right- wild spirits and wild gods come here to basically be reclaimed and rejuvenated,” he says.
“ In the same way, the Gorm served a very particular function in this place before it started to go through the Anima drought. And that function was to help with the decomposition in parts of the forest that were no longer being used and to basically reclaim them so that the groves could be grown anew: the Gorm were that function of decomposition here”.
Concepts for the Night Fae Covenant armor.
Disrupted Cycles In The Ardenweald
The recurring theme with the denizens of the Ardenweald is that they’re all part of the cycle together. The Gorm only know to consume, and it falls on the other denizens of the Ardenweald to keep them in check.
However, Ely says that the ongoing crisis in the Ardenweald makes controlling the Gorm a little more difficult. With the Winter Queen and Night Fae busy handling the Anima shortage, there’s not enough resources to keep the Gorm in check. As a result, they’ve started to grow out of control.
“So they’ve become a danger instead of part of the natural mechanism of the forest. And in that way, they become a creature that is somewhat of an enemy and a threat instead of just a natural part of the world,” Ely says.
Players who wish to ally themselves with the Night Fae or even just check out the Ardenweald will have to wait for Shadowlands to release.
The Ardenweald is definitely one of the most unique looking things we’ve seen so far out of the Shadowlands. A huge thanks again to Blizzard and Ely for the opportunity to talk about the ideas behind the Ardenweald, we definitely can’t wait to see the rest of the zones of the Shadowlands.
Hungry for more interviews like a Gorm in the Ardenweald? Don’t forget to check out our other Shadowlands interview with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas.