In World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, we’ve seen many different forms of afterlife. And while wicked souls get cast into The Maw, what about those that simply had ambition? The souls that were simply willing to do more to get what they wanted? For these souls who shined brightest in conflict, they can be put into Maldraxxus.
Maldraxxus is no place for the meek. Most mortal souls would wither at the first glimpse of its endless battlefields, pitted and scarred by an eternity of unceasing conflict. Few would find beauty in the harsh terrain of bone spires, pestilent pools, and jagged mountains. Fewer still would peer into the grim visages of the liches, abominations, wraiths, and warriors who inhabit Maldraxxus without succumbing to paralyzing fear.
We spoke to Steve Danuser, Lead Narrative Designer for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. Steve excels in dealing with story-driven elements in World of Warcraft. Aside from maintaining the tone and characterization of important NPCs in quests, Steve also looks after these details in other mediums as well.
“The Key Word Is Conflict”
Maldraxxus is a place built on conflict. From the gladitorial pits to the scheming houses, this place was built to evoke a sense of violence. However, Steve says there’s more to it than just drawing spilled guts everywhere. After all, even Maldraxxus can be a source of beauty, in a way.
“Even the things that can be deadly like the pools of plague have an appeal to them, have an aesthetic that draws you in and wants to explore them”, Steve says. “The very shape of the landscape, Its jutting bone spires, Its bridges that look like stretched sinew, all of these things come together to make a place that is simultaneously horrifying and beautiful in its own kind of way”.
“I think those visual notes really help reinforce the themes of what’s going on in the storyline of Maldraxxus where at first glance everything can seem really harsh and aggressive. But if you dig deeper, you see the nobility, the purpose of the place. And that comes through in both the art and the storytelling”, he adds.
Fungal, But Not Tainted
Despite being so full of bones, fungus and other classically morbid things, Steve insists this isn’t because of the zone’s proximity to the Maw. Rather, it’s a source of death magic:
“Keep in mind that the map for the Shadowlands is kind of a top down view of where the locations are but the shadowlands is kind of this infinite 3d space and it’s actually Revendreth that is kind of lowest down and nearest to the Maw and that’s where souls are given one last chance before being condemned to that eternity of darkness” he says.
“Maldraxxus may appear to be adjacent to the Maw, but it’s not being directly affected by the Maw, in the same way that Revendreth has kind of a direct tie to it”, he adds.
“So the fungal things, that’s just the way the Maldraxxus manifests the death magic, and it’s not something that’s influenced by the presence of the Maw. Although, the jailer and his schemes are causing the influence of the Maw to leak out across the Shadowlands and affect things globally, which is one of the storylines that you explore as you play through the questlines of Shadowlands”, he explains.
The Theater Of Pain
Similarly, being put into Maldraxxus doesn’t automatically make you a soldier. Souls are often put into the Theater of Pain, a gladitorial pit where losers can be stripped of their anima to better empower the victors. With the looming threat of the Jailer’s machinations, these matches can become even more costly. Steve elaborates on how to-the-death matches really work when you’re in the afterlife.
“There are cases where in the gladitorial combats an enemy is defeated but not destroyed, and they might have their anima stripped away, they might have their body split apart and be put into a lesser body while the victor claims the spoils” he says.
“So that’s kinda the way it worked before when the Primus was there. But now, without his influence, the stakes have gotten much higher. And if a soul is destroyed in the Shadowlands, that soul is lost forever” he notes.
“So the stakes of this combat now have gotten very real and very costly. That’s part of the reason the jailer’s scheme is so disruptive to the Shadowlands. It’s by pulling all those souls into the maw, and all that anima along with them, it has left the realms like Maldraxxus bereft of those souls and that power to strengthen their own ranks. And as more and more of that combat keeps happening, as more and more destruction is being rained on to the Shadowlands, more and more souls are being lost. And that’s having a heavy toll on Maldraxxus and the other realms as well”.
The Primus, Ruler of Maldraxxus
Maldraxxus is ruled by The Primus, one of the Eternal Ones who oversee the Shadowlands. Similarly to The Winter Queen, Maldraxxus is very much shaped by The Primus and his values.
“So the Primus was one of the eternal ones who ruled over the Shadowlands. We refer to these figures of him, The Archon, the Winter Queen, Sire Denathrius as the Pantheon of Death the same way that the Titans are the Pantheons of Order, so these figures, the Eternal Ones, are the Pantheon of Death” Steve says.
Of course, one of the Primus’ main traits he cultivates in Maldraxxus is a strong sense of ambition. According to Steve, though, the Primus is capable enough to make sure none of these souls get too ambitious, and start eyeing his seat at the table.
“They’re extremely powerful beings, and when the Primus was present in Maldraxxus, yes, he founded these five Houses who compete against each other for souls coming in that were contentious and striving, and in some cases, cunning and manipulative, all of that. He was able to harness that power because he was such a potent ruler and his power was such to keep all these forces in check” he explains.
“Its really in his absence, he went to search for what was going wrong in the Shadowlands, and exploring his fears that the jailer’s influence might be extending beyond the Maw, thats what really caused Maldraxxus to start to unravel. Because when you have those intense rivalries that he kind of put into place, without something to keep them in check, without his power overseeing it, they really turned against each other in very violent and destructive ways. And that serves what the Jailer really wants, he wants this division and he’s taking advantage of that as the storyline plays out in Shadowlands”.
A Healthy Level Of Distrust
Naturally, the Houses are united under the Primus. There are several of these Houses, each lead by a powerful Margrave, with their own Barons under them. The Houses are as follows:
- The House of the Chosen- Tacticians and Warriors.
- The House of Eyes – Spymasters and Infiltrators
- The House of Plagues- Masters of disease and poison
- The House of Rituals- Necromancers
- The House of Constructs- Abominations and Juggernauts built from the body parts of fallen soldiers
However, Steve says that just because they’re under the same Eternal One, it doesn’t mean these Houses are bosom friends:
“I wouldn’t say that the Houses in Maldraxxus existed in harmony with one another. Certainly there are times where their interests would align and they’d work together, but they always maintained a kind of healthy distrust of one another and a contentiousness between them” he notes.
“But when the Primus was there this was all managed, and that was all cultivated to allow each house to become the strongest it can be, to become the best version of itself. So those rivalries that were there could be productive ones, could have good results. But when they’re uncontrolled when there’s no guard rails or greater figures holding them back, that’s when they become self-destructive” Steve explains.
A Familiar Face
“That’s the situation that we come into as players. We’ve seen the effects of what was once a game of testing one another, now it’s become deadly where they’re trying to take out their rivals permanently, and that’s caused the downfall of the House of Eyes and House of Plagues. It is the hopes of people like Draka to get Maldraxxus back to what it was before” he continues.
Speaking of Draka, you may remember her as Durotan’s mate and mother of Go’El. Since her death, she’s since found a home in the Maldraxxus, where she’s become a baronness of the House of the Chosen. As a previously established character, Steve says she’s quite important in relating to the player.
“Yes there can be differences between these very strong personalities that lead the houses of Maldraxxus, but she believes they need to get back to a place where they can cooperate for the greater good, for the greater purpose of what Maldraxxus is- acting as a defense force for the Shadowlands”. he clarifies.
“And that’s really why she needs the players to join the covenant with her, and set things right. And that’s one of the reasons why she was talked about by one of her Margraves as the key to saving Maldraxxus. It’s maybe less about Draka herself and more about what she represents, that sense of unity and camaraderie that is really gonna be necessary for being able to take the fight to the Jailer and hopefully defeat him to save the Shadowlands”
As the defenders of the Shadowlands, it looks like the denizens of Maldraxxus have a lot on their plate. Can they overcome their own infighting and help save the realm they’re sworn to protect? Are you, the player, going to join the Necro Lords covenant and help Draka restore Maldraxxus to its former glory?
Thanks again to Steve Danuser and Blizzard for taking the time to talk to us about this violent new zone. Does the burning ambition of your soul desire more Shadowlands deep dives? Check out our other Deep Dives here: