Be warned, this speculation head cannon post is based on spoilers for Battle for Azeroth up to and including the end of Nyalotha!
So Battle for Azeroth just released Nyalotha and with it the ending cinematics for that raid, and many are disappointed that as far as lore potential, both Azshara and N’zoth were wasted and while there was plenty of story content and cinematics for the Sylvanas storyline that looked amazing and were emotionally impacting at times, that too was a bit lackluster when it comes to the story itself, though it’s better in the context of the books. Some wondered what if we actually had Sylvanas’ story come after defeating N’zoth and finish with the intro cinematic to Shadowlands.
Which led me to this crazy idea which would have allowed BFA to end in my opinion in a far more interesting manner while not having to create new assets i.e. it would reuse Icecrown much like we re-used Uldum and the Vale, it would use the same cinematic of Sylvanas vs. Bolvar, only it would split it up and have raid encounter phases in between… hope you enjoy this consciousness stream dumping of mine:
I just had an idea how they could have used the existing media to get an awesome ending cinematic…
While fighting N’zoth he shows us a vision of Sylvanas climbing up to the top of Icecrown. The cinematic doesn’t show the fight against the undead, but before it continues it takes a break to put us in bodies of ghouls to try and overcome Sylvanas. We meet objective to perhaps slow her down but after that we ultimately fail and all die.
We could perhaps alternate between fighting N’zoth in our bodies and Sylvanas as Bolvar’s undead and we don’t know whether we should help her or stop her because she seems to be doing something ominous but on the other hand N’zoth seems to want us to stop her and we don’t want to help him.
Depending on your story choice if you chose to be loyalist to Sylvanas you might turn against your raid in the vision phases and depending on your class play an undead night elf ranger, a banshee or an undead night elf warden at her side during the visions, as they are prone to show all possibilities some people won’t work in favor of N’zoth and that could be reflected in the many possibilities of what you would be in the vision depending on your class and loyalties. Ultimately Sylvanas will still win but we can have an epic payoff in-game for our lore choices with a battle that wasn’t in the cinematic and the fact it wasn’t there to be honest felt like a cop out but by having us play our parts in that big event, it would be turned to the game’s advantage!
In the end it was our victory which gave Sylvanas’ victory. While fighting her and helping Bolvar we weren’t sure if it was even real, but when we were back out of the visions and killed N’zoth we allowed him too to be sent to the maw in Shadowlands which empowered the Jailor which empowered Sylvanas massively.
We could have during the fight visions of her losing to Bolvar. For a while, we seem to be helping both Bolvar and killing N’zoth, until we defeat N’zoth, at which point she gets massively buffed and can kick Bolvar’s ass. Show cinematic of her taking crown, breaking it and opening way to Shadowlands and you realize N’zoth’s vision was real and by killing him we helped Sylvanas.
You could even have people who kept the eye of N’zoth play another role of working for N’zoth in the vision phases, again helping against Bolvar and being empowered by N’zoth with a unique ability on their bar to try and slow Sylvanas down, maybe they become different types of K’thir and Naraqi depending on class but Bolvar sees them as ghouls. Maybe the undead and N’zoth servants retain their class abilities but just look different depending on their class and loyalty. Bolvar can voice act during fight and wonder how he has lost control of the N’zoth servants while in the body of an undead i.e. he doesn’t understand what’s going on too and thinks you’re just a ghoul he should have access to and do his bidding which is a tip that maybe this is somewhat real after all…
N’zoth kept testing us because he needed us, he lured us, to defeat Sylvanas… but despite his tests, we failed because some of us served him, some of us served Sylvanas, and some of us weren’t corrupted by either and tried to defeat both… Because of how the void explores all possibilities we weren’t united except in the purpose of killing N’zoth when not in the vision phases, so we succeed at that but fail at thwarting Sylvanas and inadvertently help her by killing him. Thus, despite his elaborate manipulation and visions N’zoth still perished, but while making a true effort to break our perceptions and turn us against our friends rather than a straightforward kill fight with laser beam in the end.
Twist, payoff and awesome ending cinematic which explains Sylvanas’ super overpowered level in an awesome way, tying the N’zoth story gameplay and lore wise with the Sylvanas story.
After all his manipulation, N’zoth’s final vision was actually showing the truth, for the void does not lie, it only shows many truths… but that chaotic nature of the void is what allowed N’zoth to lose and Sylvanas win. It could have went the other way and N’zoth’s Black Empire would prevail instead of the Jailor and Sylvanas. Which would have been a less bad outcome?
Hell, now that I think about it… why wouldn’t it go the other way too? What if the objective of the fight is not to kill N’zoth, but to kill either N’zoth or Sylvanas, and you win if you kill one of them, and lose if you kill none of them. So then we could scrap the idea that Sylvanas would necessarily win, it would be a choice for the raid, which again could be fighting against themselves in parts of the fight depending on their loyalties. Not just a temporary mind control that marks you hostile, but actual divide in phases with players having different contradicting objectives depending on loyalties! The first raid with actual PvP in it!
And then in lore, what if both happened, that there had to be a raid that killed N’zoth and a raid that killed Sylvanas to advance the story… and we had two broken realities to explore in Shadowlands, one where our world becomes the Black Empire, and we try to reverse that through abilities we gain in Shadowlands? That is, you could have two ways to finish the final encounter, one where N’zoth wins and one where Sylvanas wins and both are cannon and both need to be dealt with in Shadowlands expansion in order to reunite the seperate realities into one coherent and hopefully not dystopic reality.
They could also drop different loot depending on how you finished the encounter, so each week we could come back and do it differently if we wanted different loot or just to play it differently. It would make the end boss the most replayable boss ever in the game, that you could do it a different way each week. Or maybe drop same stats gear, but have two different transmog versions of the same gear depending on how you do it.
N’zoth is supposed to make you go crazy, why not have the game actually go crazy to reflect that in the final encounter with him?
Maybe Sylvanas’ goal was to break reality, so she could have an alternate one where she was never turned into a banshee and continued to live her not undead life without fear of being sent into the maw like she probably was when she leapt off Icecrown. We killed her in one reality, but in the other she got to go to Shadowlands, where somehow by combining the power of death with the visions of N’zoth made manifest in the alternate reality – she could make that happen.
If anyone saw the series 12 Monkeys, spoilers for that by the way in the next paragraph… Star Trek Generations also kind of introduces this idea as the Nexus.
In the 12 Monkeys TV series there was a faction that was fighting to break reality so everyone could choose their own reality where painful things they endured did not happen and they could choose the perfect life they wanted.
Shadowlands could then be a fight to restore the one reality of nature and dealing with fractured realities, one dominated by the Black Empire and one where Sylvanas is working through Shadowlands to achieve even more reality seperation so she could have her ideal reality to live in… she just wants to “set us all free” like she said in the cinematic, to live our ideal realities… but we kind of think that having one reality where what you do matters, well… having that matters… and much like in 12 Monkeys, it would be a fight between those who just want to live in their utopias and those who want to preserve reality and we could not be sure even if the other side succeeded if it would lead to utopias or dystopias, because being stuck forever in “heaven” can be a sort of hell unto itself – because no matter how good life is, none of it matters, because none of it is in a sense “real” and nothing you do matters because you can always just choose for it to be different.
What does something being “real” even mean when you have the option to just choose your own reality? Does “real” mean that you have to pay prices and you don’t have that power? What makes the multiple realities existence less inherently “real”? Such questions could be explored in game lore, making both sides of the fight seem justified in their beliefs and goals.
Perhaps we might find some of our salvation by using the Warlords of Draenor reality as our anchor point to get back to a relatively sane reality, giving lore significance to that expansion rather than just being thrown away and giving us an opportunity to have some of the content that was planned for it and cancelled like using the beautiful Temple of Karabor and the original Shattrath city for raid content.
This could also lead to a new system of gradually over expansions adding a new mode to previous raids and dungeons where they become scalable 1 to 5 man content like the Horrific Visions, so that when people level up in previous expansions, they could see those encounters as part of their leveling experience and get the full lore experience of every expansion. With the new leveling revamp, supposedly we get to experience the full lore of each expansion, but the leveling content is typically just a fraction of that expansion’s lore. You don’t really get to experience for example all of BFA’s lore just because you got to level in all of the zones of that expansion, so create a system where old dungeons and raids could be revamped so that they could be played solo or in a group like Horrific Visions and you could gradually spread the workload of revamping that old content over many expansions so most of the work would be dedicated to completely new content in new places – thus you would gradually be working to keep all previous expansions forever relevant without overshadowing the new content and that would increase the variety and ever green quality and diversity of the content by so many factors and use this huge world that you have built over the years in its entirety.
At end game, these revamped instances could fill the role that Island expeditions filled as far as reward structure, and in the theme of alternate realities, you could play each in one of two ways, one where the story happened as it was, and one where it didn’t. This would be different from Timewalking because you wouldn’t be locked into having it happen the way it originally did, you could explore both because it is an alternate reality. While leveling you would have to do it “the proper original timeline way” to complete your quest but at endgame the option opens up to do it differently which would also lead to different mechanics, like back in Ulduar when you did things differently in the encounter which made it spawn different mechanics and better rewards.