Isle of Dorn in WoW The War Within
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

How WoW’s next expansion, The War Within, got its name

There are layers of meaning within the name of WoW's next expac.

World of Warcraft is about to undergo its most daring narrative experiment in the history of the franchise with the launch of a trilogy of expansions woven together through one connected narrative thread.

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And while the contents of the expansions in the upcoming Worldsoul Saga are expected to be evoking, the name of the first expansion in this trilogy, The War Within, holds more weight on its own than arguably any other expansion in WoWs history. 

The key art for the upcoming WoW expansion, The War Within.
The phrase “The War Within” has a double meaning. Image via Blizzard Entertainment

While expansion names in the past have been relatively cut-and-dry or indicative of what players can expect to see—Legion was named after its central antagonists, the Burning Legion, while Shadowlands was named for the realm of existence where it took place, for example—The War Within is a much more evocative name.

It can’t be overstated how the phrase The War Within is a double entendre, as the multiple meanings of the actual name of the expansion stem from conflicts both external and internal. 

The most literal interpretation of the name applies to the actual war in the interior of Azeroth. A good portion of the expansion will take place underground, with the core of the planet serving as the backdrop for many of the conflicts and story beats players will be exploring in the expansion. On the flip side, though, is the notion each of the game’s major characters will experience an emotional war within themselves as they attempt to evolve.

“We do take a lot of the past experiences from these main characters and coming back to them in this saga is purposeful,” WoW senior narrative designer Abigail Manuel said in a group interview earlier this week. “We want to tie up those character stories and move them forward, especially with some that we haven’t seen for a while. We take a lot of their past experiences into account and we also have to think very precisely about their motivations.” 

Characters like Anduin Wrynn, Alleria Windrunner, Thrall, and so many other impactful names in WoW history will be tested to the brink in not just this expansion but the entirety of the Worldsoul Saga. And Blizzard is planning to be extremely careful with the way it approaches these widely beloved figureheads.

Anduin Wrynn in the War Within WoW
Anduin takes on a new appearance in The War Within. Image via Blizzard Entertainment

“The title itself of the expansion is an underpinning of this idea that the “war within” is the motivations of these different characters, overcoming their own personal obstacles, [and] the environmental obstacles that are part of the narrative, as well,” Manuel said.

Another key point regarding character evolution is the way the most recognizable faces in Warcraft history change visually. Whenever a famed character gets a makeover, there’s a conscious decision made by the visual art team to alter them permanently. Characters in The War Within will look different from the way they once did, with Anduin and Alleria being the most noteworthy recipients of model changes.

Alleria Windrunner in WoW The War Within
Alleria looks different than she once did, reflecting the personal changes her character has undergone. Image via Blizzard Entertainment

“So much of the character’s identity is tied to the visuals,” said Gabriel Gonzalez, lead visual development artist on WoW. “These characters are very iconic to World of Warcraft, and obviously people recognize them, they’re very important lore characters, so we always want to make sure that when we visually make a change to a character or we refresh their looks in some sort of way, we’re doing a very thorough exploration of what story we want to tell with these individual characters.”

When players first start their journey with The War Within, they’ll have interactions with almost the entire cast of characters they should expect to see in a WoW expansion. You’ll immediately notice they’re changed, and they’re not going to be done growing until the Worldsoul Saga reaches its conclusion several years from now.

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Michael Kelly
Staff Writer covering World of Warcraft and League of Legends, among others. Mike's been with Dot since 2020, and has been covering esports since 2018.