Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Concerning Playable Naga

We're big fans of WoWWiki. Have been for a long time. It's an easily accessible resource for gathering a more in-depth background on the people, places and things you encounter in Azeroth. The content is also easily digestible, making it a desirable diversion for many players during the grind of work or school when they can't get in-game. To help piece our theory together here, we're going to be leveraging some content directly from their site. It's just easier than posting link after link and expecting our readers to shift between pages, so credit text in italics below to them. These are facts and some speculation that have added some fuel to our own hypothesis concerning playable Naga in a future expansion.

From WoWWiki:  "Metzen has stated as far back as the Burning Crusade expansion[25] that he would like naga to be playable one day along with ogres and goblins..."
Projected Progression of Naga Mutation
We had heard the rumor at some point or another as well, that Naga could one day be a playable race. However it wasn't until we formed our hypothesis that the next expansion would be a combination of a Druid and Aquatic theme that we started to dwell more deeply on the subject.

First, let's break down the graphic above (click for larger image). The primary continuum here is horizontal and it projects the extent of the Naga mutation from its origin (Kaldorei) to known and unknown extremes (Naj'entus and beyond). Part of our thinking leverages the lore of Naga mutation as a baseline for projecting potential frameworks for the playable race, so it's necessary to first step through the known landscape of mutation as it is known today.

1. The Kaldorei. Let's begin in the graphic above at the known origins of the Naga mutation, with Queen Azshara and the Kaldorei. A bit of the storyline is provided by WoWWiki:
Naga are sinister, ophidian humanoids that dwell beneath the ocean. Theirs is an ancient and mystical culture, for ten thousand years ago they were KaldoreiTen thousand years ago, during the reign of Queen Azshara, there was an elite magic-using sect known as the Highborne, who dabbled in magics that many other elves considered reckless and irresponsible[citation needed] by drawing upon the power of the Well of Eternity. The high-borne elves enjoyed great power and comfort before the War of the Ancients.[3] During that conflict, the Highborne sought to abuse arcane magic to bring demons to the world. This action led to the War itself, in which the night elves, at great cost, defeated the Burning Legion. The magical backlash shattered the world, imploded the Well of Eternity, and blasted the Highborne’s capital city to the bottom of the ocean.[1] Many were cast far into the flooding depths of the great cataclysm that sundered the land and destroyed the Well of Eternity; it was Queen Azshara's quick thinking that saved them. She is thought to have managed to make a pact with the Old Gods on behalf of her people, though the exact beings that transformed them are unknown... Since then they have further been twisted by the residual cascading energies of the Well of Eternity.[4][5][6][11][12][13] They took on new shapes, new powers and became the hateful, serpentine naga.
Queen Azshara in her Kaldorei form

And with the residual energies of the Well of Eternity, the mutation begins to transform the already cursed forms of the Naga and we shift to the right in the graphic above. We move away from Queen Azshara in her Kaldorei form and towards the villainous, mutated Naga as they currently appear in-game today, keeping in mind the distinction we are making that these are the enemy NPC forms of the mutation.

2. The Villainous Naga Female. From WoWWiki:
Naga women more resemble the kaldorei from whom they came, their faces fair, even beautiful. This unearthly splendor is ruined by their monstrous deformities — they often have multiple limbs (four to six arms)... The women are tall and slender, with fine scales covering their angular features.[12]... Females kept more of their Elven features and their intelligence. Naga female faces are fair, even beautiful.
Villainous Naga Female

3. Lady Vashj. We shift slightly to the right in the progression of the Naga mutation with Vashj, as her form has evolved a bit further than the typical female. From WoWWiki:
After the Great Sundering, her appearance is like any other sea witch, but still, with a higher, diplomatic position. She had turquoise/light blue skin, six arms with long, clawed and webbed fingers, a long, scaly tail (which she jokes about tripping over it from time to time) with pink fins, and snakes instead of hair on her head, serving as her "extra" eyes. She had about eighteen snakes on her head, and one of them is actually a moray eel. Her face, is, however, like almost all of the other female Nagas; almost elven beauty, but with exotic, ascetic markings.
Lady Vashj

4. The Villainous Naga Male. We again shift to the right in the progression of the Naga mutation with the Naga males, as their form has moved further away from their Kaldorei origins than the females. From WoWWiki:
Naga men are bestial and considered less intelligent than females, but are remarkably strong and tough, able to withstand a great deal of bodily injury...The men are thickly built, with humanoid torsos merging into a serpent hind section. Their scales are large and thick, and their heads are reminiscent of dragons, showing little sign of their elven ancestry.
Villainous Naga Male

5. Naj'entus.  We make a big shift to the right here, stretching to the far side of the graphic above and into the realm of the extreme Naga mutations, where the forms are considered Naga Anomalies. The only in-game creature speculated to be a Naga Anomaly that gives us a bit of flavor for what these forms might look like is Naj'entus. From WoWWiki:
In some naga, the residual power wreaks even greater changes. Some naga are barely recognizable as related to their cousins. They may grow enormous, unable to enter normal naga buildings. Often their powers are reminiscent of the sea creatures with which they dwell: Some sprout squidlike tentacles and can foil their enemies with clouds of ink; others develop urchinlike spines tipped with deadly poison. These are naga anomalies, and are some of the strangest creatures in a strange race.
Naj'entus, speculated to be a form of Naga Anomaly

We've covered the known spectrum of the Naga mutations, so let's get into some speculation regarding the unknown.

6. Beyond Naj'entus. If Naj'entus is indeed, an example of an extreme Naga Anomaly, one that has grown to immense size and has partially taken on the form of his dwellings, then the door is wide open to see just how far down the rabbit hole the Naga Anomalies go in terms of mutation, size and form. With so many NPC models seemingly being recycled again and again over time in the World of Warcraft, it's amazing how Naj'entus and the concept of the Naga Anomaly has not been expanded. Or has it? Getting back to our hypothesis that the next expansion will include a major aquatic component, there is a possibility here that the Naga Anomalies beyond Naj'entus are just waiting behind closed doors, to be released in World of Warcraft 5.0.

The description of Queen Azshara's current state, seemingly less mutated than Naj'entus, certainly supports the concept of Naga forms we've not yet seen actually existing. From WoWWiki:
Queen Azshara lives still, in the vast city of Nazjatar at the bottom of a deep ocean trench. She has embraced the power of the naga, grown in size, and possesses many tentacles bedecked in jewels and items of power. She plots her revenge on the night elves, biding her time until the growing might of the naga can be brought to bear.
Source: Warcraft RPG Books

7. Far from the powers of Nazjatar. Let's head in the opposite direction, and regress the mutation back to the left in the graphic with which we opened the article. Perhaps one form of Naga mutation we've not yet seen is simply one less mutated. If we consider the gap between Queen Azshara, the Kaldorei and the villainous, mutated Naga NPCs currently in-game, that's a substantial difference in form. We know the majority of the shift is due to the aforementioned curse, but what we don't know is just how far along the villainous NPC models are on the path of mutation due to the residual powers of the Well of Eternity. So there are two logical possibilities:

- The first is the villainous NPCs are the baseline, cursed Naga with very little mutation.
- The second possibility is the villainous NPCs are a more deeply mutated version of the baseline Naga.

Let's briefly consider the second possibility here as part of callout #6 in our graphic above. If the Naga NPCs currently in-game are not the baseline, cursed Naga, it's therefore possible there exists a lesser mutated form of Naga that we haven't yet seen. Perhaps even a playable one.

Let's get back to the first possibility though, that the current NPCs are, in fact, the baseline, cursed Naga. Technically we suppose they're far from the powers of Nazjatar now so it's entirely likely. Could this villainous form of the Naga then be the model for a playable race? It's certainly been speculated before.

The majority of gear already conforms to in-game models

Technically this is a potential possibility, because it's been well documented over time that the majority of in-game gear already conforms to the NPC models. Shoulder, Chest, Leg, Bracer and Hand slots already map quite well onto the villainous Naga models. If this is the path Blizzard elects to take, we would expect them to come up with a creative solution to balance the fact that this race would not equip anything for Feet. It's even possible they could simply go without. The key is to not think in terms of the way the game is constrained today, but how it could possibly transform over time - for whatever the reason, relative to the brand experience Blizzard wishes to put forward. After all, if Blizzard continued to draw within their own lines, they would never innovate.

Getting back on the general path of Naga as a playable race, if it does become a reality surely Blizzard will introduce customization features for players to leverage when creating their character. Some interesting reading in this regard from WoWWiki:
The mutations these energies bring do not manifest the same way in all naga; while they share many characteristics, each naga develops different mutations. Often these mutations are cosmetic: A naga might have soft spines sprouting from his shoulders or swirls of indigo in his skin... These mutations are fairly common among naga — indeed, many naga women are born with four arms.
Surely this could imply a variety of means with which to customize your own Naga character. If Naga become a playable race surely Blizzard will also introduce a variety of classes with which to play a number of traditional roles in battle. We believe Naga lore supports this point as well, and it actually offers a potentially intriguing baseline to character customization via class selection. From WoWWiki:
Obviously, all naga anomalies are naga... A naga anomaly’s exact role varies by his mutations. Some excel at soaking up damage in the front lines, absorbing the enemy’s attention to protect their more fragile compatriots. Others crush opponents with brute strength or a variety of natural weaponry. Some move with surpassing speed, striking and darting like piranhas that tear out throats and eviscerate torsos.
If we consider the earlier description of the Naga Anomaly, it's very possible we haven't yet seen much of what exists of the Naga race and subsequently any variety of mutations. If a Naga's role in battle varies by its mutations, we could very well see for the first time a variety of different base body styles per class. Warriors might be of the largest stature, with mutations befitting a tanking class. Rogues might be slightly smaller in stature, with mutations befitting a sneaky melee class. Each class would still have its own set of character customization features, but the key difference would be the differing base models due to the lore of a Naga's role in battle being driven by its mutations.

We may also see the first gender restrictions placed on a playable race, based on lore. Should Blizzard opt to enable Male and Female Naga for each playable class, it will be interesting to see how they sidestep the lore as retold on WoWWiki:
A clear delineation exists between the sexes... Naga men serve as soldiers and guardians... Naga women are natural spellcasters and rely on magic and poison to defeat their enemies... Several ranks and types of naga exist. Naga myrmidons and royal guards, for instance, are strong males and powerful melee fighters; naga sirens are female mages.[1]
Naz'jar Sorceress, Chris Rahn:

But would playable Naga be Horde or Alliance? Well, according to WoWWiki in all likelihood they would be a Neutral faction trending towards the Alliance, if anything.
The races of the Horde are met with derisiveness from the naga; they would have no part of the Horde even if invited to join. The spiritual natures of these races are similar to the pandaren and furbolgs, and therefore worthy of similar disrespect. The naga consider the Horde to be nothing more than barbaric, weak-minded fools. They would sooner accept the night elves as masters than join the Horde.[21]... A naga might join forces with a being of another race in order to serve her own ends, however, much as Lady Vashj did with Illidan and his forces. Naga are selfish creatures, though, and think only of their own (and their race’s) dominance. Their minds have little room for charity or kindness. A naga that renounced her evil ways would be a unique individual indeed.[13]
So for argument's sake, when might we see playable Naga? Well, if Blizzard were ever to introduce them, we suspect it would likely be sooner rather than later.

Our bold prediction, based on previous weapon reviews, some reader feedback and some speculation, has been that N'Zoth will be the driving force behind events that will lead players back to the depths of the sea in the next expansion. Naga would naturally figure to play an integral role if the next expansion is indeed N'Zoth, the Emerald Dream and a massive aquatic component with Azshara and Nazjatar. So if the Naga are ever to become a playable race, the scenario we have proposed would make for the ideal time to put the Naga race into players' hands - at least speculatively.

But what of the next expansion and the buzz of playable Pandaren? Could there be a place for playable Naga in the "Mists of Pandaria?" The truth is we have very little evidence to support the Pandaren buzz, so if Mists of Pandaria is real and Pandaren are coming, all we can hypothesize is that through some form of events, the island of Pandaria is revealed and playable Pandaren are the result. But we can certainly speculate that both races could be introduced simultaneously as part of the same expansion.


Pandaren, Naga artwork.  Copyright, Blizzard Entertainment


  1. Good read. Never considered the possibility of a "less mutated" version of Naga before.

  2. I've never heard that rumor, of a playable Naga, until now. Thanks for this awesome hypothesis!

    Now in regards to the Naga, maybe, just maybe, the new NPC Naga female model that were introduced in Cata(correct me if I'm wrong), which gives the female Naga a more aquatic, dragon aesthetic, mayhaps the old female model maybe recycled for the playable charcter? A way of distinguishing the player from the NPC?

    Don't get me wrong, I like the new model, but miss the old, more humanoid/nightelf looking model too. And if the Naga mutation holds true, the old models do make sense in this hypothesis, as being an eariler or the first mutation.

  3. Just to ammend to what I said earlier...

    I just never really understood as to why the model was changed. If Naga player characters are soon to come, this seems the most logical reason for said change.

  4. Worth noting, KBrown13245 on reddit brought up what is likely the best argument against Naga as playable characters so soon:

    "Interesting theory but all of Blizzard's comments and actions indicate they are up to their neck in designing and maintaining armor etc for the current races that introducing a new race (and one with a VERY different build from the rest of the humanoid races) would damn near kill them. Especially after just introducing Worgen, and to a lesser extent Goblins...

    ...Regarding the lore factor, I totally agree that Naga have enough history and back story to warrant them as a playable race. Add on top of the fact that some of the races introduced (Draenei and Worgen) came totally out of left field, another bestial race is not out of the question.

    But yes, having to re-imagine the equipment system to accommodate for the lack of or extra appendages, redo models for mounts, vehicles, chairs(? lol) etc., it seems like a massive undertaking that doesn't fit their current model for expansion and content release."

  5. I would want them to have legs though. Even if you couldnt see the boots, I would still like legs. Other than that, I wouldn't mind naga at all as a playable race. They seem pretty cool, although which faction would they join?

  6. I would point out that in-game they are already backing away from the strict gender-roles. In the new Vash'jir zone there is a quest string in which a player views the memories of a female naga warrior (the battlemaiden). Would not be the first time they retcon'ed it or otherwise made adjustments, in WC3 the night elves also had some fairly strict gender roles which were more or less abandoned in WoW.

  7. I think working against the likelihood of an undersea expansion was that the player base was quite divided on the "fun" of the Vashjr zone. A large part of the playerbase detested the underwater mechanics, the depth perception issues, etc. That was fine since Blizzard also provided Hyjal as an alternative leveling zone, to bypass Vashjr if you desired.

    An expansion where everyone would be forced to do all (or most) of their post-85 leveling underwater? I doubt Blizzard would do that, when they know a large number (whether majority or not, I don't know) of their customers would hate it.

    Still, I'm finding your speculative articles very interesting to read!

  8. I'm glad you mentioned the Battlemaiden quests, Clockwork. Not only did the character take on the role of a female Naga who was most definitely a melee combatant, not a caster but more than that one of the named NPCs you interact with (I forget his name but he is the one you tell to return to the temple during the penultimate phase, before the fight at the bridge) is a male Naga who is clearly a spellcaster and a skilled one at that. I don't know whether I'm overestimating Blizzard's forward planning here but the new race/class combos did have a few hints and lead-ins in the game beforehand... is it possible that the Battlemaiden quest was a way of leaving the door open lore-wise for future development? Essentially rewriting our understanding of gender roles in Naga society.

  9. I've always wanted Nagas and Ogres to be playable in an expansion. I hope they will give us some sort of less mutated form of naga who have legs and feet. These Naga would not be under Azshara and Nzoth's control hence they will ally themselves with the alliance. The Ogres would join the Horde via Rexxar ofc.
    expansions name would be The Dark Below