WoW! Thoughts! — On Our Relationship to the Timeless Isle

Thoughts on the similarities in how the Timeless Isle and our characters relate to the flow of time.


I don’t really care for many aspects of the Timeless Isle. Don’t get me wrong, I like how it assembles various NPCs from throughout Pandaria in a coda to the expansion.  I also liked how it provided account-bound gear for equipping alts.  What I don’t care for is the freeform “emergent events” that litter the island.  Mostly, my experience has been to kill elite mobs for loot, plunder the occasional chest, and help kill any rares I stumble upon.  For the most part, I’d rather farm dinosaur bones for Ku’ma on the Isle of Giants, especially now since most of the epic tokens I’m collecting are just glorified vendor trash.  That said, while the gameplay on the Timeless Isle is lacking, the lore is completely enthralling.

The Timeless Isle is an island that is seemingly stuck in time.  Sometimes, it is visible and accessible to the residents of Pandaria; Sometimes, it is not, as if the island never existed.  The island itself sits fixed in time, with the sun never moving – the island eternally at sunset.  It’s only fitting that events are able to randomly re-occur and creatures can respawn over and over again.  If time isn’t really passing, can events retain any permanence?

What’s interesting to consider is how the residents of Pandaria see the island.  For periods of time, it is there, and then at other times, it is gone.  The island’s existence is binary and seemingly random, but from the perspective of the island, it always is where it always is.  A bystander in the Jade Forest would map the island’s appearances on a timeline as a series of punctuated events, but to anyone standing on the island – for whom  the island has been there the whole time – the chart is a solid line.  If anything, the hatch in Sholazar Basin should be relocated here.

Yet there is another Azeroth phenomena that behaves similarly.  There are characters who show up only in times of great need, and then are never seen during times of peace.  I am of course talking about our player characters.  As we travel through Azeroth, from our perspective, each zone is seemingly stuck in time.  We arrive to find some sort of menace in place, then we kill a bunch of mobs and collect a bunch of items, and although we don’t completely eradicate the threat, the quest givers act as though we did, and then we move on.  We always see the monsters roaming around – we never see the peaceful hamlet after the monsters have been cleared, just as the Timeless Isle always sees the sky at sunset but never night.  We relate to the world the same way the island does, and the result is that we are just as much a prisoner of an errant time stream.

From their perspective, NPCs must be very confused by us.  To them, our appearance is just as intermittent and haphazard as the Timeless Isle.  We show up in a crisis, kill or gather what is needed, and then disappear.  It helps explain why our characters never get more than a passing reference in the novels – those are times during which we were phased out of existence, like the Isle.

For us, time and location are intertwined.  There are at least four different instances of Garrosh Hellscream that players can visit, in any order of their choosing.  We can travel from an Outland struggling free of Illidan’s grasp to a freshly discovered Pandaria, and then back, even though those events occur years apart.  No matter how long it takes us to venture across the face of Azeroth, wherever we go is always in the recent aftermath of the Cataclysm.  We can only see places at the times that they need us, and those places are never known to us in other times.

Surely, the fact that we seem to keep showing up in brief, yet important, bursts would arouse the suspicion of the Bronze Dragonflight.  To that degree, they have to know more about us than they’ve let on.  We’ve been trusted to fight alongside ourselves in the Bronze Dragon Shrine.  We’ve been sent to important events of the past to preserve the natural order of time.  (Yet, when we needed the Dragon Soul to kill Deathwing, we were sent to desecrate the timeline in an act of temporal theft with little more than a shrug from Nozdormu.)  We’ve even been sent to a possible future to safeguard against it.  Now, the Aspects are weakened and the Bronze Dragon Flight is losing its power, yet the timeways are still fragile.

We know nothing of our history.  We arrive one day, gaining consciousness in front of a person who tells us to start killing things.  Maybe we were plucked from time because of our immense potential and tasked with battling Azeroth’s greatest threats.  We risk dying, but just as the mobs return, so too do we.  Death is impotent without time to render it permanent.  What we view as a corpse run is our ticket to immortality.  We get as many chances as we need to kill a boss, and then we get to kill that boss over and over again.  Tokens of Arthas and Deathwing’s defeats line capital cities across Azeroth, but our skeletal markers disappear shortly after we resume living.

We sit in our chairs and play this game, and we ascribe all of these mechanics simply to the nature that World of Warcraft is a game, and certain abstractions are necessary.  What if they aren’t just abstractions? What if the Timeless Isle is our first sign that maybe the fact that we can’t relate to the NPCs properly is built-in to the world – that something is fundamentally wrong with our characters, but it’s okay because we can use our powers for good?  It is why Algalon was so surprised at our will to live that he has never seen before; It’s why Kairoz can keep sending us into the Siege of Orgrimmar to repeatedly use an hourglass (powered from stones dropped often from the very same creatures dying over and over again) to view scenes displaced in time.  Lore-wise, the Siege is one straight shot from the Vale of Eternal Blossoms deep into Orgrimmar and Garrosh’s throne, but Kairoz keeps telling us to go back to the Siege.  He knows that we can return to an event; that time is to us a location and he uses our special relationship with time to discover (or confirm?) his own fate.  Kairoz exploits us, but what makes him so impressive is that he knew he could exploit us.

It is doubtful that we’ll see any expansion on this concept in game.  At the end of the day, World of Warcraft is a game, and all our experiences are filtered through that knowledge.  We don’t experience time in proper increments because that’s not how games work.  Regardless, it is fun to think that the WoW universe knows it is a game because then all the non-canon experiences caused by the gameplay can be incorporated into the lore.

And also because when Blizzard breaks the fourth wall, the results are pure awesome.

WoW! Blurbs!

Timeless Isle weapons to jump to ilvl 489.  I wonder if the weapons disappear when the island fades away.

Vote in the Blizzard Stream Awards.  Just don’t cross them!

Social features are coming to client.  Now its one more interface you can use to avoid your friends!

Battle pets level cap to remain at 25 in Warlords.  Because Draenor is too savage for your little pokemon friends.

Blizzard is looking to improve the effects of the PVE/PVP toggle.  They’re just changing one letter.   I don’t know why this is so difficult.

Low-level PVP balance to be reviewed.  Twinks everywhere rejoice!  Unless they liked the old system.  Then they complain!

Interesting WoW infographic with fun facts.  The faction split is 52% Alliance, 47% Horde, and 1% dumb pandaren dudes.

Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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