This led to all kinds of speculation about an upcoming Emerald Dream expansion. Players assumed that these files meant that we were eventually headed for the lush green lands of Ysera and her amazing druid friends. Yet despite the presence of the maps, it never happened. Ysera is now devoid of her powers as of the end of Cataclysm, whatever that implies towards her relationship with the Emerald Dream. By Cataclysm, it became apparent that whatever mysteries those old maps held, the Emerald Dream was just an idea lost in time.
Or was it? Maybe we're playing through the Emerald Dream right now.
The Emerald Dream
What is the Emerald Dream? It's been called a haven of druids, that mysterious place they go to when they sleep. It's Ysera's domain, it's Cenarius' domain, it's now also the domain of at least some of the Loa spirits of the trolls. And from a more technical standpoint, the Emerald Dream is a backup copy of Azeroth. It's what Azeroth was before the influence of mortals. Before the uprising of the trolls, before the Sundering that split the world, likely before the Aspects were even a twinkle in a Titan's eye.
Originally, Azeroth's continents were connected in one giant landmass, similar to the Earth equivalent of Pangaea. Unlike Pangaea, Azeroth didn't simply shift tectonic plates over vast periods of time. The Sundering was a violent explosion, and while it's never been fully described, what small bits we've gleaned suggest that the waters of the oceans suddenly rushed into the continent and tore the earth apart, shoving everything outward into the configuration of continents we see today. It's weird, it doesn't make a lot of scientific sense, but hey -- Azeroth is magic.
The Emerald Dream is, however, that mass continent. It's the size of Northrend, Kalimdor, the Eastern Kingdoms, Pandaria, and whatever else is floating out there undiscovered, all combined. Why was the Emerald Dream created? That's never been fully defined either, but evidence suggests that the Titans wanted a "backup copy" of Azeroth, from before the Old Gods influence. That way, if the Old Gods proved to be too corrupt, the world could simply be wiped out and re-created, free of Old God influence.
That's what the re-origination device in Ulduar was all about. That's also what Algalon was all about. The signal sent to Algalon implied that this world was too far gone and needed to be wiped out and rebuilt anew. If he had gotten away with it, Algalon would have headed to Uldum and pushed the button that made the world go boom. Presumably, at some point after that, Azeroth would have been born anew, using the Emerald Dream as a template. And that would have been a terrible thing, because that backup copy was compromised.
An Emerald Dream expansion
Part of the ongoing story in vanilla was the fact that Malfurion Stormrage was missing, and that the peculiar dream portals scattered around Azeroth seemed to be spawning corrupt dragons. As time went on, it became clear that the Emerald Dream was infested with something called the Nightmare, and Ysera and Malfurion were working to clear it out. This Nightmare wasn't just a normal, run of the mill terrible thing -- it was an Old God that had somehow found its way into that backup copy of Azeroth.
What this means is that if Algalon had been successful, if he had pushed the button to restart the world from scratch, that world would already be tainted by the Old Gods. The backup copy was no longer pure. Logic would then dictate that an Emerald Dream expansion would involve going in and clearing that corruption out, dealing with the Old God, and saving Malfurion Stormrage. It didn't come to pass, however. We got the novel Stormrage instead, which neatly tied up the whole Nightmare mess and left one tiny part of the Emerald Dream still corrupt, but no longer a major threat, for now.
I liked the idea of an Emerald Dream expansion. In my mind, it made perfect sense. An Azeroth that was one united continent would be more than enough territory to explore, and the Nightmare was a suitably nasty bad guy. So here we have an expansion where the enemy is the Old Gods, yes -- but to a lesser degree, our enemy is ourselves. The Nightmare fed on the negative thoughts of those around it, and used those negative thoughts and fears, paranoia, all those terrible bad things to corrupt.
Does this sound familiar yet? It should sound very familiar, because that is exactly what we are dealing with now. Only it's not called the Nightmare -- they are called the Sha.
Pandaren dreams and inner reflection
Here is the inherent problem with an Emerald Dream expansion: While the themes of the Nightmare were interesting, and the idea of a primordial Azeroth was pretty cool, the one thing I could never quite figure out is how you would take that primordial Azeroth and turn it into a fully-fledged questing zone. The Emerald Dream is Azeroth before it became full of cities and evolved creatures that would give you quests to do. There aren't really any potential quest hubs in an area like that, beyond the Eye of Ysera.
The only people you're likely to find in the Emerald Dream are druids, mostly night elves -- the tauren only recently joined the Cenarion Circle. Ysera charged the night elves with helping to protect the Emerald Dream back during the Sundering, and the tauren weren't even a factor in that, back then. Beyond the druids, there was nothing really to root the Emerald Dream in with the rest of the game world. There was nothing to make it relevant to anything else going on in Azeroth, no hook to fashion a bigger picture to play with.
So we'd inherently have an expansion of nothing but night elf druids and some green dragons. An expansion where one area of Azeroth, however fascinating, is visited. An expansion with very little tie into the events of the Alliance or the Horde that are the main focus of Warcraft. And that is hardly enough variety to warrant an entire expansion's worth of content.
In short, while the thought of fighting our inner demons was absolutely fascinating, there wasn't enough other material to warrant a big trip to the Emerald Dream. But it seems very much like that idea of a self-perpetuating villain that feeds off of our fears was enough of an interesting draw that it was worthwhile to use.
Mists of the Emerald Dream
So what do you do? Well ... you make another iteration of that villain. You give it some of the same roots, like the tie to the Old Gods. After all, the Nightmare was a creepy enough concept. If the Nightmare was an Old God, then it makes sense that the other Old Gods would have that same kind of effect. Only this time, we have a dead Old God to content with, instead of a living one. But an expansion based purely on self-reflection and the idea that our biggest enemies are, in fact, ourselves, isn't quite enough to carry.
Which is why you set the expansion on a continent we've never seen before. Not the Emerald Dream, but Pandaria -- a land that time pretty much forgot about. A land full of different races with different personalities, each with a story of their own. A continent that is fully populated with more than enough variety to offer a multitude of questing hubs, dungeons, and raids, each with their own unique story. A land that is uniquely tied to the Titans, although not in the same way as the Emerald Dream.
By doing this, you can also tie in all that content to the existing Horde and Alliance conflict, and amplify the message -- our greatest enemy is ourselves. Ourselves as a faction, ourselves as races, ourselves as a personal player who is simply carrying out orders, with disastrous consequences. The message is far more solid with Pandaria than it ever would have been with the Emerald Dream, it has more of a point, and it has a greater effect on the world around us. The world that we are present in, the one that we deal with day to day -- not the mythical what-might-have-been world that doesn't really have much impact on current events in Azeroth.
And it was all just an Emerald Dream
Keeping all of that in mind, it is entirely unlikely we'll ever see an Emerald Dream expansion. Not because it wouldn't be cool -- because it wouldn't be cool enough. And while all of those map files may have existed at one point in time, it's unlikely we'll ever seem them as areas to explore in game. The area is compelling, the few exploration videos we've seen are beautiful, but there's just not enough content there to carry an expansion. And at this point in Mists, the themes the Emerald Dream could offer would be entirely redundant.
But we haven't completely missed out on what the Emerald Dream might have been. We're seeing it now, it's just wearing a different face. It's on a different continent, another long-forgotten place, shrouded in mystery. And it's full of compelling characters and enough story layered on top of it to be incredibly entertaining, far more complex than anything the Emerald Dream could have offered.
While we don't have the Emerald Dream, we have the essence of what the Emerald Dream might have been. The potential storylines and themes that the Emerald Dream offered are playing out right now, in Mists of Pandaria. Having said that, I do hope that eventually we'll see something done with those old files, perhaps in a quest specifically for druids -- they deserve to visit their long-lost, often mentioned but never visited haven. And I have a few alts that would enjoy checking it out.
Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.