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World of Warcraft fans have created their own cyberpunk utopia

Welcome to Fission Heights

A dance club in Fission Heights, a fan made World of Warcraft custom instance that contains a massive goblin city to serve as a roleplay environment Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Kitche Goldwatt
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

One of the most beautiful parts about World of Warcraft is how the game constantly expands. In the lore, new continents regularly appear from the mists, emerging onto the map and becoming hubs for adventure. It gives players a feeling that literally anything could be possible; there are no limits, because if whole continents can emerge from nowhere, then anything could be out there.

This holds especially true with the creation of fan tools like Epsilon. Rather than giving fans a new way to play World of Warcraft, Epsilon gives fans access to many of the MMO’s assets, character models, and environments, so they can create their own worlds. While some fans like to create takes on Star Wars or totally original premises, others like to expand on the existing lore of Azeroth. Caleb, one World of Warcraft fan who plays the gnome Kitche Goldwatt, has spent nearly two years lovingly creating a cyberpunk city that is like nothing else in all of Warcraft. His city is a kind of haven for gnomes and goblins, two races that don’t tend to be as popular among fans.

A screenshot of the Fission Heights custom instance on Epsilon, a World of Warcraft client used for role-playing. Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Kitche Goldwatt

Fission Heights is an environment for an elaborate role-playing campaign. The concept behind the city is that it once served as a massive goblin power plant, and over time, an entire successful city grew around that industrial center. “Something that I really wanted to create was a full urban sprawl, with buildings that you could actually go inside with full interiors,” Caleb said in a call with Polygon. “I’ve had so much help from friends, figuring out what kind of stores we think live in the city. What kind of places are people shopping at in a cyberpunk world?”

These choices help add a lot of variety to Fission Heights. The pandaren run a hibachi grill restaurant, there’s a tattoo parlor, and there are plenty of shady little shops where one can bargain over contraband. It would almost be idyllic, if not for the fact that the undead Scourge are baying at the gates.

“I — along with a lot of other people who are part of the project — share the point of view that WoW’s goblins, while fascinating in some parts, have really been done dirty by the lack of depth given to them,” Caleb said. “When you think of WoW’s goblins, you think of greed and destruction to the environment. We wanted to pull away from the identity that Blizzard has thrust upon goblins and figure out a way to tell a story with goblins as empathetic, deeply individual people with aspirations beyond accruing wealth.”

A World of Warcraft goblin city, created with the fan client Epsilon. Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Kitche Goldwatt

Fission Heights is a goblin attempt at a utopia where all are welcome to build something greater. Obviously, it’s not a perfect solution, and one of the main thrusts of the Epsilon phase that contains Fission Heights is that players have to face off against antagonists inside the city to protect it from the threats outside its walls.

The player spawns in a subway station; in-character, they’ve just arrived, and emerge onto the crowded main street. There will be phase rules and out-of-character stuff for players who want to brush up on the local etiquette, but Fission Heights is designed to play like a massive story-based RPG. After about a month of players exploring the city, the first campaign will begin, called Lockdown City. With the undead threat too large to ignore, the city’s leaders quarantine everyone to one district in the hopes of saving the rest of their settlement.

It’s quite a city to protect too, with almost 30,000 individual objects pulled from the base game and rearranged into a goblin take on Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City. “There isn’t another platform that can handle as much weight as Epsilon does,” says Caleb. “A big thing about this project is accepting that I could wake up tomorrow and Epsilon could be gone. That’s an uncertainty I’ve learned to live with and appreciate. I live more thoroughly in the now, and how I can help people enjoy the game a little bit more.”

A screenshot of Fission Heights, a busy goblin city created in World of Warcraft fan client Epsilon. Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Kitche Goldwatt

This isn’t your typical World of Warcraft experience, and it takes liberties with World of Warcraft’s canon to tell the best possible story. (The phase’s creators “try as best as [they] can to keep the city’s history based in what is canon in World of Warcraft,” said Caleb.) The campaign begins in the wake of Battle for Azeroth’s Mechagon zone, and the nefarious Frilzon corporation has sunk its talons deep in Fission Heights as new tech filters into the world.

Players can apply to play on this Epsilon phase in the Fission Heights Discord. While all races of Azeroth are welcome, the vast majority of applicants are goblins and gnomes — two races that haven’t received as much love from Blizzard as orcs and elves. It’s fascinating seeing fans come together to create an alternate take on such a well-loved world.

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