One of the most frequent questions I'm asked as someone that's entirely too interested in Warcraft story and lore, is where to go to get story information. How, exactly, do you find all of these story elements when they are literally scattered across several different games, comics, manga and novels? How do you know what should be taken as official lore, and what to throw away as mere speculation? Where, exactly, does someone just starting out with World of Warcraft find story information when they've got no idea where that story actually starts?
It's a difficult question to answer, and you'll see why later in the article. The Warcraft storyline is made up of several different parts, spanning several different games, and the time line is continually changing and developing as these games are released. Here's a brief list of places you can go to get started:
Warcraft I, II, III and World of Warcraft: The easiest way to start learning the story behind the games is to play through the games themselves:
- Warcraft:Orcs & Humans: This game takes place during the First War between the orcs and humans. While no longer in print, you can still find copies of this game on eBay. Takes a little hunting, but there are still copies out there!
- Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness: This game takes place during the Second War, and involves the forming of the first Alliance.
- Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal: This game is an expansion pack for Tides of Darkness, and takes place during and after the Second War. Much of Ner'zhul's story is told here.
- Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos: This game takes place during the Third War and the invasion of the Burning Legion, and involves Medivh's attempts to ally the orc, night elf, and human forces to repel the invasion as well as the story of Arthas.
- Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne: This game is an expansion pack for Reign of Chaos, and continues some of the loose ends of the original game, as well as expanding further on Arthas and his eventual fate as the Lich King.
- World of Warcraft: Four years after the events of the Third War, tensions between the Alliance and Horde have shattered their fragile alliance and the drums of war can be heard once again. You know this game, you have this game!
- World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade: The first expansion to World of Warcraft, this expansion involves the continuing story of Illidan Stormrage, Kael'thas Sunstrider, Lady Vashj, and the broken world of Draenor, now known as Outland.
- World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King: The second expansion to World of Warcraft, this involves the continuing story of Arthas the Lich King, his rise to power in Northrend and eventual downfall, as well as more story elements surrounding Malygos and the blue dragonflight.
The games include the basic story elements for Warcraft, and they're the base upon which everything story wise was built. They're a good starter point for learning the basics of Warcraft history.
World of Warcraft.com -- A lot of handy information is available on the official site for the game, including the following:
- Timeline: The timeline for Warcraft, spanning from the War of the Ancients trilogy roughly 10,000 years ago to Wrath of the Lich King.
- The Story: A brief synopsis of events that played out in the Warcraft games. This section also includes a note: Certain parts of the History section are outdated and may therefore conflict with other pieces of lore or stories. We plan on updating this section someday to bring it up to date. In other words, it's a pretty good place to get a general idea of the story, but not everything on the site is correct, including parts involving Sargeras and the origins of Azeroth.
- Lore: The lore section includes small stories and a little more in depth information about various sections of the Warcraft universe. Sadly, this is a pretty small section, but there are a few short stories there that are well worth the read -- I highly recommend Unbroken, which tells the story of Farseer Nobundo, the shaman trainer over in the Exodar.
The World of Warcraft Novels -- A great deal of information contained in the games has been expanded on and added to in the Warcraft novel universe. While the novels have been released in no particular order, from a chronological standpoint you'll probably want to read them in the following order:
- The War of the Ancients Trilogy by Richard A. Knaak: There are three books in this trilogy; The Well of Eternity, The Demon Soul, and The Sundering. These novels cover information pertaining to the Sundering of Azeroth and the Well of Eternity.
- Rise of the Horde by Christie Golden: Meanwhile on Draenor, the orcs are going through some staggering changes of their own. This book involves the story of Ner'zhul and the draenei, and the origins of the Horde.
- The Last Guardian by Jeff Grubb: A personal favorite of mine, this book takes place during the beginning of the First War and tells the story of Medivh's origins.
- Tides of Darkness by Aaron Rosenberg: This novel tells the story of the events of Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, largely from the Alliance perspective.
- Beyond the Dark Portal by Aaron Rosenberg and Christie Golden: This novel tells the story of Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal, largely from the Horde perspective.
- Day of the Dragon by Richard A. Knaak: This book takes places just after the Second War and largely concerns Alexstraza, who has been captured by the Dragonmaw clan of orcs.
- Lord of the Clans by Christie Golden: Another favorite of mine, this novel focuses on the story of Thrall, his origins, and his eventual escape and rise to glory as the Warchief of the Horde in present-day. Players that have done the Caverns of Time: Durnholde Keep instance will recognize a lot of the characters and events in the novel.
- Of Blood and Honor by Chris Metzen: This novel takes place sometime between Warcraft II and Warcraft III, and recounts the tale of a paladin named Tirion Fordring and Eitrigg, an orc warrior. Fans of Tirion will want to check this one out.
- Arthas: Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden: While the events of this novel end just before Wrath of the Lich King, the majority of the novel itself takes place just before and during the events of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. I've put it here chronologically because so much of it involves Warcraft III, however readers may want to keep in mind that the prologue and epilogue to the book take place after The Burning Crusade.
- Cycle of Hatred by Keith R.A. DeCandido: This novel takes place one year before the beginning of World of Warcraft, and involves Thrall and Jaina Proudmoore, and their attempts to keep the tentative peace between the orcs and humans of Kalimdor after the end of the Third War alive.
- Night of the Dragon by Richard A. Knaak: This novel is a sequel to Day of the Dragon, and involves the Netherwing dragons that were introduced in The Burning Crusade.
- Stormrage by Richard A. Knaak: This book won't be released until tomorrow, however it's been stated that the events in this novel take place in 'present day' so to speak, and involve Malfurion Stormrage, the Emerald Dream, and the Nightmare that has been corrupting it during the entirety of World of Warcraft's run.
Warcraft Manga -- Tokyopop has worked together with Blizzard and come out with a whole mess of manga that is directly related to or influencing what goes on in-game:
- The Sunwell Trilogy, written by Richard A. Knaak, illustrated by Kim Jae-Hwan: There are three books in this series – Dragon Hunt, Shadows of Ice, and Ghostlands. These three books follow the adventures of Anveena Teague and Kalecgos. Players may remember those two names from the Magister's Terrace instance, and the Sunwell raid zone – the story of the people involved with that particular patch, and why Anveena's floating above the Sunwell in a giant yellow hamster ball, is fully explained in this manga. While I am not generally a manga fan, I have to say that Kim Jae-Hwan's art for these books is really well done, and they made for a decent read. The Sunwell Trilogy takes place shortly after the events of Warcraft III: TFT.
- Warcraft Legends, Vol 1-5, written by a large assortment of authors: These books are actually little anthologies -- each volume contains a series of short stories written by various authors and illustrated by various people. While none of these stories hugely affect the Warcraft universe, there are characters, like Trag Highmountain, who have appeared in game. While Trag doesn't have much to say or do but wander around the tournament grounds, it's still nice to have an answer for the inevitable "Who's that guy?" questions. There is no real time line for the Legends series, as each short segment takes place at different points in time, however it's well worth the read. The first three volumes are available in Blizzard's store -- you can find the other two on Amazon, or in your local bookstore.
- Warcraft: Death Knight, written by Dan Jolley, illustrated by Rocio Zucchi: This is the first of a 'character class' series of manga that is being released by Tokyopop. This book covers the death knight class, and details the life of the death knight Thassarian, who players may remember from Ebon Hold, and later in several Northrend questlines. While the other manga hasn't been released yet, it's been stated that a book for mages and a book for shaman are both upcoming. This is a pretty good look into one of those NPCs you just don't know a ton about, as well as death knights in general.
Warcraft Comics -- There are quite a few different comics out there to read. The largest is the series written by Walter and Louise Simonson, containing 25 issues in the original comic run. Also out there are a 26th issue that was released as Special Issue #1, and a four part miniseries titled Ashbringer. For the best summary of these comics, I'll split them into sections by issues:
- Issues 0-14: These comics tell the story of what happened to King Varian Wrynn when he disappeared en route from Stormwind to Theramore back just before World of Warcraft's launch. The collected issues cover Varian's return to Stormwind, and end from a timeline standpoint just before the launch of Wrath of the Lich King. If you ever wanted to know why Varian is such an irritable man, or why Onyxia is no longer in Stormwind Keep, this is where you want to go for answers.
- Issues 15-25: These comics pick up directly after Onyxia's defeat in issue 14, and involve the continued story of Garona, the half-orc assassin who murdered King Llane, and her son. Yes, her son. His name is Med'an, and he's not only orc and draenei, he's also part human. There has been resurgence in activity with the Twilight Cult down in Silithus, and an attempt to ressurect the Old God C'thun. This series involves the fight against the Twilight Cult, the reformation of the Council of Tirisfal, and the appointment of a new Guardian of Tirisfal. While the events of this series run have not come into play directly in World of Warcraft, it can be assumed they will at some point, considering the appearance of comic characters from the earlier series run in the game.
- Special Issue #1, Beginnings and Ends, written by Mike Costa, art by Pop Mhan, coloring by Johny Renck: This issue was meant as a bridge between the original Warcraft comics series, and the new incarnation of the series. The comics were supposed to split from just one comic released monthly into two -- one focused on Alliance and one on Horde. However, the release of these comics has been cancelled in favor of simply releasing graphic novel collections instead. The Special Issue introduces some really, really interesting characters -- characters that seem to be more like players in the game, than actual NPCs or gigantic lore figures themselves. That, and the artwork is without a doubt the most stunning I've seen in the Warcraft series to date. I'm hoping that they'll continue with the graphic novel collections as planned, so these new characters aren't just left to wither with no story to carry them. This is a really, really hard issue to find, it's not listed on Amazon, and Blizzard doesn't have it on their official store either - I'd say either check out your local comic shops or eBay to find this one!
- Ashbringer 1-4, written by Micky Neilson with art by Ludo Lullabi and Tony Washington: This four part miniseries recounts the story of the Ashbringer, Alexandros Mograine, and his sons Darion and Renault. Well worth a read, it expands upon the formation of the Scarlet Crusade after the disastrous results of the plague that ruined Lordaeron for good in Warcraft III: TFT. You can find the individual issues or the graphic novel complication over on Amazon.
The Warcraft RPG books: There are thirteen books in the Warcraft RPG series released by White Wolf Publishing. These books are source material for the Warcraft tabletop roleplaying game, and include all kinds of information not readily available by simply playing the video games or reading the novels or comics. You can find some of these books over in the Blizzard store, at your local gaming shop, or over on Amazon.
Wowpedia: Wowpedia is a wikipedia dedicated to World of Warcraft. It contains all kinds of information on characters and events that take place in the game, as well as stories behind NPC's and lore from previous games and expansions. If you're looking for a quick reference to in game lore, a particular character in Warcraft, or this is a really, really good place to go -- but keep in mind that Wowpedia is not officially sanctioned or edited by Blizzard, so you always want to double-check the sources behind the lore if you're looking for complete accuracy. Keep in mind that as a wiki, the article do tend to cross reference other articles that reference other articles -- it's like an encyclopedia that way. It can be a little overwhelming to someone wanting one simple answer to a question, but to those researching events and lore in game and out, it's a treasure trove of information that can provide you with hours and hours of entertainment.
WoWWiki: Another resource that's handy for summary information on characters from the main story, as well as history events and stories behind NPCs is WoWWiki. If you're looking for information about just one particular character, faction, or moment in Warcraft time, it's a good place to go -- but keep in mind that the Wiki is not officially sanctioned or edited by Blizzard, so some information may be incorrect. The writers behind the Wiki are gamers like yourself! The other tricky part of WoWWiki is that articles often cross-reference other articles that cross-reference yet more articles, so it can be a little overwhelming at times to someone wanting one simple answer.
And that is why "Where to start?" is such a difficult question to answer: With a veritable wealth of information out there, it's hard to just pick a starting point and go. While I recommend that people pick up as much as they can from the novels, comics and games, the sheer amount of information available can be daunting to those that aren't the bookworm type. I'd say the best advice I could give to a rookie lore hunter is a quote from Alice in Wonderland: "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
And for those of you that would rather not wade through everything listed above: Find a part of the Warcraft story that really interests you, go after that. From there, you're sure to find references to other events and stories that interest you. Sure, it's not the most straightforward way to go about it, but it's apt to be a little more fun!
That's it for basics of story gathering -- there are other resources out there, blogs and news sites that cover Warcraft lore and events, but the easiest way to pick up the story is to simply pick up the games and play them through, then go from there. Get out there and get reading -- and stop back for Lore 101 part 2, in which I'll discuss retcons, sources, canon and how to avoid the headaches of deciphering Warcraft lore. Bring aspirin!