The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how, but do you know the why? Each week Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
The Warcraft setting is interesting in many ways, from the recent events like the First through Third Wars to the murky depths of the past where Titans and Old Gods contended for the future of the world known to us as Azeroth. As we approach the end of Wrath of the Lich King's expansion life cycle, we can look back on quite a few quest lines and zone reveals that shed some light on Azeroth's dim, murky recesses of history. Sometimes they enlightened us. Sometimes they actually raised further questions. Either way, they were part of the unfolding lore of the Warcraft setting.
What I'm going to do this week is go over some of my favorite moments, so to speak, of Wrath of the Lich King. Some of them were small puzzle pieces, others huge reveals. In many ways, there were several interconnected moments that started with small quests in Howling Fjord and/or Borean Tundra and eventually played out over all of Northrend. Amazingly, some of my favorites ended up having very little to do with the Lich King himself. Indeed, in the end, the secrets of vrykul, iron dwarves and ultimately the Storm Peaks nearly stole this whole expansion for me.
Vordrassil and the fate of Ursoc
Grizzly Hills is an atmospheric, brooding zone of tall trees and eerie music. The whole zone ties around several lore-centric quest lines that drive you in various directions, from the native trolls being pushed to extinction in Drak'Tharon Keep (straddling the border between the Grizzly Hills and Zul'Drak) to the wolf cult and the return of Arugal. There's a heavy iron dwarf presence in the zone (which we'll likely discuss later). More immediate to the zone is the huge, shattered remnant of Vordrassil, populated by the native furbolg tribes of Northrend and home to their attempt to raise the long-slain ancient Ursoc, one half of the bear twins. We actually end up with as many questions as answers by starting this quest line. When, exactly, did the ancient druids attempt to grow another world tree? Was this after the Sundering and the creation of Nordrassil? Was Vordrassil, too, grown from an acorn of G'Hanir, the mother tree? And does Vordrassil's fall and the attempt of the Grizzlemaw to use its fruit to raise Ursoc (which led to his corruption by Yogg-Saron) have any relation to recently revealed events on Mount Hyjal?
In the words of Hermes Conrad, that just raises further questions. But we do know this much: At some point in the past, druids attempted to grow a world tree in what is now the Grizzly Hills. They then resolved to destroy the tree, because its roots had reached too deeply into the ground and breached the prison of Yogg-Saron, the old god of death, allowing his influence to reach forth through the tree. The native furbolg resolved to regrow the failed tree and use its magical power to raise their demigod, and Ursoc did return from the dead by its magic. However, Yogg-Saron's influence tainted him, and through him, drove all the furbolg tribes into madness until Horde or Alliance adventurers (whichever ones you played, basically) eventually burned the sapling at Vordrassil's heart and used its ashes to purify Ursoc's spirit. Whether it was an intrinsic power of the world tree or Yogg-Saron who allowed Ursoc to return from death remains to be seen. There are certainly clues that we'll learn more on the slopes of Hyjal during Cataclysm.
The Curse of Flesh/Fate of the Watchers
Another thread of sorts that ties a great deal of the expansion together is the mysteries of Northrend's races, the iron dwarves, vrykul and giants native to the frozen continent. From quests in Howling Fjord, it is finally revealed where humans come from and how they fit into the tapestry of life on Azeroth. This revelation places a heavy focus on the vrykul. Meanwhile, the iron dwarves and their excavations become the focus of the Ironforge Explorer's League, leading players through the Fjord, up through Grizzly Hills (where the iron dwarves under the mysterious Loken are revealed to be marching north to the Storm Peaks and Ulduar, enslaving an army of giants using mystical runes in the process). Finally, upon reaching the Storm Peaks, a series of quests leads players through the betrayal of Loken and the despair of Thorim, his brother and fellow watcher. Finally, after Loken tricks players into leading Thorim right into his clutches (and through him the clutches of Yogg-Saron), a daring raid on the Halls of Stone reveals the Tribunal of the Ages, a titan archive that reveals a great deal about the origins of the various races of Azeroth.
After discovering the truth of the "Curse of Flesh" and how the Old Gods hoped to use it to render the Titan's construct races into beings of flesh, the better to assimilate them into the Old God's chaotic plans, the heroes (namely you and your party) then stalk their way through the Halls of Lightning and bring Loken to a grisly demise ... which turns out to be a mistake, as Loken's death activates his Prime Designate fail-safe and eventually brings the observer, Algalon, to Azeroth in an attempt to determine if the entire planet should be "re-originated" by the titans. Luckily, successfully kicking Algalon's shiny constellation-encompassing keister prevents the end of all life on Azeroth.
All in all, I found the story of the titans and their role in creating life on Azeroth and their war with the Old Gods greatly expanded in WotLK without being totally settled yet. What happened to Watcher Tyr? Did Loken deliberately desire to die, and if so, was that his own plan or that of his master Yogg-Saron? It could go either way ... Perhaps Loken in his last moments deliberately allowed himself to be killed so that Algalon would come and destroy the world with his corruptor trapped within it, or just as possibly, Yogg-Saron sought to escape Azeroth by tricking the titans into destroying it.
Either way, from the Fjord through Grizzly Hills and to the Storm Peaks, with side treks to the Dragonblight and Sholozar Basin to see more evidence of the titans and their role in creating the world, WotLK has definitely broadened our knowledge about them and the origin of life on Azeroth.
Next week, we'll actually talk about the Lich King and lore about his friends and foes we didn't have before.