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.
All right, you guys have read through almost everything there is to see with regards to the current political situation of the human race. The first three articles covered the history of the Alliance -- both old and new -- and the struggles of Varian Wrynn and his life as the "leader," so to speak, of the human race. The word leader is used in quotation marks because, to be perfectly honest, Varian wasn't much of a leader; he was brooding, depressed, not really willing to see anything that was going on around him, and the Council of Nobles was pretty much running the show.
The only "real" leader available to Alliance humans at the outset of World of Warcraft was Jaina Proudmoore, the leader of Theramore, who wasn't really much of a leader either. This was largely due to her somewhat unpopular beliefs that orcs were capable of peace and her attempts to work towards some sort of peaceful agreement between the orcs and humans of Kalimdor. So here we have the human race, largely left to its own devices -- but they seemed to be doing, if not amazingly well, at least OK for the most part. It's Varian's return and the events of Wrath that directly affect what's going on headed into Cataclysm.
King Varian Wrynn has a lot to catch up on, as we covered in the previous article -- improving relations with outlying kingdoms, getting in touch with the draenei and learning just what happened during the Burning Crusade, to name a few. He's been busy during Wrath of the Lich King, making amends where he could and working on continuing to send Alliance forces to Icecrown in the hopes of the Lich King's defeat. So where does that leave him once the Lich King is, in fact, dead?
The short answer? On very, very shaky ground -- no pun intended. The longer answer is that Varian has much to make up for because he was absent for so long. The humans of Stormwind and the surrounding areas didn't have a lot of trust to place in Varian because he wasn't really a voice for the people after Tiffin died -- instead, he sank into depression for nearly 10 years and did little to nothing to stop the Council of Nobles from having their way. While his grief is understandable, that still raises that faint, damning question of whether or not he's actually fit to be a ruler in the eyes of the human kingdoms.
In addition to this are his feelings surrounding the Horde, particularly the orcs. While Jaina has her own views about peace and understanding between the human and orc races, Varian definitely doesn't share them, which leaves a conflict between the two human leaders who should be working together towards the same goal. With Garrosh stepping up as Warchief, this only leads to more conflict and more chaos -- while Varian may have been able to work with Thrall in due time, Garrosh is one of those people that Varian absolutely despises.
So Varian needs to regain the trust of his people and either re-think his opinion of orcs in general or find a way to bring people over to his way of thinking. He's got two things standing in his way in regards to the latter. Jaina and her beliefs are a big obstacle at the moment. Not only is she working towards peace, but also she's got both the Kirin Tor and the Argent Crusade standing behind her at the present time -- both high-ranking organizations of extraordinarily powerful people who are completely sick of the infighting between the Horde and Alliance. But the bigger obstacle, and the one that just might bring Varian to his senses, comes in a smaller package: his son, Anduin Wrynn.
Varian, as mentioned in previous articles, absolutely dotes on his son. He wants only the best future he can give to his child and will stop at nothing to guarantee that Anduin has a long life of nothing but happiness. Anduin is a sharp, sharp kid -- and as he gets older, he's only going to get smarter. Dangerously smart. Anduin's already shown at age 10 that he has what it takes to be a solid leader and diplomat, whereas Varian's hotheaded tendencies only get in the way of his performance as a leader. There's a large chunk of time between the end of Wrath and the beginning of Cataclysm; we've seen the newer, more grown-up model of Anduin Wrynn, indicating he's definitely gotten older.
What we may have to watch for as players is the interaction between these three major characters. Varian has repeatedly been touted as the "anti-Thrall," a label that I don't necessarily agree with. However, his temper absolutely needs to be reined in; otherwise, the human race is facing all-out war with the Horde. Anduin is a voice of reason for Varian and has the power to change his father's mind at opportune moments -- but does Anduin have the courage to put his foot down and actually change his father's way of thinking for good? Or will Varian's attitudes towards the orcs and the Horde in general begin to rub off on the young prince? It'd be a shame to see the latter, especially since Anduin as presented in the comics has found his own, reasonable voice in things.
Then we have Jaina Proudmoore, no longer moping about Arthas and no longer having to deal with the oddities of an Old God's resurrection or the potential of a new Guardian. Obviously her time spent in Wrath of the Lich King was emotional, given the subject matter. She did, after all, love Arthas, and seeing the depths to which he'd fallen had to have an effect on her. The difference between her and Varian, however, lies in how they handle loss. With Varian, the loss of Tiffin sent him spiraling into depression. With Jaina, the loss of Arthas to the creature known as the Lich King hurt her terribly, more deeply than we've probably been shown, but she can put aside that grief in the name of doing what's right, for now.
Jaina is on narrow ground herself, because of her aforementioned views of peace. On the one hand she has Thrall, a good friend who has tried and tried again to teach his people the ways of peace in the hopes of bringing a mutual diplomatic agreement between the orcs and humans. This is the face of the Horde that she wants Varian to see -- the side that is intent on resolving old conflicts and moving on for the greater good of Azeroth. But on the other hand, Thrall can't even seem to rein in his people, and the orcs that he supposedly rules over don't share his opinion at large. He's been trying, and there are some orcs who follow his way of thinking, but there are far more that would rather fight than talk.
So Jaina keeps trying again and again to bring Thrall and Varian together, to show Varian this other side of the Horde, but more often than not, it backfires in her face. And it isn't her fault. If we really want to point fingers, we should point them at Thrall, who can't seem to keep his people in line -- or more accurately, at Garrosh, who cannot even begin to fathom Thrall's way of thinking, and in Wrath has shown very little hope of ever doing so. With Thrall placing Garrosh in charge as Warchief, how will that affect Jaina and her way of thinking? She's spent years placing her trust in Thrall, only to have her efforts blow up in her face. Is she really going to look at Garrosh's rise to power as a good thing?
Then we have the interplay between Jaina and Varian. Since Tiffin's death, Anduin's been the only real voice of reason beyond Bolvar that Varian had. But suddenly, here comes Jaina with her speeches of diplomacy and reason, of resolving differences in the name of the greater good. Varian's shown that he respects her, even if he doesn't necessarily trust her -- but he doesn't seem to be willing to step down and simply agree with her. However they did share a moment up there in the Icecrown Citadel, albeit a small one -- one where Varian gave an orc a moment of peace to retrieve the body of his beloved son, one where Jaina got a good look at the man that Varian could potentially be.
My guess is that these two will continue to interact in Cataclysm -- and from the looks of the event in Icecrown Citadel and how it played out, this is a really good thing. Varian is the sort of man who can help ease Jaina out of whatever sadness she feels at the loss of Arthas, and possibly be the one who can convince her that the fate of Arthas wasn't her fault. Jaina, on the other hand, is that calm voice of reason that Varian needs -- but unlike Anduin, she's not Varian's child. She's a woman who is capable of standing on her own two feet and also capable of calling Varian out on his behavior if he gets out of control. It seems as though the two of them are being set up for each other -- and given the backgrounds between the two of them, it makes perfect sense -- and it gives the humans a solid pair to look up to and follow.
Here's the other, larger problem that exists at the moment with Varian Wrynn. Yes, he's on shaky ground with his own people -- but he's on even shakier ground with the rest of the Alliance. The night elves have had far more contact with Jaina and the humans of Kalimdor than with Varian Wrynn; Stormwind wasn't even involved in the Third War. The gnomes and dwarves have had their own issues to deal with, and requests for help from the kingdom of Stormwind have been steadfastly turned down. Again, this was done mainly by the Council of Nobles and machinated by Katrana Prestor, but there's still that disconnect that is felt. Then you've got the draenei, who haven't really gotten a chance to know Varian at all; they were introduced during his absence, so they've got no idea what this man is like.
Varian not only has to prove himself to his people, he has to prove himself to the Alliance at large. The majority of the other Alliance races simply doesn't know who Varian Wrynn is as a leader, and it's that lack of confidence that makes his relationship with the other Alliance races a little shaky at best. They may be wary of him, and it's understandable that they would be -- with humans like Tirion Fordring or even Rhonin to look at for example, regardless of what faction they happen to be allied with, why would they listen to a hotheaded king who's been largely absent for the majority of the new Alliance's existence?
And then we've got this merry band of new players. With the introduction of the worgen race to the Alliance, suddenly we're presented with the kingdom of Gilneas once more -- the proud kingdom that's been stuck behind a wall all these years. Genn Greymane is still alive and well, so the question to answer is whether or not he'll extend his hand to Stormwind, or whether he'll look to other sources for aid? From what's been revealed so far in the beta, it looks as though the Gilnean people are allying with the night elves for now and not the human race. While it could be argued that this is due to the night elves' ties with the Scythe of Elune and the worgen, one also has to ask: Is this a sign that Varian Wrynn isn't being listened to at all? Is this a sign that people simply don't want to listen to him, regardless of whether or not they're members of the human race as well?
This is what's needed from Varian: proof, simple proof that he can be an effective leader, that he can continue to strive for the best path for his people and for the Alliance as a whole, and that he can do so without living under the cloud of his past. Because Varian's past is tragic, undeniably tragic, much like Thrall's -- but he has yet to recover from it and move forward like Thrall has. He has an idea of what he wants: that ideal world where Anduin can grow up and be a strong king without having to go through the grief and sorrow that Varian experienced. He just hasn't got a clue how to get it. Peaceable talks? Varian's tried those with no success. Violence? He has many, many people telling him that isn't the way.
And that's more than likely what we're going to see in Cataclysm, on the human side of things. Either Varian is going to step up, take charge and show the Alliance that he can be the competent leader they can depend on, or he's going to continue to screw up. And if he keeps screwing up, there's always Anduin, who is a few years older and a few years wiser now and possibly capable of taking over where his father failed. As for Jaina, it's a matter of whether or not she's going to continue down the path of peace or take Thrall's appointment of Garrosh as Warchief as the final straw that shows her that maybe, just maybe, she was wrong about the orcs and the Horde. Either way, things are going to be interesting come Cataclysm.