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Know Your Lore: Lore and Story Q&A highlights

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.

I have to be honest here -- while I love the Q&A aspect of the Lore and Story Q&A panel, I was really hoping we'd see some sort of lore panel devoted to Mists of Pandaria this year. That said -- hey guys, how about those Pandaren? For those thinking that Pandaria is going to be all and end all of this expansion or that Pandaria sounds like something that could be potentially boring, I would suggest that you wait patiently here. We didn't get a lore panel dedicated to Mists, and therefore we don't know all there is to know yet.

However, the Lore and Story Q&A panel this year did deliver some interesting tidbits of information, even if there really weren't a lot of Pandaren-centric questions to be had. I wouldn't be annoyed by this if I were you -- after all, those asking questions had no idea Pandaria even existed until 24 hours before the panel, so formulating questions for the upcoming expansion would be a little premature, to say the very least. That said, in between all the questions we did manage to weasel out a few chunks of Pandaren lore, as well as some other interesting info.

Playable Pandaren origins and lore

The Pandaren are going to be playable by both Alliance and Horde alike. It's interesting how exactly Blizzard is pulling off the faction choice. As stated in the predictions post I made back in August, from a lore standpoint, the Pandaren are relatively neutral -- they aren't likely to simply choose one side over another. Everyone is a friend until proven otherwise. So it's not a matter of two warring races of Pandaren; it's each Pandaren simply making his choice, Alliance or Horde, at the end of the starting zone. We've never seen anything like this before, so the way it was incorporated into the story was a new approach to race inclusion from a story perspective, and it fits with what little we know of the Pandaren perfectly.

What we saw in the playable demos and the trailer was that there are two different areas for Pandaren players. There's the starting zone, an island on the back of a giant turtle named Shen-zin Su (and having played through the starter zone, man, that is one massive turtle!) and the Pandaren from the actual continent of Pandaria. These are two distinct cultures of Pandaren. Normally reclusive by nature, the Pandaren aren't really the type to travel the world, but there are exceptions -- this we knew from Chen's appearance in Warcraft III.

While most Pandaren are reclusive, some get the urge to explore and see the world -- and these are the Pandaren that we will be playing. These Pandaren are the ones that traveled to the Wandering Isle 10,000 years ago from the original continent, and from there, the rest of the world. Right now, it's still unclear as to why the Pandaren choose one faction over another -- the choice screen in the demo was very tongue-in-cheek and not really serious text. We'll likely see that change before the expansion launches.

There was also mention of Pandaren being druids -- or rather, why there weren't any. The Pandaren have been on Pandaria for at least 12,000 years, when they warred with a race known as the Mogu. That predates the Well of Eternity, the War of the Ancients, and the teachings of Cenarius by a couple of thousand years. That said, if Blizzard were to create Pandaren druids, it'd have to come up with some sort of new lore reason for that one. As it stands, it just doesn't fit in the time line, and it's not likely we'll see it.

Speaking of time lines, the Pandaren that you play will be from that splinter culture that has been living on the island for thousands upon thousands of years. Pandaren begin at level 1, and throughout your Pandaren character's travels in the time line, you will become a representative of either Alliance or Horde and be acting as such when you finally hit Pandaria at level 85. Whatever faction you happen to be playing, that Pandaren is just as foreign to Pandaria as the rest of the Alliance and Horde races. Things change in 10,000 years, and the playable Pandaren have no idea what those changes are.

But that's not to say that the playable Pandaren are so removed from Pandaren society that they would divert from their core beliefs. Hatred is just not something that is prevalent in Pandaren society; they aren't without hate, they just understand the consequences of hate, and choose instead to do what they can to avoid those consequences. The Pandaren have been described over and over as being creatures that live life to the fullest, fully aware of their relationship to the rest of the world. An Alliance Pandaren and a Horde Pandaren may meet each other on the battlefield and fight -- but you can be sure that they aren't taking it too seriously.

... Which was another question that popped up at the panel, and it's a pretty legitimate one that has a lot of players concerned. Given what little we know of the Pandaren, is this expansion going to be lighthearted and fluffy, lacking any of the grit we've seen from prior expansions? The answer to that was a resounding no, with some clarifications. While the Pandaren themselves may live life to the fullest and not take themselves too seriously, this isn't to say they don't have a serious culture. And that's a culture that we simply haven't seen yet.

We haven't really met them in the context of World of Warcraft -- ever. Sure, we've seen Chen's Empty Keg, but beyond that lone quest, there was little to be said about the Pandaren. We don't know their history or their culture or what's going on with them in the present time line, and we have no idea what happened between The Sundering and now. Metzen and Kosak were very, very clear to point out that this is not a silly expansion set at all. As tensions rise between the Alliance and Horde, the Pandaren are caught in the middle of it, and we get to see the results of that conflict.

In the end, we aren't looking at a silly expansion here -- we're looking at one that is simply a little lighter than the grim and gritty days of endgame Wrath and the upsets of Cataclysm. Frankly, I'm OK with getting a little breather from the dark, for now. But there will be conflicts to come. Mention was made that we'd see resolution of the Zandalar storyline in the next expansion, and that we'll find out what exactly is going on in Zandalar -- which just happens to be located to the north of the main continent of Pandaria on the zone maps shown at BlizzCon.

The RPG books and character development

One of the hot-button topics to come out of the Ask A CDev 2 thread from earlier this year was the dismissal of all RPG source guides as canon material. Though it wasn't directly asked by anyone at the Q&A panel, Metzen took a moment to address the issue. The answer that simply stated all RPG books were not canonical was a hasty one. There are parts of the books that Blizzard would rather not have listed as canon; specifically referenced by Metzen was Finnall Goldensword.

Finnall is a Half Elf, a character who was stated to be the daughter of a High Elf and an unknown Human who was presumed to be Daelin Proudmoore. Metzen wasn't happy with the idea of Daelin cheating on his wife, stating that there was no way an honorable man like Proudmoore would do such a thing. Yet there are some aspects of the source books that could be used for future development -- it's just a matter of sorting through what is valid and what isn't. Metzen closed by saying that at some point they hoped to go back through the books and do just that.

The other hot-button topic from this year has been the development -- or lack thereof -- of certain lore characters. There was a pointed question about Tyrande Whisperwind and her current state as Malfurion's arm candy and whether or not we would see her return to the Night Elf we saw back in Warcraft III. The problem with developing major lore characters is that there is only so much time to devote to each, and each needs to be handled in an appropriate way. Metzen pointed out Thrall as an example, stating it took all the way until The Burning Crusade before we saw any action out of his beloved character.

As far as Thrall is concerned, Metzen was emphatic that Thrall isn't a "wuss" -- he's simply going through a rough patch in his life, but that the champion times were on the way. This is one of those things that people who follow the lore sometimes fail to remember: We are playing a book that is literally writing itself as we go along. That book may not be moving as quickly as people would like it to be, but it is moving. Each character will eventually have their day in the limelight -- and it will take time for each character to move through those conflicts and come out on the other side a better character for what they've been through.

On the matter of Thrall, an Alliance player asked whether or not Varian and the Alliance would ever get any further development, because the Horde has seen plenty of it. Metzen pointed out that the story department doesn't really think of Thrall as a Horde character these days -- he's a world character -- and development of that character isn't really seen as pure Horde development despite the fact that Thrall is an Orc. As for Varian Wrynn, plans are in the works for an epic quest line for Alliance players in which they get to play squire to King Wrynn and assist him in completing a series of Herculean tasks given to him by the other leaders of the Alliance. By the end of it, Varian Wrynn will get it all together -- which is good, according to Metzen, because the Alliance is going to need a leader that has it all together in the upcoming expansion.

Between the revelations surrounding Varian and the bits and pieces we've heard regarding the upcoming Jaina novel, it looks like the Alliance will be getting a little more focus and a lot more character development in the months to come.

The Titans, Algalon and more

So what about those Titans, Argus, and heck the rest of what the universe has to offer, anyway? Why haven't we seen more space exploration? The Burning Crusade was an expansion that Metzen was excited about, but it didn't have the standard fantasy flavor, instead leaning more toward a higher concept. Thus, later expansions have been rooted firmly in that old-world fantasy, while the rest of space has been left largely unexplored. That doesn't mean there aren't plans to explore it, however. Metzen would love to take an expansion out in space again, specifically Argus; he mentioned briefly that there may even be undiscovered fleets of Draenei still out there that we haven't even seen yet.

As for the Titans, while we may see them some day, that day isn't coming soon. While the Titans are fascinating characters, they're also huge, huge characters according to Metzen -- and the Titan story is something that needs to play out over a very long period of time. It's not just something that Blizzard can resolve in an expansion or two, sadly. They are apparently from somewhere "super exotic," and they will require a lot of planning and thought to play out. It's going to take some time to figure out where the slightly more sci-fi stories of Titans, Argus, and creatures like Algalon fit into the overall Warcraft fantasy story. But perhaps most fascinating was Kosak's last comment on the Titans, the universe, and Azeroth: "There's something about Azeroth that is unique within the cosmology, and there's a reason that it's kind of the focus of this."

Now that's an interesting thought -- a very interesting thought. Come back next week when we explore that line a little further in a Tinfoil Hat guaranteed to completely blow your mind.

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

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