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Know Your Lore: The war begins

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? Know Your Lore covers the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

It's going to get worse before it gets better.


In his Dev Watercooler about faction favoritism, Blizzard's Dave Kosak made this point, and it's a good one to make. In a World of Warcraft, the lore works to drive us forward, cresting on the waves of what's coming next. In patch 4.3, we're finally going to get to see the events of the War of the Ancients, fight alongside dragon aspects and the great heroes of the past and secure Azeroth's future. But in so doing, we find ourselves forced to deal with the aftermath of Deathwing's actions. The Azeroth we inherit is one that bears the legacy of the Wrathgate, where Horde and Alliance forever surrendered tentative attempts at peace and cooperation. The Azeroth we save is battered by years of conflict against terrible adversaries, and in this diminished, broken world, the Horde eyes the Alliance like a wolf views a sick elk.

This is where the war starts. The Fourth War, it may be called. The War for Azeroth, the battle between mortals, for mortal concerns. At last, at long last, the battle postponed by the Third War can finally happen.

WIth Deathwing's end, so dies the world that was

So far, following Deathwing's initial assault on Azeroth, the Horde has taken the opportunity to expand its borders. The Horde has moved further than ever before. We've seen the Horde offensive from the eyes of those who have lost their dearest to it and from the perspective of those who made it possible.

What we have yet to see is the ramifications of this offensive. As yet, the Alliance still sleeps. Each nation seems to drift in its own concerns, fitfully responding here and there but with no cohesion or coordination.

We know the future, however. We know that Theramore will burn. Despite the fact that it was Horde members responsible for the Wrathgate debacle (Putress was found and punished by the Alliance, not the Horde, who were busy dealing with their own rebellious Dreadlord) and that since that time, the Horde has used dishonorable tactics against Alliance forces fighting the Scourge, declaring all-out war, the Alliance still seems to want to deal with them by not dealing with them. But once Theramore is destroyed, this path cannot continue. It can no longer be paralyzed by the struggle within itself, or it will be destroyed.

With Theramore destroyed, the Alliance will now see its territorial gains in the Southern Barrens almost completely encircled by Horde forces. There is little chance of Theramore surviving as an Alliance base. This means that the Alliance will have lost its major eastern port on Kalimdor. This cuts the night elves off from any support (which was the original purpose for the expedition from Theramore into the Southern Barrens and Stonetalon in the first place), leaving the Horde effectively in total control of the entire east of the continent.

The worg meets the lion

Ironically, this move simultaneously weakens the Alliance (because it removes the supply line that cut across the continent) and yet may well be what is needed to finally rouse the Alliance war machine into action. The attack on Theramore will have three immediate consequences.
  1. It removes Jaina Proudmoore as a limiting factor standing between Horde and Alliance conflict. Jaina has always had strong ties to the Horde, having worked personally with Thrall and Cairne Bloodhoof during the Third War. With Cairne dead and Thrall no longer Warchief, Jaina was the last holdout from that period a decade ago when the mortal races united to stand off the Burning Legion. With Theramore destroyed, it's likely Jaina's peace argument will stall out, and even if it doesn't, she will lack a platform from which to spread it.
  2. Varian Wrynn is now the only human leader with a standing kingdom. Like him or hate him, the loss of Theramore removes one of the two heads of the human nations. Stormwind stands alone, the last bastion of humanity's once-great seven kingdoms. Kul'Tiras is lost (possibly even moved by the cataclysm). Gilneas is now a war zone; its crowned head of state sits in Varian's throne room. All of humanity's hopes and fears now rest entirely on the shoulders of her last remaining king.
  3. Every Alliance leader will now have an example of what happens to those who try diplomacy with the Horde. Theramore supplied troops for the Southern Barrens invasion while simultaneously trying to talk to the Horde and reach some kind of settlement. Now, everyone from Velen to Tyrande to the Council of the Three Hammers will see that Jaina's long friendship with Thrall, her having given sanctuary to Baine Bloodhoof ... none of her years of work to bring about peace did anything to protect her city-state.
In the past few years, several organizations that have Alliance origins (the Kirin Tor, the Cenarion druids of Mount Hyjal, the Argent Dawn) have become neutral, dedicated to fights aside from the battle between Alliance and Horde. With the Lich King and Deathwing removed from the picture, these neutral factions no longer serve a purpose. They become irrelevant.

Now, only the battle between Horde and Alliance matters. Furthermore, by destroying Theramore, the Horde are the ones who have elevated the conflict to a full-fledged war. Much as in the Second War, the Alliance moves into this conflict at a disadvantage.

Win or die

Now, at last, the Alliance can have no distractions. There's no one for the Horde to wait for the Alliance to fight so they can attack them from behind. The Horde must engage a numerically superior foe who has at last nothing to lose by fighting them and no possible motivation to do anything but kill them. From a story perspective, we're watching the end of the period of time when the aggressor nation grabs land in a series of easy victories against soft targets that real wars have displayed over and over again. Now, we head into the phase of the conflict when the Horde and Alliance must directly contend with one another.

From a story perspective, it's been a painful year or so of expensive victory leading to constant defeat for the Alliance. Hoping to see an end to war after the frightful battles in Northrend against the Lich King, they've instead been given natural upheaval, mad cultists, and Horde aggression. Therefore, either the Alliance surrenders or it fights. And the Alliance has never surrendered to the Horde. Not even after 10 years of battle when the Horde burned Stormwind. Not when Doomhammer besieged Lordaeron, his teeth literally at the Alliance's throat. So we know that the war between the factions must get worse, must plunge the entire planet into war. The one-sided battle we've seen so far, where the Horde is so successful that the loss of Camp Taurajo counts as their biggest defeat, must change.

World at warcraft

With Theramore gone, the Alliance has lost its strongest base on the eastern coast of Kalimdor. With a massive, goblin-built weapon aimed right at Stormwind from Azshara, just north of Orgrimmar, the situation becomes clear. There's nothing to lose in attacking Orgrimmar with a massive force and perhaps quite a bit to gain. As players, we know that Orgrimmar won't be destroyed, but it doesn't have to be. An attack on Orgrimmar doesn't need to raze the city or even be designed to do so. It could serve as a feint to allow night elf forces to sabotage the goblin weapon at Bilgewater Harbor.

It doesn't have to be Orgrimmar, of course. Both sides will suffer now. Both sides will see slaughter and death. Even the Forsaken, who can now increase their numbers, may still find themselves terrified in time as war churns even their decayed flesh into mulch, spades over the very land and crushes them beneath it. The one-sided war declared by the Horde while the Alliance is looking elsewhere can no longer be maintained. The narrative demands blood, and blood it must have, from both factions.

The fact remains: The story can no longer absorb the one-sided, creeping expanse of the Horde. Battle must finally be joined. And both sides must bleed and die for the ambitions of their leaders. War, declared or imposed, has always been the destiny of Azeroth. All must suffer. Now, at last, at long last, the war begins.

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

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria

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