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Know Your Lore: The top 10 lore reveals of Cataclysm, part 2

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.

Welcome to what is easily the most subjective list I have ever done. Last week, we covered the Infinite Dragonflight, the Alignment, the return of many old favorites, the tol'vir and Uldum, and the resurgence of the naga. However, that was only half of the story.

This week, we'll get moving right away on the five biggest (as determined by me) lore revelations of this expansion. What did Cataclysm change, shake up, or bring into focus for us?

5. Return of the Zandalari

I'm listing this as number five because, while a lot of the #10 through #6 reveals were fairly large, this one was not only a big deal, but the complete ramifications of it are barely even felt yet.

Trolls once ruled a vast empire spanning the then-world continent of Kalimdor, before facing down the might of the ancient aqir civilization. Although the ancient troll empire was fractured by that war and never again achieved its former strength, they've hardly forgotten what they used to be. Still, over the millennia since the destruction of the Well of Eternity, the trolls have proven too fractured and quarrelsome to unite. Even while the Amani trolls were losing the Troll Wars to the high elves of Quel'Thalas and the humans of Arathor, and the Gurubashi were slowly decaying within Zul'Gurub, there seemed little danger of the trolls ever uniting.

The cataclysm changed all that. The Zandalar tribe, previously known for their efforts to stop Hakkar's return in Zul'Gurub and their work to document the fall of the Drakkari ice trolls in Zul'Drak, have decided that the time is ripe to raise the banner of troll unity. What's really interesting for us is how this change in the tone of Zandalari relations with the outside world plants seeds that go well beyond their attempts to unify Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub under the Zandalari aegis. Zandalari culture has been changed by the cataclysm, which brought with it the rise of a mysterious prophet named Zul. We have yet to see Zandalar Isle, Zul himself, or even hear what happened with King Rastakhan. It's clear that Vol'jin at least still thinks Rastakhan rules over the Zandalar, but we've yet to learn what his relationship is with Zul or even who Zul is.

Furthermore, Vol'jin's response to the Zandalar attempt to unite all trolls under one banner is telling. It creates not only a source of tension between all trolls moving forward, but it establishes him as a force to be reckoned with. The Zandalari return has just begun to be felt in the Warcraft universe.

4. The Druids of the Flame and druid revelations

The reason I find the Druids of the Flame so significant isn't for their role in the attack on Mount Hyjal by Ragnaros the Firelord. While I'm sure that the fire elemental onslaught on the slopes of what is effectively the mystical center of the world of Azeroth will have effects well into the future, especially as the Well of Eternity beneath Nordrassil's roots still exists, the real interesting aspect of the Druids of the Flame is that they are an entirely new druidic tradition that works. Fandral Staghelm and Leyara, working on behalf of Ragnaros and the Twilight's Hammer, developed an entirely new druid order in months, unleashing that order to great success in their attacks on Hyjal, maiming Hamuul Runetotem and stretching the resources of the Druids of the Talon and the Shadow Sentinels to the limit.

Ultimately, this order was defeated and Ragnaros finally destroyed. But their existence sets up the truth that druidic magic doesn't have to be limited to the Cenarion Circle approach. Malfurion is a wise and powerful druid, and Cenarius is the son of Elune and Malorne -- but neither has a monopoly on the ways druids can explore the world. Misled, insane, and twisted by his losses Fandral might have been, but it's also clear that he discovered a brand new way to be a druid.

The rise of the Druids of the Flame also shows that Fandral was not alone in his anger. There were a surprisingly large number of druids who went along with the Druids of the Flame, and this rift in the Cenarion Circle is only going to have more consequences in the future. As the world attempts to come back from the brink of the Cataclysm, the druids are going to have to deal with this.

3. The Alliance/Horde War

We started to see signs of the strain between Alliance and Horde in Wrath of the Lich King, with the Wrathgate event and the Battle for Undercity. But following the cataclysm, with Thrall's departure from the role of Warchief and Garrosh Hellscream's ascension to the role, we've seen more and more direct hostility between the two factions. While Deathwing plotted the end of everything that existed, the two major mortal factions spent as much time fighting over dwindling resources as they did in trying to deal with the Twilight's Hammer. They show no sign of slowing down now that the dragon has been defeated. In fact, if anything, it seems likely that this semi-cold war between them is only going to get hotter.

What I find fascinating here isn't so much the war between the Alliance and the Horde -- it's such an integral part of the Warcraft setting that it's easy to take for granted -- but rather how this expansion has really dealt with tensions inside each faction. The loss of King Magni has created a tentative government among the dwarves that's rife with potential for backbiting, political intrigue and skullduggery, the chief priest of the church of Light has proved to be a traitor, the gnomes are locked in battle over their former capital, Sylvanas has taken on a more directly messianic role and expanded the forsaken across the former kingdoms of humanity, Garrosh and Vol'jin were nearly at each other's throats, the tauren are debating their role in the Horde. Add to this ferment the goblins and worgen each trying to find a new home in a new faction and things become ever more explosive.

2. Powers toppled from their ancient thrones

As it stands right now, the Cataclysm has proved remarkably good at destabilizing the world of Azeroth and the elemental plans connected to it. Al'akir and Ragnaros are dead and Neptulon missing, leaving only Therazane of the original four elemental lords. Magni Bronzebeard is a crystallized statue underneath his city. Thrall is no longer Warchief, and while Malfurion's return puts him squarely in charge of the Cenarion Circle again, he's had to deal with a major rebellion led by Fandral as well as the inclusion of both troll and worgen druids into his order. The goblins of Kezan lost their homeland, as did the people of Gilneas, invaded by the Forsaken.

Combined with the revelation that the dragon aspects themselves are now now longer gifted with their ancient power and the death of Deathwing himself, Azeroth is moving into a period where many longstanding sources of power and stability are removed and new challengers are making a play for domination. The Zandalari, the naga, the Horde and Alliance themselves -- all are looking to carve a new order out of the chaos of the cataclysm. We're moving from a world at war with its inhabitants to a world where the inhabitants are at war.

1. Death of the Destroyer: Ushering in a new world

What really interests me the most about Deathwing's arc in Cataclysm is that, essentially, he accomplished his goal -- not the way he intended or expected, of course. But his eruption into Azeroth that triggered the Cataclysm did destroy the world that preceded it, and the world we're in now is one where the powers that watch and shape the destiny of mortals are mortals themselves.

This is a continuation of what we saw in Ulduar, where mortals balked the Herald of the Titans and forced Algalon to concede that the short-lived specks that live on the world should have a say in its fate. What Algalon proves in concept, Deathwing proves in truth. The Destroyer sought to scour the old world away and reshape it to his liking, but the world had other plans. Mortals stood up and destroyed the Destroyer, and in so doing destroyed the need for Aspects. What Medivh said at the end of the war against the Legion proved as true as ever: The hope for future generations has always rested in mortal hands.

The future is doubtlessly to be contended for and paid for in blood, as it has been throughout Azeroth's history. Deathwing's grand scheme failed, in part because he was insane and twisted and corrupted by thousands of years of listening to the whispers of the Old Gods, along with his own well-nursed hatreds and grudges. But Deathwing did create a new world. Azeroth now stands on the threshold of a destiny shaped entirely by her own inhabitants, not one planned out by titans or twisted by abhorrent monstrosities ancient and malign. Neltharion's fall was tragic, but it was also necessary for mortals to reach this point. Wherever we go now, we go through our own striving.

The runners-up

Of course, a lot more happened. We learned what happened to Gilneas between the Second and Third War, the origin of the Worgen Curse, and the true nature of the Scythe of Elune. We saw hints as to the goblins and their origins. Thrall and the Earthen Ring took center stage on Azeroth and became a power to be consulted. The Old God N'Zoth revealed himself, and C'thun spoke through Cho'gall even though he's supposedly dead (begging the question of whether the Old Gods can die at all). The Wildhammers effectively joined the Alliance, and the Dragonmaw found a kind of redemption in the Horde. I picked the 10 points I did knowing that they wouldn't even come close to covering everything that happened or that everyone would agree with them. In fact, I hope you don't and that you tell us all why.

Next week, now that he's dead, let's try and sum up Deathwing in his entirety, shall we?

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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