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Know Your Lore: 5 must-do Horde zones to complete before Mists

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.

Cataclysm wasn't just about Deathwing, the Aspects and the Dragon Soul. It also contained a huge chunk of new lore information in the 1-to-60 zones that were revamped with the expansion's launch. Some of these areas have a lot to do with Deathwing's story, but some of them contain little stories of their own, stories that haven't been fully completed, plot elements that we may see pop up again in Mists. The revamp set out to breathe some new life into these 1-to-60 leveling zones, and it accomplished that in a major, major way.

I keep repeating myself in Know Your Lore posts and suggesting that people go play through those level 1-to-60 zones that were added in Cataclysm. But it occurred to me that while there are some really amazing zones out there, most people have no idea where to start or which ones they should really be playing through. Which zones are the best in terms of lore? Which ones are the most fun? Which ones may contain elements we may see addressed again in the upcoming expansion? Which ones absolutely should not be missed?

Let's make it a little easier for you.

Azshara

Where to start To start quests in Azshara, you need do nothing more than head north out of Orgrimmar. The quest givers that begin the Azshara experience are all standing right outside the gate, occasionally fighting off groups of incensed night elves.

The story The goblins have joined the Horde, and they want to establish a place for themselves. What better place than the formerly deserted land of Azshara? And what better way to show their gratitude to the Horde than by terraforming the whole area into one giant Horde symbol? Except that Azshara wasn't quite as deserted as it looked. The naga aren't terribly happy about their new goblin neighbors, and the night elves are by and large infuriated with the goblin idea of natural harmony -- one that involves strip mining and tearing down trees. It probably doesn't help that Azshara is ancient night elf land and all the commotion is disturbing the spirits of long-dead kaldorei, either.

Why you should hit up this zone Look, the goblins aren't really what you would call a serious bunch of characters, but Azshara is a delightful bundle of fun and a far cry from the desolate, if beautiful, stretch of land it was in vanilla. You get to scale towers, blow things up, save baby raptors for their surprisingly intelligent mother, try to convince the native mountain giants of the area to ... well, that would be giving too much away. While the goblin ideal of stripping the land of natural resources may not be everyone's moral cup of tea, the quests themselves are funny and engaging.

But there's more to Azshara than just the goblins. There are some really interesting lore reveals about all those deserted, forgotten kaldorei ruins. And then there's a familiar face from Warcraft lore -- Kalecgos shows up, and he's on a mission to try and save the remnants of the Blue Dragonflight. He needs your help locating the noticeably absent Azuregos, and the journey to find the missing blue dragon leads you on a whirlwind adventure that has you battling the Black Dragonflight, discovering Azuregos' ... unique hiding place and the new love of his life, and taking on the dirty job of being an apprentice to Archmage Xylem. Did you ever wonder why Xylem was all alone in his tower, out in the middle of nowhere? Azshara's quests will answer that.

Thousand Needles

Where to start The storyline for Stonetalon Mountain starts in a couple of different areas. Players of an appropriate level can visit the Warchief's Command boards scattered through Orgrimmar. If you're level 85 and looking to start this zone, either head to Camp Mojache in Feralas and talk to Jawn Highmesa to begin the chain; alternatively, speak to Nyse at Mudsprocket in Dustwallow Marsh to also begin the chain.

The story Thousand Needles is quite obviously one of the hardest-hit zones in Cataclysm. When Deathwing broke out of Deepholm, the entire canyon system in Thousand Needles was completely flooded. Gone are the racetrack, the centaur camps, and the caged panthers. In their place is a vast lake composed of islands, the former spires of Thousands Needles that many tauren called home. In addition to helping the survivors of this disaster, other enemies have arisen in this area as well -- and one very familiar face we haven't seen in a long time.

Why you should hit up this zone Thousand Needles was always a visually stunning zone, but the quests themselves were a little lacking both in story and in fun factor. Although the raceway was a favorite of many a vanilla player, fans of the track should be rejoicing over the new barge populated by both goblin and gnomish inhabitants, former members of the raceway. And if you thought doing various errands to help the goblins sabotage the gnomes (or vice versa) was all kinds of fun -- well, how about starting a gnome vs. goblin bar brawl? Or hopping on a ship and gunning down some pirates? How about having a boat of your very own to travel on any time you'd like?

The more lore-minded of us out there, particularly those looking for more tauren storyline, won't be disappointed, either. Freewind Post has been taken over by the Grimtotem, but Magatha Grimtotem is nowhere to be found -- or at least, that's how it appears to be. For players wondering what happened to Magatha after she fled Thunder Bluff during her abortive attempt at a coup, Thousand Needles is a must to play. And good news for Alliance players -- you can play through this zone as well. Your version of the chain starts at New Thalanaar.

Silverpine Forest

Where to start For Silverpine quests, simply head south from the Undercity until you come across the Horde encampment by the road and speak to the quest giver there to start the now notorious scene between Sylvanas and Garrosh Hellscream and begin the chain of events in Silverpine.

The story After the disastrous events of the Wrathgate, Sylvanas and the Forsaken are trying desperately to get back into the Horde's good graces. On top of that, Sylvanas has been faced with a unique problem -- with a lack of a Lich King, there's no way to make new Forsaken. And on top of that, the citizens of Gilneas are putting up a remarkable fight to keep the Forsaken out of Gilneas and away from anything that might be a territorial advantage for the Horde.

Why you should hit up this zone The focus of the Forsaken has always been vengeance against the Lich King, because he was the one responsible for their strange condition of everlasting undeath. With the Lich King gone, suddenly the Forsaken haven't got a focus -- and it's up to Sylvanas to come up with one, which she does in grand fashion. Watching Sylvanas interact with other Horde races is a truly entertaining experience, but perhaps the better experience is simply riding down the main road of Silverpine with Sylvanas and listening to her tell her tale. It's a bizarre, intimate moment that you don't really expect from a faction leader.

But it's the fight against Gilneas that really brings it all home. Sylvanas has it out for Gilneas, largely because its position in the Eastern Kingdoms is one that would present a distinct tactical advantage to the Horde. The Gilneans aren't ones to give up easily, however, and the shocking finale to this storyline raises a ton of questions as well as explaining a lot about where the current residents of Shadowfang Keep came from. With tight, engaging dialogue, just enough cutscenes, and a few fun quests thrown in on top of the rigors of war, Silverpine is so completely worth playing through that I recommend everyone do it sooner rather than later.

Hillsbrad Foothills

Where to start Immediately after departing Silverpine, players head to Hillsbrad Foothills. But if you're skipping Silverpine, you can simply head to Southpoint Gate at the border of Hillsbrad and Silverpine and pick up the first quest there.

The story Hillsbrad Foothills is the next piece of land the Forsaken have claimed for themselves. Southshore has been completely wiped out, and the Horde are doing their best to stake their claim on the land and keep it. However, not all of the Forsaken are keen on the plans that Sylvanas has for their race -- and not all of the Horde are keen on the Forsaken's plans. And in between, everyone seems to have forgotten about the dwarves of Alterac Valley ...

Why you should hit up this zone Hillsbrad is now one of the most bizzare, creepy, fun, touching, and downright strange zones you will encounter in WoW. You start out with the unforgettable quest Welcome to the Machine, which sets you up as the quest giver to three very distinct NPCs, all with traits that are hysterical reminiscent of stereotypical WoW players. But that quest is really just the beginning of it all. Those three schmucks you sent out to do errands make return appearances in due time -- and one of the highlights of the zone is a quest chain that dovetails from hysterically funny to absolutely heartbreaking in the span of three quests.

For lore buffs, Hillsbrad offers a look into another side of the Forsaken, the side that isn't terribly happy with the Banshee Queen's plans. It's also a look at the Horde and the Horde ideal of honor and heroes, and the return of a hero who has seen far better days stomping the battlefield of Alterac Valley.

Hillsbrad is quirky and downright weird in its ability to flip back and forth between serious and slapstick. The zone features plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to the Hillsbrad of old, where Alliance and Horde used to endlessly battle between Tarren Mill and Southshore, Helcular's Rod was a weapon to be feared, and Drull and Tog'thar waited eternally in Durnholde Keep for rescue.

Stonetalon Mountains

Where to start The storyline for Stonetalon Mountain starts at Silverwind Refuge in Ashenvale and begins with a wagon ride into Stonetalon proper.

The story The Horde war machine is out in full force in both Ashenvale and Stonetalon -- and this zone basically illustrates the Horde war experience. The Horde seek to take Stonetalon Peak, but there are plenty of things standing in the way of that goal -- the night elves who live in the area and their surprising allies in peace. If you've read The Shattering, the events that play out in Stonetalon bear a heartbreaking resemblance to events from the book, and unlike the novel, the person responsible for all of these actions isn't a member of the Twilight Cult.

Why you should hit up this zone If you have ever wondered what exactly made Thrall think that Garrosh was a good choice for temporary Warchief, this zone is a must-play. If you've ever wanted to see the Horde war effort firsthand, you want to go here. Stonetalon is a riveting glimpse into the army of the Horde and what it looks like from within. You play through as a soldier making his way up the ranks, rather than an outside observer. And though there are plenty of funny moments to be had, there are also plenty of heartbreaking moments as well.

Stonetalon is fast-paced, in-your-face faction combat, the likes of which we may see again in the upcoming expansion. And it perfectly illustrates the growing tension between the various races that make up the Horde, as well as explaining a lot of the Alliance anger toward the Horde. The final scene of Stonetalon is an unforgettable look at a leader that most simply don't care for and a glimpse into what it truly means to be Horde. Ultimately, Stonetalon is a haunting look at the rigors and pitfalls of war and the consequences of rash action over thought.

Entertainment and poignant perspective

These five zones are, of course, merely a handful that you can play through on your way from 1 to 60, but for level 85 Horde players looking for something to do, they all offer entertainment in various ways. For Alliance players looking for the same, stay tuned -- next week, we'll be visting five unforgettable Alliance zones that should be played through sooner rather than later.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
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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