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.
Abedneum: Accessing. In the early stages of its development cycle Azeroth suffered infection by parasitic, necrophotic symbiotes. Designation: Old Gods. Old Gods rendered all systems, including Earthen defenseless in order to facilitate assimilation. This matrix destabilization has been termed the Curse of Flesh. Effects of destabilization increased over time.The early days of Azeroth's creation are a puzzle that has yet to be completely solved. The issue of Azeroth's creation lies in the order of events as they've been presented; we have two very different orders of events depending on where you're looking for reference. In one, the Titans arrived on Azeroth to find the Old Gods, put the world in order, then left for parts unknown. In another, it's implied that the Titans arrived, put the world to order, and left. At some point after this, the Old Gods arrived and wreaked havoc, prompting the return of the Titans and the imprisonment of the Old Gods.
Brann Bronzebeard yells: Old Gods eh? So they zapped the Earthen with this Curse of Flesh. And then what?
Kaddrak: Accessing. Creators arrived to extirpate symbiotic infection. Assessment revealed that Old God infestation had grown malignant. Excising parasites would result in loss of host--
So ... which one is correct? Well, there's an interesting part in the middle of all of this that can be used to try and unravel that particular puzzle. It's called the Curse of Flesh, and its shaped far more of Azeroth as we know it today than you'd think.
Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition, meaning the following is a look into what has gone before with pure speculation on what is to come as a result. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.
The Curse of Flesh
What is the Curse of Flesh? According to various Titan facilities, it was a malignant disease of sorts, created by the Old Gods as a method of "matrix destabilization." But that explanation hardly makes sense unless you happen to speak Titan and understand what all of this matrix mumbo-jumbo is talking about. Most Titan facilities scattered across Azeroth use the same high-tech language when recounting history, coming across as almost giant, sentient computers. Which they are, to a degree -- we can think of Azeroth kind of like a computer program that the Titans created. When the Titan facilities reference a matrix, they aren't talking about an alternate reality that we access by taking a pill of a particular color -- they're talking about the framework of their creations. Our bodies.
In Ulduman, the Earthen are referred to as a "subterranean being matrix" -- beings created with bodies suitable for living underground. Or, in layman's terms, people made of stone. The Earthen were given stone bodies so that they could successfully tunnel underground without worrying about pesky things like rockfalls, or running out of air. But the Curse of Flesh destabilized the matrix -- the body -- of those Earthen, turning it into something far weaker and far more susceptible to the Old Gods: Flesh. And it had a curious effect on the Earthen.
There were two possible mutations discovered in Earthen that had been affected with the Curse of Flesh -- one was the dwarves of today. The other was a much less evolved variation -- the trogg. This is where troggs came from -- it wasn't that the dwarves evolved from the troggs, it was that the troggs and the dwarves were both branches of the original Earthen that had destabilized over time. In a nutshell, the Curse of Flesh was seemingly created to devolve the Titan's creations into something much more malleable and susceptible to both manipulation, and destruction. It's difficult to destroy or corrupt a creature made from living stone; it's far easier to simply infect that creature with a disease that gets rid of the stone and does the hard part for you.
In these discs, hidden in Ulduman and accessible even as early as vanilla, there is the key to Azeroth's evolutionary mystery, and the reason why players are questioning the order of Azeroth's creation. The Earthen were created by the Titans -- they were a modification of one of the standard seed races that have apparently been used on many planets over the span of millennia. Obviously, the Earthen had to have been present on Azeroth already, in order to facilitate that creation of the Curse of Flesh. If the Earthen and the other Titan-created races were not already present on Azeroth, there wouldn't have been a need to create the Curse in the first place.
And if the Earthen had to exist to create the Curse of Flesh, and the Titans arrived to find the Curse in place, as mentioned in the Tribunal of Ages, that means that the Titans had to have created the world, left, and then come back to find the Curse in full swing. There's no way around it. Yet records indicate the world was already infected with Old Gods, which makes one wonder ... were the Old Gods present when the Titans originally put Azeroth in order? Did the Titans simply leave them there, assuming they were one of those natural races of the world, and needed to stay put?
This actually makes both of the possible theories surrounding Azeroth's creations correct, in a way. The Old Gods were there when the Titans "created" Azeroth -- and the Titans simply left them be. Yet they were called to return to Azeroth when the Old Gods went nuts and began to reap chaos over the world, bringing in the Elemental Lords, sweeping vast swathes of destruction over the land, and generally being very, very bad. And the Titans viewed this, witnessed the Curse of Flesh in its entirety, realized the Old Gods could not be destroyed without destroying Azeroth itself, and simply imprisoned them, leaving the curious byproducts of the Curse of Flesh's evolutionary cycle be.
The races of Azeroth
These curious byproducts comprise the majority of what makes up Azeroth's races as we know them today. The dwarves were obviously Earthen that were infected by the Curse of Flesh and devolved into what we know them as today. But in Wrath, it was revealed that two more races were products of this curious evolutionary process. The gnomes, whose origins were never really explained in great detail, were addressed in the quest The Mechagnomes in the Borean Tundra. Gearmaster Mechazod was one of the first gnomes created -- a creature of clockwork and metal. But the Curse of Flesh slowly began turning the mechagnomes into the gnomes we see today. Oddly, Gearmaster Mechazod looks at this as a terrible thing, and promptly offers to "cure" the gnomish race by carving them up and putting them back together as robots, returning them to "a time of perfection ... the time of the Titans!"
Needless to say, the gnomes weren't thrilled with this offer, and have players destroy Gearmaster Mechazod as a result. The other branch of evolution is far more subtle. The vrykul of Howling Fjord are an ancient race, and whether or not they were Titan-constructed to begin with has never been fully explored. Its known that there were stone vrykul, created by Loken in the Storm Peaks, but whether these iron vrykul were created by simply using the original vrykul as a template, or whether the fleshy vrykul were some sort of devolved version of these original stone warriors hasn't been determined.
What we do know is that the vrykul of Howling Fjord were afflicted by the Curse of Flesh, and began bearing children that were far smaller, pinker, and much weaker than their parents. These children were set to be put to death, but instead were banished to the southern lands, where they eventually evolved into the human race of today. Given this information, the humans are obviously products of the Curse of Flesh -- and by that line of reasoning, the Forsaken and the worgen also have their roots in the Curse of Flesh as well.
Those are the proven results of the Curse of Flesh. But perhaps it is possible that we're missing the evolutionary process of other key races as well. The origins of the pandaren race haven't really been revealed as of yet -- they've simply been around since well before the War of the Ancients. But the pandaren race seems to be concentrated on Pandaria. What other race is present on Pandaria? The mogu -- which have already been revealed to be Titan constructs. Is it possible that, much like the trogg and dwarf variations in the Earthen, the pandaren race is actually an offshoot of devolved mogu?
If this is the case, it adds yet another layer to the story of the pandaren and the mogu -- and it explains why the mogu were so determined to subjugate the pandaren. They were the weaker race, after all. They were a subset of mogu that no longer looked, acted, or thought like mogu. More importantly, one of the lore scrolls introduced in patch 5.2 mentions that all trace of pandaren culture was simply snuffed out when the mogu began to rule over the pandaren race. Was it really that the culture was snuffed out -- or was it that that culture supposedly thought to be replaced by mogu culture and language, was really mogu culture and language all along?
But what about the non-Titan created races? It's known that the night elves originally evolved from the dark trolls -- this was clearly stated in the Warcraft magazine -- but the process of exactly how that evolution occurred hasn't ever really come to light. Some assume it was Elune, others assume it was the Well of Eternity; but it's entirely possible that this too was a product of the Curse of Flesh. This time, the origin race in question wasn't a Titan-created race, it was one that was native to Azeroth -- it simply evolved into a different type of being.
If we follow this train of thought, we should look at the blood elves, because their history may very well be direct and physical evidence of the Curse at work. It was assumed that the blood elves grew smaller and pinker as a result of no longer being in the proximity of Nordrassil -- but what if it was simply the Curse of Flesh, working on the former kaldorei and shaping them into something new, different, a branch of the same evolutionary tree, but slightly less hardy than the previous incarnation?
So why create the Curse of Flesh? Why would the Old Gods essentially give birth to all of these weaker races, when these races have proven strong enough to defeat their creators? We have systematically shut down the Old Gods, one by one -- we've managed to keep them at bay. Why would the Old Gods deliberately create a system that, by all appearances, hasn't really made us that much weaker at all?
What if the Curse of Flesh isn't really a curse to begin with?
Antibodies gone wrong
Let's go back to the question of Azeroth's creation. It's the classic story of which came first, chicken or egg. Given all of the evidence we've seen, the Titans had to be present before the Old Gods began corrupting the world with the Curse of Flesh. They had to have put those seed races in place in order for the Old Gods to create the Curse of Flesh to corrupt those races. If this is the case, then the Titans did, indeed, return to Azeroth and find the world in chaos. They fought a brutal war the likes of which Azeroth has not seen since, and they imprisoned the Old Gods deep within Azeroth, unable or unwilling to destroy them -- because doing so would destroy Azeroth itself.
Why? Why would that kill Azeroth? Why would removing that thing that put the Curse of Flesh on the world, that thing that corrupted Azeroth's races and devolved them into the things they are today, why would that destroy the world as we know it?
Because the Old Gods are part of Azeroth. They've been there since the beginning. The quest regarding the Mechagnomes in Borean Tundra all but blatantly points to the answer, and we've been overlooking it all this time -- Gearmaster Mechazod's actions, his insistence on returning the the glorious days of the Titans, is something that the gnomes look on with fear and revulsion. They don't want to be robots. They don't want to be returned to their Titan roots. The thought of being carved up and systematically placed in some sort of robotic template is a horrifying one.
And Azeroth didn't want to be ordered to begin with.
That's why the Old Gods created the Curse of Flesh. It wasn't to weaken the Titan's creation. It wasn't to create some sort of vast valley of evil and chaos. It was Azeroth itself, Old Gods and all, rising up to to expunge what it viewed as a virus -- something unnatural planted on a natural world. A thorn caught in the flesh, as it were. The infection was the Titan's creations -- the Earthen, the mechagnomes, possibly even the vrykul and mogu as well. That Curse wasn't created to destroy the world -- it was created to bring the world back to the natural state it was always meant to be. It was Azeroth's attempt to return to its natural state, despite the Titan's influence.
The thing is, we've had bits of evidence pointing to this particular theory all along. But none of them have been quite as damning as what we learn from the mantid upon hitting exalted with the Klaxxi:
I tell you now, because you have earned this warning. Your gods are not our gods, outsider.The Titans are not our gods. The Titans arrived to change what was once the natural state and order of the world. Azeroth was chaos -- because chaos is a naturally existing state. The Titans sought to put it in order and force it out of that chaotic state. And unlike any other world before it, Azeroth actually fought back against that organization. It didn't just die out -- it created a spontaneous form of evolution through the introduction of an antivirus that began to assimilate the Titan's works as its own, spawning unique hybrid races that were seeded from both order and chaos, simultaneously.
And that was utterly fascinating to the Titans. They'd never seen anything quite like it before, and they weren't likely to see anything like it ever again. Does this make the Old Gods good? No, not necessarily -- it simply makes them part of us, in a way that we'd never quite considered before. We would not be here, Azeroth would not be here, were it not for the Old Gods. Even the sha -- insidious as they are, are creatures of emotion -- and without that emotion, we lose our humanity. We become the robots that the Titans tried to engineer into being. We need the negative emotion as much as the positive -- and we need the Old Gods just as much as we need the Light.
If we are, in fact, tiny white blood cells, mutants born of this antivirus intended to protect the world, it makes the constant fighting between Alliance and Horde suddenly make brilliant sense. The orcs arrived on Azeroth and began to rampage -- they were not part of Azeroth's natural process, so the antibodies on Azeroth rose up to fight them. This back and forth between Alliance and Horde represents the struggle between the order of the Titans and the chaos, the natural state that the Old Gods represent.
The races of the Alliance are all, in one way or another, possibly objects that were created by the Curse of Flesh. Human, dwarf, gnome -- is it any wonder these races banded together, when their evolutionary roots were all from the same source? And if the night elves were in fact a mutation of the trolls generated by the Curse of Flesh, then it could only be to make those trolls stronger, smarter, and more capable of defeating whatever order the Titans made to begin with. The draenei are the only unnatural race in the Alliance, and it may explain why they've never fully integrated with the rest of Azeroth as much as they've wanted to.
Yet the races of the Horde are all different -- they were all native, or foreign. The orcs invaded from Draenor. The trolls and tauren were native to Azeroth, apparently untouched by the Curse of Flesh. The Forsaken were formerly human, yet they passed on, and they were rejected by the hybrid race from which they originated -- much like the blood elves. As for the goblins, we really don't have an evolutionary explanation for the race, yet.
The theme that the Horde has in common, however, is rejection -- one way or another, these races were rejected from society. If we want to expand on that, we can postulate that they are races that are being rejected by Azeroth itself. The races of the Alliance are genetically engineered bioweapons that were meant to return Azeroth to its natural state of existence -- one of chaos.
Why do we fight? We might as well ask why the leaves fall. It is in our nature. It is tied to the core of our existence in a way that we cannot even begin to comprehend. And we, in all of our strange bio-engineered hybrid orderly-chaotic existence, are a puzzle to the Titans, who push for absolute order -- and a puzzle to the Burning Legion, who push for absolute chaos. We walk the line between both, and we do so with a deftness that assures that whatever our next move is, it will be as unpredictable as the wind.
In short, we are dangerous. But we may be useful. To which side, order or chaos, has yet to be determined.
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.