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.
Yesterday, on the podcast, we were asked a question about WoW lore and why we seem to know a lot about it. Well, it is my job as the writer of this column (and Anne's, too) to talk about these things, but the fact remains, we enjoy the Warcraft setting and its lore. Finding out that the Watcher Tyr lost his hand fighting Galakrond or speculating that N'Zoth has a sunken city somewhere underneath Vashj'ir are fun. Thinking about the setting and its quirks - like the Dungeon Journal's stating that the Twin Consorts are rumored to be the only two female mogu in existence, for example - is kind of like playing a vast game of K'Nex with the story.
The Warcraft setting started off with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and has grown with games, novels, comics, and of course World of Warcraft and its many expansions. The MMO has greatly expanded the game's lore as it has produced new content - we've seen Outland, Northrend, and Pandaria, journeyed to elemental planes of air, fire and earth, discovered the threat of the old gods and seen the Burning Legion in action (going so far as to directly confront Kil'jaeden himself) and a great many of the setting's most iconic characters - Ragnaros, C'thun, Nefarian, Garrosh Hellscream, Saurfang, Bolvar Fordragon - these were all first seen in World of Warcraft. As the game has continued, the lore has only gotten deeper. For that matter, the game has taken characters I didn't care for at all, like Vereesa Windrunner, and elevated them in my eyes to being interesting, even fascinating.
The scope of a developed setting, constructed over years, is always something I enjoy exploring. For one thing, it's communal in nature - diverse hands came together to craft the story. New built on old. Warcraft II: tides of Darkness and its expansion Beyond the Dark Portal greatly expanded what we knew about the world of Azeroth and the orcish homeworld of Draenor, as did novels like The Last Guardian and Day of the Dragon.
This led to Warcraft III. It's hard to understand the impact that Warcraft III had, because so much of the game we have played through, so much of the setting, was in fact created in WCIII. The night elves, Kalimdor itself, Northrend, the Maelstrom, the new Horde, Rexxar, Arthas Menethil, the Forsaken - these were all introduced in WCIII. It's one of the strengths of a setting grown over time that new introductions can become central, and in my eyes WCIII is the strongest refutation of the perennial arguments you see decrying that X or Y piece of lore is 'made up'. First off, it's all made up. There's no actual Azeroth and the people at Blizzard aren't sitting in front of a dimensional portal watching what's going on and furiously typing it all for later. But more importantly, the setting has always incorporated and included new stories into its ongoing narrative. Mists of Pandaria with its new continent, new races and creatures and threats, is carrying on the Warcraft III tradition. In fact, it's the first expansion to be entirely set in a new land, and in so doing, the first to introduce a new land to the setting since Warcraft III did.
Perhaps this is why I'm so fond of Mists as an expansion - it's the first to give us new lore, the first to give us whole new races, new lands, and even the end raid (which takes place in Orgrimmar, a Warcraft III invention) gives us an end boss who was the creation of World of Warcraft and not any of the previous games or other media. And other characters created in World of Warcraft's era, like General Nazgrim and Gamon, will play big parts in the raid. The Sha, the mogu, the mantid (especially the Klaxxi) were all created in this expansion and have become some of my favorites.
Think of The Burning Crusade, which re-introduced Outland. How much more interesting is the Outland of the expansion, with its variety of strange and alien landscapes, than the unrelenting red wasteland of Warcraft III? WCIII only needed that little bit, but for the MMO much, much more was required and the result was one of the most lively and interesting settings yet developed for the MMO. Nagrand and Blade's Edge and Zangarmarsh and even Terokkar all showed how you could have variety while maintaining the feel of a world destroyed, represented by mere remnants of itself, and the idea that we were literally adventuring on a gigantic island floating in a void really came through in its design. And the stories we were given - questing in Hellfire Peninsula, freeing broken slaves and running from the fel reavers, heading into the marsh to explore a world we'd never even imagined - culminated in raids that effectively served to address the plot threads of WCIII. Much of what we saw in BC preserved elements from WCII as well, but heavily expanded them, and went in new directions with what we knew - and it worked brilliantly.
Sitting and thinking about the introduction of Gruul and the gronn in BC always fascinates me because of how it affected the game going forward - seeing the ettins introduced in Cataclysm and seeing that they were clearly intended to be related to ogres got me immediately speculating on the old gronn/grom theory. Who were the giants of Draenor that Grommash Hellscream was named after, the giants whose bones were used to make the grom'bolar? Are there monsters out there, drifting on some old chunk of Draenor lost in the twisting nether, even more terrible than the gronn? How much of Draenor are we yet to find, like the islands that once floated in the sea around Hellfire Peninsula before it was part of Outland? Does that lost ocean float in the nether as well?
I love asking these questions. I don't even care about the answers, except that they let me ask more questions. If the Reliquary of Souls that Illidan had beneath the Black Temple had the capacity to free the blood elves from their magical addiction, is that what it was constructed to do or just a use Illidan discovered for it? Did Illidan make it (remember, he had absorbed Gul'dan's memories when he consumed the Skull of Gul'dan, that's how he found the Eye of Sargeras) or just find it? Did Gul'dan make it, and if so, why? Why did Arthas make a very similar Devourer of Souls in his Forge of Souls, and where did he get the information, from Ner'zhul? We know Ner'zhul was trapped in the Black Temple after Gul'dan supplanted him, did he observe its creation? Did the secret for making it come from the Legion, or did the orcish necromancers and warlocks discover it themselves? And what is Akama doing with it now that he has it?
I hope the next expansion continues to give us new places, new stories, and new faces. I want more lore. If it seems contradictory, that's awesome, because that means we get to watch it get reconciled.
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.