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.
Once upon a time, an egg from a corrupted flight of dragons was purified. Even before he hatched, the dragon in that egg began to plot and plan. His first step was freedom -- both from those who sought to contain him, and those who sought to kill him. The second, far larger step was born of a vision ... a terrifying vision of a precious, fragile world abruptly coming to a devastating end. Wrathion is one of the stranger characters to have been introduced in Warcraft. While his plans in Cataclysm were fairly straight forward, Mists has proven to be a far more complicated gambit.
And through all of the quests and all of the plans, Wrathion has remained as enigmatic as he was the first time rogues set eyes on him. He can be cruel, he can be downright merciless if the need calls for it. Yet at the same time, he seems to possess an altruistic capacity that we've simply never seen before from a black dragon. He'll promise the world to you, and then turn around and promise the same to your enemy. Is he bad? Is he good? Is he siding with the Alliance or Horde? What makes Wrathion tick, and just whose side is he on?
Let's just set one thing straight, right off the bat -- Wrathion lies. Implicitly. He has no moral qualms with doing this, and he will happily lie his face off if it gets him further in whatever grand little game he happens to be playing. When players first encountered Wrathion at the Tavern in the Mists, it didn't matter if they were Alliance or Horde -- Wrathion swore he would be siding with either one, provided they showed that they were worthy. He then set the two sides against each other, all the while quietly telling himself that he'd side with the victor.
Now he did have a reason for doing this, one that tied back to the vision that he showed us at the beginning of his expansion-long quest chain. Wrathion has seen Azeroth come to ruin, flames falling from the vast reaches of space onto our little world and decimating it. In order to prevent that ruin, in order to prevent the Legion from simply stepping all over us, it will take some sort of unified effort between Alliance and Horde. However, with tensions between Alliance and Horde building exponentially ever since Garrosh's rise to Warchief, simply telling both sides to play nice wasn't about to cut it. So Wrathion hatched a plan: Pit both sides against each other, the victor dismantling and absorbing the losing side.
In the end, both sides are unified as one, even if one of those sides isn't exactly happy about it. It was a good plan, but it failed to work, largely because Wrathion completely underestimated Varian Wrynn, Vol'jin, and silly mortal concepts like mercy, forgiveness, and honor. Wrathion, by the time the war had reached Orgrimmar, was banking on the Alliance to win. He may have been thinking Hellscream would be the victor in the beginning, but he didn't count on Vol'jin and his rebels, nor did he count on Varian agreeing to work with those rebels, albeit temporarily and for the sake of convenience.
Wrathion is ruthless
But some players met Wrathion long before we walked on Pandaria's shores. For rogues, the introduction to the Black Prince came at the tail end of Cataclysm, when a purified black dragon egg, carefully saved from destruction by the self-sacrifice of Rheastrasza, went missing from the Vermillion Redoubt. After tracking the egg to Ravenholdt Manor, rogues were surprised to discover that not only had the egg hatched, the whelp was incredibly smart for a dragon just out of the shell. Not just smart -- ruthless.
Wrathion knew, from the moment he was hatched and perhaps even before then, that he would be a target for the black dragonflight for the rest of his life. Given this, Wrathion immediately sought to wipe out the rest of the flight -- his flight -- up to and including his own father. Compassionately trying to save his kind, trying to find a cure for the madness, these things never crossed his mind. Familial love was not something that Wrathion possessed, and at the end of the chain, when at last both Deathwing and Fahrad were dead, he didn't really seem to care.
Wrathion may be two, but he will not hesitate to exterminate anyone and anything that stands in his way. If you are not working for Wrathion, you are nothing more than a roadblock that needs to be removed. And he will sweetly persuade you otherwise, promising you items of untold power in order to earn your trust and compliance. But make no mistake -- if you stand in Wrathion's way, he will find a way around you. Or over your corpse, if necessary. And he doesn't appear to hold one ounce of guilt about it.
Wrathion may think you're expendable
He might call you a hero, he might sing your praises up and down while you're doing what he'd like you to be doing, but the moment you stop following orders, you are no longer useful. From what we've seen, Wrathion views us as tools, pawns, weapons to be honed and used. In the case of rogues in Cataclysm, they were used with very effective results, completing exactly what Wrathion wanted accomplished. No questions, no protests, just silent murder and claiming of rewards. And perhaps that's another reason Wrathion failed in his Pandaria mission.
Rogues showed Wrathion that they would quite happily complete his tasks if offered suitable rewards. That's part and parcel of being a rogue, in a way -- a mercenary for hire who will carry out whatever jobs necessary if the pay is right. But Wrathion's tasks in Cataclysm weren't just what he wanted, they were tasks that weren't exactly objectionable from a moral standpoint. Killing the black dragonflight that has terrorized Azeroth ever since Neltharion's emergence as Deathwing isn't really something that a mortal in their right mind would protest.
Wrathion's tasks in Mists seemed to be altruistic, at first, but quickly delved into territory that the mortals of the world weren't prepared to carry out. Defeat the mogu, certainly -- they were a threat to begin with. The Zandalari? They've made their presence known. But wipe out an entire faction? Not so much. Varian Wrynn's moment of mercy at the end of Siege was both a threat, and an olive branch. As Taran Zhu pointed out on the Isle of Thunder, war is an endless cycle. The only way to prevent that cycle is to simply turn and walk away. Varian did just that -- but let it be known that if there were a next time, the Alliance would not be so merciful.
Wrathion, on the other hand, was furious with this decision.
Wrathion is two
Sometimes you forget just how young Wrathion happens to be. He's two. On the one hand, he possesses a brilliant, cunning mind, capable of coming up with complex plans to get his way. On the other, he has no real reference or knowledge of just how the minds of mortals work. That's why his plan failed -- it was simply the fact that he underestimated the mortal mind, our morals, our beliefs, what we hold in high regard and what we're willing to throw away. He may have brilliant, altruistic plans for Azeroth's future, but in these plans he views us as playing pieces, rather than beings that actually think for ourselves.
That may be why he was happy to sit down and talk with Anduin Wrynn. It wasn't out of friendliness, it was out of a desire to see just how a mortal mind thinks. Add in the fact that Anduin was Varian Wrynn's son, and it all begins to make sense. Part of the conversation was to try and muddle out the mortal mind, to perhaps keep tabs on Varian Wrynn through conversations with his son, and part may have been, perhaps, to try and look further into that bond between father and son.
Yet the failure of his plan sent Wrathion into a full-fledged draconic tantrum. Breathing flames, berating Varian Wrynn, hurling insults and showing absolutely no respect for poor Tong's inn in the process. And when all was said and done, Wrathion had no words of encouragement, no praise for the player -- he simply flew away, vowing that next time, he would stop at nothing and leave nothing to chance. In other words, he stomped his feet, took his ball and went home. Wherever home happens to be.
Yet despite all of this -- the tantrums, the insults, the manipulation, the lies, the deliberate subterfuge -- despite it all, Wrathion's cause seems to be ultimately good. He wants to save Azeroth. When he refers to saving the world, he includes the word "we," indicating that he does not want to rule the world alone, but wants everyone safe and sound. He wants everyone to survive. He's desperate for it, as he plaintively reveals to Chi-Ji: "Seas of blood, cities in ruins! Who are we -- one divided world -- to stand against a legion? You speak of hope. Believe me, the thinnest silver of belief that we might somehow survive the coming devastation is all that sustains me."
It is the only thing that drives him, for the moment. It is the same kind of all-encompassing passion that we saw from Alexstrasza, Ysera, Kalecgos and Nozdormu as they expended everything that they were to prevent the end of the world as we know it. It's that same passion and drive that resulted in the creation of the Aspects in the first place, so long ago. The committed resolve to protect Azeroth, no matter what the cost. Neltharion may have possessed it, once upon a time, before his corruption -- and it looks as though that trait of his father, at least, was passed on to Wrathion as well.
And that's why Wrathion is so incredibly angry when his plains fail to come to fruition. He knows what he's seen -- and what he's shown us is likely just a small part of that vision. It haunts him, it terrifies him, and with the failure of his plan, it seems as though the world he wants so badly to protect will be lost for good. Wrathion is looking at a picture of the world that is far, far larger than ourselves and our mortal problems, and he's frustrated that we aren't falling into line. He's angry that we can't seem to break ourselves of our own narrow-minded lives and view things the way he does.
So whose side is Wrathion on, exactly? On the one hand, you can believe what he said, that he ultimately chose to side with the Alliance as victors. On the other, when you look at it, Wrathion isn't on anyone's side other than his own. He is alone, orphaned by choice. He has no real allies -- he has followers who will do as he asks, especially if their are rewards involved. But he has no real creatures that he can call friends. It's doubtful he even understands what friends are. There isn't a soul on Azeroth, Aspect or demigod, mortal or no, that can really understand the Black Prince. He's a distinctly unique individual with a unique perspective of the world that no one else can really share.
And that has to be endlessly frustrating, particularly when his view of the world seems to be an incredibly important one. He's possessed with the desire to protect a world that he doesn't quite seem to understand. To him, Azeroth is a beautiful, precious thing, teeming with life and possibility, and the thought of losing it all terrifies him. Why? We don't know. It could have something to do with his purification -- something that touched him, in the shell, showed him what Azeroth is truly meant to be. It could simply be his drive as the son of an Aspect, in a position he hasn't even begun to understand.
We haven't seen the last of Wrathion. It's almost a certainty that he'll pop up again at some point in the future -- he left in a hurry, with nothing resolved. But it's doubtful, at this point, that we'll see him appear as a villain. It simply wouldn't make sense, given everything we've seen so far. He may be ruthless, he may be cunning, he may be brilliant, but he's only two. He's barely begun to live up to his full potential. And if the small slice of his childhood is any indicator, that potential is going to blow us all away.
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.