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.
At the moment, we've only got two full zones open in the Warlords of Draenor beta -- Frostfire Ridge, and Shadowmoon Valley. Also open is the introductory lead-in to Draenor through the Tanaan Jungle. It's there that we first meet her, fairly unassuming and not exactly remarkable in any way. Yrel was first mentioned at BlizzCon during the story and lore panel -- a draenei whose story was going to be a major part of the Warlords expansion, the comparison made that she is a Joan of Arc-like figure.
We've only seen the first few steps of Yrel's journey so far in the beta, so the accuracy of that comparison remains to be seen. But Yrel, unassuming as she may seem, already appears to hold a bright spot in the canvas of Draenor's future. So just who is this draenei, and what makes her a lore figure to watch for?
Please note: The following Know Your Lore contains spoilers for Warlords of Draenor. If you are avoiding spoiler content, turn away!
From all appearances, Yrel doesn't appear to be anyone remarkable at all on Draenor. Certainly she's a student of Velen's, but she's not a warrior. She's not a fighter. In fact, the first time you encounter her is just moments after she's made the first kill of her life -- an act that seems to have shaken her up a little, but not enough to keep her from doing it again where necessary. How, exactly, Yrel fell into the hands of the Iron Horde isn't really known -- she was simply captured at some point and taken away. But Yrel somehow inexplicably managed to survive long enough on her own for a group of marauding strangers from another world to find her.
And she's instantly likeable for it. No overconfidence or haughty nature, just a woman with the will and finesse to somehow keep herself alive in the middle of a war zone. Yrel doesn't exist on Outland, nor does she exist anywhere on Azeroth -- perhaps in our universe, Yrel died when Shadowmoon was overrun and Karabor destroyed. Maraad doesn't appear to recognize her at all, so it's unlikely she held any kind of high standing. She was likely then as she is now -- unassuming, a student still in training.
But from that first moment that you meet her, she gives an instant impression of humble, honest capability. And as the opening experience progresses, she willingly falls in line with everyone else, fighting where need be, and healing when it's needed most. Certainly not a leader -- but a soldier who is willing to follow orders, and work with the rest of her people in a desperate bid to get out of Tanaan and back to the safety of Shadowmoon Valley.
An iron will
Once safely back in Shadowmoon, Yrel sees to it that your garrison is established, and then offers to show you through Shadowmoon Valley on her way home to see her sister. Along the way, it's increasingly obvious that Yrel is a little more well-known than she seems. Vendors by the side of the road instantly recognize her, amazed that she has returned safe and sound. The children of Embaari Village flock to her side, delightedly chanting her name and thrilled that she is home at last.
The only family Yrel seems to have is her sister Samaara, who is just as amazed and delighted at her sister's return as the wandering vendors and village children. But all is not well in Shadowmoon Valley -- the Shadowmoon orcs have risen up and begun lashing out at the draenei. The once relatively-peaceful clan seems as though it is bent on capturing the draenei, though for what purpose exactly is unknown. In the middle of it all is Yrel, still uncertain of her own capabilities, but nonetheless devoted to defending her people.
Every hero needs a catalyst -- and Yrel gets hers fairly early on in the Shadowmoon Valley experience. Certainly survival was enough of a reason to fight in Tanaan, but in Shadowmoon, she gets a much bigger spark of motivation, one that sets in motion a series of chain events which eventually guarantee that Yrel crosses that point of no return, set on the path that fate intends her to take. It's certainly not going to be an easy path. But once those first few steps are taken, there is no turning back.
Player vs. NPC
Yrel managed to instantly become one of the most likeable new characters of this expansion so far. Why? Because she's got a certain sort of charm -- a humble, likeable manner. She's not like Taran Zhu, swooping in from nowhere, angry at our transgressions. She's not like Lorewalker Cho, intensely curious about these strange new people that just happened to show up out of nowhere. She's not like Wrathion, imperiously announcing his presence and expecting us to follow him via impassioned pleas about a world on the brink of falling apart.
She's one of us. She reads far more like a player than an NPC -- a level one who has cleverly managed to make it to level 10 without getting overrun by murlocs or wild boars. She isn't brought in with trumpeted fanfare to save us all at the most intense moment of the Tanaan introductory experience -- she's quietly fighting her own way through the forces of the Iron Horde for survival, just like we are. And in that way, she is instantly relatable. She's not some hero to lord over us and usher us all along the way. She's a friend, there to fight by our side and encourage us by example. You feel bad for her, when things go badly. You're pleased when she figures things out.
And as we level, Yrel almost seems to level right along with us. Her armor changes over the course of the zone as she gains more confidence and more competence. By the end of the zone, Yrel has managed to flourish just as we have, despite whatever happens to be thrown our way. We don't just get introduced to a hero with Yrel, we get to see her at her humble beginnings, and watch as she begins her climb to whatever heights she's going to attain this expansion.
These are the kinds of characters I love to see -- and they are in short supply in World of Warcraft. Yrel is, in essence, a reflection of who we are and how far we have come in the ten years we've been playing this game. We started out with humble beginnings, working diligently at leveling and fighting stronger and stronger enemies over time. As time went on, NPCs began to notice -- some even call us by our names, familiar with us, delighted to see us in the same manner as the children of Embaari Village are delighted to see Yrel.
We didn't start this game with fancy titles in hand, we had to earn them through hard-fought battles and dizzying tasks. We didn't start this game with everyone knowing our names, our strength, or our skills. That came over time, as we accomplished more and more extraordinary feats. Nobody started this game an automatic hero, when the game began. It wasn't something handed to us, it was something we grew into over time.
It appears that Yrel, our Draenor counterpart, will grown into her own brand of heroism over time as well. Although I've finished the Shadowmoon experience, I am poised to meet Yrel in the zone that follows. No longer just plain, simple Yrel, she bears the title Vindicator now -- a title she well and truly earned. I'm looking forward to seeing what she manages to earn next, and where she goes from here. Joan of Arc or no, it's apt to be an extraordinary journey, one that we are fortunate enough to take right along with her.
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.