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.
The Horde as a factional entity has without question seen the most push in terms of story development -- but that's not necessarily something that could be considered an advantage when it comes to World of Warcraft. Sure, story is all well and good, and the advancement of plot is something that's always fun to see. But in the case of the Horde, that plot and story has had some of the most tumultuous conflicts we've seen, including full out inter-factional warfare in Mists of Pandaria.
And now we stand at the cusp of new expansion, one that is turning away from the factional conflicts of Azeroth, and instead setting its sights on the distant world of Draenor and the evil schemes of the Iron Horde. Again, the advancement of story is all well and good, here. And given what happened in Mists of Pandaria, perhaps it's for the best that we depart the stormy shores of Durotar and turn our focus elsewhere ... because right now, the Horde is at its weakest. What is the future of the Horde? That's a pretty good question -- one that likely began to plague Warchief Vol'jin the moment we stepped out of Siege.
A storied past
The Horde was never really the faction for story development in the days of vanilla -- for excitement, adventure, and chasing down murderous dragons in throne rooms, you rolled Alliance. For running lazy circles around the Orgrimmar bank, you rolled Horde. There were a few minor storylines, but nothing quite like the scale of The Great Masquerade. In a way, though, this lack of development made perfect sense: the Horde was relatively new, still. The united races of the Horde were still trying to figure each other out.
More importantly, Warchief Thrall was trying to establish the Horde as an entity worth recognizing. He approached this in a variety of unusual ways that largely involved trying to shape some kind of diplomatic ties with the Alliance, whether it be peace summits in Theramore, or sending the Horde to rescue King Magni's wayward daughter Moira. It didn't quite work for a game that was all about the division of the two factions -- how do you highlight that divide, when one side is trying to reach its hand out to the other? Warchief Thrall was a well-known leader, but it could also be argued that he was ineffective, mostly because of his wish for diplomacy.
Certainly the orcs of the Horde were grateful to Thrall for liberating them from the internment camps of Lordaeron, but to then turn around and seek out diplomatic ties with the same race that enslaved them? That was a little odd, to say the least. Enter Garrosh Hellscream, whose early days, rise to power, and subsequent fall from the height of the "true Horde" spanned four expansions. Garrosh was everything that Thrall was not -- an orc of the old ways. An orc that understood what the old Horde that Thrall seemed to think was this benevolent unification of clans actually was in reality. An orc that was perfectly fine with bringing back the days of the old Horde, right down to the lust for conquest and global domination.
And then we have Vol'jin, who brought the Darkspear into the Horde with the promise that Thrall would lead them to a great destiny. Vol'jin was fresh out of his rite of passage to adulthood when he learned of his father's death and had to step up and lead the Darkspear. He was hardly an experienced leader. But he was grateful to Thrall for all his help on the Darkspear Islands, and more than willing to follow Thrall and pledge his tribe to the Horde. Thus the Darkspear traveled to Durotar, establishing a home on the Echo Isles -- and then promptly losing it.
It took years for Vol'jin to come up with a suitable plan to take back the Echo Isles. In those years, he lived in Orgrimmar and sat in Grommash Hold, listening to Warchief Thrall and offering him counsel and advice when needed. It might have seemed like Vol'jin was largely ineffective, but one has to think that Vol'jin was doing just as much learning and observing about being a leader as he was advising. When Garrosh came into power, Vol'jin quickly fell on the outs -- largely because Garrosh was brash, loud, outspoken, and had no prior experience with the trolls.
In fact, the only thing Garrosh noted was that Vol'jin took forever to take back the Echo Isles, and barely helped at all in Northrend. Both are good points, to be sure, and Vol'jin wasn't exactly blameless for the altercations with Garrosh -- he was just as quick to criticize Hellscream's suitability as a leader, insult his father, and basically press every button Garrosh Hellscream had. He reeled it back in when Thrall asked him to do so, but the damage had been done. And when Hellscream made it clear exactly what kind of Horde he expected to be leading, there was no way the troll chieftain would follow.
But in the wake of the Siege of Orgrimmar, is Vol'jin -- leader of an open rebellion -- really the best leader for the Horde as a whole?
Maybe not. Not yet. Vol'jin has inherited the onerous task of trying to pick up the pieces that Garrosh shattered the Horde into, and subsequently trying to put those pieces back together again. He has the arduous job of figuring out what, exactly, the purpose of the Horde is. It's not a military war machine like Garrosh had envisioned. The most that Vol'jin could say, during the rebellion, was the the Horde was like a family -- and Garrosh was ripping that family apart.
Kind words, nice words, but what do they really mean, in the long run? That's what Vol'jin has to find out. The Horde needs some kind of purpose to stick together, and if it's not the domination of Azeroth as Garrosh Hellscream planned, then what is it? Being a family? That's also well and good, but what does this strange, motley family of Azeroth's outcasts actually intend to do in regards to the future? And this is where the Horde's story comes full circle, because we're almost at that place that we began, in vanilla.
We don't have Warchief Thrall. We have Warchief Vol'jin. But Vol'jin spent all those years in Grommash hold watching and observing how to lead -- how to lead Thrall's Horde. How to lead that ideal, uncertain vision that Thrall was working towards slowly trying to cobble together. Is Vol'jin going to try reaching out a diplomatic hand to the Alliance, like Thrall did? That's unlikely at this point, not when wounds are still raw and healing from the events of Mists.
Which is why, at this stage in the story, it's perfectly fine that we're stepping away from Orgrimmar and letting the dust settle while we go to Draenor. Both Alliance and Horde need that room to step back from the brutality of factional warfare that erupted in Mists and actually take some time to regroup and simply breathe. Sure, the Iron Horde is a force to be reckoned with -- but our exploits on Draenor don't really involve the majority of our respective factions. While questing and working on Draenor, that day-to-day of heated battle and altercations that was so prevalent in Mists seems remarkably distant and far away.
The future of the Horde has never felt quite as uncertain as it does heading into Warlords. But in a way, we've come full circle and we're back at that starting point we saw in vanilla, where the Horde was still tentatively trying to establish itself as an entity worth recognition. It remains to be seen what that role is going to be ... but until then, Draenor is a suitably threatening distraction.
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.