Spoilers for every single Cataclysm raid and zone to be found here.
On the whole, Cataclysm has revealed a great deal of lore for the Warcraft universe. We've been to all four of the elemental planes and destabilized two of them by destroying the elemental lords who were effectively the dictatorial forces of their respective elementals. As of this writing, only Therazane remains as undisputed master of her elemental plane. (Indeed, with the destruction of Deathwing, she's actually in a stronger place than she was.) We've seen the Twilight's Hammer cult rise to world-shaking prominence and played a role in setting them back by destroying Cho'gall. We've finally managed to balk them on the eve of their Old God masters' final triumph by destroying Deathwing just as he was about to unleash an even more destructive assault on Azeroth than his first.
The Dragon Aspects lost their immortality just after we discovered that there were actually safeguards in place to appoint new ones. We discovered the secret land of Uldum and its Titanic ruins, and we prevented the activation of the Halls of Origination at Deathwing's behest and discovered the connection between the Qiraji and Uldum. We also saw the war between the Alliance and Horde begin lurching toward a new phase. We discovered the fate of Gilneas and the Gilneans, saw tantalizing hints as to the development of the goblin people and their mysterious kajamite, and even more. It's been an eventful expansion in terms of what it established. For the next couple of weeks, I'm going to talk about where Cataclysm took us and what we discovered.
10. The truth about the Infinite Dragonflight
The hints dropped on us during Wrath of the Lich King that Nozdormu was somehow behind the Infinites were confirmed in Cataclysm. The revelation of Murozond's identity and even existence doesn't solve everything, but it does put the major pieces in play and furthermore gives us players a hand in the final confrontation between Nozdormu and his other self.
We were always aware that Nozdormu saw his own demise coming. Now, we've seen it too. We've even enacted it, and Nozdormu himself confirms it in the End Time instance. We've closed a loop that's been open and helped end the era of Aspect, bringing about the age of mortals, where the denizens of Azeroth will have to do without god-like entities solving their problems for them. Still, since we're dealing with time travel, it's unlikely we've heard the end of Murozond or the Infinites. They can always try and change their future, even if it is our past.
9. The Alignment and the new Aspect of Magic
The significance of the Alignment isn't merely the creation of a powerful weapon. It's not even merely the demonstration that there was a means to select a new Aspect of Magic exactly when one was needed. It's also that, if not for the actions of one mortal, Azeroth would have been destroyed. There's no way around this simple fact. Starting with Anachronos, it is made clear that if not for one single mortal life, Arygos's alliance with Deathwing would have gone unnoticed, the selection of the new Aspect of Magic would have proceeded as Deathwing intended, and it's likely that Ragnaros would have succeeded in invading Mount Hyjal and setting Azeroth's omphalos ablaze. If this had happened, the Dragon Soul would likely have never been retrieved, the Aspects would never have succeeded in uniting against Deathwing with a traitor in their midst, and all life would have died.
This quest line proves what the Aspects say at the end of the Dragon Soul raid. This is the dawning of the age of mortals because a mortal saved the world. No, not Thrall (although it could be argued that he did so as well); it is the mortal woman or man (be he or she orc, human, tauren, undead, blood elf, what have you) that prevented Arygos' ascension that made everything that followed possible.
It's also interesting that we found out how a new Aspect of Magic was to be chosen. It's at least reasonable to assume the other flights (save, perhaps, the Bronzes) had a similar mechanism.
8. The return of many forgotten faces
Old foes and even old friends who had little part in the battle against the Lich King returned in Cataclysm. Garona Halforcen, Cho'gall, Arygos, Sinestra, Nefarian and Onyxia, Caelestrasz, Ragnaros, Jarod Shadowsong, Cenarius, even Budd Nedreck and Harrison Jones returned. In many cases these returns ended in death, but several of these figures (most notably Garona, Jarod and Cenarius) are still out there, capable of appearing again. (I've not mentioned some big lore reveals in tie-ins like novels, but those are also to be considered.)
In addition, the Twilight's Hammer itself made a return in a big way in this expansion. Serving as Deathwing's minions but always keeping the same Old Gods in their mind that they served in their appearances in Blackfathom Deeps, Blackrock Depths and Silithus (not to mention their brief appearances in Ulduar), the Twilight's Hammer went from just another doomsday cult to a force that came within a hair's breadth of actually pulling off the end of the world. Yes, they've definitely been defeated and set way back, but no one can disregard the Hammer again.
The return of both Falstad Wildhammer and Moira Thaurissan following Magni Bronzebeard's ill-fated attempt to tap into the power of a Titan artifact has shaken up dwarven society significantly, brought the Dark Irons more closely into that society than they have been since Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan attempted to take over all dwarven cities, and helped return the Wildhammers to an active role in both dwarven society and the Alliance itself. Moira brought with her to the Council of Three Hammers more than a growing political acumen and a ruthlessness unseen even in her deceased husband. She also bought Dagran Thaurissan II, her son and heir to both Ironforge and Blackrock Depths. Ignoring her importance to the future would be a grave mistake.
The revelation of the tol'vir of Uldum was more than simply the discovery of a lost land created by the titans to serve as a repository for the Halls of Origination, where Azeroth was originally ordered by them. It revealed to us the means by which the Scourge and the Qiraji could both field Obsidian Destroyers in battle and implies that the Qiraji Emperors perhaps had access to an intact titan creation forge similar to the ones in the Halls of Stone and Halls of Lightning with which new Obsidian Destroyers can be created. Furthermore, the tol'vir are the first demonstration of the Old Gods and their servants' being able and willing to remove the Curse of Flesh from races descended from those originally afflicted by it.
Our discovery of Uldum is tied into our discovery of the tol'vir's two warring factions, the Neferset (primarily composed of those who have allied with Al'akir and through him, Deathwing, even if only to betray them after the Curse of Flesh is removed) and the Ramkahen (those who apparently hold true to their original purpose of defending the titan's secrets, even if they accept the Curse of Flesh more readily). We also encounter uncursed temple guardian tol'vir in our journey into the halls themselves.
Each titan construct race seems to have fulfilled a specific role in their ancient complexes. The Earthen (ancestors to dwarves) worked as shapers and movers of the raw materials of the land that went into the complexes; the mechanognomes served Mimiron and others as technicians; the iron vrykul worked as assistants to the giants like Ignis the Forge Master and as armed defenders of the complexes; and the tol'vir appear to have played a role as police and dealing with internal threats as well as magic (based on their ability to consume magical energies as Obsidian Destroyers). In and of itself, this level of detail is significant, as the tol'vir are more readily found around the Halls of Origination and the former research station now called Ahn'Qiraj and were once found in the titan complex that became Azjol-Nerub.
There's a lot more to discover about the tol'vir and how they affected the development of Azeroth.
The naga were displayed for the first time since The Burning Crusade. While the naga of Serpentshrine Cavern in Outland were loyal to Illidan through Lady Vashj, the naga in Cataclysm ultimately report directly to Queen Azshara herself. This marks the first appearance of Azshara in World of Warcraft, and it's clear that while Azshara is willing to go along with the Twilight's Hammer and their Old God masters (especially as far as working in tandem with the faceless ones), she absolutely has her own agenda.
We see a great deal of naga history while exploring the Battlemaiden quests in Vashj'ir, discover the nature of Lady Vashj's mother and her former stronghold, and above all witness the naga execute their plan to usurp Neptulon's control of the Abyssal Maw. Even if this plan can't be said to be a total success, Neptulon is abducted by Ozumat following the events of the naga invasion, and this abduction leaves the Abyssal Maw leaderless and Azshara very well placed as one of the most potent forces in Azeroth's oceans and perhaps beyond.
Next week, we'll discuss what else happened. Aspects of Death died, yes, but what else? Why didn't I mention the return of the Zandalari? What about all that Alliance/Horde hostility? Answers are forthcoming.
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.