Are you super familiar with Warcraft lore? Can you name all the dragon aspects, what they were created for, where they got their powers? Do you have a working definition of the Dragon Soul, what it is, what its other name is, and why it's important? Do you know who Sinestra was before she was a torn-up, reanimated corpse in the bottom of the Bastion of Twilight? Are you related to the Red Shirt Guy? Are you the Red Shirt Guy? Then this post is likely not for you.
But if you've been running the Raid Finder like a fiend, killing dragons and elementals and minions left and right, and suddenly found yourself wondering why, exactly, you were fighting in Wyrmrest Temple, this is for you. If you're wondering why Thrall is suddenly pals with the Dragon Aspects, this is for you. If you're wondering why exactly Deathwing is such a huge major threat and what's with all this running around you have to do, this one is for you.
Let's take a quick sweep through the entirety of Cataclysm and recap what's happened. Better yet, let's sum up.
Back story you should know
Way back when Azeroth was first created, there were these terribly nasty creatures of chaos called Old Gods, who thought the best thing in the world would be if the world ended for good. They loved chaos, and so did the elements of the world, so the Old Gods assigned four elemental lieutenants to help them out with the whole chaos movement -- Ragnaros, Therazane, Al'Akir and Neptulon. However, the Titans that created the world were understandably against the whole chaos thing, so they locked the Old Gods deep within the earth and out of the way and banished the elemental lieutenants to the elemental planes.
Then the Titans created five dragon Aspects -- Nozdormu the bronze, Alexstrasza the red, Ysera the green, Malygos the blue, and Neltharion the black. Each Aspect was assigned to watch over a certain part of the world and make sure everything stayed dandy. This would have been great, except that Neltharion was assigned to watch over the deep caverns of the earth -- you know, where those Old Gods were imprisoned.
It didn't work, and his plans were foiled by a bunch of night elves, including Malfurion Stormrage -- yes, the current leader of the night elves. He is old, guys, really old. The remaining Aspects changed the properties of the disc so that Neltharion, now called Deathwing, couldn't use it anymore and hid it away in the middle of nowhere where Deathwing would never, ever, find it. Except he did, thousands of years later.
He couldn't use the Dragon Soul -- but hey, he certainly could use other people like puppets and make them use the Dragon Soul. This evil scheme was also foiled, the Dragon Soul was destroyed, and all four remaining Aspects started beating the heck out of Deathwing, who managed to escape and go bide his time in Deepholm, an elemental plane devoted to earth. Deathwing was angry. Very, very angry. But he was also too weak to do anything about it at the time.
The world goes boom
Flash forward to present-day Azeroth. Deathwing regained enough strength in Deepholm to finally make another bid for global domination -- or rather, global destruction. Deathwing was actually trying to bring about a mysterious event known as the Hour of Twilight -- basically, the end to all creation. To that end, he created the Twilight Dragonflight, or rather, he used Sinestra, a former consort of his, as an unwitting puppet and had her create the Twilight Dragonflight.
The time was right; the world was lulled into a false sense of security after the Lich King's defeat. So Deathwing tore through the elemental plane of Deepholm and into Azeroth, causing earthquakes, tornadoes, mass destruction, and basically the kind of chaos that the Old Gods really, really enjoy. Thus, the Shattering.
Deathwing was out, but he still had to go about making that Hour of Twilight come to pass, so he reanimated the corpse of his son, Nefarian, and sent him to Blackwing Descent to start manufacturing more of his crazy creations. Nefarian decided the best way to start this would be by reanimating his dead sister Onyxia. As added insurance, Deathwing reanimated the corpse of Sinestra, who had perished at the hands of one of her Twilight children, and set her with the task of making Twilight babies. Lots and lots and lots of babies. To make sure she remained undisturbed, he had Cho'gall, the ogre leader of the Twilight Cult that also served the Old Gods, build the Bastion of Twilight right on top of Sinestra's lair and set him with the task of protecting and cultivating all those lovely little Twilight babies.
The only one left was Neptulon, but he wasn't terribly keen on working for his former boss. Deathwing, being a dragon, wasn't exactly the best choice for heading underwater. So the Old Gods decided instead to send the naga after Neptulon. The naga were fine with this, seeing as how the Old Gods were the ones that created them in the first place, from a bunch of almost-drowned night elves back in the days when Deathwing first went cuckoo. And the Old Gods were only too happy to send their servants to help the naga along with the task.
Meanwhile in Azeroth
While Deathwing was busy arranging the end of days, the rest of Azeroth was busy, too. The elements of the world were understandably distressed by the oncoming approach of Deathwing's escape from Deepholm. Thrall, leader of the Horde and a pretty good shaman to boot, decided that he probably ought to do something about the situation, so he headed to Outland to figure out what was going on by chatting with the elements out there. These elements had already been through one pretty amazing crisis when Draenor exploded and created what we know as Outland. While he was in Nagrand, Thrall met a prickly orc woman named Aggra, who was assigned to train him in shaman duties and wasn't particularly happy about it. Over the course of Thrall's training, he and Aggra reached an understanding that blossomed into romance. Aww.
But the Horde wasn't left without a leader. Thrall appointed Garrosh Hellscream as Warchief in his absence. And when the world went kaboom, Garrosh decided this was a sign that the Horde should happily go about grabbing as much land as possible and killing any Alliance that stood in the way. This did not go over very well with the Alliance, but it also didn't go over very well with the other Horde leaders, either.
Thrall returned to Azeroth, but since Deepholm was threatening to collapse and threatening to take Azeroth with it via the Maelstrom, he decided to join up with the Earthen Ring, a neutral organization, and help out at the Maelstrom. His ship was intercepted on the way by a secret Alliance organization and also caught in the attack was a goblin ship. The goblin ship was fleeing the island of Kezan, which detonated pretty spectacularly when Deathwing broke through the world. Long story short -- the goblins saved Thrall, Thrall helped the goblins, and then Thrall decided to invite the goblins to the Horde, which they happily agreed to.
In the Eastern Kingdoms, the earthquakes from Deathwing's emergence had knocked over the Greymane Wall, letting the Forsaken make a move to eradicate the Gilneans and take over the port town as part of Garrosh's land grab efforts. But Gilneas had a dark secret -- its people had been all but taken over by the curse of the worgen that transformed their population into a bunch of werewolves. This curse actually started with a group of night elf druids from a very, very long time ago. The night elves of present day, aware of what they'd accidentally done to Gilneas via the worgen curse, took the survivors of Gilneas to their home in Kalimdor, and later, the Gilneans joined the Alliance.
Why you've been doing what you're doing
In short, Deathwing shattered the world, and the Horde decided to take advantage of this, escalating the Horde-Alliance conflict in a major way. But there was more going on than just that. As heroes of Azeroth, it is your duty to travel to the various areas of the world and try to set right what Deathwing has put wrong and try to stop Deathwing from getting that whole Hour of Twilight thing set into motion.
- Hyjal In Hyjal, Ragnaros is making his return known and trying to take over the place and get his hands on the Well of Eternity, a source of amazing amounts of power. All that power would be totally fantastic for the Old Gods, who could totally use it to blow things up and wreak havoc in general.
- Vash'jir In Vash'jir, the naga and their friends, the servants of the Old Gods, are trying really hard to take Neptulon down. It's obvious Neptulon would rather not join up with the Old Gods, but if he won't gladly give his cooperation, the naga will happily find some other way to get it by whatever means necessary.
- Uldum In Uldum, Al'Akir has sided with Deathwing, and the native Tol'vir are suffering because of it. Some Tol'vir have sided with Al'Akir, and others have not -- and the two factions are warring with each other over it. On top of that, Uldum is a former Titan facility that holds the device the Titans left in place to blow up the world -- you know, just in case the world got totally out of control. Since Deathwing would like very much to end the world as we know it, he's pretty keen on getting that device.
- Deepholm The thing that kept Azeroth and the elemental plane from collapsing together and blowing up is the World Pillar. Deathwing broke it when he burst out of Deepholm. You've got to put it back together, or the world is going to fall apart. ...sensing a theme, here?
- Twilight Highlands In the Twilight Highlands, the Twilight Cult, servants of the Old Gods and Deathwing, have been staging an uprising of sorts. The Red Dragonflight is trying to fight back, as well as the Earthen Ring and others -- but the Twilight Cult has help, namely the giant servant of the Old Gods called Iso'rath, which has burst through the world and is threatening the surrounding land.
Once the heroes of Azeroth have addressed these issues, they move on to various dungeons in these zones to continue helping out. And after that ... Well, they have to nip the problem in the bud by traveling to different raid instances.
- Throne of the Four Winds Al'Akir can't be allowed to live, not if he's going to ally with the Old Gods and with Deathwing. It's up to the heroes of Azeroth to take him down and prevent any further meddling with the Titan stronghold of Uldum. But the only way to really kill Al'Akir is to kill him in the elemental plane of air -- the Throne of the Four Winds.
- Blackwing Descent Nefarian's been creating a host of horrors to help with Deathwing's cause. His research and his experiments must be halted, so Deathwing has fewer minions to work with.
- Bastion of Twilight Speaking of minions, that pesky Twilight Cult needs to be nipped in the bud, too. The fewer allies Deathwing has alive, the better -- so cutting down Cho'gall, the leader of the organization, is an excellent place to start with that. And while you're there, getting rid of Sinestra and halting the production of any more Twilight Dragons would also be an excellent idea.
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.