The Cataclysm expansion set out to do what prior expansions tried to do, and improve upon it in a significant way -- significantly inject lore into gameplay. And to some degree it worked; players found themselves working their way through zones both new and old by taking part in an interactive story. In between, we had short stories and novels that tied directly into that gameplay, weaving each part of the Warcraft franchise together into a solid storytelling tool.
But it also had its flaws. Storytelling in zones was fantastic upon first playthrough, repetitive upon repeated play. The story of Cataclysm was so widespread that it didn't seem to have the kind of dramatic impact it was intended to have. And Cataclysm introduced so many loose threads of story that trying to pick a clear resolution out of the tale was difficult, to say the very least. And then we have the ending, signifying the dawning of the "Age of Mortals" with no clear definition as to what that really meant.
We've got a little more definition now, and it's from an incredibly unlikely source, the last part of the franchise that didn't seem to have any significant lore tie-ins at all: the WoW Trading Card Game.
Please note: Today's Know Your Lore contains some minor spoilers for Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War. If you're looking to avoid all spoilers, you may want to come back when you're done with the book!
I know what you're thinking. How does a game that has no apparent effect at all on the Warcraft universe suddenly become a lore tool that people should look at? Let's look at the WoW TCG. It's got a ton of artwork featuring new and unique characters that all have their own unique flavor. The cards have some of the nicest artwork we've seen in relation to game material -- the artwork for the TCG puts some of the concept work behind expansions to shame.
As for the game itself, it's been quietly working behind the scenes and giving a new spin to the Warcraft franchise for years. There have been tie-ins to the game in the form of in-game items and mounts that people adore. And the expansions for the TCG have all tied in to what was going on in the game world itself. We had vanilla, we had Burning Crusade, we had Wrath, and we had all the raids in between, quietly woven into an addictive and fun little card game.
But people don't give that card game enough credit. The novels have been making tremendous leaps and bounds to actively tie in with what's going on in game, and the short stories released on the official website have given us another source for lore as well. This seems to have been a deliberate and active move on Blizzard's part, one that has worked incredibly well. And now we've got the latest TCG expansion set on the way, and surprisingly, it involves the game just as much as the novels, short stories and other material we've seen.
The Age of Mortals
What is this mysterious "Age of Mortals" that Alexstrasza told us about? What exactly happened when the Aspects supposedly fulfilled their task at the end of the Dragon Soul raid? What does this mean for the future of the dragonflights, and what does it mean for the rest of the world? The end of Dragon Soul was likely intended to be a tidy bow on the end of Cataclysm's story, but it raised far, far more questions than it answered -- questions about the implication of the Aspects' loss of power, and how that effects the duties of the dragonflights.
We've had part of an answer in the novel Tides of War. In the novel, the blue dragonflight is struggling with the fallout from the end of Dragon Soul. Kalecgos is the Aspect of the blue flight, but he no longer has the powers the Titans gave, nor does he have a purpose. None of the blue flight has a purpose anymore -- that purpose was fulfilled when the Hour of Twilight was halted, and the world was saved. What reason is there for the existence of a flight, what direction are they supposed to take when their purpose for existence has ultimately been fulfilled?
The answer? A move from a united flight into individuality, one where each dragon is responsible for their own lives and their own purpose. It's an odd space for the dragonflights to be in, because we're talking thousands upon thousands of years of utter dedication to one task. The dragonflights have always had a purpose. Dragons were born into that purpose. Dragons dedicated their existence to that purpose. And now, they get to deal with the sudden realization that they are their own entities.
The Age of Mortals speaks not only of our own mortal rise to power, but the dragonflight's fall into a space that was previously occupied by mortals. Mortals on Azeroth have always been in control of their own destiny; how life's plan ultimately worked out was up to the individual. It's second nature to a mortal, but it's strange, new, and unnerving to a dragon. The Age of Mortals has begun -- the mortals are now in charge, and those that were guardians of magic have been reduced to mortal status and purpose.
But that's just the blue dragonflight. What about the others? In the case of the bronze dragonflight, we can take a look at, of all things, the WoW TCG for the answer. The latest WoW TCG expansion introduces the Timewalkers, a group of mortals who made a vow to the bronze dragonflight. They patrol the timeways and make sure that everything stays exactly as it happened and as it was meant to be. If this sounds familiar, it's because it was the exact purpose of the bronze dragonflight, prior to the end of Dragon Soul.
What does this mean? It means that mortals are stepping up to take the job that the dragonflights once occupied. It means that the bronze flight has just as little a purpose as the blue -- that the bronze dragons are likely taking the same path as the blue, with each individual dragon looking for their own individual path in the world. One may wonder why, exactly, the pathways still need to be patrolled, if the Hour of Twilight has been halted, and the dragons have fulfilled their unique purpose on Azeroth.
The bronze dragonflight is one of the most convoluted, tricky pieces of WoW lore, largely because the flight is in charge of time, and time travel is tricky. Depending on how you look at it, time is like a series of loops. Each event is a constant in that loop of time, and it will remain there, suspended in time, forever. Just because the purpose of the bronze flight was filled, it doesn't mean that those timeways are safe.
Murozond may have been defeated in one timeline, but it doesn't mean that the Infinite flight has been wiped from existence -- they still exist, on variant timelines and variant paths. Nozdormu simply doesn't have the power that he once had to combat them. Beyond the Infinite, there is also nothing to prevent other, darker forces from meddling with the timeways, whatever those forces may be. Time needs a guardian, and in the absence of the bronze flight, this task seems to have been passed into mortal hands.
The Timewalkers are an actual faction in the WoW TCG, with their own tabard and members. Think of them as us, as we traveled through the Caverns of Time in game and fought to keep the timelines correct. It's like a bunch of adventurers from Azeroth decided to dedicate their lives to continuing that task. And that is an incredibly cool idea.
Cause and effect
What this does for the WoW TCG is to open it up to a whole new branch of expansions, much like the Caverns of Time presented us with important moments in time to reenact. Timewalkers begins with the War of the Ancients, but it could literally go anywhere. It could go back to the days of Warcraft and Warcraft II. It could take us to the Nightmare War that was presented in a novel, but never really seen in game. It could take us to that all-important battle between Aegwynn and the avatar of Sargeras. Really, it could take us anywhere.
More importantly, the Timewalkers expansion highlights another answer to the question of where the dragonflights have gone, and what their absence means to the world. And with one little expansion, the WoW TCG neatly wove itself into the main story of Warcraft, introducing another lore element that ties in to the overall theme of Cataclysm. This was, to say the least, the most unexpected place I ever thought I'd see it.
But it works. And it's a very clever move by Blizzard. Think about it: once upon a time, the novels had nothing at all to do with individual expansions or events in game. They were simply a byproduct of the game universe. That really didn't give anyone a reason to pick up and read the books unless the happened to be interested in that particular facet of lore. Want to know more about Medivh? Read The Last Guardian and find out more -- it has nothing to do with WoW, but it'll tell you all about Medivh, Khadgar and Garona on the eve of the First War!
The same goes for the short stories presented on the website. When the short stories were first introduced, they were created as explanations for world events or aspects of the game. War of the Shifting Sands was introduced so that people who weren't on the quest chain for the Sceptre of the Shifting Sands could still see what was going on with Fandral. Unbroken was written to explain the inclusion of draenei shaman. It was all explanation based, but had very little effect on the game.
The short stories evolved in Cataclysm in the same manner as the novels -- they are now an active part of the story that is taking place in the game. And again, you don't need to read the short stories to understand what is going on, but it certainly helps, and offers a deeper look into the characters behind those in game events. And with Timewalkers, it seems like Blizzard is drawing the WoW TCG into the fold and using it to introduce lore elements that can't be put in game just yet.
Lore and the WoW TCG
Does this mean that you'll have to play the card game to understand what's going on in game? No, of course not. But just like the short stories and the novels, it's worth paying attention to if you're into Warcraft lore. It's not a real story like the novels or the short stories, but the TCG has just introduced a piece of lore that does the same things the novels and short stories do -- shed a little light on those unanswered questions.
And it's a really clever and intriguing way to go about it. It makes me wonder what's in store for the TCG, what direction it's going to be taking during the course of Mists. The novels and short stories have made such tremendous strides in becoming an interactive part of the game that the prospect of other franchises like the TCG moving in that same direction is just exciting to think about. It's got tremendous potential to be something really, really cool.
Will we see the Timewalkers in game eventually? I really hope so -- let's face it, a group of mortal time-travelers bent on fixing the timeways is just a really cool idea. And it offers the ability to expand the Caverns of Time with more events, even with the absence of the bronze dragonflight. Heck, the Timewalkers could legitimately be used as a device to send players "back" to the Burning Crusade and Wrath expansions, to explain the time discrepancy to leveling players. It just makes utter sense to add it in, both from a story and from a gameplay standpoint.
I don't know what's in store for the WoW TCG. I do know that it's a fun game to play, and the cards have some jaw-dropping art, which makes them fun to collect. So are the loot cards you can use to get items, pets and mounts in game. Getting a little chunk of lore blended in with all that good stuff? That sounds like an excellent idea to me.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
- Cataclysm Lore for Dummies: Act I, Act II, Epilogue
- The Bronze Dragonflight
- The Infinite Dragonflight
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.