Patch 5.4 is now live on the PTR servers for testing, and it has several ... dramatic changes, both to the world and to the characters in it. While patch 5.3 may seem small on story, there's actually plenty going on -- more than enough to serve as a catalyst heading into the new patch. In fact, plenty of the events in 5.3 directly effect what's going on in patch 5.4. Although we don't know the whole story just yet, considering the PTR is a test realm that may undergo changes as time goes on, we do have enough to tie 5.3 and 5.4 together in a significant way.
If you've been following the lore, you may have seen the signs already and know what to expect. But if you haven't been paying much attention to the story, or you're wondering what's going on with those images people have been posting from the patch 5.4 PTR, we'll do our best to get you all caught up. Mists of Pandaria has been an expansion chock full of new story, and patch 5.3 has certainly been no exception to this -- but 5.4 is shaping up to be the biggest hit we've seen so far in Mists.
Please note that today's Know Your Lore contains some spoilers for patch 5.4 content. If you're avoiding spoilers, turning away now would be advised!
The deadly delights of Pandaria
Here's the story so far -- patch 5.1 brought Garrosh Hellscream, Varian Wrynn, and the forces of the Alliance and Horde to Pandaria. But we, as players, have already experienced both the delights and horrors that the new continent has to offer, and we've got a thorough understanding of exactly what we need to be cautious of. We've seen the horrors of the Sha firsthand, and we've interacted closely with the natives of Pandaria. We've seen that the mogu are a threat to be reckoned with, and we've worked extensively with the mantid. We've even noted the curious waters of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.
In all that introductory story was the foundation of everything that was to come after -- and even some of the events of patch 5.4. But the arrival of Varian and Garrosh heralded the direct influence of both factions on Pandaria's soil. And while Varian has been notably cautious -- which is honestly a good thing, given the demonstration of Horde power when Theramore was destroyed -- the Horde and more importantly Garrosh have not. Varian's willing to listen to his son, he's also smart enough to know that the Horde is a force to be reckoned with. He's been observing what the Horde has been doing, all this time, and trying to put a preemptive halt to anything remarkably bad.
Warchief Hellscream, on the other hand, doesn't particularly care what that strike force sent to Pandaria actually found. He's looking for a way to beef up his forces and claim Pandaria for his own -- and a way to strengthen his forces in as significant a fashion as possible, so that once Pandaria is conquered, he can continue with his plans for Horde domination of Kalimdor. That's what Theramore was supposed to be the beginning of -- but Jaina Proudmoore and the Alliance put a halt to his plans. Garrosh didn't give up, he just took a step back to try and find another way. A more powerful way. A way the Alliance wouldn't be able to counter.
The Divine Bell and beyond
As far as Warchief Hellscream is concerned, Pandaria, its residents, and its secrets are all tools to be used to strengthen and bolster the Horde. Which is why, to Garrosh, the mogu and their powers seemed like a very good thing to observe and take advantage of, if he could. After all, the mogu empires subjugated the rest of Pandaria and nearly crushed it with their iron fist. The downfall to the mogu was the pandaren rebellion, which was also aided by the grummles, jinyu, and even the hozen. These oppressed races came together and pretty much snuffed out any chance of victory for the mogu empire.
You'd think that Garrosh would've learned a lesson from that -- and he has, but it's the wrong one. Instead of looking at the situation and realizing the unification of many races was far stronger than the iron grasp of one, Garrosh simply decided the mogu weren't strong enough. That they didn't harness the tools they had and use them correctly. That they weren't familiar enough with the face of their enemy to recognize it. In a way, he was right.
But rather than look at the winners of that rebellion and asking himself what they did right, he looked at the losers of that rebellion and where they went wrong. Rather than using the strengths and techniques of the united races of Pandaria, Garrosh chose to look at the strength of the mogu and how it could be utilized in a different fashion. Which is where the Divine Bell comes in -- Garrosh wanted to use the Bell's powers to create an army of supreme warriors. Did it work? No, thankfully it did not -- but it showed Garrosh that there was strength to be harnessed and used in the Sha.
Rebellion, part two
In an odd, bizarre twist of fate, we are almost playing out part two of the pandaren rebellion -- history is repeating itself. Playing the part of the mogu are Garrosh Hellscream and his Kor'kron forces. Playing the part of the saurok, created to be used as mogu tools, are the rest of the Horde. Playing the part of the pandaren race are the Alliance. Is it any wonder, then, what the outcome of this battle will be? Just like the saurok, the rest of the Horde races are chafing under the foot of Hellscream. They aren't willing to be used as tools, the way Garrosh seems to insist they be used.
Sylvanas and her Forsaken never seemed to hold any respect for Hellscream, even in Cataclysm -- the Darkspear and tauren followed suit. With Garrosh's disastrous experiments with the Divine Bell, even the blood elves have come to see what is blatantly obvious -- Garrosh Hellscream isn't a Warchief of the Horde. He's a Warchief of what he views the Horde -- orcs. Tauren, to some small degree, are accepted because they are mighty warriors. The rest? The rest are cannon fodder as far as Hellscream is concerned.
Yet Garrosh refuses to see what is right in front of his eyes -- he insists on trying to control and subjugate, to harness power he has no right to be tampering with. In Ragefire Chasm, it's obvious that there are dark experiments going on, experiments that Garrosh has full knowledge about. And in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, Garrosh and his forces uncover what the Vale is hiding -- the dark heart of Y'shaarj, an Old God long thought dead, and the origin of the Sha.
Meanwhile, the Alliance are playing their part in this odd recreation of the pandaren rebellion. They're doing what the pandaren did, so many years ago -- using subterfuge and careful observation to figure out Garrosh's weak points. The mogu used the grummles for communication and supply delivery -- once the grummles stopped delivering the correct messages or supplies, chaos ensued. The mogu, it seemed, had no real idea of how to cope, without races to serve them. They quickly fell apart after that, and the pandaren rebellion struck the final blow.
The Alliance is watching Garrosh's every move like a hawk. Varian is exercising patience, waiting for that perfect opportunity to strike -- but not until he has every bit of intelligence needed on what, exactly, Hellscream's plans really are. He got a brief picture of it in patch 5.1, when Garrosh revealed he was after the secrets of the mogu. But Varian was also smart enough to realize Garrosh wouldn't stop with that failed plan, that he'd find another way.
Did the pandaren stop the saurok from rebelling, when they struck out against their mogu oppressors? No. Did they form a truce with the saurok, or attempt to be friendly? No. They simply let the mogu and saurok fight, working each other into a frenzy of chaos that damaged both sides beyond repair. In a way, that's what the Alliance is doing in patch 5.3. They aren't going to be friends with the Horde -- but they'll do what the pandaren never did with the saurok, and encourage the Darkspear Rebellion to continue undermining Garrosh's efforts.
Why? Because it's way easier to strike an enemy when they are disorganized and their attentions are wrapped somewhere else. While the Darkspear Rebellion is in play, Horde are dying -- and it doesn't matter if it's the Horde of Warchief Hellscream, or the Horde of Vol'jin and his rebels. As far as the Alliance are concerned, both are enemies worth watching -- but if those two enemies are going to try to kill each other, why not encourage that?
Which leads us into patch 5.4, and the realization that Garrosh has definitely not let up in his attempts to harness power. Only this time, he's not trying to harness mogu relics -- why would he? The mogu empire didn't work. That much is obvious, now, to Warchief Hellscream. You know what did work? You know what actually succeeded in crippling Pandaria, even after the mogu were long gone, the Zandalari fled, and the saurok hidden away in the wilds of Krasarang?
Not only have the Sha managed to hold the pandaren in check, they've held the mantid in check. The mantid, who even the mogu feared -- feared enough to build a giant wall shutting them out of the rest of the continent. They've even held the mogu in check -- it was obvious, after the disastrous attempt to use the Divine Bell, that there was a reason it was hidden away. Because the only mogu who really understood what power the Divine Bell held was Lei Shen -- and after he died, the mogu couldn't continue to use it.
Why, then, would one attempt to simply ape a race that used another race to empower itself? Why not instead go to the race they sought to harness and use? This is why Garrosh Hellscream has such a keen interest in the heart of Y'shaarj -- the Heart of Pandaria. If he can somehow manufacture a way to use that power for his own, he can conquer the world. Which is more powerful -- a race whose empire held a continent under its thrall for centuries, or the remnants of an Old God that still continues to hold the continent in its grasp?
Corruption vs. Cleverness
Garrosh Hellscream has not been corrupted by some outside evil influence. He's very, very smart -- and ruthless in a way that perhaps only Gul'dan could have outdone. In a way, the two bear frightening similarities to each other. Both are obsessed with power, and both will stop at absolutely nothing to make sure they have the most advantageous position to use that power. Gul'dan gladly turned over the entire orcish race in exchange for power -- Garrosh looks like he's willing to turn over the entirety of the Horde for it.
Yes, we've seen screenshots of Garrosh's strange, mutilated, sha-infested form from the patch 5.4 PTR. But if you look at the dungeon journal entries for Garrosh, it becomes increasingly clear that he's not being corrupted by the Sha -- he's willingly using it to empower himself. Because Garrosh has come to the conclusion, particularly after the disastrous attempt to use the Divine Bell on his armies, that he is the only orc strong enough on Azeroth to wield this power. Like Lei Shen, he will wield the Sha as a weapon, and crush the rest of the world beneath his foot.
The end result of all this chaos? That's a really good question. For now, the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, on the patch 5.4 PTR, is an uncanny echo of what we saw after our meddling in the Jade Forest. Sheer destruction, a place of unbridled beauty utterly destroyed. Whether or not we'll be able to repair the damage we've wrought this time around is unknown, and we'll have to wait until 5.4, and possibly beyond, to see how it all pans out.
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.