It may not be Azeroth, but it's got a history just as rich and just as convoluted. In the Warcraft universe, the planet Draenor plays a secondary role to Azeroth in terms of storyline -- consider it something like a sister planet, one whose history is irrevocably entwined with Azeroth's. Although these days Draenor exists as a mere shell of what it once was, Draenor, its inhabitants, and its fate are all one of the most significant pieces of Warcraft lore out there. After all, if there were no Draenor, there would be no First or Second wars. There would be no Horde.
Why is this planet so important? It certainly didn't have very much to do with the original inhabitants. In fact, Draenor would have likely lived on in obscurity were it not for the strange, peaceful settlers from another world. Peaceful they may have been, but they had a history they could not escape -- a past that forever linked them with the Burning Legion ... and the Burning Legion knows little of forgiveness or mercy for those that incur its wrath.
Originally the planet Draenor had no name -- or rather, none that anyone might recall. Thousands of years ago, Draenor simply existed in space, a solitary planet in the middle of nowhere, with nothing particularly interesting on it. The orcs were one of the primary races of the world, a nomadic, clan-based society with a penchant for shamanism. It's unknown whether or not they really had a name for their planet, or whether they never really considered the thought that a planet should have a name -- to the orcs, it was simply the world they lived on, and the elements that made it what it was.
A little over two hundred years before the First War, a group of eredar landed on the planet and settled, hopefully for good. Led by the Prophet Velen, the eredar were those that chose not to follow the rest of their people into blind servitude of Sargeras and his Burning Legion. Having spent thousands of years traveling the stars and fleeing the vengeful wrath of Kil'jaeden, the Prophet Velen and his followers at last found a place that was hopefully remote enough to bypass the attention of Kil'jaeden and the rest of the Burning Legion.
Velen and his people called themselves draenei -- "exiled ones" in the eredar language. And when they landed on the little planet in the middle of nowhere, they named it Draenor -- "exile's refuge." For the most part, the native orcs and the draenei remained distant from each other, although peaceful. Draenei settlements were largely hidden away from the orcs, but it wasn't unheard of for the two races to engage in trade. It was a simple existence, but it was enough -- and the peace was a welcome relief to the beleaguered draenei.
Unfortunately, that peaceful planet was about to get a lot less peaceful. Kil'jaeden was in search of a mortal army capable of storming worlds in the name of the Burning Legion. One of his servants discovered Draenor and the odd signs it showed of draenei magic -- and after closer examination, Kil'jaeden realized he'd finally found Velen and his followers. But the draenei weren't the only creatures on the world -- the orcs of Draenor showed potential for destruction beyond Kil'jaeden's wildest dreams. And so he set to work, taking the guise of the deceased mate of the elder shaman Ner'zhul and skillfully duping Ner'zhul and the rest of the orcs into believing the draenei were plotting against the orcish race.
The orcs began to strike out at the draenei, using dark magic that Kil'jaeden introduced. While Ner'zhul eventually saw through Kil'jaeden's deceit, the damage was done. Kil'jaeden stripped Ner'zhul of his power and and took Ner'zhul's apprentice, Gul'dan, under his wing instead. Gul'dan possessed a selfishness and a craving for power that made him easy to manipulate, and incredibly useful to Kil'jaeden's plans. Once the orcs had proved their prowess in battle, the pit lord Mannoroth gave his blood to the orc chieftains to drink as proof of their loyalty.
The result was bloodlust, mayhem, and a corruption that quickly spread throughout the orcish clans. Attacks on the draenei increased, much to Kil'jaeden's delight. The climactic end to the orcish onslaught took place in Shattrath City, where most of the draenei population was summarily wiped out. Those few that fought the orcish Horde and managed to escape found themselves tainted by the fel energies of orc warlocks and eventually succumbing to the corruption, their bodies warping and mutating into Broken. The orcish race stood triumphant.
The Dark Portal
Gul'dan was later contacted by Medivh, the last Guardian of Azeroth. Medivh was possessed by Sargeras, leader of the Burning Legion -- and he manipulated Gul'dan into opening the Dark Portal, a link between Draenor and Azeroth. Medivh, under Sargeras' influence, wanted the armies of the Horde to invade Azeroth and slaughter anything that stood in their way. The power-hungry Gul'dan readily agreed, and thus began the First War. Orcish armies poured through the Dark Portal, and the blood-crazed forces of the Horde were unleashed on Stormwind and its surrounding territories. By the end of the First War, the orcs stood triumphant, Stormwind in ruins.
But the triumph wouldn't last for long. When the Horde attempted to expand their path of destruction north, the human kingdoms banded together with the high elves and dwarves to form the Alliance of Lordaeron. In the end, it was the Alliance who stood triumphant after the Second War, and the mage Khadgar attempted to close the Dark Portal for good, blasting it with magic. Although the structure was damaged, the tear that linked Azeroth and Draenor still remained.
And in Draenor, the elder shaman Ner'zhul was caught in the blast from the Dark Portal. For two years, he slowly recovered from his injuries, and slowly began to go just a little bit mad. The remaining clans of Draenor fought amongst themselves until one day, the orcish death knight Teron Gorefiend arrived at Ner'zhul's doorstep, asking him to lead and unite the Horde once more. Gorefiend had a plan -- open more portals on Draenor, portals to other worlds for the Horde to conquer. Ner'zhul agreed to the plan, but several powerful artifacts were required for the process, artifacts that existed on Azeroth.
Ner'zhul recovered the artifacts and returned to Draenor, intent on completing the plan. He was followed back to Draenor by an Alliance Expedition seeking to retrieve the stolen artifacts. But the expedition could not stop Ner'zhul in time, and when he began to open portals to other worlds all over the planet, it was clear that the energies of the fragile world were quickly building to dangerous levels, due to the immense draw of the portals Ner'zhul was summoning. In desperation, the Alliance Expedition sought to close the Dark Portal and sever the link between Azeroth and Draenor -- though it meant their deaths, it also meant that Azeroth would be safe from any backlash.
Ner'zhul, desperate and mad, chose to abandon the Horde altogether and flee through one of the portals, leaving Draenor behind for good. And fragile Draenor was ripped to shreds as the influx of energies from the scattered portals overwhelmed the world. The planet was torn apart, great chunks of land left to float scattered in the Twisting Nether. The heroes of the Alliance Expedition -- Turalyon, Alleria Windrunner, Khadgar, Kurdran Wildhammer, Danath Trollbane -- all were presumed dead. What remained of Draenor was renamed Outland -- and although the scattered chunks of land bore little resemblance to the once-whole world, there were those that survived and continued to live on after Draenor's destruction.
Although one would presume that Draenor had outlived its usefulness, that was far from the case. It later became a refuge for Illidan Stormrage after he failed the Burning Legion -- he stormed Outland with the intent of taking it over and claiming it as his own, with the help of his allies, Lady Vashj, Kael'thas Sunstrider, and Akama. They were successful to a degree, but Illidan's refuge was discovered by Kil'jaeden, who ordered the former night elf back to Azeroth to murder the Lich King. Illidan failed. He nearly died in the attempt, and was taken back to Outland by Vashj and Kael'thas to recover.
The Burning Crusade
Years later, the Dark Portal between Azeroth and Outland was re-opened. Players that ventured beyond the Dark Portal discovered the shattered lands that once used to be called Draenor, now supposedly under Illidan's rule. Yet as the expansion went on, it was clear that Illidan was not in nearly as much control as one would think. Kil'jaeden still had influence over the once verdant world, and he had a staunch ally in Kael'thas Sunstrider.
The Burning Crusade was a tremendous expansion, but once the dust had settled and Azeroth was saved, there was little left in the cards for Outland. The sin'dorei that had been so interested in Outland and its possible cure for their addiction to magic were betrayed by Kael'thas. But the Sunwell, the source of their magic, was restored at the end of the expansion by the Prophet Velen, using the heart of the naaru Mu'ru. The draenei seemed to have little motivation to return to the ruined world, content to remain on Azeroth with their newfound Alliance allies.
On Outland, the Shattered Sun Offensive had fulfilled its purpose, many of its best warriors choosing to relocate to Azeroth. In Nagrand, the lush, green reminder of what had surely been a verdant world, the orcish town of Garadar bid farewell to Garrosh Hellscream, who departed for Azeroth as well. The only other notable journey to Outland occurred a few years later, when Warchief Thrall stepped down from his place as leader of the Horde and returned to Garadar in an attempt to divine what was going on with Azeroth, and learn more about being a shaman.
Yet the point still stands: Without Draenor and its unique history, the very history of Azeroth as we know it today would be an entirely different tale. There would be no Dark Portal, no invasion, no wars. There would be no reason for the Alliance of Lordaeron, no formation of Alliance necessary, and Kalimdor would have perhaps been left on its own. There would be no Lich King to try and conquer the wastes of Northrend, no Garrosh Hellscream to run his mad campaign as Warchief. There would be no Sylvanas, no Forsaken. There would be no Horde. And without the united efforts of both Alliance and Horde, as trepidatious as those unifications may have been, there would have been nothing to stop further efforts of the Burning Legion. There would have been nothing to stop the Old Gods.
From verdant world to ruined wasteland, the remnants of Draenor remain a cautionary tale. The stark landscape is an equally stark and grim reminder of just what the power of corruption, of greed, of raw magic unchecked can do. In the end, although Draenor has seemingly passed beyond the realm of usefulness, it still exists -- a tiny, fragmented bastion of life, suspended in the Twisting Nether. The history of Draenor, while often cruel and unkind, is irrevocably tied to the Azeroth we know today. Without it, Warcraft -- and Azeroth -- might be a very different, far more unpleasant tale of mayhem, madness and destruction.
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.