The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
Planes and planets, demons and mortals -- we've covered the gamut of the Warcraft universe in the past few weeks, including rampant speculation. With BlizzCon 2011 not too far away, people are already talking about what may or may not be announced, including whether or not we'll see news about the next Warcraft expansion and what that expansion could be.
Beyond all of that, however, we have the matter of identifying who exactly the real bad guy of this expansion is. Is it Deathwing? Is it the Old Gods? We don't know, and we won't know until we're closer to the expansion's end and dealing with Deathwing personally -- but whether Deathwing will be the final boss of this expansion is something that's still up in the air. Matthew Rossi wrote an interesting article last week questioning whether Cataclysm has too much potential content, and it's an excellent question. Given all we've seen of the expansion so far and the sheer amount of plot threads that have yet to be addressed, it makes one wonder exactly what else will be revealed in the months to come.
But let's hit pause on that thought for a moment and take a good long look at supposedly the biggest bad guy of Warcraft to date: Sargeras, leader of the Burning Legion. A former Titan, Sargeras supposedly has powers equal to or even surpassing those that created Azeroth as we know it today. As leader of the Burning Legion, Sargeras represents pure, unadulterated evil and chaos, along with a fervent wish to send the whole universe into a dark spiral that the former Titan assumes is the natural order of the universe. That said, we have yet to see the Dark Titan in game, although he has been addressed in lore.
The first appearance of Sargeras on Azeroth took place during the War of the Ancients. Sargeras was attempting to gain access to the world of Azeroth -- and more particularly, the Well of Eternity -- in the hopes of using its magical powers for his own purposes. He was foiled, sent back into the Twisting Nether from which he came, by Malfurion Stormrage. Needless to say, the Dark Titan likely has no love at all for the night elves and even less love for Azeroth. The next several thousands years were spent on ways of enacting his revenge.
He almost had that revenge with Aegwynn. Aegwynn was the one of the last Guardians of Tirisfal -- a mage imbued with the powers of the most powerful magic wielders Azeroth had to offer. The Guardians were created in order to defend Azeroth against Burning Legion attacks, and Aegwynn was one of the last of a very long line of Guardians. Fiercely independent and stubborn to a fault, Aegwynn also held the prestigious position of being the only creature known to date to face off against Sargeras and live.
Sort of. In the book Aegwynn and the Dragon Hunt, this battle against Sargeras is documented. Her travels and duties as Guardian eventually led her to Northrend, where demons of the Burning Legion were hunting dragons and draining them of their innate magics.
Aegwynn confronted the demons, and with help from the noble dragons, eradicated them. Yet, as the last demon was banished from the mortal world, a great storm erupted throughout the north. An enormous dark visage appeared in the sky above Northrend. Sargeras, the demon king and lord of the Burning Legion, appeared before Aegwynn and bristled with hellish energy. He informed the young Guardian that the time of Tirisfal was about to come to an end and that the world would soon bow before the onslaught of the Legion.
The proud Aegwynn, believing herself to be a match for the menacing god, unleashed her powers against Sargeras' avatar. With disconcerting ease, Aegwynn battered the demonlord with her powers and succeeded in killing his physical shell. Fearing that Sargeras' spirit would linger on, Aegwynn locked the ruined husk of his body within one of the ancient halls of Kalimdor that had been blasted to the bottom of the sea when the Well of Eternity collapsed. -- Aegwynn and the Dragon Hunt
Here's where the laws of the Warcraft cosmos come into play. What Aegwynn was fighting wasn't actually Sargeras; it was an avatar of Sargeras, a creature that existed on the Material Plane, connected with the real Sargeras in the Twisting Nether. So when Aegwynn "killed" this Sargeras, she wasn't really killing Sargeras -- and the essence of Sargeras was released from the avatar when it was destroyed. That essence planted itself in Aegwynn and waited.
Years later, when it came time to pass her powers on to another Guardian, stubborn Aegwynn refused to do so, instead having a child with Stormwind's court conjuror, Nielas Aran. She had the child, named him Medivh, and left him with his father, content with the knowledge that his powers would naturally awaken and he could assume the role of Guardian in due time -- with no meddling from the Council of Tirisfal.
That essence of Sargeras traveled from Aegwynn right into her unborn child, and when Medivh hit maturity, his powers coalesced. The feedback killed his father and sent the boy into a 20-year coma -- a perfect opportunity for the essence of Sargeras to work its way into the boy's mind, corrupting him from within. Later, Medivh would bring the orcs of Draenor to Azeroth, unleashing them on the kingdom of Stormwind and setting into course events that would change the history of Azeroth forever.
But Medivh wasn't left to his own devices. His apprentice, Khadgar, and the orc emissary, Garona, both sensed that something wasn't quite right with the Guardian. When they discovered his treachery, they went to King Llane with the news. Though Llane was unwilling to believe that his longtime friend would be capable of such a thing, Anduin Lothar believed Khadgar and Garona's story. Together, they traveled to Karazhan and ended up killing Medivh, releasing Medivh's spirit from Sargeras' grasp.
But what about Sargeras? Where did he go? In Warcraft III, the orc Gul'dan sees Sargeras -- or at least a vision of Sargeras, in the tomb where Aegwynn had placed his avatar's body years before. So Sargeras isn't exactly dead -- and by the rules that we've seen so far in regards to the Warcraft cosmos, it's entirely likely his spirit was just sent back to the Twisting Nether. Kil'jaeden and Archimonde, his two trusted lieutenants, have certainly been busy; Archimonde's unsuccessful attempt to gain control of the new Well of Eternity in Warcraft III is well documented.
As for Kil'jaeden, he attempted to recreate what Sargeras had tried to do 10,000 years before him. The Sunwell raid presents an interesting parallel to the events of the War of the Ancients. Instead of the Well of Eternity, we get its watered-down cousin, the Sunwell. Instead of Sargeras, we get his second-in-command. But the end results can be presumed as being the same. Sargeras wanted the powers of the Well; Kil'jaeden wanted the powers of the Sunwell. Kil'jaeden was, however, defeated and pushed back to the Twisting Nether, just like Sargeras before him.
This leaves Sargeras' whereabouts in contention, however. Kil'jaeden was obviously acting on the Sunwell because Sargeras was somehow unable to do so. So a little tinfoil hat theory here: Perhaps Sargeras didn't move on the Sunwell because keeping in constant contact with a mortal shell for so long, having his spirit tied to the Material Plane for so long, weakened him. He isn't dead -- oh, no. But it's a distinct possibility he has been whiling his time since the days of Medivh's death, simply regaining his strength.
This theory is almost validated during the final moments of the Battle for the Undercity on the Horde side of the equation. In Sylvanas' chamber, Varimathras opens countless portals to the Twisting Nether, clearly in the process of summoning someone. He mentions that "the Master is near" -- and that "Master" chimes in with, "You have failed me, Varimathras!" when the summoning destabilizes. Varimathras falls, but we're left with the distinct impression that Varimathras' "Master" may very well have been Sargeras. Was Varimathras trying to summon Sargeras to Azeroth, or was he trying to orchestrate Kil'jaeden's return? It seems more likely that Sargeras was the target. If it had been Kil'jaeden, wouldn't his voice have been recognizable after the battle at the Sunwell?
This leaves us with a few possibilities for the next expansion, considering the fact that Cataclysm is full of plot threads that could also be used for a new expansion as well. So let's take a look at a few possible scenarios.
The Emerald Dream The Emerald Dream exists as another version of Azeroth, before the days of the night elves, before mortals started interfering with the natural course of things, and before the Old Gods made an appearance. It's a backup copy of Azeroth -- but it's the Azeroth before the Sundering. It's one giant, massive continent. Imagine Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms smushed together with Northrend perched on top, and you've got a vague idea of the size of the Emerald Dream.
The Emerald Dream still has its problems. The Old Gods that contaminated the Emerald Dream created the Emerald Nightmare. While the Emerald Nightmare was addressed in the novel Stormrage, there is still a corner of the Emerald Dream that has not been cleansed, which means it's still under Old God influence. This corner is called the Rift of Aln, which is also the name of one of the Cataclysm music tracks. Coincidence? If the Old Gods aren't the major villains of this expansion, they would certainly be a good contender for the next; the Emerald Dream would be a logical place for them to continue their assault on Azeroth, something we mortals need to put a halt to.
Why it's a contender First, we've got the size and scope of potential new areas from a design standpoint. It would certainly be large enough to level through, and it would certainly present more than enough "new" landscapes that are eerie echoes of the Azeroth we know today. Second, this would present us with another direct assault on the Old Gods, and if they aren't addressed by Cataclysm's end, it's a certainty that we will have to deal with them at some point after we take care of Deathwing. Their presence on Azeroth is far too widespread to ignore.
Beyond that is the vast amount of potential for story threads -- threads like the tie between the Emerald Dream, the Titans, and the Aspects. It could be the jumping-off point for us to at last meet Azeroth's creators. At the very least, potentially we would see the return of Algalon the Observer and what he's been up to since we left him in Ulduar to contemplate the strength of the mortals of this world. It's not just the Emerald Dream -- it's the Titans' backup copy of Azeroth, so a tie-in between the two isn't out of place.
Argus Taking an entirely different standpoint, let's look at Argus, shall we? Once home to the Eredar who left and became the draenei we know and play today, Argus is now one of the main bases of the Burning Legion. Like Outland, Argus is an entire planet, leaving plenty of space for leveling from a design standpoint. In addition, comments made by Prophet Velen in the Swamp of Sorrows speak of "the true battle between the forces of Light and Darkness approaches. We will all be called to join, and in the face of this conflict, all mortal suffering will be meaningless." Given his words, its entirely possible he's speaking of a final sort of battle between the mortals that embrace the Light, and the Burning Legion.
In addition, there's the matter of a curious quest chain in Ashenvale in which a sick child is saved, and more importantly, a satyr is redeemed and restored to his former night elven self. Avrus Illwhisper, a satyr from the Felmusk clan, seeks forgiveness and redemption. The satyr were originally creations of the Burning Legion -- night elves twisted into a corrupted form back during the War of the Ancients. If a satyr can be restored and redeemed, what does that mean in regards to the rest of the Burning Legion's armies? Is there a way to cure them as well?
Why it's a contender Our first expansion was out of this world; our second was closer to home; and the third expansion was closer still. Perhaps it's simply time we traveled into the stars again and had a space adventure. But more importantly, Velen stated himself that there was a conflict coming that would make the battles we're fighting right now in Azeroth look absolutely meaningless in comparison. If that doesn't sound like a seed planted for a potential expansion, I don't know what does.
The Burning Legion has been a thorn in Azeroth's side since the War of the Ancients, a War that we will revisit in the Caverns of Time. Perhaps we'll see some sort of hint as to the true scope of the Burning Legion's powers there and decide it's high time to stop reacting to Legion invasions, instead taking the fight to them. In addition, this gives us potential for more draenei lore, something that has been sadly absent even from the days of The Burning Crusade. And it also puts into place a possible run-in with Sargeras, who is one of the few major villains we have yet to address.
Vash'jir and beyond How does an undersea expansion sound? Stop and think about it for a minute. The oceans of Azeroth are far larger than just Vash'jir, which again gives us plenty of space to level. Despite Deathwing's rampant destruction, we've still got other, bigger issues to deal with, specifically the Old Gods and their influence. One of their biggest kingpins in all of this is Azshara, former Queen and beloved ruler of the kaldorei. After the Sundering, Azshara and the highborne who remained with her were swept under the sea and transformed into the creatures we now know as the naga. Azshara makes a token appearance this expansion in Darkshore, revealing that the devastation in Darkshore was merely a distraction for Malfurion Stormrage so that her "allies" could take over Hyjal with little interference.
But other than that one moment of confrontation, Azshara is nowhere to be seen. She is the leader of the naga just as she was the leader of the night elves before her transformation -- and that transformation was at the hands of the Old Gods. Already an unbelievably skilled sorceress in her own right before her watery transformation, Azshara is doubtless one of the more potentially devastating threats Azeroth has yet to contend with. But if Deathwing fails in the Old Gods' mission -- whatever that mission may be -- it could very well fall to Azshara to take over where Deathwing left off.
Why it's a contender See, here's the thing -- if Deathwing really is the final boss of Cataclysm, we still have the Old Gods to clean up once Deathwing is gone. It is obvious from the rampant growth of strange tentacles all over post-Cataclysm Azeroth that the Old Gods have more of a presence now than ever. In the goblin starting area of the Lost Isles, we see naga allied and presumably led by a servant of an Old God. In Vash'jir, we see the naga summoning servants of the Old Gods as allies. There is a definite tie between these two races, and killing Deathwing is only the tip of the iceberg as far as Azeroth's problems go. If we deal with Azshara, we are continuing on what appears to be our mission to eventually eliminate the Old Gods altogether.
Cataclysm-ic lore overload
But two out of these three possible contenders for expansions are branching directly off information we already have in Cataclysm, which is why Matthew Rossi's article was so on the money. Cataclysm has brought so many new plot points -- the troubling situation with Sylvanas and the Val'kyr, the continuing and increasingly bloody conflict between Alliance and Horde, the rise of the Twilight Cult, the increased presence of Old God influence, Deathwing's emergence, the rise of Elemental lords gone rogue, the potential for more Emerald Nightmare action introduced in the Stormrage novel, the continuing issue of the Infinite Dragonflight, the struggle of the Blue Dragonflight as it deals with the loss of its leader ... The list goes on and on. And on, and on.
Cataclysm has firmly put the lore of Warcraft at the core of the expansion, whether those playing it realize that or not. Each zone with its own story, and the overarching story linking it all. But has Blizzard gone overboard and introduced too much lore? Or were some of these elements deliberately seeded in to be addressed in future expansions? I've only listed potential expansions based on what we've seen in game to date. There's the distinct possibility that the next expansion will deal with a subject we've never even seen addressed in Warcraft lore before. The proposition is an uneasy one; if we are dealing with all new lore in the new expansion, what happens to all the story threads left behind?
It's a lot of interesting questions and a lot of interesting speculation -- we'll have to wait and see until October, and hopefully BlizzCon 2011 will provide some answers. In the meantime, all we can do is wonder what's going to come next and whether all the threads in Cataclysm will be tied in a tidy bow come expansion's end.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
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.