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Know Your Lore: Cataclysm's hanging plot threads

Anne Stickney

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.

With the announcement that the upcoming patch 4.3 would likely be the last major content patch of Cataclysm, players rejoiced at the revelation of the transmogrifier, Void Storage, and even the upcoming Deathwing raid. But there's another side to the story of course, a concerning one that affects how well, in the end, Cataclysm really performed. The launch of the new expansion, Pandaren or no, promises a new bout of stories and quests and zones to play in, and that's a reason to be excited.

But Cataclysm introduced a different kind of game -- one where the lore was far more present and cohesive, intertwined in quests, cutscenes, and phased play. It revamped the entirety of the old world as we knew it, introducing new landscapes, new characters, and new stories that pulled leveling players through zones with effortless ease. With the announcement, one has to wonder whether or not all these new threads left carefully dangling will ever be addressed.

Sylvanas and company

Arguably one of the craziest developments to pop up in Cataclysm was Sylvanas Windrunner's new quest to repopulate the Forsaken after the Lich King's demise. By allying with the Val'kyr, Sylvanas is treading on dangerous ground -- the servants of the Lich King now appear to serve her. Players who quested through Silverpine were treated to an open display of animosity between the banshee queen and the temporary Warchief of the Horde; it was obvious that Garrosh didn't approve of Sylvanas' allies.

Yet Sylvanas is still in Silverpine, still working away at her plans, whatever they may be. She made a deal with the Val'kyr, one so tantalizing that the Val'kyr were willing to sacrifice themselves to resurrect the banshee queen. So what were the terms of that deal? What did Sylvanas promise the Val'kyr? Are the Horde simply going to stand by and let Sylvanas continue with her mad alliance, or are they going to put their foot down?

Koltira and Thassarian
In addition to Silverpine, players questing through Western Plaguelands were treated to the story of Andorhal, in which death knights Koltira and Thassarian faced off in what ended in a draw -- a quiet nudge-nudge-wink-wink draw between two enemies who used to be allies. But the battle didn't stop there; Horde players watched as Sylvanas, incensed at Koltira's incompetence, sucked him away to the Undercity to have his weakness "erased."

On the Alliance side, players watched as the Forsaken took Andorhal from their grasp through the use of the Val'kyr. Thassarian correctly assumed that something had happened to his friend, and the last you hear from the death knight, he was headed to Tirisfal to locate Koltira. But once these quest chains are over, nothing more is heard from either Thassarian or Koltira. Sylvanas, however, has been busy all over the place, it seems.

In Hillsbrad Foothills, the town of Southshore has been completely decimated by the Forsaken plague -- a plague whose use was strictly forbidden by the Horde. This was the same plague that decimated both Alliance and Horde forces at the Wrathgate during Wrath of the Lich King, and Sylvanas promised she'd see all traces of it destroyed. Obviously this is not the case, but the Horde hasn't done anything about it, even with Kor'kron guards assigned to watch the banshee queen's every move.

Council of the Three Hammers
The Council of the Three Hammers

Meanwhile, introductory events presented in the novel The Shattering included the formation of the Council of the Three Hammers in response to Magni Bronzebeard's death. The Council is comprised of representatives from the Bronzebeard, Wildhammer, and Dark Iron clans -- including Magni's daughter Moira as representative for the Dark Iron. Her child stands to be the rightful ruler of Ironforge, when he comes of age; until then, the Council of Three Hammers will rule.

Players starting out in Dun Morogh participate in defense of Dark Iron attackers who seek to break Ironforge's defenses. When confronted with news of the plot, Moira claims innocence and points out the attack was engineered by a Dark Iron ambassador that still served the Twilight's Hammer. This is all well and good, but one would expect a little more activity from the newly formed council, wouldn't they? Are Moira's intentions actually good? Is the council something that's going to work out?

Underneath the throne room, in the depths of Old Ironforge, Magni Bronzebeard's petrified body is on full display for all to see. This was added in patch 4.1, long after Cataclysm's launch. Yet there's nothing to see down there except an advisor who regretfully exclaims he should have done more research on the tablets he found, before allowing Magni to perform the ritual.

Why add this to the game long after Cataclysm's release? Is there a reason Magni suddenly became viewable to the public? Is Blizzard planning on Magni's making a return to Ironforge, or is he simply on display to tie The Shattering's events into the game? Was it simply to accommodate the Children's Week quest chain? Speaking of the chain, the orphan that players take to see Magni says, upon completion of the quest, "Hey, shamans work with rocks and the earth all the time, right? Maybe one day, they'll be able to help him become a dwarf again!"

Neptulon and the Throne of the Tides

Let's talk about Neptulon for a minute, shall we? The former lieutenant of the Old Gods has his own agenda that doesn't involve serving the Old Gods any longer, but during quests in Vashj'ir, it is revealed that the Naga have it out for him. More specifically, the Naga are now allied with Deathwing, the Twilight's Hammer, and of course the Old Gods. The quests in Vashj'ir culminate in a battle between the Elemental Lord and Lady Naz'jar, leader of the Naga forces. Lady Naz'jar unleashes Ozumat, who attacks Neptulon and forces him into the Throne of the Tides.

Players then step into the Throne of the Tides at level 85 to rescue Neptulon, fighting Naga all the way through. The last boss of the Throne of the Tides is Ozumat, who is holding Neptulon prisoner. But defeating Ozumat doesn't kill him -- instead, he picks up Neptulon and flees. That's the last we see of the Elemental Lord, and so far, nothing else has popped up.

Originally, there was supposed to be an Abyssal Maw dungeon released that supposedly continued the story, but in Ask the Devs #8 regarding the Firelands, Blizzard stated the storyline was complete.

Ask The Devs #8 - Firelands (Answers)
Q: What happened with the Abyssal Maw dungeon that was supposed to come with Firelands? – Maryjanee (EU-EN), Espiritu (NA)

A: Our initial plan for this raid tier was to have fewer bosses in Firelands and a small number of bosses in the Abyssal Maw. As we looked more closely at Firelands, though, we realized that it deserved more bosses. We also got excited about designing item art (and set bonuses!) that were very fiery in nature, and the Molten Front questing area was turning out to be really cool, so we ended up piling more resources into Firelands. That led to the decision to focus on one strong theme (fire), rather than a more diluted fire-and-water theme.

The case for Abyssal Maw pitch was that we could reuse a lot of existing assets (the fights were to take place in a giant shelled demigod like Nespirah), and while we are willing to do that, we thought Abyssal Maw would just pale in comparison to the magnificence of the Firelands. So, we put all of our eggs into that one basket. We've decided for now that the Vashj'ir quest line along with the Throne of the Tides dungeon does a pretty good job of finishing the Neptulon story.

The problem with that last sentence is that Neptulon's story is far from finished -- obviously Ozumat has him. What's unclear is whether Ozumat is still working for the Naga. Quests in Vash'jir implied that Ozumat wasn't working on his own; the Naga were somehow bending him to their will. With the death of Lady Naz'jar in Throne of the Tides, one has to wonder if Ozumat is even under control anymore.

Was Lady Naz'jar ultimately responsible for controlling Ozumat, or is there a larger force behind the kraken? Where did he take Neptulon? Why are we content with simply throwing up our hands and saying, "Oh well, better luck next time -- let's loot that chest," when our intent upon entering the dungeon was to free Neptulon?

Horde vs. Alliance

The Shattering ripped open the world, and the world raged. Alongside it, the Alliance and Horde raged as well, the fires of war once again ripping through both sides and fueling them into further conflict. Whether it's the destruction of a simple druid grove in Stonetalon Mountains, or the destruction of a Tauren city in South Barrens, the Horde and Alliance are at each other's throats in a manner we haven't seen since vanilla. Garrosh Hellscream has been very, very vocal about his distaste for the Alliance, but Varian's had very little to say.

However, there are implications that not all is well within the Alliance, and either Varian or someone else is working to eliminate Thrall. During the quests in the Goblin starting zone, it's made very clear that the attack on the fleet carrying Thrall and Thrall's capture were done by S1:7 agents. They intended to bring Thrall back to Stormwind and parade him around as their captive. Yet once the Goblin starting zone is over, things are surprisingly back to normal -- the attack is never mentioned again, and Thrall has nothing to say to Varian.

On the Horde side of things, some people are not happy with Garrosh Hellscream, most notably Vol'jin, leader of the Darkspear. Despite the harsh words he and Garrosh exchanged, Vol'jin seemed to cool down after a conversation with Thrall. But Vol'jin's still not on Garrosh's side. This was made absolutely clear when patch 4.1 launched and introduced the new Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub heroics. Vol'jin didn't go to Garrosh for assistance against the Zandalari; he instead went to random heroes of the Horde, passing through the Valley of Spirits in Orgrimmar.

More importantly, he went to the Alliance. Vol'jin sent an ambassador out to Stormwind to ask for the Alliance's help with the attacks. That's not something Garrosh would condone, no matter how hard up the Horde happened to be. Yet we haven't heard anything from Orgrimmar in regards to Vol'jin's duplicity -- and we haven't heard anything from Stormwind, either.

For two sides that are supposedly at war, it seems odd that one Troll would suddenly outweigh all the violence exchanged between the two sides. Was Varian aware of the Troll ambassador in the harbor? You'd think he would have been, since the Stormwind Harbor Guards were there in full force. Yet he did nothing -- didn't order Bwemba's capture or execution. For someone who was supposedly wholeheartedly against the Horde, this seems odd and out of place. What's going on in Varian's head?

These are just a few of the story hooks left to be addressed before we close the doors on Cataclysm. There are plenty more -- storylines abound in every zone that actively have to do with the Shattering and with current events as of Cataclysm's launch. It makes me wonder if these storylines are going to be resolved before we move on to the next expansion or if they're going to simply stay where they are, in stasis.

If Thrall is returning as the Warchief, what does that mean to quest chains like the ones out in Stonetalon Mountains, where Garrosh is so heavily mentioned and featured? Will they stay put, or will they be replaced with something mentioning Thrall? What does it mean to the quests out in Silverpine, where Garrosh's exchange with Sylvanas is such a featured part of the zone? Will Moira's son forever remain a child in a crib, the next victim of Anduin Wrynn's eternal kid syndrome? Will the conflict between Alliance and Horde remain, even if Varian somehow magically decides peace is a better alternative than war?

The problem with the old world revamp is that while it was brilliantly executed and brought everything in game sharply up to date, these quests and events will likely stay put long after we're done with Cataclysm as an expansion. It means that once again, we'll be leaping about in time, especially if the new expansion involves Azeroth, rather than going off planet and exploring new worlds. New players will level through zones wondering what's going to happen next and be left with an unsatisfying nothing for an answer.

What I'm left wondering now is if Cataclysm is going to be completely wrapped up or if the story threads that dangle so tantalizingly throughout the Cataclysm leveling experience will remain unexplained and unexplored. One thing is for certain -- killing Deathwing isn't going to magically solve all of Azeroth's problems. We're just going to have to wait and see if there is anything that does.

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.

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