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Know Your Lore: The Story of Us -- Quests in WoW, part 1

Matthew Rossi

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.

I was going to write about Greatmother Geyah this week. I was doing research and thinking about her story, her influence on Durotan and Draka, on Garrosh, and even on Thrall (making her I believe the most influential Orc in history -- influential in that she affected others without directly causing events), when I remembered a pivotal moment in the history of Nagrand and the Horde. It was when a Tauren warrior whose friends call him Vorn rode into Nagrand at the behest of then Warchief Thrall. In the course of a few momentous quests, Vorn defeated the Mag'har's enemies, secured Garadar, and revealed to two Orcs their origins and destinies. One was Warchief then. The other is Warchief now.

In that moment, I realized that it was those of us who did that quest chain who truly shaped the destiny of the Horde. Each of us will remember who the pivotal character was who brought Thrall to Garadar and who revealed to Garrosh the truth about his father. But whoever it was, we know she or he stood at a fulcrum point, and her or his actions brought us to the present day. Without that hero, Garrosh would never have gone to Northrend and would not be Warchief now. Thrall would never have gone to Garadar, never met his grandmother, and never taken his first step on the road to becoming the World-Shaman he is today.

Let's talk about quest chains with this kind of sweeping, dramatic effect on the world. Let's talk about the biggest heroes Azeroth has ever seen. Let's talk about us.

Classic WoW

In the original game, there are quite a few epic quest lines that give players a chance to shine. A great many of these were attunement quests like the lengthy and faction-specific Onyxia attunements. For all that they were long, often extremely time-intensive (and in the Horde's case, required one to find Rexxar as if his middle name was Waldo), they still put the players front and center in the machinations of the Black Dragonflight and its plans for the mortal races of Azeroth. The Alliance version, The Great Masquerade, might well have been the best such quest execution in original World of Warcraft. It placed the players front and center for moments so epic that the game's lore eventually stole them and gave them to Varian Wrynn, but as much as I like the King, we all know who really unmasked Onyxia. We did.

In classic WoW, big moments like this were saved for endgame. The epic quest lines were class- or role-specific; priests and hunters got epic items that required a great deal of work to complete, like Benediction or Rhok'delar, while warriors and paladins could get the Quel'Serrar quest line via an extremely rare drop book in Dire Maul. The quest lines got even more legendary for items like Thunderfury and Atiesh.

Each of these quests was at once more limited in scope and yet required more group effort to accomplish; an entire raid group of 40 would need to clear various raid instances multiple times to get all of the materials and items needed to complete these items in the case of the legendaries. For the epics, you still needed a raid as well as the completion of personal quest chains in order to get the items that started the quests in the first place. While I didn't play a hunter then, I watched my wife as she completed the arduous Rhok'delar quest chain, involving fighting powerful demons by herself in locations all over Azeroth, using specific hunter abilities to overcome otherwise impossible fights.

Ahn'Qiraj changed the way these kinds of quests were organized. First off, merely unlocking AQ was a huge, server-wide effort that required the cooperation of at least an entire guild and in many cases, many guilds. This at a time when the average raiding guild needed to be able to field at least 40 raiders to see endgame raid content.

The Scepter of the Shifting Sands quest line redefined epic, and it also redefined exclusivity. Despite multiple players and even multiple guilds needed to clear all the hurdles of this extremely long quest chain, only one player could be the first on the server to do it, and thus only one player could be Scarab Lord. If you happen to have a rare server-first title like Death's Demise, think on that; you share your title with nine or 24 other players who helped you get it. Hundreds of people helped that Scarab Lord and got absolutely nothing for it.

The pros and cons of the classic WoW approach to these quests are the same thing: Their extreme difficulty created a gate that kept the majority of players from experiencing them. A rare few players even got to do the Scepter quests, and unless you server-transferred to a new server where the Gates of AQ hadn't been opened yet, it was likely that all you got for doing the massive quest chain was some nice-looking epic gear. Atiesh required a ton of effort for a legendary staff that many servers didn't even see completed until after The Burning Crusade had launched.

Yes, those who had completed any of these quests got to have a rare experience that really felt like it placed their characters in the vanguard of Azeroth's elite, but that same exclusive nature left a lot of players out in the cold. Combine that with randomness, competition for drops, having to find Rexxar four times in Desolace, and what was intended to be an experience in discovery and exploration could easily become frustrating.

The Burning Crusade

The Burning Crusade didn't wipe the slate clean but rather took the next step in quest design. There were still lengthy attunements; in fact, they were more elaborate than ever. But what BC did with quests and the players was to move some of that sensation of being a big damn hero from epic item quest lines and legendaries into the leveling game itself. Your road from 60 to 70 was a continuation of an already established heroic career.

I already mentioned the Hero of the Mag'thar quest line, which gives the mid-level character a key role in securing the destiny of the Horde. It required several dunegon runs but no raids at all and could easily be completed by level 68. Another excellent quest from this same time period is found in the Blade's Edge Mountains and sees the Horde player teaming up with Rexxar to defeat the sons of Gruul. While Alliance players got fairly well shafted in Nagrand, they too got an excellent version of these quests, making common cause with a son of Deathwing to fight the Gronn for their sins against dragonkind.

These are quests that resonate to us today playing in Cataclysm, as the subjugation of the Gronn by Cho'gall and the Twilight's Hammer would not have been possible without our having destroyed their leadership and freed the Ogres from their tyrannical cyclopean rule. Again, what we did then has had major ramifications for what we find ourselves doing now.

This layered approach to questing and lore meant that while we still got those lengthy, epic chains (the Cudgel of Kar'desh, for instance, required players to defeat bosses in both heroic dungeons and the first tier of BC raiding), a lot of that feeling of being an important figure in the world (or worlds, in this case) was given to us earlier. It could be argued that while the Alliance as a faction got the better of this in the original game, the Horde stepped it up somewhat in BC, what with Outland being the remnants of Draenor, their homeland.

When we discuss these kinds of quests, we must not forget the extremely detailed and in many cases fascinating solo and group quests available in Shadowmoon Valley and Netherstorm. The Oronok Torn-Heart quest line (available to both Alliance and Horde) shows vividly what the events of Warcraft I and II cost the Orc people, how their slaughter of the Draenei destroyed them as well. Performing this quest line and others in Shadowmoon (like, say, stopping an Old God from exploiting the already shattered Outland) puts the player front and center in working to prevent evil on an astonishing scale from being enacted.

The Cipher of Damnation, the text Gul'dan used to rip his people's connection to the elements away, is liberated from evil hands and safeguarded by you. This simple act, performed by lone players and small groups, is potentially more important than defeating any of the raid bosses in The Burning Crusade up to Kil'Jaeden, and it required no raid or server-wide effort to complete. Meanwhile, players in Netherstorm made their way from Manaforge to Manaforge, learning Kael'thas's true intentions and that he'd switched paymasters from Illidan to the Burning Legion. As raiding progressed and attunements were eased off, new raids like Zul'Aman would incorporate the questing experience directly in how they were designed.

All of this culminated in the Fury of the Sunwell patch, which introduced a new way to use quests to give players a sense of importance, the Isle of Quel'Danas. The IoQD was progressive, similar to the way the Gates of AQ had been, but far more reliant on repeatable daily quests to move the progression forward. Vendors were unlocked, reputation was gained and as it was players found themselves receiving recognition from NPCs for their actions. To this day, if you earned exalted with the Shattered Sun Offensive and go to the Isle, the NPCs will address you with respect. It was an entirely new way to combine all the elements to give players a sense of their own importance in the world.

All of this would inform how we were treated in Wrath of the Lich King. After 70 levels, it could no longer be denied: we were movers and shakers, grand and terrifying heroes, the cream of the crop, the best of the elite. And Wrath would reflect that.

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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