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.
It has never been harder to be Alliance. Throughout the years of war brought about by the orcish invasion of Azeroth, the Alliance has seen its ups and downs. During that first assault, Stormwind was destroyed, its king assassinated. However, the direct result of this was an Alliance of kingdoms that paved the way for the Alliance as we know it today -- a smart, level-headed group of races focused on survival. The survival of each race individually, and the survival of the world as we know it. A noble cause, and the Alliance is well-known for its nobility.
Yet despite bouncing back from that original, horrific assault, the Alliance seems to be in a downward spiral in the days of Cataclysm, one which is spinning horrifically out of control. And despite the best efforts of Alliance leaders, trying to staunch the flow of death and despair is becoming increasingly more difficult. This has much to do with the effects of the Shattering, and even more to do with those enemies of old; the orcs and their united allies in the Horde. Even though the Alliance has come back before, the question of whether or not they can do it again is a heavy one that weighs on the minds of all. It has never been so hard to be Alliance, it has never been this dark.
Or so popular opinion states.
The aftermath of Wrath
Wrath of the Lich King was an expansion in which the Alliance had to directly deal with one of their most powerful enemies. It was a reminder of the torturous days of Lordaeron's defeat. Each step into Northrend, each confrontation with the Lich King was a blatant reminder that one of Lordaeron's own, the noble prince Arthas Menethil, had betrayed his kind. Yet the Alliance wore a different face during that time period -- the night elves weren't widely-known or an ally of the Alliance at that point in time. The draenei had never seen Azeroth at that point in time, they had no idea it existed.
So the reminders, the bleak remnants of a dark time in the past of the human portion of the Alliance, didn't quite hold the same effect with the other races of the Alliance. The humans, dwarves and gnomes all remembered quite vividly the days of Lordaeron's fall, but the night elves and draenei had little to do with those events -- they were more concerned with the Lich King's effect on the world itself. Therefore the fight in Northrend was far more personal to some members of the Alliance than others.
It was that personal nature that weighed down the spirits of the Alliance during the course of Wrath. And weighted spirits are very, very hard to keep high ... particularly when the Lich King wreaked so much havoc and killed so many that dared to venture to Icecrown's wintry hills. Perhaps part of it may have been personal for the Lich King, too -- but a great deal of the slaughter was also at the hands of the Horde, who took advantage of the moment the Alliance were busy fighting Scourge to open an attack and kill as many Alliance as possible.
Is it any wonder that King Varian Wrynn was so enraged? But let's talk about Wrynn for a moment. Throughout vanilla WoW, Wrynn was simply absent. He was not there to keep the Alliance fully united -- and he wasn't there during Burning Crusade. He didn't see or experience the arrival of the draenei, and he didn't witness what came of unification at the end of Burning Crusade. He was not witness to the might of the Shattered Sun Offensive, uniting both Alliance and Horde together to foil Kil'jaeden's attempts to return to Azeroth.
And Varian Wrynn also was not a witness to the events of the Third War. While Jaina and the forces of Theramore united with the orcs and drove back the Burning Legion over on Kalimdor, Varian worked on rebuilding his kingdom -- and later, dealing with the shattering loss of his beloved wife. What does this mean? It means that in the long run, Varian has never been witness to a moment in which the Horde could be anything but evil and wrong. Varian has never experienced the times when Alliance and Horde looked at each other, then looked at their much larger foe and realized two were stronger than one.
In fact, the only time Varian has come close to experiencing this was the events of the Wrathgate.
The raw fury of Varian Wrynn
In a perfect world, the events of the Wrathgate would have shown that Alliance and Horde could work together as one to bring down the Lich King. Bolvar Fordragon and Dranosh Saurfang spoke to each other on that fateful day as, if not friends, comrades in arms that had a mutual respect and a mutual purpose. Alliance and Horde were not completely at odds at that point in time -- perhaps the mutual respect from defending the Sunwell was still there to some small degree.
But when the Royal Apothecary Society defied Sylvanas and openly attacked the Lich King, Alliance, and Horde, all hell broke loose. That was the defining moment for Varian Wrynn -- it wasn't the moment Bolvar looked upon Saurfang and saw not an orc, but a fellow warrior he was happy to have at his side, it was the moment that Bolvar fell, shriveled and dying, engulfed in the living flames of red dragons, looking to the sky and wondering what had gone wrong.
And when Varian heard that the death of his beloved friend was at Horde hands, he immediately launched an assault upon the Undercity to kill those responsible. Because in Varian's life, in every experience he's had with the Horde, they've always been brutal, monstrous killers. He was wary of signing a peace treaty with Thrall because of this, and the Wrathgate showed him that had he done so, he would have ended up with a knife in his back at some point in time or another.
Where Varian goes, so the Alliance follows. This may seem odd to players, given that Varian Wrynn was missing for a large chunk of WoW's lifetime. However, the human race has always been the backbone of the Alliance. Without the human race and their first Alliance during the Second War, today's Alliance simply would not exist. That's why the humans seem to hold the power and the decision-making. It's not that they are more powerful or there are more of them, it's that the Alliance was established by the humans in the first place.
Regardless, Varian was unwilling to listen to Thrall, and unwilling to look at the Horde as anything but bloodthirsty and cruel; and Garrosh Hellscream did little to change his mind. An orc of the old ways, Garrosh's cruel nature and ridicule rubbed Wrynn the wrong way, but it did more than that. It gave Wrynn a target to point to and say, "Here is the true face of the Horde. Here is what they really are. Here is how they really act, and here are the creatures that will be our end."
And that rang true in Wrath of the Lich King. The Alliance was utterly devastated by the end of the war in Northrend, both from assaults by the Scourge, and from assaults by the Horde. Whether or not Garrosh sanctioned the attacks in Icecrown didn't matter -- to Varian, it was simply the Horde performing as the Horde has performed and will always perform. Once a killer, always a killer, and the Horde was proving that Varian's sentiment was absolutely right.
The crippling effects of Cataclysm
What should have happened when the Alliance returned home, victorious over the Lich King and flush with victory, was a moment to breathe. It should have been a time of recuperation, a time to tally those lost, a time to mourn, and a time to pick up and move on. It should have been a time for King Varian to meet with the leaders of the Alliance, listen to their issues and work through any problems that arose while he was missing. Unfortunately, the Alliance wasn't allowed any of these things.
Instead, chaos erupted when the elements of the world began their revolt. The Alliance leaders couldn't figure out what was going on. When King Magni Bronzebeard was lost trying to figure out the cause of the elemental disturbances, it struck a blow to already faltering Alliance spirits. When Deathwing broke through Deepholm and unleashed his assault upon the world, things only went downhill from there.
Rather than getting a moment to breathe, the crippled forces of the Alliance had to deal with natural disaster and political turmoil on all fronts. The night elves, who were still somewhat strong after the Lich King's demise, lost thousands when the full force of Deathwing's furious emergence hit. The dwarves and gnomes had to deal with the sudden return of Moira Bronzebeard and her attempt to claim Ironforge as her own -- and the awkward, tense atmosphere in Ironforge led the gnomes to quietly assume residence elsewhere.
When the Alliance returned from Northrend, it was really the human race that was crippled -- and the Shattering managed to cripple both the night elves and the dwarves as well. Three of the strongest Alliance races, with little to support them. And in the midst of this, the Alliance could only begin to regroup before the Horde launched a full out assault, grabbing land and killing any Alliance that stood in their way.
Given this, it's little wonder that Varian Wrynn was so reticent to allow the worgen into the Alliance. Here was the Alliance, its races crippled and trying desperately to recoup from both the losses of Wrath and of the Shattering. Along comes yet another crippled race -- yet this time, the race was human, or formerly human. And they were the humans that pulled out of the original Alliance so long ago, after the Second War. Not only did they pull out of that original Alliance, they did so because they did not wish to spend their vast wealth on keeping orcs alive in internment camps, or paying to rebuild kingdoms that had been ruined by war ... like Stormwind.
The worgen have joined the Alliance, but their numbers are few due to Forsaken attacks in Gilneas. The humans are still desperately trying to recover from tremendous losses during the war in Northrend, and further losses from Deathwing's assault on Stormwind. The dwarves are trying to come to terms with the loss of their beloved king, and deal with the political tensions that have arisen since the Council of Three Hammers has come into play. The night elves are trying to recover from losses brought about by the Shattering. The draenei are few in number, and still trying to regroup after the Exodar's crash into Azeroth. The gnomes are quietly trying to rebuild their numbers and retake their home, while staying out of dwarf political matters.
The Alliance moving towards Mists
This is why we haven't seen much Alliance activity in Cataclysm, and why the Alliance hasn't been on the offensive: They do not have the people to spare. They do not have the forces to spare. Sending a full-out artillery against the Horde in the Alliance's present state would be suicide. And as much as Varian would like to cheerfully murder every orc he sees, he knows that this would be foolish, in the Alliance's present state. Why? Because he's seen all of this before.
When the First War ended, the Old Horde was victorious and Stormwind lay in ruin. The orcish armies began that slow trek northward, killing and conquering every step of the way. But what they didn't expect was the unity of the Alliance of Lordaeron, which quietly came together while the orcs began their next push forward -- and the Alliance of Lordaeron roared to life and crushed the Horde. Varian Wrynn watched all this happen as a child, living with King Menethil and his son, Arthas. He mourned the loss of Anduin Lothar, but he returned to Stormwind and rebuilt the city, brought his people back to some semblance of their former glory.
The Alliance may be quiet in Cataclysm, but it does not mean that nothing is being done. Time is a cyclical thing, particularly in Warcraft. The Alliance is being deliberately quiet. They are rebuilding their forces and recovering from their losses. They are not confronting the Horde because they cannot afford to -- but what they can afford to do right now is recoup, and rebuild. Varian Wrynn understands the importance of this, and he will not suggest retaliation lightly, not when every Alliance race is still in tatters. Certainly not during Cataclysm, when the fate of the very world is at stake.
But when the moment comes, Varian Wrynn will rise. He will make his case with each of the Alliance leaders, and he will prove himself as a trustworthy ally and a capable leader. He will point out the sheer devastation the Horde has wrought over the course of Cataclysm, and he will use these events to his advantage, to spur the Alliance once more to the offensive. And just as the Alliance of Lordaeron triumphed over the Horde in the Second War, so shall the Alliance roar to life again from nothing, and crush this new Horde, make it pay for its misdeeds.
It has never been so grim, so dark to be Alliance. But it is always darkest before the dawn. And the Alliance, the strong and proud, will rise again. Soon. Very soon.
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.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.