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Know Your Lore: Why World of Warcraft needs evil

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.

One of the real problems with the New Horde is fairly simple. A lot of the people attracted to playing it were not players of Warcraft or WCII. They discovered the game with or after WCIII -- and in Warcraft III, the Horde isn't portrayed as the group that came marching through the Dark Portal anymore. Trying to put the war back in Warcraft is hard for players who see the Horde as the group Thrall led, who first discovered the Horde in Warcraft III or in one of World of Warcraft's expansions.

The Horde we have today, even after Garrosh Hellscream took over the reins, simply can't sustain the narrative weight of the Horde as the existed for two Warcraft games. The Horde that burned Stormwind, led by Gul'dan's puppet Blackhand and usurped by Orgrim Doomhammer, is not the Horde that Thrall led across the sea. It's a Horde composed primarily or exclusively of orcs with a few allies, a Horde that burns and rampages and murdered without remorse. It was to the Warcraft setting what the Empire was to Star Wars, a force of pure malevolence. The biggest difficulty reconciling that Horde with the current one is the idea of honor, which the Horde of WC and WCII could not have cared less about if they had tried. They were thieves and monsters, and their goal was to murder and steal.

They were the villains.

Why evil matters

It's not the Alliance's fault that the Horde became a far more morally ambiguous organization under Thrall, shedding much of its past actions (while making no attempt to make up for them, admittedly -- even its alliance with Jaina Proudmoore's humans and the kaldorei under Tyrande Whisperwind was merely one of convenience, and it took place after Grom Hellscream murdered one of the night elves' demigods while stealing from their native lands) and attempting to create a society that had never existed even on their native Draenor. When the Horde were easily the villains, the Alliance got to be the heroes. Now, both sides are forced into a moral quagmire, and I don't expect it can ever return to purely black-and-white morality again.

That being said, however, we desperately need a Gul'dan. Perhaps we even need two.

Times change; moral absolutes become shades of gray. But the great thing about Gul'dan is, there's absolutely nothing gray about the guy. Gul'dan is an orc who betrayed everyone -- his mentor Ner'zhul, his own people, his own students, the Horde he himself formed and led through proxies, the warchief who spared his life -- in a quest for power. He was brilliant, he was evil, and he was fully willing to do or say anything that would lead to his gaining more power.

My point in saying we need a Gul'dan is not that we need another disposable boss to be killed for loot. The game has no shortage of those. What we need is someone who can stand behind the shoulder of a king or warchief and suggest brilliant plans that are utterly devoid of mercy or goodness but that work. We need a pragmatist bastard who will spend the lives of her or his people to achieve her or his ends. We need a villain you can't just kill, one who sets armies into motion, one who feints and never does anything without six contingency plans that will benefit him or her no matter what happens.

Varian and Garrosh are fine for the guy barking out orders and leading armies. We have those guys; we don't need any more of them. No, what we need -- if not during Mists of Pandaria, then after it -- are ruthless, cunning warmongers. Sophisticated evildoers, people who know how to make themselves indispensable until their own plans come full circle, then who can betray their allies just like that.

What we need is evil -- clever, intelligent, well-spoken evil that doesn't exist in some separate organization or faction we can safely raid. We need vipers in the midst of the Horde and the Alliance, both. We've moved past the age of good guys and bad guys, but we can still make use of the idea that each side believes in good vs. evil, and very few armies in history have ever thought they were the bad guys. We need someone who will casually, cynically use this certainty to manipulate events to serve her or his ends. And I believe we have some solid contenders for these kinds of villains already.

Maiev Shadowsong

Yes, Maiev Shadowsong. I'm well aware of what she did in the novel Wolfheart, but I think that could well be turned to her advantage. There are a number of ways you could bring Maiev back. The easiest is to leave her a a shadowy manipulator behind the scenes of kaldorei culture. Maiev lacks Gul'dan's pure bastard evil, but her long vigil over Illidan and her rage and inability to let go of the past would serve her well as a kind of ideologue, one totally dedicated to the resurgence of night elf culture and the purging of foreign elements (and also, the removal of her ancient rival Tyrande Whisperwind from her position of power). Convinced that what she does is for the betterment of her people, Maiev could commit any crime, any atrocity, and do so with a smile, believing that it has to be done to cut the cancerous presence of foreign ideas from kaldorei lands.

But as someone who successfully jailed Illidan Stormrage for 10,000 years, Maiev is no fool. You get rid of the soft, corrupt humans, the stubborn dwarves, the poisoning gnomes, the otherworlder draenei, the cursed worgen and the pandaren who left the world to be destroyed while they hid behind their mists after you made use of them to drive the orcs and their allies out of night elf lands. Imagine Maiev at the center of a spider's web of informants, sympathizers and allies, many of whom would have no idea who they were even dealing with. Maiev undoubtedly still commands the loyalty of many of her former wardens, and we saw from the creation of the Druids of the Flame that many in night elf society are very disillusioned with Tyrande and Malfurion's leadership and want a change.

Maiev has the strength of will to gather the remnants of those willing to follow Fandral and unite them with other dissatisfied elements of kaldorei culture, then branch out and find others equally dissatisfied with their lot under the Alliance's leadership. Using them as agitators, she could easily begin steering the factions toward all-out war for the purpose of pushing the orcs and their allies out of Ashenvale and Azshara. Once their borders were secure, she could begin working on fragmenting the Alliance itself. And no matter who she had to assassinate, frame, suborn or slaughter, she would do so gladly knowing it was all for her people.

Know Your Lore We need evil Wed
Grand Magister Rommath

The Grand Magister of the Sin'dorei has very, very good reason to be bitter. I don't believe for a second he would betray his people -- but the Horde? Especially a Horde that has pinned the blood elves to the side of the Forsaken, dragged them into wars they had no business being in, and spent their resources without heed to the cost to them? Oh, I could see Rommath betray the Horde. But he would be excrutiatingly clever about it.

Unlike Maiev, with whom who he shares certain traits, I don't see Rommath working to undermine the Horde. The Horde is useful. The Horde serves as a bulwark. Much as when Anasterial Sunstrider created the ancient pact with the human King Thoradin, having Horde forces to fight the enemies of Silvermoon means that not so many blood elves need to do so.

Furthermore, with Sylvanas as their closest neighbor (and her behavior hardly congenial, but her power too great to offend her), staying on the good side of the Horde keeps that particular wolf from their throat. Having seen what happened to Kael'thas, Rommath knows better than to trust those in a position of power (especially power gained through dark magic, like those that infuse the Forsaken), but he also knows better than to tip his hand.

I imagine Rommath starting off fairly benign. He's obsessed with protecting his people from a betrayal like the one Kael'thas fostered, so he turns his considerable magical talents toward investigation, scrying, surveillience and other subtle means of gathering secrets. He feels he needs to know what threats might come to his people.

Soon, however, he moves from gathering information to acting on it. Planting a whisper here, crafting a rumor there, Rommath begins to manipulate the Horde and strike subtly at the Alliance. Can he manuver the Alliance into engaging the Forsaken, and in so doing, directing the undead forces away from Silvermoon? It starts off as a simple desire to protect his people, and by the end, he's fostering warfare all over the world in the hopes that he can keep everyone too busy to even think about bringing harm to Silvermoon. Who cares who the ruler is when you make the rules?

Know Your Lore We need evil Wed

Now we're talking pure, unadulterated evil. No good intentions, no madness, no slow corruption or even just getting further and further in over his head. We're talking Mal'Ganis. This is the guy who helped corrupt Arthas, who slaughtered and raised the people of Stratholme into undeath, who survived the runeblade Frostmourne to seize control of the Scarlet Onslaught. And as we've all noted, he vanished at the end of the Scarlet Onslaught quests instead of making a further appearance against his hated enemy, the Lich King.

So what has Mal'Ganis been doing? We know his style. He loves to corrupt the good-hearted, to make an Arthas a monster, to trick legions of devoted followers of the Light into becoming zealots and madmen. A world on the brink of war would be a perfect place for Mal'Ganis and an excellent way to weaken it for the eventual return of his Burning Legion masters.

Remember, Azeroth only defeated the Legion the last time by uniting -- the orcs, humans, night elves and even some help from the Lich King's Scourge were all needed to push back the Burning Legion. But now? Now the Scourge is in disarray, the Lich King replaced by someone untried and unaware of the true threat. Now the orcs are on the march, aggressive and warlike again. The Alliance, desperate and on the ropes, is willing to countenance any act that can bring them victory. Theramore burns; the Aspects are powerless. Things are almost perfect. If Mal'Ganis could tip the scales just a little further ...

It's easy to imagine, really. There are plenty of revered figures on both sides we haven't seen in a while. Why, if Turalyon returned, or Saurfang came back, who would question it? Who would even suspect that it was someone else? And these are just two of the many Horde and Alliance heroes out there who could become Mal'Ganis' next guise. He could even take more than one. Why not have an ear in both courts? At present, only Thrall and some adventurers really knows that Archbishop Benedictus is dead. The man could return to Stormwind and no one there would be the wiser. And it wouldn't be hard to push the two major factions closer and closer to weakening each other sufficiently for the rain of fel fire to fall again from the skies.

Of course, none of these need to happen. The story can go in many directions. But I really think we need sone reoccuring villains here, ones who don't just check out or get beaten down. We need some long-term evil. We need villains who stay villains for a while.

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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