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Know Your Lore: Getting into the lore of Mists

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.

Well, this has certainly been a week, hasn't it? Mists of Pandaria will officially be out and in your hands on Sept. 25. In the tidbits I've discussed here and there regarding Mists of Pandaria, I've pointed out time and time again that the lore we will see with this expansion will all be new. Does it tie into old lore and events that have been set up in prior expansions? Absolutely. Will we be dealing with villains from days of old? ... Not so much. This isn't something to be annoyed about; it's something that we should embrace. The continuation of a story is always a good thing. For a story as massive as Warcraft's, it's about time we had a shot of new lore added into the mix.

The best part about the lore in Mists is that because it's all so very new, everyone will be on roughly the same page headed into the expansion. For players who know the lore inside and out, this will all be new material to learn. For new players just looking to get into the lore, you'll be on the same page -- looking at brand new material and figuring it all out. There are a few story threads that have been picked up, but by and large, everything on Pandaria originated on Pandaria.

So how do you get started processing all that stuff? Let's take a look, minus the spoilers. Sorry, guys -- you will eventually get more Pandaria info than you can shake a stick at, but it's going to be September before I start throwing it at you with unbridled glee.

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Pre-Pandaria stories

Right now, there are two key things you'll want to watch for if you're looking to jump into Mists lore right off the bat. The nice part is, the two tie into each other, so you can do one or the other, or both if you like. I'm speaking of course about Tides of War, the novel by Christie Golden that's due out Aug. 28, and the tie-in event that will be happening in the pre-Mists patch that is currently available for testing on the PTR. We saw this back with Cataclysm in terms of the pre-Cataclysm patch and the novel The Shattering, too.

With that Cataclysm event, however, players who didn't read The Shattering didn't really have an idea of what was going on as far as Cairne and Magni's disappearance, as well as other key events that only played out in the novel. This left some players understandably upset, because some people just don't want to read the books, as marvelous as those books may be. With Mists, it looks like we're going to see some changes in how these pre-expansion events are handled, and from the bits and pieces that have been datamined, it sounds like the major events in the book are things we'll definitely see in the game in one form or another.

That said, I'd still recommend picking up Tides of War to people that are wanting to jump wholeheartedly into Mists lore when it ramps up and begins. Golden is an excellent author, and The Shattering was a really well done book -- honestly, it's a pity they couldn't have more of the book's key events in the pre-Cataclysm patch. Right now, it looks like if you're just wanting the nuts and bolts of what happened, you'll get that with the pre-Mists patch. If you'd like to read more of the story and have a better understanding of what is going on and why, the novel will be available to read.

Know Your Lore Getting into the lore of Mists SUN
I recommend the novels mainly because they present an emotional element that is really hard to get across in a game environment. Character development is generally a lot deeper when put into written word, and you get more out of the story that way. You don't have to go back and buy all the WoW novels to understand the lore -- but in those novels, comics and stories are a wealth of information, cool scenes, and tons of character development.

In addition to Tides of War, keep an eye out for Pearl of Pandaria, a graphic novel set to release on Sept. 11, according to Amazon. This graphic novel introduces Li Li Stormstout, niece of the infamous Chen. You'll see both Chen and Li Li in Mists, so this will likely be a pretty good introduction to both characters and how they got together pre-Cataclysm. Plus, you've got artwork by Cheeks that is absolutely stunning, and a story by Micky Neilson, who is one of the best writers in Blizzard's stable.

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What you need to know heading into Mists

Here's the rundown of information we've already seen in game that will tie into Mists.
  • Garrosh and the Horde war machine In case you haven't noticed it yet, Garrosh is pretty much whipping the Horde into a full-on army of bloodthirsty warriors in order to conquer as much land as possible. Unlike the far more neutrality-minded Thrall, Garrosh represents that old-school Old Horde mentality of kill, crush, destroy that was pretty much the Horde's downfall back in the Second War. But Garrosh's actions aren't necessarily reflective of the Horde's feelings as a whole. There are more than a few who are unhappy with how he's handled his stint as warchief so far.
  • Anduin Wrynn Anduin's seen a lot of character development in Cataclysm, but most of it has been in the novels and short stories available to read. Basically, the kid has gone from -- well, a kid to a full-fledged character in his own right. Unlike his father Varian, Anduin doesn't necessarily agree that war is a good thing or that the Horde is bad. He's seen plenty of admirable examples of Horde members who aren't hell-bent on killing. On top of this, Anduin's got a penchant for using the Light, and he's showing enough skill and promise with it that he's captured the attention of the Prophet Velen. Anduin's been studying with Velen and hanging out with Jaina Proudmoore -- and studiously avoiding his hot-tempered father.
  • Jaina Proudmoore Jaina is still in that hesitant state of wanting peace and neutrality over war. It's a space that she and Thrall have occupied for years, but it's been made clear to her that Thrall cannot push for peace when that peace compromises what his people want. In addition, Thrall's no longer warchief. And on top of all of that, King Varian Wrynn has made it very clear to her that when the time comes and she has to make a choice between Alliance or this strange wish for diplomacy, she'd best choose correctly.
  • King Varian Wrynn Varian hasn't been up to much by and large in game. Out of game, however, he's had plenty of development. Varian's been working very hard at getting his dual nature under control. While he's trying hard to be the respected ruler that he used to be, the split personality tricks that Onyxia pulled are working against him. To that end, he's had to deal with incredible flares of temper that usually pop up at exactly the wrong time, which has pushed his son Anduin away. Although Anduin and Varian have had a tentative reconciliation, Varian is still concerned that his son doesn't seem to share in his mistrust of the Horde, and he's worried that Anduin will make choices that will ultimately end in folly.
  • The Zandalar Back in Patch 4.1, the Zandalar tribe made their move from neutral tribe to a tribe bent on recreating the troll empires at the behest of a mysterious prophet named Zul. While other troll tribes eagerly agreed to be a part of this uprising, Vol'jin said no way, no how, and promptly gathered both Horde and Alliance forces to put a stop to the Zandalari's tricks in Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman. But the Zandalari haven't been wiped out; they've merely had a halt put to their plans. As for the mysterious Zul, we've seen nothing of the strange prophet -- yet.
Got all that? That's everything you need to know going into Pandaria. Any other events in Cataclysm have yet to play out or have any effect on what we'll see in the first iteration of Mists (although we may see more events come into play with later patches, of course).

Know Your Lore Getting into the lore of Mists SUN
Where's the lore in Pandaria?

So where's the lore in Pandaria? All around you -- and you'll be hit in the face with it the second you start playing the expansion. The introduction to Pandaria's shores starts out as an event on both sides that results in your ending up on the shores of this unknown island. Soon after arriving, you'll begin interacting with the natives of the area. It's not just pandaren on Pandaria, however. You'll run into other races like the hozen, the jin'yu, and the grummels as you travel through Pandaria's vast landscape.

Mists offers you choices on where to go while you level, and each area has its own chunk of story to follow. If you want to complete everything in the zone, the main map will show you quest areas that you haven't discovered yet. Not every quest chain in Pandaria's zones ties into the main storyline for that zone, but they all have various bits of story that contribute to the whole tale of Pandaria.

You'll see cutscenes, but you won't be overwhelmed by them. You'll have fun moments when you jump into the shoes of NPCs and play through what they've been doing. You aren't just told the story in Pandaria -- you are the story, and your actions have lasting repercussions on Pandaria itself. Pay attention to the quests you are given and to what is going on around you, and you will never, ever run out of story to follow.

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While you're out and about, keep an eye out for shrines scattered all over the world. These shrines give you bits and chunks of lore stories from the various races and factions in Pandaria. There are achievements for reading them all, and you'll get a nice piece of in-game mail when you complete an achievement and send you to the Lorewalkers in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms once you hit level 90 and get flight training.

Once you're able to visit the Lorewalkers, you'll get quests that tie into archaeology, but you'll also get a neat bonus. Any achievements you've completed by reading shrines will have the text from those shrines added as volumes to your personal bookshelf in the Lorewalker's hall. You can go back and read them at any point in time that you wish to. In addition, talking to Lorewalker Cho will trigger even more story in the form of spoken word and vignettes of scenes highlighting the various races you've read about.

As for hitting level 90, the story does not stop with max level. In fact, it continues to move onward from there. There are dailies for all the major factions in Pandaria, and while some of these dailies may repeat themselves, as you gain reputation, the story evolves. It plays a lot like the Netherwing dailies in Shadowmoon Valley, only better. The events and interaction aren't limited to when you gain a reputation level. They seem to be scattered throughout the rep gain process.

And this doesn't even begin to touch on the amazing things you'll see in dungeons and raids.

Know Your Lore Getting into the lore of Mists SUN
Cataclysmic evolution

Cataclysm pretty much blew the lid off of combining lore and gameplay into something where characters play through story rather than having story thrown at them via occasional cinematics and novels. But that doesn't mean this expansion wasn't without its faults. Heavy usage of phasing and cutscenes killed the quest flow in some areas -- and we learned in Uldum what it was like to be endlessly shown the story instead of actually being able to play it, as well as what happens when you throw in one too many cheeky pop culture references.

This has vanished in Mists. The linear nature of quests has been tossed out the window. There is no silent ushering from one area of the zone to the next. Phasing is used in Mists, but at the moment it is at a bare minimum and doesn't really involve gameplay in such a way as to distract from it. You won't see huge, multi-layered phased zones like in Icecrown, and you won't be ushered through a zone on a track like in Vash'jir. You won't be riddled with cutscenes like in Uldum. Cutscenes are kept by and large for special moments or thrown in for amusement factor, but they're used sparingly, which makes them far more impactful.

In general, the lore in Mists is pretty much going to be everywhere around you; you simply have to pay attention to your surroundings as you go along. Reading your quests will give you a good idea of what's going on, but the additional scenes and events you'll encounter will only add to what seems to be a wide story with many, many threads. For those who enjoy lore, Mists has a ton of it to offer -- and for those not so concerned with it, the lore doesn't get in the game's way. It's a really good mix of story and gameplay that feels far smoother than any of Blizzard's prior efforts, and it should be a good time for any lore fan, whether you're a veteran or brand new to the lore experience.

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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