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.
Azeroth is a volatile land fraught with conflict. In recent years of history, this conflict has been highlighted by the battle between Alliance and Horde, a seemingly never-ending struggle that began the moment the orcs made their way through the Dark Portal and began attacks on the Eastern Kingdoms in earnest. But prior to the orcs, there were still wars to contend with. In early days, pandaren rose up against mogu, troll against aqir. Kaldorei against Burning Legion, and against each other in the process.
It almost seems as though Azeroth's destiny is one that is irrevocably tied to war -- we're destined to fight, regardless of who we are, or what we happen to be fighting. But why do the Alliance and Horde continue to fight? They've worked together in the past, and yet it seems that every time they are close to some sort of peaceful resolution, they are drawn once more to war. What's making the Alliance and Horde so aggressive this time around?
The Alliance have more than enough reason to be fighting currently, but their aggression with the orcs goes all the way back to the days of the Dark Portal and Medivh. What the kingdom of Stormwind encountered when the orcs first made their way through the Dark Portal was a race that was not interested in making friends or diplomacy. The orcs weren't interested in having a chat with the humans of Azeroth, they simply wanted to wreak as much havoc and destruction as they could.
The story is a little different on the Horde side of the equation, but what we have to remember is that the Alliance didn't know about any of this. They had no history on the orcs. They had no idea what the heck those green-skinned creatures were. All they knew was that the orcs could speak, but their language was one of brutality. There was no reasoning with them, there was merely a situation of kill or be killed. The one exception to this was Garona, a half-orc who at the time thought her other half was human.
Out of hundreds, thousands of green-skinned savages, only one orc was willing to sit and talk. King Llane was more than willing to listen -- and that ended in his abrupt demise at Garona's hands, in front of a very young and very terrified Varian Wrynn. This is the image of orcs that has been seared into Varian's head from childhood onward; a race of brutal savages bent on killing. A race that was cunning and clever enough to send in a well-spoken representative, have her earn the king's trust, and then turn on him when the moment was right.
It's enough for Varian to want to fight, but what of the other races? The dwarves and gnomes found themselves in the path of orcish domination in the Second War. In the Third War, the night elves were drawn into the fray, as the orcs continued their slow crawl up Kalimdor and into the forests of Ashenvale. It was at this point that a truce was called, and the Horde forces helped defeat the Burning Legion atop Hyjal.
But as the years passed following Archimonde's defeat, the orcs began to raise their heads again, with their sights set on Kalimdor once more. As far as the night elves were concerned, the forests were very clearly kaldorei land -- and as a nature-loving race, they didn't appreciate the orcs encroaching upon their forests. And at this point, it wasn't just orcs. The Horde had been very clearly formed and established between orc, troll, and tauren. Although the Alliance on the Eastern Kingdoms had little to worry about with the Horde's relocation to Kalimdor, there were still orcish forces to contend with in the Burning Steppes and Blackrock Mountain.
Now one could sit there and argue that the orcs of the Burning Steppes were not allied with the Horde, and you'd be telling the absolute truth. But what peasant, what wandering hero truly knew of the history of the Horde? How would they know of this history? The only one who might have had an inkling was Jaina Proudmoore, and she was nowhere near the Eastern Kingdoms.
In addition, the Horde picked up a new race of allies -- the Forsaken of Lordaeron. These creatures were literally the dead and fallen of Lordaeron from the Third War, brought back to horrifying un-life by Arthas. Since then, they had regained their free will, and they seemed intent on reclaiming all of Lordaeron for themselves. They also seemed intent on wiping out the living in the process, putting pressure on the few remaining cities to the north.
To the Alliance, the Horde has never been anything but this. They are a collection of some of the most brutal savages Azeroth has seen, led by a group of aliens from another world, intent on death and destruction. It's an organization of killers, and the Horde will stop at nothing until they have conquered every last bit of land they come across. Of course the Alliance wants to fight; this is their home. This is where they were born, where they were raised, and where a bright future supposedly awaits -- but the Horde seems to be dedicated to standing in the way.
And yet from the other side, the story looks completely different. The orcs arrived in Azeroth under the influence of demonic taint, tools of the Burning Legion simply fulfilling their duty. They had been fully deceived by Kil'jaeden into making the blood pact that bound their will to the Burning Legion. Yes, they arrived and they reduced Stormwind to rubble, but they weren't in control of their senses or their actions at that point in time. And when the Second War ended in orcish defeat, the orcs were imprisoned in internment camps and left to rot and die.
It was at this point that the blood haze began to wane, and the orcish race was reduced to a curious lethargy. And it was also at this point that a young orc named Thrall, raised by humans as a slave, good for nothing but fighting, wanted to learn more about his people. He escaped his imprisonment and sought out those who had not been imprisoned, and he learned what it meant to be an orc. Not an orc of the blood pact, an orc fueled by the blood haze of the Burning Legion, but an orc of the old ways. And he wanted that way back again. He wanted to put the orcs back on the path that they had left so many years ago on Draenor, the one Kil'jaeden had mercilessly ripped away from the orcish race through deception.
Thrall was successful to a degree. He managed to break the orcs free from the internment camps, and later moved them to Kalimdor. He had a vision in which the orcs could live free and simply exist on this world they'd been stranded upon, but that vision was clouded by Alliance conflict. The Third War and the events of Hyjal were Thrall's vision of a perfect world -- Alliance and Horde, working together to defeat a common foe. But once the thrill of victory had faded, Thrall and his people realized they were left with next to nothing.
They had one small corner of Durotar to claim as their capital, and their holdings consisted of vast amounts of barren desert and plains. It was a harsh, unrelenting world, one in which basic resources were scarce at best, absent at worst. Thrall tried his best for diplomacy, but the Alliance had no interest in helping, no interest in negotiation, no interest in allowing the orcs or the rest of the Horde to exist anywhere.
The Horde had become a ragtag band of outcasts -- the trolls of the Darkspear, no longer welcome in troll society. The tauren, a nomadic people who had finally taken the initiative to settle in the land of their ancestors, beholden to nothing but the land on which they walked. The orcs, strangers in a strange land, destined to be forever punished for falling prey to Kil'jaeden's deceit. And later, the Forsaken. The Forsaken were perhaps the oddest addition to the Horde.
Yet they strangely fit within the Horde as well. Former Alliance citizens, they were looked upon with horror by their former loved ones. There was no acceptance for the Forsaken within the Alliance, only fear and disgust. To Thrall, perhaps the addition made sense in that aspect -- to the other races of the Horde, the Forsaken were a quiet cause of concern, but powerful allies with access to forests and other natural resources the Horde lacked on Kalimdor.
Why does the Horde continue to fight? It's a struggle of survival in a world that has been pitted firmly against them. Of course the Horde wants to fight; this is their home. To the trolls, tauren and Forsaken, Azeroth has always been. To the orcs, Azeroth is the only place they have left to call home. But the Alliance continually stand in the way -- and the orcs have been corraled into a lone dusty corner of Kalimdor just as surely as they were corralled into internment camps after the Second War.
To Thrall, Garrosh was a logical choice for a replacement -- he's an orc of the old ways. He's an orc from Draenor, and he's an orc that has been living the path that Thrall has been trying to lead the orcs back to ever since the escape from the internment camps. Here is the problem: that path isn't what Thrall thinks it is. Thrall escaped imprisonment and sought out others of his kind. He was presented with an idea of what the orcs used to be. It was an idealized, romanticized version of orcish society, and the truth is that the way of the orcs is far more raw and brutal than Thrall ever realized.
Think of it like this: Players that remember the vanilla version of World of Warcraft speak of it fondly. They wax on about how wonderful the game was, how perfect everything seemed to be, and how everything today pales in comparison. The truth is, vanilla was a good game, but it was also a game where players struggled to figure out poorly designed questing paths, flew all over the world and back again to complete said quests, and marveled at the inconvenience of not being able to ride a mount until level 40.
Thrall was listening to someone speak of orcish history in the way that new players listen to people speak of that holy mecca that was vanilla WoW. Yet were any new players today to go back and play that original version of the game, they would be frustrated beyond belief. Garrosh is a player from vanilla, ripped from that version of time and pulled into the current version of the game -- and he doesn't understand why we're riding mounts way earlier than we should be. To Garrosh, level 40 is better, because it's how it has always been.
To Garrosh, the world of the orcs is one where power is established not through thinking and diplomacy, but through show of brute strength. Where a leader is determined not by who would be best for the position, but who clawed their way to the top of the pile. Where strength is shown not by conviction of character, but by how much land you hold, and how many people cower before you. To Garrosh, this is what the Horde should be, and he is delivering exactly what Thrall wanted. He is taking the orcs back to the "old ways," the ways he knows intimately, and the ways that Thrall simply didn't have a clue about.
Matters of perception
There's a tale that can be found in the Seat of Knowledge called The Mogu and the Trogg. In this tale, the mogu create the grummles from troggs, to work as the eyes and ears of the mogu. Every day, a mogu would send a grummle to watch for any possible enemies. And every day, the grummle would return and report that he had seen no enemies anywhere. He saw the hozen digging tunnels, the jinyu speaking to water, and the pandaren dancing a funny dance, but there were no enemies to be found.
When the rebellion began, the mogu discovered the treachery of the hozen -- they were digging tunnels behind mogu lines. He discovered that the jinyu were speaking with the water to determine where the mogu would first respond once the rebellion began. And the pandaren were not dancing, they were training themselves to fight unarmed. He went to the grummle, outraged, and demanded to know why the grummle had not reported any enemies.
With a grin and a smile, the grummle said to the mogu: "I saw what I wanted to see. You heard what you wanted to hear."
It's a matter of perception. The grummle didn't report any enemies, because he didn't know what enemies were -- and nobody bothered to tell him the difference. The mogu assumed the hozen, jinyu and pandaren weren't up to any kind of rebellion, even though the grummle told him exactly what he had seen. Neither clearly understood what the other meant.
And this failure in perception is what perpetuates the entire Alliance and Horde struggle. It's why Garrosh is currently sitting in power; because Thrall thought he and Garrosh's perceptions of the orcs of old were the same. It's why Varian hates the orcs with every fiber of his being; because to him, the orcs are the green-skinned creatures of nightmare that ripped away his childhood and his father in one well-placed blow. And it's why a character like Anduin sits in the middle, flailing his arms and wondering why people just don't see the world the way he does. Because Anduin is looking at both sides and seeing what is ultimately a similarity.
Why do we fight? Because both sides are after the same thing: a safe place to call home, a place where families can be raised, where futures can be bright. A place with plenty of resources for all, a place of peace where we can at last lay down our weapons and stop fighting, because we've found that utopia that supposedly exists at the end of all conflict. But there's something that stands in the way of that beautiful future, and it's the other side. Neither will give in until the other is eradicated.
Why do we fight? Because in the end, we're convinced that we are right, and the other side is wrong. Yet if both sides fight for the same cause, then the question we should be asking ourselves is indeed the question so elegantly posed by Chen Stormstout.
What are we fighting for?
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.