Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: Alternate Azeroth

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.

Warlords of Draenor takes place in an alternate, splinter reality in which Garrosh Hellscream has gone back in time and prevented the leaders of the old orc clans from drinking the Blood of Mannoroth. In this version of reality, several events have changed dramatically -- leading players to ask many, many questions about alternate Azeroth, how its history has been altered, and how that changes the Azeroth we know and love today. The answer is very simple: it doesn't. Not in the slightest. That alternate Azeroth, and whatever future it may hold, has no bearing on Warlords of Draenor at all. We won't be exploring that world, and our Azeroth remains unchanged.

However, people still continue to ask. So we're going to take a little trip into that alternate reality and explore what that version of Azeroth would theoretically look like without the Dark Portal. We're going to explore this alternate world, take a look at what likely never came to pass, and what happened as a result. And then we're going to quietly put all of that away, because this is all information and events that we are not going to see in Warlords of Draenor. But it'll be nice to get it out of our systems, won't it?

Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition. The following contains speculation and history based on known material. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.

The First War

Azeroth's known history is massive, spanning all the way back to the War of the Ancients and beyond. But Azeroth's present-day history begins with the First War, in which the Dark Portal was opened and the orcs invaded Azeroth. This is why in all instances of the Warcraft timeline, you'll usually see the First War as year 0 -- it was a pivotal, historical moment that started an avalanche of events which altered Azeroth's history significantly.

Garrosh Hellscream may have changed events surrounding the First War and on, but everything prior to that remains the same. The War of the Ancients still occurred -- albeit without the influence of Rhonin, Krasus and Broxigar -- and the Sundering still took place. The War of the Shifting Sands still happened just as it did in our current version of Azeroth. The exile of the Highborne and rise of the quel'dorei in the Eastern Kingdoms still took place, as did the construction of the Sunwell. The War of the Three Hammers still drove the dwarven clans apart, and brought Ragnaros into play.

The Council of Tirisfal was still formed, Aegwynn still fought and defeated the avatar of Sargeras, and still gave birth to a son whose destiny would be tainted by the essence of Sargeras dwelling within. In other words, the Burning Legion was still very much a threat to be reckoned with -- but the pivotal moment of the next advance of the Burning Legion, the First War that was a catalyst for Archimonde's eventual arrival on Azeroth, never occurred.

Physical differences

In this alternate Azeroth, the Dark Portal never opened. It was never constructed, deep in the heart of the Swamp of Sorrows. Because of this, the Blasted Lands would simply cease to exist -- they would simply continue to be the swampy marshes of the Black Morass that we see in the Caverns of Time. Because the orcs never rampaged on Azeroth, Stormwind would still be its original version, never having been destroyed or rebuilt. Because it was never destroyed, the events that brought about the Defias would never have happened, meaning that Westfall, Redridge and even possibly Duskwood would remain verdant farmland and surrounding territory for the capital city.

As for Stormwind itself, it's likely that the Deeprun Tram doesn't exist in this alternate Azeroth -- with nothing really to bring the dwarves and the humans closer together, and nothing to bring the gnomes in as allies, there would be no reason to construct it. Moving north, the Arathi Highlands would likely look very different indeed. Stromgarde would still stand, both harbor city and nation unto its own. In fact, all seven kingdoms would still exist -- Stormwind, Stromgarde, Alterac, Gilneas, Kul Tiras, Dalaran ... and Lordaeron.

On this alternate world, the plaguelands would not exist. Lordaeron and its surrounding territories -- Andorhal, Caer Darrow, Stratholme -- all of it would still be green and standing. All fortresses and territories claimed by the Scarlet Crusade would either cease to be, or be in the hands of the kingdom of Lordaeron -- because in this alternate universe, there would be no Scarlet Crusade. You'll notice everything I've spoken of involves the Eastern Kingdoms, and there's good reason for that. Kalimdor was not really discovered or inhabited until the Third War. On alternate Azeroth, it's likely still very much night elf territory, and Teldrassil doesn't exist. Without Archimonde's arrival and the subsequent events at Mount Hyjal, Nordrassil would still be standing as a home for night elf civilization.

Alliance political differences

Without the Dark Portal, the First War and all subsequent conflicts would not have come into play. The Alliance of Lordaeron, the first union of the seven kingdoms, the quel'dorei, and the dwarves and gnomes, was a direct response to Stormwind's downfall at the end of the First War. Because there is no Dark Portal, no orcish threat, this alliance would simply cease to be. There isn't a reason for it. And this means that the human race is still very much acting on its own accord, with no alliances with other races. The dwarves and humans might be friendly, but there isn't any kind of major alliance between them -- and paladins would not exist. There wouldn't be a reason for them to come into being. As for the night elves ... nobody has heard of the night elves, and it's incredibly likely no one ever will.

But there's more than just that. King Llane Wrynn would still live, or if he had passed on by this point in the timeline, it would have likely been from natural causes. His son, Varian, never had the trials and struggles of his father's death and Stormwind's fall. He's simply either next in line to lead Stormwind, or the King of Stormwind -- and Tiffin, his wife, is alive and well. Gilneas likely never had to deal with the worgen threat -- there was no reason to build the great wall. As for Lordaeron, we likely would see King Terenas on the throne ... or better yet, passing the reins to his son Arthas Menethil.

Because of the lack of the Dark Portal, because of the absence of Ner'zhul's flight from a world shattering to pieces, the Lich King would not exist. No Scourge. No Forsaken. Sylvanas Windrunner would still be the Ranger General of Silvermoon, never having died and been brought back to a horrific undead state. In fact, the entirety of elven lands would still be verdant, lush territory -- with no Dead Scar. As for the quel'dorei, beyond those few that chose to learn and teach in Dalaran, they would remain hidden away in the forests of Quel'Thalas, led by Anasterian Sunstrider and by and large ignoring the rest of the world.

Horde political differences

As for the Horde ... there would be no Horde, or at the very least, no Azeroth Horde. The tauren of Kalimdor may never have succeeded in building Thunder Bluff, in this alternate Azeroth -- the centaur likely proved too great a threat for Cairne and his nomadic tribe to truly settle in their ancestral home. The Darkspear would still be out on the Darkspear Islands -- and the naga would likely remain a persistent threat, if not have wiped out the entire tribe altogether. The Forsaken, as mentioned above, would not even exist -- with no plague, no Scourge, no Arthas and no Lich King, there was nothing to create them.

The goblins are likely still completely neutral on this alternate Azeroth -- there's no need for any of the cartels to join sides, since there isn't actually two divided factions out there to choose from. And with no orcs ... well, with no orcs, there would be no impetus for the Horde at all. Without the fallout from the Second War, the internment camps, and most importantly Thrall, there would simply be no reason, no possible circumstance in which tauren and troll could unite -- nor would they really want to. The Darkspear are out at sea, the tauren are wandering the plains of Kalimdor, there's no circumstance for them to meet.

And, if one were an Alliance player, one would think this is an idyllic world, isn't it? No wars to bring about the downfall of kingdoms, no orcs to ravage the human kingdoms, no Scourge to wash over the land unimpeded. Anduin Lothar is still alive, as well as Uther -- Turalyon was never lost, Antonidas lived a long and healthy life. Arthas and Jaina may have even married, in this alternate world that we'll never see. But lest one thinks that this is a perfect version of reality, one should probably consider the impact of a world without the Horde.

A world in which Medivh is still very much alive.


Sargeras' plan was simple -- he sent Kil'jaeden to find mortal armies to conquer worlds. Kil'jaeden found that army with the orcs, had them drink the Blood of Mannoroth, and after Kil'jaeden left, Sargeras then contacted Gul'dan via Medivh, and set about building the Dark Portal to link Azeroth with Draenor. In this alternate reality, Kil'jaeden failed in his mission -- which means that Sargeras didn't have that army of rampaging orcs to burst through the portal and destroy Azeroth. Which also means that Khadgar and Lothar never discovered Medivh's duplicity ... leaving Sargeras free to come up with another way to fulfill his plans.

What does that look like? Well, it looks like another army of some sort of demonic forces. Rest assured, just because Kil'jaeden failed to fully corrupt the orcish race does not mean that Sargeras would give up in his attempts to take over and destroy Azeroth in the name of the Burning Legion. And that last bastion of defense against the Burning Legion, the Guardian of Tirisfal, was the same man who was currently running around as the puppet of the Legion's leader. He would not stand idly by and let the world be a paradise, he would simply find another way.

Certainly Azeroth has its guardians, but would they really work together in the face of a threat like this? It was Medivh who originally urged the night elves, humans and orcs to work together and put a stop to Archimonde's plans in the Third War. With Medivh out of the picture, who exactly would convince the kaldorei to work with any race that was not their own? Would they even think of looking to the Eastern Kingdoms for allies? Or would they simply fight to their last breath, watching in despair as the Legion stood triumphant?

Horrors from beneath

In addition to the unchecked threat that Sargeras poses on this alternate world is the matter of the Old Gods. It took a concerted effort between both Alliance and Horde, the united armies of both factions to push back the qiraji and venture into the Temple of Ahn'qiraj. It took heroes of both factions to venture into Ulduar and defeat Yogg Saron in Northrend. It took heroes of both factions to put a stop to the Emerald Nightmare during the Nightmare War, an event depicted in the novel Stormrage. Without the Alliance, without the Horde, what is there, really, to stop the Old Gods?

Absolutely nothing. In this alternate world, the Aspects may still be in full control of their powers, but the Old Gods are deliberately working against the Aspects in the form of the Emerald Nightmare, the Infinite Dragonflight. In this alternate world, Deathwing still lives on. And in this alternate world, Malygos never regained his sanity -- in fact, in this alternate world, with no Rhonin, Krasus, or Broxigar to travel to the past, the blue dragonflight remains nearly obliterated, if not entirely extinct. During that trip back in time, blue dragon eggs were discovered and saved. If Rhonin and the others had not been present, the blue dragonflight would still be dying out, if not gone entirely.

Ysera, guardian of the Emerald Dream, may very well have been overcome in this alternate Azeroth -- the Emerald Nightmare would run completely unchecked, possibly leeching into the living world. As for Northrend ... without Arthas and the Lich King, there was really no reason to even go to Northrend. Yogg Saron would be free to corrupt, warp and twist the Titan keepers of Ulduar, the nerubians, the vrykul, and whoever else it happened upon. We wouldn't be dealing with a Scourge threat from the north, we'd be dealing with something far, far worse.

And we'd have absolutely nothing to stop it.

Alternate worlds

This is why we aren't going to see an alternate Azeroth in Warlords of Draenor -- because it's not at all pertinent to the story we're being told. Sure, it's fascinating and even horrifying to think about, but it has nothing to do with Draenor, the Iron Horde, or the threat that the Iron Horde poses to our reality, our Azeroth. We aren't concerned with that alternate Azeroth -- we're concerned with the second coming of the First War, featuring all those old warlords with considerably more technology, power, and knowledge at their disposal. Garrosh has quite likely told them of our weaknesses, armed them in advance. And on top of that, the Iron Horde is free of the Legion's influence -- something that arguably made them weaker and easier to originally defeat in the Second War.

What we are dealing with in Warlords of Draenor isn't alternate realities, mirror universes with timelines gone horribly astray, or a boatload of what-if situational fantasies. That's not the focus of this expansion. We have an army of orcs, armed to the teeth and ready to invade at our doorstep -- and this time, they're intent on murdering both Alliance and Horde. They're stronger than they ever were before. Look at the fallout from the original First War -- do we really want to deal with that again? No, absolutely not. And every second we are away fighting these orcs, the Burning Legion is likely plotting something against Azeroth itself -- which is why we need to address this situation, and address it quickly.

While it's infinitely interesting to consider what that alternate-reality Azeroth might look like, what kind of history it may have experienced due to the lack of the First War, in the end it's meaningless to do so -- because we won't be going there. We won't find heroes from there, we won't see any crossover into Draenor, we won't be dealing with that alternate version of our world at all. In the end, all this speculation is just that -- speculation -- and instead of focusing on the what-ifs and the might-have-beens, we should focus on what Warlords is really all about.

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.