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Warlords of Draenor and the draenei

Matthew Rossi

Okay, let's just put our cards on the table. The only thing I want to do with orcs in Warlords of Draenor is kill them. Bring on the Iron Horde for me to stomp on. I will eventually level my Horde characters, sure. But I'm not particularly interested in the Frostwolves and how the Horde is going to relate to them and the Horde's search for an identity somewhere between murderous lunatics and Thrall's happy fun-time frolic friends - it's certainly not a bad hook for a Horde storyline. But I don't care about it. We've had a lot of the Horde and their civil war and their struggle to stay united under Hellscream. It was often very interesting stuff - I very much liked the Dominance Offensive quests - and I'm glad we got to see it. Mists of Pandaria ended up being a very dark expansion in a lot of ways, with themes of personal responsibility and how good intentions can go bad, missed opportunities and the fog of war, and I thought that the Siege of Orgrimmar made a lot of sense.

I wasn't one of the Alliance players who was upset about the Horde rebels having a role in SoO. I don't feel like it diminished the Alliance story any to show us working alongside them, I wasn't bothered by seeing Varian's actions at the end of the raid. I thought it was all good and proper.

But frankly, I'm done with the Horde's problems. I play Alliance. I want to see Alliance stories. Horde players should have their stories, too, I'm not saying they shouldn't -- more power to y'all solving that whole issue of inheriting a legacy of murderous psychopathic lunacy from the Old Horde, that's gotta be rough for you -- but I am done. Because Warlords of Draenor has promised me the one thing I've wanted to see since Burning Crusade itself failed to deliver it, and that's draenei. Draenei cities, as they appeared at their height. Draenei culture, not the ruined remnants of it. The draenei we saw in BC were the ragged remnants cast adrift on Azeroth, survivors of a near total extermination. They were the embattled refugees desperately seeking a place to rebuild. I fell in love with them in no small part due to their tenacity and willingness to keep going, but I've always wondered what they were really like before the horrors Ner'zhul and later Gul'dan unleashed upon them at Kil'jaeden's behest. And at last, I'm going to get to find out.

The draenei we meet in Warlords of Draenor are under siege, but they haven't been utterly slaughtered yet - unlike the history we see in Rise of the Horde, they haven't been betrayed by Durotan, who used Velen's generosity against him. A troop of draenei saved the young Durotan and Orgrim Doomhammer - this troop, led by Restalaan, even invited the two young orcs into Telmor, where they met and ate with the Prophet Velen. To repay the draenei for this, Durotan used the knowledge of Telmor's defenses gained in this meeting to disable the city's protection and thus, the Old Horde stormed the now defenseless city and slaughtered everyone.

This hasn't happened. None of the horrors that the draenei endured - attacked by orcs they'd lived alongside for hundreds of years and never offered any offense to, slaughtered by demon fueled rages and warlock magics - are the history of this draenor. The Iron Horde attacks with advanced siege technology, but the fight is more even, and the draenei (despite having lost Shattrath to their enemies) have secure fallbacks which cannot be as easily subverted this time. And this fascinates me, this chance to get to experience the draenei as a living, breathing culture, not one smashed almost beyond recognition. What were the draenei like? The settlements we see in ruins all over Outland hint at a culture, but we'll get to see the buildings intact and alive with inhabitants. Just the chance to see Karabor as it was, to see Akama as he was, floors me.
The beginning of the trailer gives you a sense of what our draenei lost, and what these draenei are fighting to keep hold of - for draenei players, at least, the chance to fight to defend this society (even if it isn't actually theirs) is an intoxicating one. I'm excited for characters like Maraad, who will be traveling to Draenor with us - how will he deal with this version of the past, with its new perils and different outcomes? Will a draenei like him, who has lost so much, be able to cope with this 'better' version of history?

But the fact is, I'm most excited for Yrel. I know almost nothing about this character - I know she's a draenei, that she's been compared to Joan of Arc, and that's about it. She's been described as a war leader who will step up and defend her people from the Iron Horde - and that's really all I need. Don't get me wrong - I love characters like Akama, Nobundo, and Maraad - but the one thing all those characters share is defeat. They lost. Granted, they lost because the Horde rose to attack them out of nowhere, and because of Durotan's betrayal, but they still lost - the draenei we see in BC are the last survivors of a purge more horrific than anything the Burning Legion was able to inflict in thousands upon thousands of years. So there's that baggage there. I'm very excited to see a draenei lore figure, a major faction leader, be a woman who swings hammer in the defense of her people without that baggage. Ironically, since they needed time to arm, the Iron Horde couldn't just unleash a host of demon blood drunk berserkers on their enemies - they needed to create their new weapons, tame their Gronn siege tanks, enlist or dominate ogre clans - this all takes time. Gul'dan's path was more evil, yes, but it was also faster. The draenei have had time to respond, this time.

One of the aspects of draenei culture I hope really gets explored is their forgiving nature - even after the Horde's treatment of them, even after how the blood elves under Kael'thas stole Tempest Keep from them and tortured M'uru, Velen was willing to follow his visions and aid them in reigniting the Sunwell. One of the roots of this forgiveness that I hope we get to see is that the draenei know inside each one of them lies the seeds of a dark evil - the draenei have seen that evil in the form of the eredar, after all. As bad as the orcs can be or have been, they pale in comparison to Archimonde, to Kil'jaeden, and those two were once part of the original triumvirate with Velen himself, back when eredar was the name for the whole race, before Sargeras. The draenei fight against hatred and anger in themselves because they understand the cost of succumbing to it - their object lessons being the very eredar who hunt their people now. The draenei are the last uncorrupted strain of a society that was so impressive that Sargeras the fallen titan came personally to corrupt it, and the success of the Burning Legion can in large part be attributed to Archimonde and Kil'jaeden's leadership and the eredar's magical power - thus the draenei know that in each of them is the potential for evil, and that you can't allow yourself to fall prey to it.

This fear of their own internal potential for darkness and corruption probably also explains why they were so panicked about the broken and their loss of connection to the Light - but I don't expect we'll see much of that, with only Gul'dan and a few Stormreavers following the Legion this time. Still, it's interesting to consider.

This is Blizzard's chance not just to flesh out and expand upon the draenei's culture and history (for example, are Velen and Jessera of Mac'Aree typical of draenei lifespans? Do they all live indefinitely unless slain?) but to expand upon it - to really do something unique to the Warcraft setting here. The draenei aren't elves or dwarves or orcs - they're a unique culture original to the setting. It's long past time to get to see them up close, and as an Alliance player, I hope they get some of the detail and attention the pandaren culture did in Mists. And maybe we can find out why the draenei word for light is sha, while we're at it.

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