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Know Your Lore: A lore guide to dungeons and raids

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.

When people think about learning lore in game, they automatically leap to doing quests. In some aspects, this is the right thing to do -- obviously a giant chunk of the game, and the storyline, is wrapped up in the quests you do to complete various zones. In others, it's still a little confusing for players. When Cataclysm revamped the 1-60 quest areas, it also updated their stories and timelines to Cataclysm's time -- which meant that players started out in Cataclysm's timeline, went back to Burning Crusade's storylines, continued their travels in the past with Wrath, then leapt forward to Cataclysm again. Confusing, isn't it?

There are other places where lore is tucked away as well -- in dungeons and raids. Normally doing a five-man or a raid is an exercise in not getting killed rather than paying attention to your surroundings. But a question on Twitter asked what would be the best order to complete raids in order to soak up all that lore from vanilla to Cataclysm, and that question has a much larger answer than you'd think. Raid lore ties into dungeon lore, and in some cases zone lore too. What with the holidays, and plenty of time to go easily solo most of that old content, why not take a visit to the days of old?

Vanilla raiding

There were a handful of raids in vanilla content, although one of them was removed with Wrath of the Lich King -- Naxxramas was moved to Northrend.
  • Onyxia's Lair The attunement chains for Onyxia's Lair were giant, world-spanning quests that took you to every corner of Azeroth, and varied for Alliance and Horde. While the quest chains have been removed, Onyxia still sits in her lair to be killed. Onyxia was originally Lady Katrana Prestor, an impostor sitting right in the throne room of Stormwind and running the kingdom after King Varian was mysteriously kidnapped. Obviously, a dragon in the throne room wasn't something that could stand. For more information on these quest chains of old, check our Know Your Lore articles regarding Bolvar Fordragon and Stormwind politics during that time period.
  • Molten Core In the depths of the Molten Core, Ragnaros stirs, waiting to make his return. His return? Short answer, yes -- Raganaros made his debut during the original War of Three Hammers, back in the day. For more information on this raid, complete the quests surrounding Blackrock Mountain in the Burning Steppes and Searing Gorge, and do the surrounding instances -- Blackrock Depths in particular -- before heading into the Core.
  • Blackwing Lair Blackwing Lair is the home of Nefarian, son of Deathwing. Also located in Blackrock Spire, you'll want to make sure you complete Upper Blackrock Spire for a good look at Nefarian before you head into his home.
  • Ruins and Temple of Ahn'Qiraj Ahn'Qiraj opened with a server-wide (and server-crashing) remarkable event spawned by a single quest chain -- a chain that has since been removed. However, doing the quests in Silithus should give you a good idea of what's going on in the Ruins and the Temple -- you'll want to do the Ruins before heading into the Temple.

Burning Crusade

In order to get a full idea of the Burning Crusade story, you'll want to complete at least some of the quests in various zones -- doing so will give you a far better understanding of what's going on in the raids.
  • Magtheridon's Lair Hellfire Peninsula's quests involving the fel orcs, as well as the three dungeons in the zone, are instrumental in figuring out what the heck is going on in the depths of Magtheridon's Lair.
  • Gruul's Lair Completing the quests in Blade's Edge should give you an idea of why this giant of giants needs to die.
  • Karazhan While not technically involving Outland or the surrounding areas, Karazhan is full of lore. The attunement chain for this dungeon still exists -- you can obtain the quest Archmage Alturus from Apprentice Tasserel in Shattrath to begin the chain. It's a long chain, but well worth your time when it comes to learning Karazhan's story -- and it'll lead you into some Caverns of Time instances for more story as well.
  • Serpentshrine Cavern Similarly, completing the quests in Zangarmarsh, as well as The Slave Pens, The Underbog, and The Steamvault -- in that order -- will give you the full picture of what's going on in Serpentshrine Cavern.
  • Tempest Keep There are a few different areas that will fill you in on Kael'thas Sunstrider and Tempest Keep. In Hellfire Peninsula, a small quest chain near Fallen Sky Ridge will begin the story. Head to Firewing Point in Terrokar Forest for the next section of the tale. Follow the story up to Netherstorm and complete the quests in that zone, then hit The Mechanar, The Botanica, and The Arcatraz. Once that's complete, you should have a really good idea of what's so important about Tempest Keep -- and make sure you turn in the Verdant Sphere that Kael'thas drops for another cool story moment in the middle of Shattrath.
  • Battle for Mount Hyjal This raid really has nothing to do with Burning Crusade's story at all. However, it covers a piece of Azeroth's history players might not have seen -- the end of the Third War. That said, it's definitely full of lore, and worth completing, especially if you never played Warcraft III.

  • Black Temple Arguably the most story-filled raid in Burning Crusade, it's also the most pertinent to what's coming up in Warlords. To get the full story on the Black Temple, complete the quests in Shadowmoon Valley - and make sure you're allied with either the Scryers or the Aldor, it doesn't matter which. Eventually you'll happen upon a quest called the Tablets of Baa'ri, which will begin the Black Temple attunement chain. It is ridiculously full of story -- all of Shadowmoon Valley is. There are also quests inside Black Temple itself, don't miss out on those while you're doing the content. And if you want a glimpse of what Illidan's been up to before heading into the Temple, don't forget to do the quests for the Netherwing. It takes some time to get exalted, but the story payoff at the end of the chain is huge.
  • Sunwell Plateau This raid is also full of story -- but the lead in for that story ties into content you've likely already completed so far. Before going to Sunwell Plateau itself, complete Magister's Terrace for an encore appearance by one of the villains you've defeated so far. Make sure you do the quests in the instance as well, and then head into Sunwell Plateau proper. For more information on that weird girl in the bubble you'll see, take a look at our Know Your Lore on Anveena Teague.

Wrath of the Lich King

Wrath is where things start to get a little complicated, because the quests, dungeons, and raids mostly tie in together in such a way that you'll want to complete entire zones, if not sections of zones, for relevant information.
  • Eye of Eternity Malygos' story is told in a section of the Borean Tundra -- you'll want to complete the quests on Amber Ledge, which will lead you to the area -- make sure you complete the Nexus instance after you've finished the Coldarra chain. After that, head to Dragonblight to complete the quest chains there -- particularly the ones surrounding Wyrmrest Temple. That should give you an excellent background as to why killing Malygos is necessary. Hit the Oculus instance for more story, and in addition to that, you might want to pop into The Violet Hold in Dalaran for a little more information.
  • The Obsidian Sanctum This raid, located underneath Wyrmrest Temple, should be fairly self-explanatory if you've done the Dragonblight quests described above.
  • Naxxramas Alliance players have the advantage here, because some of those Dragonblight quests lead directly into explanation for Naxxramas' relocation. But before you begin, you might want to check out quests in the Eastern Plaguelands for a little more background on the citadel. Death knights will also have an advantage here, because a lot of the death knight starting zone involves the various bosses of Naxxramas as well -- if you're interested in seeing that, the death knight starting zone takes very little time to complete.

  • Ulduar In order to fully understand what's going in inside of Ulduar, you'll want to complete the chains in the Storm Peaks, then the Halls of Stone and the Halls of Lightning. What you do during those quests and during those instances will absolutely have impact on what you see in Ulduar. In addition, a quest chain in Howling Fjord involving the Whispering Gorge may be of interest, as well as quest chains in Grizzly Hills that involve Grizzlemaw. Lastly, you might want to complete the quests for the Wrathgate cinematic over in Dragonblight. It doesn't tie in directly to Ulduar, but there's a moment with the final boss that ties in to what you'll see during that cinematic.
  • Trial of the Champion/Trial of the Crusader From a story standpoint, there isn't a ton to be found here. But if you'd like to see what there is to offer, complete the quests in the surrounding area -- which include a lot of dailies. The dungeons Azjol-Nerub and Ahn'kahet also play into what you'll see here as well.
  • Icecrown Citadel The pinnacle of Wrath, Icecrown Citadel involves nearly every quest and every zone in Northrend. Both Horde and Alliance players will want to complete the Wrathgate chain in Dragonblight before heading into Icecrown. In addition make sure you've done the Naxxanar quests in Borean Tundra for a look at one member of the Blood Prince Council -- Utgarde Keep will give you a look at the second member, and Taldaram can be found in Ahn'kahet. Completing all quests in Icecrown itself is almost a requirement for fully understanding the Lich King and what he's been up to all this time -- Icecrown contains some of the best quest storylines in the expansion. Make sure you complete the three instances, The Forge of Souls, Pit of Saron, and Halls of Reflection, in that order, once you've finished out Icecrown's quests. That should give you enough background to go on -- but remember, pretty much every moment you see the Lich King in action during Wrath leads up to his final appearance in Icecrown Citadel.
  • Ruby Sanctum Huh, what's with this whole Twilight Dragon thing? Well, that leads into Cataclysm -- and surprisingly, there's a little lead in for what you'll see here. If you haven't done it, go do the quests for the Netherwing in Burning Crusade, or just hang around the little encampment on Netherwing Ledge out there. You'll eventually see a visitor arrive, and a little scene play out. That scene is pretty important for both the Ruby Sanctum, and what's to come in Cataclysm content.


Cataclysm, is, unfortunately, really linear in terms of story delivery. However, that does have the advantage of making the raids pretty easy to understand, for the most part.
  • Blackwing Descent If you've completed Blackwing Lair and Onyxia's Lair, you'll recognize what's going on with Blackwing Descent.
  • Bastion of Twilight There are so many lead ins to this particular raid. Twilight Highlands is a must to understand just what the Twilight's Hammer is up to -- but before you do that, go check out the quests surrounding Dire Maul in Feralas. And remember that note about heading over to Netherwing Ledge? You'll see that mysterious visitor pop up again in this raid if you manage to kill Cho'gall on Heroic difficulty, as well as a return from a major player in Twilight Highlands. In addition, completing Grim Batol will give you some more background on this area. What's going on here should also shed some additional light on what exactly was happening up in the Ruby Sanctum during Wrath.
  • Throne of the Four Winds There's really no way around this -- to understand what's going on with the Throne, you'll want to do the quests in Uldum. The struggles of the tol'vir tie directly into what's going on with Al'Akir. Vortex Pinnacle will further explain what's going on -- and it's one of the most visually stunning instances in WoW, so I recommend it anyway!

  • Firelands If you have completed Molten Core, Firelands will make a lot more sense to you. Completing the quest in Hyjal will shed some more light on this as well. For Alliance players, doing the quests in Darkshore prior to hitting Hyjal's quests will give you even more background to go on. For both, doing Blackrock Caverns will help explain how exactly Ragnaros and his minions went from one continent to another in the blink of an eye. Casters can also catch a heck of a lot of lore with a legendary quest that takes place largely in Firelands -- for more background on what's going on in that quest chain, you'll want to complete all the stuff I mentioned with the Eye of Eternity listed above.
  • Dragon Soul Dragon Soul is the result of everything that's come so far. But before you head into Dragon Soul, you'll want to complete the instances End Time, Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight. To clarify what's going on in End Time, doing the instances in the Caverns of Time will give you some additional background into the Infinite Dragonflight -- and a clever quest chain from Chromie at Wyrmrest Temple in Northrend will fill you in a little more on the Infinite as well.
  • Additional places to go before Pandaria One of the major, major players in Pandaria is Wrathion. To begin Wrathion's story, head to the Badlands and complete the quest chains out there. For most players, this is the last you'll hear of the Black Prince until Pandaria. For rogues, Wrathion's story will continue with a legendary quest chain that takes place in Dragon Soul. If you're not a rogue, but you still want to see this bit of content, Blizzard released a series of videos on Youtube that summed everything up.
Dungeons, raids, and story content

Let's face it -- most raiders pay very little attention to story while running current content. But Blizzard has cleverly laid a lot of story groundwork in all of these dungeons and raids. Although it might not be prudent to pay really close attention to Lorewalker Cho while doing raids at level, going back to do the older raids, whether on your own or with a group of friends, is an opportunity to learn all those stories you may have missed. While I really recommend completing everything -- zones and dungeons included -- for the sake of learning everything there is to know, that isn't always possible or even desirable for many players. But hey, a night or two of old-world raiding with a group of friends is a really fun way to get into the story and see what's really going on. As Mists of Pandaria draws to a close, it's the perfect time to go back and see what you've missed. After all, who knows what old story threads we'll see revisited in Warlords?

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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