Know Your Lore: Look back in Draenei

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.

The draenei have a lot of unresolved issues.

For starters, they're stranded on a strange planet called Azeroth, after having just barely escaped Outland. They lived on Outland (back when it was called Draenor) for a few hundred years, time enough to start thinking of the place as home. Then it was taken from them, and their people nearly totally exterminated. Their escape to Azeroth was an accident, crashing here because their ship was sabotaged by blood elf servants of Kael'thas Sunstrider.

So let's look over things. In the past few decades the draenei have seen formerly amicable neighbors turn bloodthirsty, demon-addicted monsters. They endured the near-total extinction of their people, hiding in swamps and bedraggled refugee settlements, seeing many of the survivors mutate and lose their connection with the Holy Light. They saw roads made out of the bones of their people. They only escaped by stealing back a dimensional ship from people they'd never really seen or heard of who still helped try and kill them. And as soon as they arrived on this new planet they found out that the Burning Legion (the very same force that is trying to exterminate them) has already been here.

This is a condensed list, of course.

It doesn't mention Gul'dan having captured draenei to use in breeding experiments (the ones that produced Garona), or the loss of their holiest relic the Ata'mal Crystal (fragments of it used by orcs to murder draenei in their cities) or many, many other problems. It doesn't even mention the subtle but profound racism of their supposed allies - when draenei arrived in the Borean Tundra, offering to help the Alliance forces against the Lich King, it didn't take much effort for the Lich King's cultists to use the racism of the rank and file to come up with reasons the draenei shouldn't be allowed to help. In an organization where night elves fight alongside humans, gnomes and dwarves, somehow draenei were too much for people to swallow.

We've already discussed briefly that the draenei themselves are not immune to bigotry - their treatment of the broken and lost ones, for example - so even these relatively peaceful and good people, with their connection to the Holy Light, have a potential for negative emotions. One need only look to the Eredar to recognize this. The question then becomes, how much are the draenei expected to take before some of them snap?

Having established that they're not perfect, and that they can and do resort to violence as we see in Prophet's Lesson this raises the question of how they're going to handle going back to Draenor and potentially seeing the destruction of their own people again. Without linking to any spoilers or giving you any details (you're a savvy enough audience you can probably find them on your own) I can say that we've seen signs that at least one prominent draenei is going to have a very hard time coming face to face with a Draenor where events proceed differently. And that's completely understandable.

If anything, Velen's extreme commitment to the Light and to the future unity of all people is an ideal that should define the draenei, but not always by their ability to agree with it. Asking draenei to simply forget what was done to them - the bodies piled up in Shattrath, the red mist, roads paved with their bones, young draenei kidnapped and used in foul experiments to breed new soldiers for Gul'dan, and worse - is probably asking them to go mad. But it's one thing to ask them to remember that the past is past, after all. It's not like starting a new war in Orgrimmar today will bring all those draenei dead back. You can't undo the atrocities. The orcs have already done it - they drank the demon blood, rampaged through Karabor and Shattrath, destroyed the world. It's too late to stop them.

This is what makes Draenor something different. This is a world that gives draenei the opportunity to try again. To face the horrors of the past, so to speak - the Iron Horde is a different organization than the Horde that Gul'dan created. But to a draenei player, what they see is so horrifically similar - an army of orcs moving to conquer, and in their path, draenei who just want to be left alone to live their lives as they had finally managed for an all too brief moment of a few hundred years. After thousands upon thousands of years of exile, of constant flight, the draenei had found a world they could seemingly just live on. And then the rise of a Horde ended that dream.

What would you do if you could step through a portal and find yourself on a world similar to your own, with people almost exactly the same as the ones you loved and watched die, and you could stop it from happening again? What would you give up? Is there anything you wouldn't do to prevent the worst thing that ever happened from happening again? This is why, for my money, the draenei side of Warlords of Draenor is far, far more compelling. This is a journey to a heart of darkness, with the inability to move on that most survivors of a traumatic event experience made into an objective correlative - you literally cannot move on because you're forced to go to a world where events are repeating themselves in order to try and defend the world you ended up on.

Now, I don't particularly want to watch the draenei, as a people, all become bloodthirsty or try and wipe out the Horde/Iron Horde/orcs in general. I think the vast majority of the draenei people understand Velen's point about the Burning Legion being the real threat (and one that's still very much out there) but I do think that from a storytelling perspective the conflict between that idealism and the march of the Iron Horde across Draenor is a fascinating one.

The best and worst part of it all is, it wouldn't change anything. Changing events on Draenor by taking action won't bring your dead back to life - it just presents you with people who are almost them, who you can save and yet your loved ones remain dead. So you can fail twice, or you can succeed once, but your initial failure isn't wiped away. Your dead are still dead. That road of bone is still there in Hellfire Peninsula.

Another issue to contemplate for draenei is this - if you're a draenei going to Draenor from Azeroth, you've a survivor of a horrific time, a nightmare purge that killed more of your people than can easily be grasped. But you're going to a Draenor where the demon blood wasn't ingested, and the Iron Horde is still far from triumphant - where your people haven't endured decades of hiding, haven't seen the slaughter of the orc genocide, haven't seen their loved ones murdered, tortured, forced to create half-breeds for Gul'dan.

When you go to Draenor, the draenei there don't know how bad it can get, because they haven't experienced it yet. Their perspective is one of tolerance, their understanding does not include the horrible lows to which your people were forced. In a real way, they're better than you are. They've suffered less. There's a huge amount of potential in this - do you envy them? Are you resentful? Does this lead to guilt, that you're angry that they didn't have to suffer what you did even while you're trying to stop it from happening to them?

I'm really hoping some of this gets explored in Warlords of Draenor preferably through a few perspective characters, much like we saw in the Townlong Steppes with Suna Silentstrike - I'd love to see a cadre of draenei sent over from Bloodmyst in the middle of Shadowmoon torn between wanting to destroy all the Iron Horde orcs and feeling like they're fighting for people who can't possibly understand what they've been through. There's so much potential here.

Next week, going to switch gears a little. What are the trolls up to now?

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.