Know Your Lore: What we know of Warlords of Draenor

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.

There's been a lot of discussion about Warlords of Draenor ever since the expansion was announced at BlizzCon last year. The new content focuses around the world of Draenor -- an alternate version of the world we explored in Burning Crusade, one in which the Burning Legion never sank its claws into the orcish race and instead, the Iron Horde rose to take the world by force, then move in on Azeroth. It's a different kind of concept, one that might seem a little far-fetched even, until you realize we're playing in a universe where dragons, goblins, and the even the walking dead exist -- not to mention the giant humanoid talking cows.

But what seems to be concerning people the most is that the story of Warlords, despite being described as "the Alliance's finest hour," seems to be focused almost entirely on orcs. Orc warlords, orc clans, orc attacks, with little left to interest the player other than the potential of Garrisons, which aren't a story element so much as an active part of gameplay. So what gives? Are we jumping the gun on judging the expansion's lore? What do we really know about what's coming in Warlords, story-wise?


Let's just make a list of what we know, both from news releases and interviews, and from material released on the official website.

  • Garrosh Hellscream has slipped into the past to an alternate version of Draenor, and halted the corruption of the Burning Legion. Now the orc chieftains have formed the Iron Horde, a united group of clans that have been attacking the draenei.

  • However, the Iron Horde has also been working on assaulting Azeroth through a different Dark Portal, one which links this alternate version of Draenor to our own.

  • Durotan isn't siding with the Iron Horde it seems, as Horde players encounter him in Frostfire Ridge and apparently form an alliance with the Frostwolf Clan.

  • Similarly, the draenei have not been completely defeated. Velen and Maraad both make appearances in Warlords, the latter apparently having an extensive story that also involves Yrel, a new draenei character who has been described as a Joan of Arc of sorts.

  • We will be raiding Blackrock Foundry and Highmaul at the onset of Warlords. Blackrock Foundry will have us clearing several bosses, including Blackhand, Warlord of the Blackrock Clan. Highmaul will have us fighting ogres, as well as an encounter with Kargath Bladefist, Chieftain of the Shattered Hand.

  • Ner'zhul is presumed to be fighting the draenei in Shadowmoon Valley, which is where the Alliance base of operations is held in Karabor.

  • Gul'dan is apparently one of a very few orcs to have actually allied with or accepted power from the Burning Legion -- his skin is green.

  • According to the website, we "must mount a desperate charge on Draenor" because the Iron Horde is planning an assault on our world that will make the First War evidently pale in comparison.

And that's about it, for solid information. We've had other small pieces here and there, but nothing of any substance at all. Needless to say, the majority of the information we've been presented with, including promotional imagery at BlizzCon, has featured orcs. A lot of orcs. And while these particular orcs are neither allied with Horde or Alliance, it's making some people concerned that orcs are all we're going to see. After finishing off Mists of Pandaria and dealing with Garrosh Hellscream and the orcs of his "true Horde," people are concerned that we're going to get another orc expansion, with little to no focus on Alliance lore at all -- especially as the draenei have hardly been mentioned. What little we know of the draenei has been material datamined from quests in Shadowmoon Valley.

Mists of Pandaria

That might be a legitimate complaint, but let's step back for a moment and take another look at Mists of Pandaria. When the expansion was announced at BlizzCon, there was a lot of confusion from players, and a lot of concern that there was no legitimate way Mists could feasibly be a "serious" expansion when it was set on a continent of giant talking panda bears. We knew next to nothing about the story, and very little was revealed at BlizzCon other than some concept art, a bit of information about the Sha, and a playable demo that featured the Wandering Isle, rather than Pandaria itself.

That worried players to no end. The biggest worry was that there didn't appear to be a clear villain in all of this. Burning Crusade, Wrath, and Cataclysm all had big-name villains featured on the box art and in trailers -- Mists had a distinct lack of this, which made many question whether or not we'd be getting any kind of meaningful, legitimate story, or if we were just going to hold hands and skip through green fields with pandas for five levels. The message we got from BlizzCon was that perhaps our greatest enemies were in fact ourselves -- which confused people more than illuminated.

Later, at a press event, the final boss for Mists of Pandaria was revealed: Garrosh Hellscream. And then beta access was unleashed on everyone that had bought an annual pass. By the time Mists officially launched, players had had plenty of time to play through every zone in the new expansion -- and consequently expend a lot of their patience for the expansion's replay value. As time passed, the expansion continued on through various tiers of raid content and story progression as we all waited for what we knew was coming -- the downfall of Garrosh Hellscream.

The thrill of antici ...

That was, without a doubt, the single largest failing of Mists. It wasn't the story. Going back and looking, really looking at the story, there was nothing lighthearted about this expansion at all. Certainly the pandaren were friendly and amicable, but there was also a serious side to the race, one born of fervent desire to defend the land they'd fought so hard to protect. This was a race that had at one point in time been enslaved by monstrous warlords, forced to serve and build the massive stone structures found all over the continent. This was a race that fought to free themselves. This was a race protecting a Vale full of ancient, mysterious secrets.

And they weren't alone. The mantid had their own civilization as complex and interesting as the pandaren -- built around the worship of an Old God long dead. Even the mogu themselves held mysteries. Emperors, yes, but before that, children of the Titans, created to serve and protect the land, not enslave it. In between all of that were the rising tensions between Alliance and Horde -- and the brutal ascension of Garrosh Hellscream from Warchief to an orc who had stepped firmly over the line of diplomacy, even within his own faction, in the name of furthering what he viewed as the "true Horde" -- the orcish race.

What would this expansion have looked like, had we not known that Garrosh Hellscream was the final boss? What would this expansion have looked like, had we not already been aware of what was coming -- that we would be laying siege to Orgrimmar itself? What would it have felt like, playing through this expansion if the majority of the player base had not, in fact, been privy to the entirety of the 80-85 leveling experience and storyline before the game was released? Mists of Pandaria had a great storyline, one with a lot more depth than simple "playing in green fields with talking pandas."

The element of surprise

Unfortunately, we didn't get to experience it that way. We had all that content spoiled for us, long before we ever actually saw it. Instead of going into the expansion wondering what there was to see, wondering what could possibly be threatening enough to warrant being called a final villain, we simply waited for the day Garrosh would go too far, nonchalant about the process. And the worst part about this was that the spoilers weren't datamined on some website -- they were given to us by the ones that were telling the story. We were essentially given the final chapter of the book before we even had a chance to look at page one.

That's what we were missing from Mists of Pandaria. It wasn't the story, which was surprisingly good. It wasn't the content, which was also really well done. It was the element of surprise surrounding it all, that little thrill of exploration and mystery that comes with picking up and purchasing any new game off the shelf. If you know what to expect, then you know precisely what to look forward to. If you know what to look forward to, you are going to spend your time looking for that one thing, and ignoring or glossing over everything else that happens along the way.

This has been a problem with every expansion. Burning Crusade was nowhere near as widely spoiled, but Wrath started with the spoilers early. Cataclysm was spoiled before it was even announced, which made the announcement itself a little lackluster. How would our perceptions of these expansions have been altered, had we been left in the dark to experience these things as we encountered them, instead of well in advance?

... pation

But let's go back to Warlords -- because the real question here isn't what we know of the new expansion. It's what we don't know. What we have been given so far, everything on that list above is information that seems to directly relate to three things:

  • The opening event, which lasts for one hour, according to interviews,

  • The two starting zones -- Frostfire for the Horde, Shadowmoon for the Alliance,

  • The first tier of raiding -- a whopping two raids.

That's it.

Everything else we are going to encounter in this expansion has been left a mystery, so far. We don't know who that final boss is going to be. We don't know what the draenei are up to, any of their history on Draenor, or how that history has been altered as a result of Hellscream's arrival. We don't know where Garrosh Hellscream went. We don't even know how, exactly, he persuaded the Chieftains of these orc clans to unite, how he came up with the idea for the Dark Portal, why he is intent on attacking our version of Azeroth instead of living happily ever after on this alternate world with dear old dad.

We know nothing about the saberon, a cat-like species that was completely wiped out when Draenor was originally shattered into Outland. We know nothing of the arakkoa, whose settlements at the peaks of the Spires of Arak look eerily, almost hauntingly similar to Titan structures found in the Storm Peaks on Azeroth. We know nothing of the gronn, the fomor, or ogre civilization. We know nothing of what's going on on the islands and continent that are as of yet mysterious blanks on the Draenor map.

We know nothing of future raid tiers, bosses in those raid tiers, or stories that might roll out with however many patches Warlords will eventually see. At this point, we really don't even know that much about the 90-100 leveling experience, save for a few datamined quest chains from starter zones that may not even see release, given the revamp Jade Forest received during Mists of Pandaria's beta. In short -- we are in the dark. Given that, assuming that what we've been shown so far is all we're going to see almost seems kind of silly, doesn't it?

Warlords of Draenor may feature a lot of orc warlords, certainly -- the expansion takes place on the orc homeworld, of course it's going to feature some orcs. But assuming this is all we're going to see makes about as much sense as those that assumed Mists was going to be nothing but a lighthearted romp with giant talking panda bears. Mists proved those assumptions wrong -- it just had the unfortunate fate of being almost completely spoiled before we saw all of that.

As of right now, it looks as though Blizzard is deliberately doing its best to avoid doing the same with the next expansion. Frankly, I don't expect the expansion to center around orcs. I expect to be impressed. Mists managed to do it, spoilers and all. I'm keenly interested in seeing what happens when we open the book from page one, rather than getting a preview of the final chapter before the book has been published.

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.