Know Your Lore: The Dark Portal

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|10.02.14

Sponsored Links

Know Your Lore: The Dark Portal
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 Dark Portal is the symbol of the Warcraft universe. It was the loading screen for the original game, for the Burning Crusade expansion, and it will be again for the new Warlords of Draenor expansion as well. When we think of the orcish Horde pouring into Azeroth to murder and plunder, it's the Dark Portal they used to get there - when the Alliance Expedition returned the favor and took the fight to Draenor, it was the Dark Portal that allowed them to do so. The Dark Portal nearly destroyed Azeroth when Ner'zhul ripped Draenor apart into Outland, and we used it to travel to that same Outland to do battle with Illidan Stormrage.

Yet for all we know about it, there's much we don't - was it Medivh or his dark corrupter Sargeras who actually instructed Gul'dan on how to build it? How does it function, what magics sustain it, and how does Warlords tease us with the possibility that there could be many methods to power such a doorway between worlds? Why did Ner'zhul's attempt to open more portals like it destroy his Draenor, and could the same fate befall the one we're traveling to - or worse, our own Azeroth? How dangerous is it to tamper with space and, now, time in this way?

Let us pursue the history of the Dark Portal for some answers. There will be spoilers for Warlords of Draenor in the post to follow.
The Creation of the Dark Portal

The Dark Portal was created by the collusion of two of the most powerful and knowledgeable magicians of their respective worlds - On one side, the warlock Gul'dan, master of the Shadow Council and unacknowledged ruler of the orcish Horde that had risen to power on Draenor by the bloody slaughter of their former neighbors, the draenei. On the other, the human wizard Medivh, bestowed with the power of the Guardian of Tirisfal by his mother Aegwyn at birth, but also the unwitting host of the ancient dark Titan Sargeras, the would-be destroyer of all things.

Gul'dan's motivations were fairly simple. For starters, he had risen to power by heeding the wishes of Kil'jaeden, left hand of Sargeras, but having done Kil'jaeden's bidding on Draenor he now found himself on a world slowly dying, poisoned by the fel magic that the warlocks had used. Kil'jaeden had left the orcs to their own devices after they'd destroyed the draenei and fulfilled his 25,000 year quest for revenge on Velen, the draenei prophet and Kil'jaeden's former friend. Gul'dan could see his power base eroding as the planet grew less capable of sustaining life, and so, when Medivh reached out to him and offered him a new world to conquer and tantalizing hints about the power of the fallen Titan Sargeras, Kil'jaeden's master, the orc was intrigued. Given the degree of Gul'dan's lust for power, intrigued is putting it mildly.

We know that it was from Medivh that Gul'dan received instruction on how to construct the portal on his world. As to how Medivh himself learned the secret, well, it's likely it came from Sargeras - the fallen Titan had revealed similar secrets to the highborne mage Xavius ten thousand years earlier, when Sargeras sought to stride bodily into Azeroth. This time, however, the portal would not be a direct means for the Legion to come to Azeroth - such a titanic undertaking would almost immediately rouse the ire of powerful entities such as the Ancients who would rush to oppose them. No, this time the portal would link two worlds and allow an army of dangerous but mortal beings to rush through, giving the invasion time to crush the kingdom of Stormwind and establish a foothold on the planet.

Interestingly, while Gul'dan had the entire resourced of the Horde to draw from (as is reflected by the Stair of Destiny, the massive edifice built around the Draenor/Outland side of the Dark Portal) Medivh toiled in secret, and it shows in the relative modesty of the original Dark Portal on Azeroth. After all, while Medivh was a mighty magician indeed, with all the power of the Guardian at his disposal and a vast store of lore to draw upon, and the ley lines of Karazhan at his command, he was yet just one man, and if any found out he intended to bring a horde of demon-blood addled orcs through to annihilate the races of Azeroth they would most likely have objected rather strenuously. Since after they found out, his old friend Anduin Lothar jammed a sword in him and cut off his head, it seems a fair conclusion.

What we don't really understand is how they did it, really. Previous portals (like the one that Sargeras wanted to use to step through into Azeroth, or the one that required the Book of Medivh to summon Archimonde into our world) required enormous expenditures of power. Yet the Dark Portal not only bridges two worlds, it does so in a manner that defied the power of the Archmage Khadgar to close it. When Khadgar destroyed the Dark Portal on the Azeroth side, it availed him little. Even with the structure destroyed, the hole between worlds remained. We've seen other masters of magic create portals and even teleport people directly, but the power required to create an indefinite portal is immense, and moreover, it's large enough for entire armies to walk through it. How did they do it? One possibility seems to be derived from the latest twist in the Dark Portal's story - namely, the copy of the Dark Portal made by the Iron Horde on the alternate Draenor where Garrosh Hellscream prevented the orcs from drinking the Blood of Mannoroth.

When Khadgar leads a band of heroes through the Dark Portal and into the alternate Draenor of the Iron Horde, we first discover an almost complete recreation of the original Draenor-side Dark Portal, but this time it isn't self sustaining as the original Portal seems to be. Rather, it is powered by trapping three potent warlocks - Teron'gor, Cho'gall and Gul'dan - and using their fel power to maintain the Portal's time and space warping travel. Since the Gul'dan of our original Draenor was the one to construct that portal, we're led to consider that the original portal was in some way also powered by warlock magics. And thus we're led to consider the profligate use of life draining magic to artificially age orc children to use as shock troops, making them adults capable of wielding weapons and fight for the Horde. We're told that it was general use of warlock magic that drained and sickened Draenor, but consider that when Ner'zhul tried to open multiple portals, he destroyed Draenor utterly.

What if it was the Dark Portal itself that was draining Draenor of life? Consider that Hellfire Peninsula, the Outland version of Tanaan Jungle, is a barren, lifeless wasteland, drained of all life. Now, consider that when the Dark Portal was first constructed, it was in the Black Morass, a place so fertile, indeed fecund with life that it was inimical, almost impossible to venture into it. The Black Morass was isolated entirely because it was so full of dangerous creatures that Medivh could be assured no one would stumble upon it. But now look at the area around the Portal. It's the Blasted Lands - a lifeless, dried out, dessicated wasteland with only one patch of anything approaching greenery, and even that bit was the creation of a druid who forced it to bloom only to find it so tainted with demonic energies that it drove him mad.

Of course, we have no idea how the Iron Horde even knew how to build the thing. Did they crib designs from their Gul'dan's notebook? Did Kairoz plant the information somehow? We don't know yet.

It seems very likely that the reason the Dark Portal stays open is because it, too, must drain life as warlocks do, as Teron'gor, Cho'gall and Gul'dan do (hence why the Iron Horde could use them to power their portal) only on a far greater scale. Will the Blasted Lands eventually grow to encompass the entire Swamp of Sorrows, which was once part of the Black Morass? Will the link between Azeroth and this new Draenor eventually spell doom for both worlds? We don't know, but one thing is certain - as long as the Dark Portal stands, danger is likely to come through it.
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.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Popular on Engadget