Know Your Lore: Highmaul and the Gorian Empire

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.

"Why Highmaul?" is one of the most frequently asked questions I get these days. It does seem a little strange that we are raiding the capital of ogre civilization when one would think we should be facing down the leaders of all of the Iron Horde we've been fighting against throughout the leveling process. But there's method and reasoning as to why we're invading the ogre stronghold, and it absolutely ties back into the Iron Horde.

When one thinks of ogres, one hardly thinks of things like intelligence or cunning -- it's usually the complete opposite. But the ogres of Azeroth are a far, far cry from what they once were, not so long before the events that opened the Dark Portal and began the First War. The Draenor we're currently visiting may be a slightly altered universe, but the history remains by and large the same. And in both instances, there was a point in time where the ogre race ruled supreme.

The Gorian Empire

For well over a thousand years, the ogres of Draenor reigned in an Empire that bears an almost striking resemblance to the Mogu Empire of Pandaria. Rather than rule solely through brute strength, the leaders of the Gorian Empire were masters of magic and sorcery. An Imperator wasn't necessarily the strongest ogre, he was the most cunning and powerful sorcerer among his kind, and among the most cruel as well.

And just like the mogu, the ogres of Draenor caught and kept slaves -- the orcs were captured and forced to fight in the arena, as well as used for labor purposes. They still are, in Frostfire Ridge -- Bloodmaul Slag Mines is full of slaves digging up ores and gemstones for the remnants of the Gorian Empire. As for Highmaul, the seat of the Gorian Empire, it spent many years at war with the Warsong Clan of Nagrand.

So what happened? Where did the ogres, brutish, cunning and cruel, suddenly change their minds and join forces with the very orcs that they once kept as slaves? There were several factors that played into the eventual decline of the Gorian Empire -- a brutal slave uprising led by Kargath Bladefist did a lot of damage to Highmaul and its citizens. But there was another event that signaled the beginning of the end for the ogres, and it had nothing to do with the orcs at all.


For thousands of years, the ogres ruled Draenor, until one day, the draenei arrived. There is little record of any interaction between draenei and ogre, yet their arrival signaled the beginning of the end for the Gorian Empire. They were no longer the sole magic-users and masters of arcane on the planet -- the draenei had been practicing and mastering the arcane arts long before their flight from Argus. It was that mastery of the arcane that drew Sargeras' attention to the eredar in the first place.

Beyond that, the orcs were definitely beginning to fight back. The Warsong fought viciously to keep their hold on Nagrand. Kargath led the slave uprising in Highmaul. More importantly, the Horde began to band together during this time period -- they had Oshu'gun, they had powerful shaman, and they were becoming a power in their own right, a power that wasn't about to simply hold out its hands and allow the ogres to lead it away in chains.

And through it all, the Imperator and the leaders of Highmaul began to take notice. They knew their Empire was gradually slipping away, and it seemed as though there was little to be done about it. The only saving grace -- the only thing keeping the Empire together was that mastery of magic, much of which was practiced and learned through the use of powerful artifacts and stones. In Highmaul, you'll hear a lot of talk about stones, guarding the stones, keeping the stones, and the Imperator battle itself includes a lot of displays of power on the part of the Imperator, all generated by harnessing the power of these strange stones.


But despite all that power, the orcs were becoming a force to be reckoned with. In our history, the rise of the orcs and their allegiance with the Burning Legion is well known. In Draenor's history, they bypassed the Legion altogether and instead banded together as the Iron Horde, using new technology and magic to build a portal to another world. Imperator Mar'gok saw this, and recognized it for what it was -- strength that rivaled his own, strength that could be used to strike the finishing blows on what was left of his once-mighty Empire.

Rather than see the Gorian Empire come to an end, Mar'gok instead chose to ally with the Iron Horde. By doing so, he managed to make sure the orcs weren't going to randomly choose to attack Highmaul, and he did something far more important -- he bought himself and his Empire time. Time to work with the Iron Horde, put on a good show and effort, and in the meantime, start digging up more artifacts and more stones with more power that could be utilized to bolster the Empire. When the time was right, you can bet that Mar'gok was going to turn on the Iron Horde. But only when the time was right.

Unfortunately for the Imperator, he's not going to live to see that moment come to pass. Durotan flat out says it in dialogue after the finale of Nagrand's quest chain.

It's like I don't recognize my own people anymore. Grommash Hellscream has turned family and friends alike against one another, and it has to stop. We must dismantle his war machine: First by taking out his ogre allies, then by demolishing the Blackrock Foundry. After that, we will bring Hellscream himself to justice. Just as we've seen today.

It's similar to the progression we made throughout Cataclysm. Many players wondered why we didn't just attack Deathwing outright -- the answer to that is that there was a vast, massive army between us and him, and trying to go after him immediately meant that the entirety of that army would be focused on us. Instead, we worked our way around Deathwing's various allies, systematically taking them out and making sure that when that final battle came to pass, he had few left to aid him.

Motivation and mysteries

Highmaul is a stepping stone to the Iron Horde -- the ogres are a powerful threat, one that once dominated the entirety of Draenor. If we left Highmaul alone and simply went after the leaders of the Iron Horde, we wouldn't just be dealing with the orc clans, we'd be dealing with the orc clans, the technology at their disposal, and the magic at their disposal as well. It's not an effective strategy. So we're at a crossroads, and in the middle of a systematic fight -- first, take out Highmaul, choke out the ogres and guarantee that Hellscream doesn't have their magic to lean on for support.

Next, you'll note we're headed to Blackrock Foundry -- where the heart of the Iron Horde's technology lies. Once we take that out, suddenly all Grommash Hellscream and the Iron Horde have left to lean on is brute strength -- and we've proven we can handle fights of brute strength just fine. Judging from what we see as we raid Highmaul -- the power of the ogres, the power of their magic, the strange stones they harness for power -- it's likely a good thing that we're putting the brakes on their operation now, before it gets too out of hand.

Because the ogres are playing with power they likely don't understand, at least not to its fullest capacity. The stones, the artifacts they gather and use to amplify their power aren't just any artifacts, they're Titan in origin -- again, in a situation eerily reminiscent of the Mogu Empire. If they learned how to fully harness that power, if they learned all of the secrets it held, there's no doubt that they'd be quickly taking over Draenor again. And with the Iron Horde, Shadow Council, and Burning Legion all working against us, the last thing we need is another Thunder God.

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.