The World of Warcraft: Shadowlands expansion is just around the corner and there is every reason to be excited. Not only will we get a new dungeon, new customizations, and new gameplay options, but a brand-new story to underscore all of it. The Warcraft lore is one of the best aspects of the long-running MMO, but it can be a little overwhelming.
With so many games, expansions, books, comics, and even a movie, Blizzard's narrative has become increasingly complex over the years. That's why this World of Warcraft lore recap could come in handy for those looking to dip their toes back into Azeroth's waters for the first time. Although we will stick to the essentials, reading this will tell you the full story of WoW, from the very beginning of the universe itself, to the start of the next chapter in Shadowlands.
In the beginning...
In true high fantasy fashion, World of Warcraft lore includes a universe origin story. It all started with the Titans. These godlike creatures spent the first part of their existence as slumbering world-souls. Once awakened, they searched for more of their own kind while shaping worlds and maintaining order.
Little did they know that the evil Old Gods had set out to corrupt the slumbering Titan world-souls. When the Titan Sargeras discovered the first corrupted world-soul, he made the not-so-heroic decision to slay it, thereby killing the innocent Titan. It was an action his fellow Titans did not appreciate.
Unable to convince the others that a world without life was better than a world with corrupted life, Sargeras went rogue, raised an army of Demons, and started the Burning Crusade; an attempt to purge the universe of all that was living.
Titans vs. Sargeras
Meanwhile, the Titans found the world-soul of the planet Azeroth (yes, the main map). It was corrupted by the Old Gods, but they could still save it. As the Titans were unable to destroy the Old Gods without destroying the planet, they opted for the next-best solution: locking them away.
Happy with their work, the Titans ran over to Sargeras to tell him the good news; the world-souls could be saved without destroying all life. Unfortunately, Sargeras had no intention to come back to the good side, and a war broke out. Long story short, Sargeras won.
War of the ancients
Fortunately for Azeroth, Sargeras did not know how to get there. Things were happy and peaceful on the planet, with everyone busy building their world, inventing things, and wielding magic. That use of magic, however, gave away the planet’s location to Sargeras, who then manipulated the elven queen Azshara into opening a portal using the magical Well of Eternity.
The night elf brothers Malfurian and Illidan Stormrage, the latter of whom was addicted to the Well’s power, went out to stop Azshara. However, when Malfurian decided that the Well needed to be destroyed to save Azeroth, Illidan betrayed his brother. In the end, the Well of Eternity imploded and left behind the Maelstrom. Although the devastation was immense, Azeroth was saved.
Our main bad guy Sargeras needed a bigger army, so he visited the planet Argus to recruit the three leaders of the local Eredar race. Only one of them, Velen, refused the offer and fled to the planet Draenor. His people were renamed ‘Draenei’, the exiled ones.
After the failed invasion of Azeroth, Velen’s former colleague Kil’jaeden (now servant of Sargeras) went to Draenor and came up with the smart but evil plan to corrupt the local, peaceful Orcs. The Orcs became slaves of Sargeras’ Burning Legion and went full medieval on the Draenei. Thus, the Horde was born.n't end up purchasing Shadowlands itself once the expansion arrives later this year.
Alliance vs. Horde
After Kil’jaeden’s revenge on Velen had worked out, he left the Horde behind on their dying planet. This made the Horde eager to find a new place to live, and they set their sights on Azeroth. They opened the Dark Portal to Azeroth, and so another invasion began. Azeroth managed to fend off the Orcs and shut the portal. The Orcs still faced their problem of being in a dying world, so they tried again. This time, they opened the Dark Portal as well as others.
Some of Azeroth’s Alliance, being all heroic, went through the Dark Portal to stop the Orcs on Draenor. But while they saved Azeroth by doing so, the opening of portals by the Orcs had shattered Draenor, transforming it into Outland. Some of the Orcs were now trapped on Outland together with part of the Alliance, while other Orcs either fled on Azeroth or were taken captive.
The Lich King problem
Of course, Azeroth did not get much of a break. Remember Kil’jaeden? In true evil lord fashion, he created a servant, the Lich King, to weaken the planet. He also turns the human prince Arthas into a Death Knight. At one point, Arthas fought against an elven ranger-general called Sylvanas Windrunner. He defeated her, but instead of letting her die, he ripped out her soul and made her into a banshee.
Meanwhile, a group of Orcs on Azeroth had decided to go back to the old, peaceful way of living under their new leader, Thrall. When faced with the Lich King problem and an upcoming Burning Legion invasion, Thrall met up with the human leader Jaina Proudmoore. An Alliance-Horde partnership was formed.
More Legion & Lich King troubles
When a servant of Kil’jaeden reopens the Dark Portal to Outland, the Alliance and Horde travel to Outland to stop the Legion’s invasion at its core. Here, they find the uncorrupted Orcs, the trapped Alliance heroes and the Draenei.
A short time of peace follows, but then the undead legion of the Scourge attacks. Although he got defeated before, the Lich King was not destroyed and is now merged with the Death Knight Arthas. He is once again defeated and the human Bolvar Fordragon becomes the new Lich King and leader of the Scourge.
Garrosh and the Iron Horde
Surely Azeroth can enjoy some well-earned peace after centuries of strife? Unfortunately not, as Horde leader Thrall resigns in favor of Garrosh Hellscream following the destruction caused by Dragon Aspect Deathwing the Destroyer. That turns out to be a bad choice, as Garrosh destroys the city of Theramore.
Garrosh then goes on to commit war crimes in the newly discovered land of Pandaria and manages to escape justice by fleeing to Draenor in an alternate timeline (before it became Outland). He and his dad create a new Orcish army: the Iron Horde.
The Iron Horde invades Azeroth, but the Alliance and the Horde stop them. Both sides lose their leader in the process; Varian Wrynn of the Alliance is succeeded by his son Anduin Wrynn, and Vol’jin of the Horde is succeeded by Sylvanas Windrunner.
Sargeras wounds Azeroth
In the aftermath of the Iron Horde problems, a gateway for the Burning Legion is opened and - yep, you guessed it - another invasion begins.
This time, the fallen Titan Sargeras nearly succeeds in destroying Azeroth. He pierces the earth with his sword before being pulled back and imprisoned by the Titans. From the earth’s wound, a new resource called Azerite bleeds out. It turns out to be valuable material, so naturally, the Horde and Alliance start fighting over it.
Sylvanas and the Shadowlands
Due to making questionable decisions as leader, Sylvanas Windrunner’s people revolt against her, before she decides to destroy the Lich King’s helm. Although Bolvar still lives, the Scourge has no leader anymore. Furthermore, Sylvanas has shattered the veil to… the Shadowlands.
The Shadowlands is the realm of the departed. All irredeemable souls are trapped inside the Maw, but other souls will typically enter one of four different realms depending on how they led their life. However, thanks to Sylvanas, all souls now go directly to the Maw. Turns out that she's been teaming up with the Maw’s ruler, the Jailer.
The Horde, meanwhile, decides to take the democratic route; they establish a council of leaders instead of choosing a new warchief. Unfortunately, many leaders have been captured while the Scourge terrorizes Azeroth. Amongst them are Jaina Proudmoore, Anduin Wrynn, and Thrall.
This is the grim reality as we make our way into the new World of Warcraft expansion: Shadowlands. Things aren't going too well, basically, but as this history-in-brief has hopefully made clear, when has anything ever gone well in Azeroth? Now that you’re all caught up with the story, you're ready to enter the Shadowlands for yourselves. See you on the other side!
For more, check out the best MMORPG games to play right now, or find out what games we've been living in via Dialogue Options below.