With the release of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, the game has now seen eight full expansion packs since its launch. Keeping track of all of the storylines that occurred in that time can be difficult, especially for players who focus more on gameplay than story. Luckily, there have been defining moments in each expansion that make it easier to keep track of the game’s lore.
World of Warcraft’s history extends well before the launch of the MMO itself. With prior games and additional written material, World of Warcraft’s official canon story is complicated.
Thankfully, Blizzard does an excellent job leaving hints and references that allow dedicated fans to piece plenty of the story together. Here are all the major events in the history of World of Warcraft, organized by expansion.
The original World of Warcraft began only a few years after the Third War. Both the Alliance and the Horde had recently recruited new allies, the Night Elves and Forsaken, respectively. This period included battles such as the Night Elf and Orcish conflict within Ashenvale and Forsaken aggression in the Eastern Kingdoms. One of the more notable events during this time was the opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj, which was done in order to prevent C’thun from growing in power.
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade started with the Doom Lord Kazzak opening the Dark Portal, connecting Azeroth with the corrupted Outlands. This period also saw two new races joining with the major factions. The Draenei ship Exodar crash-landed in Kalimdor and eventually aligned with the Alliance. The Blood Elves of Quel’thalas joined with Horde in order to rejoin their leader, Kael’thas Sunstrider.
Both factions went on the offensive, journeying to the Outlands in order to curb the Burning Legion’s threat. Towards the end of the expansion Kael’thas summoned Kil’Jaeden, a demon lord who acted as the final boss for this World of Warcraft expansion. Eventually Ki’Jaeden was defeated, and Azeroth’s heroes could return home.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King began with the Scourge invasion, as countless undead begin to attack the major cities of Azeroth. Around the same time a group of Death Knights broke off from the Lich King’s army and allied with the mortal races of Azeroth, naming themselves the Knights of the Ebon Blade.
In response to the aggression of the Lich King, Arthas Menethil, both the Alliance and the Horde formed offensives. The two armies battled through the harsh continent of Northrend before finally making it to Icecrown Citadel. Despite both faction’s betrayal by Apothecary Putrid at the “Wrathgate,” a group of heroes were eventually able to defeat Arthas with the aid of Bolvar Fordragon, who became the new Lich King.
In the wake of the Arthas Menethil’s death was the return of Deathwing, and the dragon brought the Cataclysm along with it. The Cataclysm reshaped much of Azeroth, and had consequences for each race and faction. Easily one of the most important outcomes was the Horde Warchief Thrall stepping down to aid his fellow Shaman, and his choice to appoint Garrosh Hellscream in his stead.
Deathwing’s eventual defeat came at the hands of the other Dragon Aspects, which teamed up with Thrall to defeat the dragon and its cult of followers. With a second Cataclysm avoided, the heroes of Azeroth once again turned their weapons towards one another.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria saw a rekindling of the Alliance vs Horde conflict, mostly caused by the aggression of Garrosh Hellscream (and Jaina Proudmore). The inter-faction conflict eventually made it to the southern continent of Pandaria, which had not yet been discovered. Small groups of Pandaran split into two factions, the Tushui and Huojin, in order to join the Alliance and the Horde.
Vol’jin, the troll leader who recognized that Hellscream was unfit to rule, began the Darkspear Rebellion. Along with the Alliance, the Rebellion took to Durotar in order to defeat Hellscream. During the Siege of Orgrimmar, Garrosh was defeated and sent to Pandaria. Hellscream was able to escape his captivity at the end of the WoW expansion, which set the stage for what followed.
Time travel plays an important part in World of Warcraft: Warlord of Draenor, making it one of the more confusing periods in WoW’s lore. After escaping captivity, Garrosh Hellscream returned to Draenor, the Outlands before its corruption, in order to prevent his own father from drinking the blood of Monnoroth. This created an alternate past where the Orcs of Draenor formed the Iron Horde and attempted to invade modern Azeroth.
One consequence of Hellscream’s actions was a Mak’gora, or duel of honor, that occurred between Thrall and Hellscream. The duel ended with Thrall killing Hellscream, and afterwards heroes were able to journey to Hellfire Citadel and defeat Archimonde, The Defiler.
World of Warcraft: Legion began with the arrival of a familiar enemy, the Burning Legion, made possible thanks to the Oricish Warlock Gul’dan. In order to prevent a Third Legion Invasion, both the Alliance and Horde fought in the Battle for Broken Shore, but were unsuccessful in stopping the Legion. The battle resulted in the death of both Varian Wyrnn and Vol’Jin, leaving Anduin and Sylvannas in control.
With the looming threat of Sargeras, the titan who leads the Burning Legion, coming to Azeroth, the realms’ heroes united in order to assist the other titans. Those titans were able to prevent Sargeras from arriving in Azeroth, but his sword was stabbed into Azeroth, causing what would become the next conflict.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth brought the Alliance vs Horde conflict back into the spotlight, since both factions wanted control of the substance Azerite. The conflict became known as the Fourth War, and began in earnest when Sylavanas ordered her troops to burn down the Night Elf home of Teldrassill.
Peace was not found between the Alliance and Horde until Sylvannas Windrunner betrayed the Horde, killing Varok Saurfang in a Mok’gora and fleeing Orgrimmar. Sylvannas’ departure left both faction in an uneasy truce, as they had to unite once again in preparation to thwart her plans.
This brings World of Warcraft to its most recent expansion, Shadowlands. After leaving the Horde, Sylvannas Windrunner journeyed to Icecrown Citadel, where she was able to defeat Bolvar Fordragon and destroy the barrier between Azeroth and its afterlife. Heroes are now tasked with journeying to the Shadowlands in order to defeat Sylvannas and her ally, the dangerous Jailer who resides within The Maw.
World of Warcraft has been around for 16 years, and in that time has produced plenty of memorable moments for fans to experience. With the success of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, the game is showing no sign of slowing down, and fans can expect plenty more developments for the world’s characters and storylines.
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