Battle for Azeroth focused on Alliance and Horde heroes, with many references to Warcraft III, while Shadowlands takes us into a completely new dimension, filled with characters from Warcraft‘s past, Titan references, and even new lore surrounding the cosmos. But without an understanding of the lore, many in-game story beats or character cameos may go unappreciated. Here’s where today’s video comes in!
If you’re looking to get started in Warcraft lore, there are several approaches you can take, including external websites, playing old Blizzard games and expansions, watching old cinematics, and reading books like Chronicle.
- Wowpedia is a good source for researching broad information on the lore, like a straightforward description of a character or zone.
- Playing through Warcraft III is great if you want to understand the foundations behind Warcraft‘s plot, and it hasn’t really been retconned like Warcraft 1 and 2.
- You can always play through old expansion content in World of Warcraft, but some stories have been lost over time, like vanilla zones revamped in Cataclysm or limited-time events like the Darkspear Rebellion in Mists of Pandaria.
- If you’re a visual learner, you can go to YouTube and look for in-game cinematics like Lost Soldier. Blizzard has also produced several animated and audio series leading up to each expansion, such as:
Burdens of Shaohao: beautiful portrayal of Emperor Shaohao and the history of Pandaria.
- Lords of War: the history behind these alternate warlords and Maraad of Warlords of Draenor.
- The Tomb of Sargeras: audio drama detailing alternate Gul’dan’s journey into opening the Tomb of Sargeras at the start of Legion.
- A Thousand Years of War: audio drama detailing the journey of Alleria and Turalyon with the Army of the Light.
- Warbringers – Jaina, Sylvanas and Azshara: Their history with an eye on the events in Battle for Azeroth.
Now if you want to go even deeper into the lore, there are numerous books you can read. It might be overwhelming so we’ve highlighted the notable ones below, organized by topic like Night Elves or Pandaria lore. But if you’re interested in a comprehensive list organizing the books by chronological order, check out BlizzardWatch’s Lore Books Guide.
No matter what you’re interested in, a good starting point is World of Warcraft: Chronicle,a series of three volumes documenting the lore from creation up to Cataclysm. This provides a general overview of the lore, tying up many loose ends, plus it includes lots of gorgeous art.
Lich King, Sylvanas, Blood Elves
With the focus on the afterlife in Shadowlands, let’s dive into the topic of the Lich King first, as well as the story of Sylvanas and the High Elves, transformed by the actions of Arthas.
- “Road to Damnation” depicts the transformation of Kel’thuzad, from mage to follower of the Lich King.
- Arthas: Rise of the Lich King is an amazing novel for any fan of the Lich King out there. While Warcraft III and Wrath of the Lich King did a great job detailing Arthas’ journey to darkness, the book adds even more insight into his thinking process.
- “World of Warcraft: Death Knight” is a magna detailing the background behind this class, as well as introducing characters like Thassarian and Koltira.
- “Ashbringer” is a comic series explaining the origin and dark history of this legendary weapon with the Mograine family.
- “Sylvanas Windrunner: Edge of Night” is another must-read short story with Shadowlands coming up. After she helped defeat the Lich King, claiming vengeance upon Arthas, her life lacked purpose. In this short story, we see how her new motivations and partnership with the Jailer were formed.
- “Dark Mirror” provides more insight into Nathanos Blightcaller’s relationship to Sylvanas and her future plans with him.
- The Sunwell Trilogy explains the story behind the High Elves and the Sunwell, the final raid of Burning Cursade.
- “Blood of the Highborne” is part of the Paragons series, delving into Blood Elf lore following the aftermath of the Sunwell’s destruction and the effects on their people.
- “Lor’themar Theron: In the Shadow of the Sun” is a character study of the Regent Lord of Quel’Thalas, a man who was not destined to be in the role of leadership, but finds himself fulfilling it all the same.
- “A Moment in Verse” sees Lor’themar and Thalyssra enjoying a happy interlude before Shadowlands.
a moment in verse with lorthemar and thalyssra
The Dragons play an important recurring role in Warcraft, and while we’ve never made it to the elusive Dragon Isles, their lore develops in unexpected ways–most recently with Wrathion’s help in Patch 8.3 and the continuation of Ysera’s story in Shadowlands.
- Dawn of the Aspects details how Alexstraza, Ysera, Neltharion, Nozdormu and Malygos became the Aspects and defenders of Azeroth.
- The War of the Ancients Trilogy is set over 10,000 years ago, covering the first masive war against the Burning Legion, with Azshara, Tyrande, Malfurion, Illidan, Cenarius, demi-gods, dragons, and Old Gods all playing roles. During this war, Neltharion convinced the other aspects to give up a portion of their powers to create the Dragon Soul, only to then turn around and use it against the defenders of the world and his fellow dragons.
- Day of the Dragon is a continuation of those events, as it’s up to heroes like Rhonin and Vereesa to stop Neltharion’s schemes.
- Night of the Dragon sees Deathwing continue his schemes in a plot that eventually reaches its conclusion in Patch 4.3 Dragon Soul.
- Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects explains how Thrall shed the mantle of Warchief to become Go’el, a shaman with great powers.
- “Charge of the Aspects” sees the dragons facing off against each other as they prepare for the end of Cataclysm.
- “World of Warcraft: Shadow Wing” details the origin of Netherdragons and the Blue Dragonflight Aspect Malygos return to sanity, leading to the Nexus War in Wrath of the Lich King.
The Night Elves are one of the oldest factions in WoW, returning to the spotlight in recent expansions with the Burning of Teldrassil in BFA and return of Illidan in Legion.
- Illidan explains the path chosen by this complicated demon hunter, including the process and gruesome trials they must go through while training, as well as Illidan’s actual motives for his confusing actions.
- Stormrage highlights the path of Malfurion Stormrage, who spent quite a bit of time in the Emerald Dream, a realm infected by the Old Gods. Malfurion returned in Cataclysm and the fate of the Emerald Dream had renewed importance in Legion.
- “The War of the Shifting Sands” details how Malfurion got trapped int the dream in the first place–which is also relevant as the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj are starting to open on Classic Servers.
- “Tyrande and Malfurion: Seeds of Faith” is a short story following the events of Stormrage, showing the return of Malfurion, his marriage to Tyrande, and the impact of the Cataclysm on elven zones.
- “Curse of the Worgen” is a series detailing the origins of the Worgen Curse, connected to Druidism and how its darkness crept behind the walls of Gilneas. You can learn more about Genn’s leadership style in “Genn Greymane: Lord of His Pack”, explaining why he built the mighty wall around his city.
Alliance and Horde
- Rise of the Horde, followed by The Last Guardian, Tides of Darkness, Beyond the Dark Portal, and Lord of the Clans is a brilliant series which explains how the Horde came to be, their invasions of Azeroth, the formation of the Alliance of Lordaeron, and how Thrall rose up, reformed the Horde, and became its leader.
- “Vol’jin: The Judgement” is a short story detailing how Vol’jin became the Shadow Hunter, leading the Darkspear into the Horde.
- “Unbroken” details the war and strife on the planet of Draenor; it’s a very dark tale of the suffering of the Draenei.
- “Of Blood and Honor” details the aftermath of the war against the Horde, and the unlikely friendship between Tirion Fordring and Eitrigg.
- Cycle of Hatred covers the partnership of Thrall and Jaina after the events of Burning Crusade and how peace is difficult to maintain.
- The original Warcraft comic series covers a lot of story from Classic to Wrath, including Varian’s journey, Onyxia’s plotting, and the introduction of characters Valeera Sanguinar and Broll Bearmantle. While the later issues have been retconned as they covered Med’an and Medivh, the earlier volumes are worth checking out.
- “Gelbin Mekkatorque: Cut Short” highlights the leader of the Gnomes; while most view Gnomes as funny sidekicks, this story shows you don’t want to mess with Gelbin.
- Wolfheart covers the challenges Varian faces as High King of the Alliance, including the Ginean Worgen wanting to rejoin the Alliance and Tyrande’s vision from Elune that Varian needs to lead during the Cataclysm.
Cataclysm introduced many changes to factions across Azeroth, in addition to sweeping zone and quest changes.
Much of the quests from Cataclysm remain, although some zones like Arathi Highlands, Darkshore, and Silithus have received revamps. However, you can return to the older version of the zone by talking to Zidormi.
Mists of Pandaria
Mists of Pandaria took us to the new continent of Pandaria, introducing the Mogu, Mantid, and Pandaren cultures.
- “Li Li’s Travel Journal”, “Pearl of Pandaria”, and “Quest for Pandaria” introduce Chen and Li Li Stormstout as well as Pandaren culture.
- “Trial of the Red Blossoms” explains what it takes to be part of the Shado-Pan.
- “Death from Above” covers the early history between the Mogu and Mantid, including the cycle of rebirth and assaulting the walls of Pandaria.
- “The Strength of Steel” covers important lessons learned on loyalty when one member of the Horde raises a cloud serpent.
- “Bleeding Sun” is one of the saddest short stories– Sunwalker Dezco, a Tauren paladin, follows visions to the land of pandaria where destiny seems inescapable.
- “The Blank Scroll” details the history of the Lorewalkers and what it takes to tell a good story.
- “Over Water” is about the Anglers, the fishing faction in Pandaria.
- “The Jade Hunters” sees Dwarves trying to work together as they try to mine jade from Pandaria.
- Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde takes place after the assassination attempt on Vol’jin. The Shadow Hunter takes time to recover and reflect on his role among the Horde, which sets things up for the later Darkspear Rebellion.
- “The Untamed Valley” takes place after Garrosh’s defeat, dealing with the aftermath of the war between the Alliance and Horde including lingering loyalists.
- War Crimes covers the trial of Garrosh and his escape to AU Draenor. While most books fill in some plot details, this one is particularly meaty and explains many in-game plot holes.
Most of the Pandaria content is still accessible to play, however the Darkspear Rebellion has been removed, the original Wrathion cloak is no longer obtainable, and the Vale of Eternal Blossoms has gone through a few changes.
Warlords of Draenor
Warlords of Draenor saw us journey to an AU version of Draenor several decades in the past. This time skip and alternate universe left many players confused, as much of Garrosh’s character development and interactions with the AU Warlords took place outside of the game.
- “Hellscream” details Garrosh’s arrival on Draenor with Kairoz, and meeting up with his alternate father to make plans and form the Iron Horde.
- “Blood and Thunder” is an online comic dramatizing the split between AU Durotan and his older brother Fenris in Frostfire Ridge.
- “Blackhand” is an online comic depicting AU Warlord Blackhand, the final boss of Blackrock Foundry.
- “Code of Rule” explores the power dynamics between the Iron Horde and the former great empire of the Ogres on Draenor, providing more context for the Highmaul raid.
- “Apocrypha” details the history of the Arakkoa and their curse, which is explored more in the Spires of Arak zone.
- “Guldan and the Stranger” sees Garrosh chat with AU Gul’dan.
We returned to familiar territory in Legion which brought us back to the main timeline, the Burning Legion, and Illidan–now a complicated hero instead of the expansion’s villain.
- “Fault Lines” details the return of Magni Bronzebeard and the relationship with his daughter.
- “Twilight of Suramar” sets up the history of the Nightborne rebellion and how Thalyssra found herself exiled from Suramar.
- “A Mountain Divided” explains the different Highmountain Tribes and how they are divided after the events surrounding the Hammer of Kaz’Goroth.
- “Anduin: Son of the Wolf” chronicles Anduin’s early steps as king, dealing with the death of his father–and a surprise panel at the end many years in the future.
- “World of Warcraft: Dark Riders” is a graphic novel released in 2013 that explains the history behind some characters in the Artifact Weapon stories.
In-game, Legion told an ambitious story spread out among spec-specific artifacts and class halls. To fully appreciate the story, you needed to play through each of these campaigns. You can read summaries of them in our Class Hall Campaign, Class Mount, and Artifact Weapon guides.
Battle for Azeroth
Battle for Azeroth developed several storylines at once: the conflict between the Alliance and Horde, the threat of the Old Gods, and Sylvanas’ ulterior motives.
- Before the Storm sets the stage for the expansion, delving into the mindsets of Warchief Sylvanas WIndrunner and High King Anduin Wrynn, as well as Calia relationship with the Forsaken.
- “Reunion” is a comic detailing Jaina’s return to the Alliance and her homeland of Kul Tiras.
- “The Speaker” highlights Magni’s struggle to save Azeroth while the rest of the world is interested in fighting.
- “Three Sisters” sees the long-awaited reunion between the three Windrunner sisters, but do they share any common ground?
- A Good War and Elegy are companion novellas that tell the story of the War of the Thorns and Burning of Teldrassil from the Alliance and Horde perspectives.
- “Mechagon” is a comic explaining how we found our way to the island and the civil war against King Mechagon.
Shadowlands and Beyond
Shadowlands has not yet released, but we have the expansion prequel Shadows Rising, detailing how the Alliance and Horde rebuild after the Fourth War while Sylvanas and Nathanos pursue new plans. Last month’s lore feature was a summary of the book if you’re interested to learn more!
It’s also worth highlighting the Traveler series, a set of three books taking place after the cataclysm from the POV of teenagers at sea. It also has an interesting bit on Mueh’zala foreshadowing some details in Shadowlands.
Warcraft Movie Universe
On a final note on this extensive list–there’s also the Warcraft movie universe to consider, which takes place in its own reality as some changes were made to the story for the film adaptation.
- Durotan is the official movie prequel, describing life on this AU version of Draenor and the rise of the Horde.
- “Bonds of Brotherhood” highlights the Alliance characters–Llane, Medivh, and Lothar.
- Warcraft Official Movie Novelization describes the events of the movie with a bit more insights into the thoughts of each character, including some moments that were cut for the big screen.