Now that we have an idea where WoW:Legion is going to be taking us, it’s a good chance to sit back and think about the lore involved. We’re at an interesting place in the history of the franchise because it feels like Legion will be hitting a lot of plotlines involving various aspects of Warcraft lore, we’re coming off of a weird time-travel/alternate universe expansion, and probably the big horned-and-winged elephant in the room is Illidan returning after having been killed years ago in The Burning Crusade. Let me be clear: I have zero problems with Illidan returning. Sure, he was dead, and when TBC was over, I doubt that they intended on bringing him back. But time marches on, the story develops, the game must continue, so as the creative team continues to weave interesting stories, sometimes changing what happened before makes things better.
The original Warcraft RTS game released in 1994, and that story was fairly straightforward. Orcs were on Draenor, orc warlocks found a rift to another world, they came through and basically fought the humans on a grand scale. It was a hit so as Warcraft II and Warcraft III came out, more lore was added, with the opus of the series in Warcraft III with the introduction of the Arthas storyline. Then came World of Warcraft, which really opened up the lore of the game. We finally got to see the main two continents in their entirety, and a ton of lore was written specifically for World of Warcraft. My point? Warcraft lore has been a work in progress for YEARS. It’s all been created out of nothing, based upon what was needed for the next title in the series, and it has constantly evolved with each game, sometimes revising old details and flipping the script as needed to make current games make sense.
This is not unique to Warcraft. Even the great-granddaddy of the Fantasy genre, J.R.R. Tolkien, did the same as he wrote the stories of Middle-Earth. When you’re creating a living world with histories, races, cultures, and hundreds of stories of how the inhabitants have interacted over the years, it is going to happen. Things will be retconned. A great example is the original version of Riddles in the Dark, the chapter of The Hobbit where Bilbo and Gollum meet for the first time in Goblintown and have that fateful game of riddles. In the original version, Gollum was not as evil, wasn’t upset about giving away the ring, and was upset when he lost not because he lost the ring itself, but because he couldn’t give it to Bilbo.
Later of course, as the professor kept writing about Arda and developing what would become the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the nature of the ring needed to change. So the ring became evil and took hold of Gollum, which changed that entire chapter of The Hobbit. In Lord of the Rings we read that Bilbo originally lied about the nature of that exchange in his diary, but make no mistake: this was a retcon on Tolkien’s part to make the story more interesting. It’s not that the first version was bad – it made sense in the story he was telling at the time. But creators of all sorts – writers, musicians, painters, handcrafters – often iterate and reiterate on what they’ve done in the past, shaping and tweaking and perfecting their work, especially if it is a work in development over a number of years.
Warcraft is no different. Perhaps the most infamous retcon in Warcraft is the story of Sargeras’ corruption. Originally he was corrupted by the eredar before his encounter with the Nathrezim, but when the Burning Crusade was in development, Blizzard decided that they wanted the eredar/draenei as a playable race. Well, that wouldn’t work if they were so evil that they corrupted Sargeras, so Blizzard flipped the script: now Sargeras was already corrupted, and that he in turn recruited Archimonde and Kil’jaeden to the Burning Legion, while Velen and his group of eredar refused. While this was a plausible explanation that ultimately made the story better and enabled playable draenei, if you played between vanilla and TBC, there were many, many tears shed over this change.
Now we have Illidan somehow coming back, even after the players “killed” him in TBC. This happens all the time in the comic book/superhero genre as well… Anybody remember the year that Superman died?
So while I get that some players are upset that Illidan is coming back…
“We killed him already!”
“This is lazy writing!”
“Nobody is ever really dead anymore!”
It also enables Blizzard to tell the story that they want to tell in this expansion. I think we would all do well to step back and realize that this is fantasy, and that nobody is ever truly DEAD as long as the story is still being written. Unless you want to incoporate perma-death into our gameplay, which I think we can all agree would be terrible, a few masochists not withstanding.
Now, I will fully admit that the time-travel/alternate universe plot makes my head hurt. The Caverns of Time were time-travel done right, IMO. The Bronze Dragonflight had us go back to stop one specific thing from happening at one specific point in time because the Infinites were screwing with the timeline. I’m sure that there’s some kind of paradox or butterfly effect possible there, but we had the bronze dragons there guiding us, and we came right back. I can suspend disbelief long enough to find that plausible.
Time-travel back to Draenor would have been much more risky as far as paradoxes go, so we time-traveled to an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE to remove all those headaches. Again, this is done frequently in the comics genre. I’m not particularly a fan though for two reasons: it removes the risk of paradox (which makes things interesting) and it really kills our motivation for being there. The story really hasn’t affected the main timeline that much, except for serving as a mechanism to bring Gul’dan back and kicking off the story for Legion. I still hold to the theory that Draenor was originally supposed to be the expansion that launched at the same time as the movie, but then the movie got pushed back and threw the schedule off, which left Blizz holding the bag with a light expansion and having to change the storyline at the last minute to transition to Legion. There’s probably even more to it than that, but it’s not likely that we’ll ever know exactly what happened.
Now that we know the basic direction of Legion, it seems like we will be wrapping up a lot of loose ends in Warcraft lore. Maybe. It may be less “wrapping up” and more further development of those plotlines so that there is more story for future expansions. At first it seems insane that we’re going to be taking on the Legion, Azshara, Titans, and the Emerald Dream all at once, but it sounds like the Azshara, Emerald Dream, and Titan plotlines will merely be development for a future expansion. And let’s be honest here. No matter who the final boss is or what happens during this expansion:
This will not be the last time that we take on the Legion.