The Ties that Bind: Exploring Blizzard's Warcraft Lore and its Relation to the Warcraft Movie
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 02:47pm 19/09/16 | Comments
Thanks to the release of Warcraft (2016) on DVD and Blu-ray we’re taking a look back at the lore of Warcraft the movie, its relationship to the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, and over 20 years of awe-inspiring gaming history.
Watch the Blu-ray release trailer for Warcraft: The Beginning embedded above
Part One: Alliance meets Hord
When Blizzard Entertainment released Warcraft: Orcs and Humans for PCs in 1994 many people were unsure what to make of this new fantasy-themed entry in the still very young real-time strategy (RTS) genre. But, once they sat down and played it they immediately found themselves immersed in a rich fantasy world. One where a mysterious race of Orcs had emerged from a strange portal to wreak havoc in the human lands of Azeroth. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because the events of Warcraft (2016) take place during the same time-period. And with numerous Warcraft games, novels, and comics released over the years it’s only fitting that the first Warcraft film goes back to the beginning. Whilst still drawing on everything that followed.
Right from the start Warcraft has always been interested in telling both sides of a story. In Orcs and Humans players chose to control either race as they took part in battles both large and small. But it wasn’t until 2004 and when Blizzard released its most ambitious game to date, the massively-multiplayer World of Warcraft that millions of Warcraft fans were created around the world. With World of Warcraft (or, WoW for short) players had the chance to create their own Alliance or Horde character to live, explore, battle, and adventure with. This meant that no line was drawn, if you wanted to become a knight and join the Alliance you could. And if you wanted to wield a giant axe as a member of the Horde, well, you could do that too.
Even though they may look like the bad guys, what with all the bone jewellery and giant battle scarred weaponry, the tragedy and endearing characterisation of the Orcs has been a franchise staple since day one. And this is something that Warcraft (2016) goes to great lengths to capture, as it presents its story from the perspective of both the Alliance and Horde. Beginning on the dying Orc home world of Draenor, we see a land ravished by extreme weather events, and a mysterious warlock leader by the name of Gul'dan leading Horde scouts through a mysterious portal. We’re also introduced to Orc chieftain Durotan. Names that are instantly familiar to Warcraft fans around the world.
For the Alliance Gul'dan is the ultimate bad-guy, the creator and leader of the Orcish Horde. To the Horde his legacy is probably even worse, as his thirst for power leads to war, destruction, famine, and ultimately his death and the Horde’s undoing after The Second War. An event that happens long after what we see on screen. And to prove that you can’t keep a pure force for evil down, a resurrected (well, time-travelling) Gul’dan can be found in the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Legion. His enduring legacy and complicated history with the Orcish Horde can be felt in the film. Specifically, with his relationship to Durotan, Orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan and someone who commands the respect of his followers through honour and leadership.
When Orcs Met Humans, Version 2.0
When Legendary Pictures announced it had acquired the Warcraft film rights in 2006, World of Warcraft fans were put in the position of speculating and contemplating what a big-screen version of Warcraft could be. Director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) an avid WoW player in his own right, wanted to ensure that fans got to see some of their biggest gaming moments brought to life. And alongside his team of collaborators, pack the film with so many hidden nods and winks to Warcraft’s history and lore, that if you’re accustomed to the human bodily function known as blinking, you’d probably miss out on a few.
In terms of when the film is set the events depicted occur about 25 years or so before the franchise’s most well-known creation, World of Warcraft. In many ways it mirrors the events of 1994’s Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, as that also dealt with the meeting of two races. The Orcs, who are fleeing the dying world of Draenor to find a new home in the land of Azeroth, and the humans who are targeted by the Orc Horde to power a mysterious Dark Portal. One that allows for passage between two worlds. For those that are unfamiliar with Warcraft this setup may seem a little out there. But the dying world of Draenor, the Fel, and the creation of a Dark Portal are all present in Warcraft’s well documented history.
Although, what we see in the film is a slightly different version of events. In the game universe it was Guardian of Azeroth Medivh who constructed the human side of the Dark Portal. Under the influence of the Fel and a mysterious demonic figure. A change that helps keep this revelation of his corruption a secret throughout most of the film. But much like with the game series it’s Medivh who provides a human counterpart to Orc leader Gul’dan, also corrupted by the Fel. Or more specifically the dark Titan Sargeras. Although not called out specifically in the film, according to lore it’s the demonic Sargeras who pulls the strings to ensure that not only are the Dark Portals opened, but that the Orcs are corrupted by the Fel.
By including this part of the story Warcraft has the chance, much like the franchise itself, to show that all sides can succumb to darkness. And that there aren’t any all-round good guys. In terms of how it looks the Dark Portal we see in the film mirrors the design seen in the games down to the smallest detail. From the stone figures adorning each side of the passageway though to the dragon-like creature resting its head on top. In fact, the design philosophy of the film as a whole remains true to Blizzard’s own creations. One that extends to everything from weaponry to Orc skin colour. In keeping with the history and lore of the franchise the green-skin Orcs are those corrupted by the Fel, the same dark magic that powers the Dark Portal, whilst the brown-skinned Orcs represent those untouched by dark magic.
Familiar Faces and Meeting Places
For the millions of World of Warcraft players, their sense of Azeroth’s overall geography is one that would rival even the most experienced GPS-potion maker. And as we’re introduced to the humans and Azeroth in the film, we’re given a spectacular fly-by view of the city of Stormwind. A location featured prominently in WoW. So much so that the buildings we see in the film have similar designs, right down to the different coloured rooftops. Even the location of iconic buildings, are right where they should be. A fact that becomes clear when Khadgar heads to the city on the back of his gryphon later in the story. The flight path, the archway that gets flown under, and even the landing location is all lifted from the countless gryphon flights taken by WoW players over the years.
This keen sense of history and attention to detail extends beyond being simply there for fans to see, and is ingrained in the story. When our main human protagonist Lothar first crosses paths with the young Khadgar, and they both set out to meet King Lllane, the place they head to is an Inn. For a fantasy story, it isn’t uncommon to have key plot points discussed and character interactions and introductions occur at an Inn. But this isn’t any ordinary in, it’s the Lion’s Pride Inn. A place that just about every World of Warcraft player encounters during the opening moments of their adventures. And with the design of the Lion’s Pride Inn we see in the film being identical to the one from the game, it’s a sequence that resonates with both fantasy fans and Warcraft players.
By staying true to the lore and history of Warcraft, and utilising this rich tapestry to inform the story you end up with an adaptation that can sit alongside its source material. That’s not to say that it’s all serious, as the film also uses has fun with it. An important moment in the story is one where Khadgar has to somehow free Lothar from prison. He does so via casting a spell that temporarily transforms the guard into a harmless sheep. A nod to the comedic Polymorphing spell found in World of Warcraft. Right down to it only lasting about a minute.
Check back for Part Two as we delve into what a potential sequel might hold, who those strange blue people we see are, and the importance of Durotan’s son. Plus, some more fun and out-there moments.