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WoW Prelude

The Prelude to WoW: What Came Before

A lot of people love the lore in WoW, but aren't too familiar with what happened in Warcraft III and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, so this article will go over what happened during that time period. I've gotten a few requests to make this article mostly because of the World of Warcraft intro cinematic: The voice says "Four years have passed since the mortal races stood united against the Burning Legion.. the tenuous pact between the Horde and Alliance has all but evaporated", and curiosity for what came before. Sit back, grab a drink, because if you missed Warcraft III and the expansion, you've got a lot to catch up on.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos was a huge chunk of the Warcraft storyline up until now. The story was driven by a character named Medivh. He was a powerful Mage who was once appointed to be the Guardian of Azeroth; to protect it from demons. However, it was in fact Medivh who had opened the Dark Portal, and allowed the Orcs to first invade Azeroth and Lordaeron. Since then, he has come back from his dark past to try and save the mortal races from complete annihilation. Medivh figures better late then never - 'I screwed humanity once, hopefully I won't do it again'.

There were five sub-campaigns in the Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos campaign, each of which had its own cinematic or two. The campaigns are:

Prologue: Orc Campaign - Exodus of the Horde
Human Campaign - The Scourge of Lordaeron
Undead Campaign - Path of the Damned
Orc Campaign - Invasion of Kalimdor
Night Elf Campaign - Eternity's End

There are seven cinematics for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos alone, and if you want to better understand this article (and see how awesome they look) as well as the storyline, it's in your best interest to watch them all.

  • The first cinematic is the introduction to Warcraft III, with Medivh talking in the background, alluding to future occurrences with the "Burning Shadow".
  • The second is the Prologue cinematic, with Thrall's vision and Medivh imploring him to lead the Horde to the West.
  • The third is an introductory cinematic to the human campaign, where we see Medivh fly into the King's throne room and try to persuade him to evacuate Lordaeron into the west.
  • The fourth is the ending of the human campaign where Arthas returns home to his just rewards.
  • The fifth is the ending of the undead campaign (No Spoilers)
  • The sixth is the ending of the Orc campaign (Watch this one or die)
  • The seventh is the ending of the Night Elf campaign and the entire Warcrcraft III: Reign of Chaos story.
It is highly recommended you watch the cinematics before reading the campaign that follows it. We had hoped to provide those movies for you but legal issues prevent us from doing so. The game is well worth it so we suggest you buy it and give it a try (when you're not WoWing that is). The first cinematic is the one that loads when you install the game for the first time. It gives some insight into the storyline and gets your nerves tingling.

    A brief summary of the Intro to Warcraft III cinematic: A mysterious narrator speaks about the "Ancient Prophecies" and how the Humans and Orcs fought blindly against each other, unaware of the "Burning Shadow". The scene depicts an Orc Grunt and a Human Footman squaring off, but then the sky begins to rain fire and an infernal rises from a crater of a fallen burning rock. The infernal proceeds to hand both the Grunt and Footman their arses and coincidentally, the narrator tells us "The Reign of Chaos has come at last".

Prologue - Exodus of the Horde

    A brief summary of the Exodus of the Horde cinematic: Thrall (Yes the same Thrall who leads the Orcs from the Throne in Orgrimmar) has a strange dream where he envisions a large battle of Humans and Orcs, and a mysterious prophet telling him his people are doomed unless he rallies the Horde (Horde, at this point, is a term for the entire force of Orcs he leads, and does not refer to the alliance made by the Tauren, Trolls, Undead and Orcs in WoW) and leads them to the distant lands of Kalimdor.

Thrall begins to gather the remaining Horde clans to his position in the Arathi Highlands, to make the mass exodus to Kalimdor.

However, his most trusted friend and fellow Warchief, Grom Hellscream of the Warsong Clan, is missing and has not been seen. This worries Thrall, but he must focus on evacuating the rest of the Horde. He begins building up his camp so that when the clans arrive, they will have lodgings and food. Peons are hustled into work and the grunts to patrol. Barracks are established, and food is collected from the outer regions of the Arathi Highlands. Thrall pushes his Orcs on, keeping them motivated and focused.

In the distance, a human brigade advances to a nearby bridge that leads into the guard towers protecting Thrall's base. The pinkskins explain that the Orcs are in violation of the Alliance Internment Act (Which basically states if you are an Orc and you aren't in jail, you're breaking the law) and if they surrender immediately, their lives will be spared. The humans also state that one of the Orc leaders has been captured (they are referring to Grom Hellscream). Thrall laughs at them, and with his own forces he clashes blades with the humans.

The small force is sponge cake to his seasoned grunts, but he knows the true task is freeing Grom. As an old friend and practically a brother, Thrall cannot hope to accomplish the salvation of his people without Grom's heart and erm, "enthusiasm" (and by enthusiasm I mean 'tendency to kick the crap out of anyone who looks at him the wrong way'). Thrall assembles his attack force and sets off towards the human prison, where Grom is being held.

Thrall battles furiously past guard towers and defensive entrenchments. Unleashing the fury of his chain lightning and summoning the powerful spirit wolves by his side, the humans are no match for this mighty shaman (Note: Thrall was the blueprint for World of Warcraft's modern-day overpowered Shaman).

Thrall reaches the prison but finds it is guarded by four fortified guard towers. With the help of some Orcish raiders, they raze the structures with ease and free their fellow Warchief. As Grom puts it, the humans "Luckily only injured my pride," and since pride/ego is 99% of Grom's being, I'd say they nearly killed him. Wouldn't you agree?

Thrall tells Grom that they are leaving the human lands for good and are setting sail west. Grom is enthusiastic about leaving the pink-skins behind, and suggests that Thrall should steal the ships of the humans who had Grom captured. Thrall laughs and agrees with the idea. The rest of the Horde clans arrive and they board the ships to set sail for Kalimdor.

The Humans - Scourge of Lordaeron

    A brief summary of The Scourge of Loraeron cinematic: This cinematic begins with a crow flying through the air, past many lands and landscapes. The crow arrives at a large civilization that is the Capital City of Lordaeron. He manages to fly into the King's throne room, where King Terenas of Lordaeron is discussing the current issues with his ambassadors and allies. The crow begins to shapeshift and takes the form of a man, cloaked and hooded holding a long staff with the shape of a crow as its head. This man is the same Prophet who persuaded Thrall and the Orcish Horde to travel west, and he is now imploring the King to do so as well. The Prophet warns the King that the Burning Shadow is coming to consume humanity, but he is brushed off as a madman and taken out by the guards. As Medivh walks out, you hear his thoughts: "The warning has been given. Their fate is now their own."

The campaign begins with the introduction of Arthas and Uther. Arthas is the son of the King; a young Paladin who is being trained by Uther, leader of the Order of the Silver Hand. Uther is a mentor to Arthas throughout the storyline.

Arthas meets up with Uther and together they learn of a raid on the village of Strahnbrad. Orcs run wildly through the defenseless town and are killing villagers at will. Arthas is told to go save Strahnbrad while Uther sets up an offensive against the Orc encampment further north. As Arthas and his men proceed on foot, the stench of decaying flesh becomes ever more prominent in the air. Screams erupt in the distance, as if a thousand screaming spirits were vanquished at once with the swing of one mighty axe - Arthas must hurry. He reaches the town gates, where villagers are running for their lives. One villager holds his daughter's hand as an Orcish raider on a wolf chases after him. The Orc brutally slaughters the defenseless peasant and the child, then turns to face Arthas.

With vengeance in his heart, Arthas takes up his hammer and bashes the Orc into oblivion. His ferocity is matched only by his anger, and quickly Arthas scans the town for more Orcs to slay. He takes on a few more parties of grunts before reaching the Orc Warlord. A mounted warrior, the Warlord calls for aid as Arthas and his men battle through green skin and blood alike until at last Arthas faces the Warlord. His hammer hits, and continues to swing rapidly. Arthas is a Paladin, and though his healing powers are enough to save some of his wounded men, he continues pounding on the Orc until his bones are shattered and all that is left of the Warlord is ripped flesh and a pool of blood. Needlessly some of his men die slowly due to grievous wounds, but Arthas takes no heed. The job at hand was completed.

With the village saved, Arthas meets up with Uther at their base camp. Uther's two best knights were sent in to parley with the Orc leader of the Northern encampment. Two riderless horses return to the camp, signifying the obvious (and for the slow witted - the knights were slaughtered, only their horses survived). Uther begins to sense Arthas' impatience and lust for vengeance as the Prince expresses his distaste for Uther's passivity. However, Arthas calms down and focuses himself - an important task awaits. Uther gives Arthas the honor of throwing the first punch - he will be the one to lead the offensive while Uther makes sure that the base camp stays safe of Orc attackers.

Arthas fights through an Orc base and reaches the Blademaster. The samurai-looking Orc tells Arthas that "Soon, fire will rain from the sky and this wretched world will burn." Arthas is concerned and upon his return to Uthor tells his mentor what the Blademaster said. But Uther assures him the Orcs are only trying to hold onto dieing traditions - the demons they are trying to appease are long-vanquished.

In a cutscene, Medivh implores Antonidas, leader of the Kirin Tor (Mage Society of Lordaeron) to heed his warning and to sail west, but the old Mage tells the prophet he is not interested and Medivh flies away. In that same cutscene, we see a young sorceress appear out of concealment and apologize to her master Antonidas for eavesdropping. The old mage laughs and briefs the girl on her next assignment. Rumors of a plague in the northlands have been spreading, and this sorceress - named Jaina Proudmoore (Human leader of Theramore Isle in WoW) - is to investigate it, and confirm whether or not the plague is magical in nature. Antonidas arranges a special convoy to assist her - none other then Arthas and foot soldiers of Lordaeron.

Jaina meets up with Arthas and the men near the Northern Boroughs, and begin their investigation of the villages. They walk from farm to farm, talking to villagers and looking at certain clues that allude to the plague. As they continue to investigate, they find creepy Undead cultists skulking around. They find the Undead presence in the seemingly quiet area alerting, but they press on. They discover a plagued, but empty, granary. It seems as if the plague was put into the grain shipments. They fear the plagued grain has already been shipped into the northern villages. Acting fast, Arthas and Jaina encounter more cultists but also a necromancer called Kel'Thuzad. The cunning wizard escapes, but before he does, he informs the angry Prince that the leader of the Undead strike force is Mal'Ganis, a Dreadlord, and that the Scourge is the name given to these Undead creatures. The two pursue Kel'Thuzad towards Stratholme.

On the road to Stratholme, the pair and their forces run into the village of Hearthglen. They see a local militia banded and armed, with other foot soldiers training. Seeing an imminent attack on the local village, Arthas tells Jaina she must find Uther and bring reinforcements if there is any hope of saving the village. Arthas notices empty crates of the plagued grain. Nearby militia begin to succumb to the plague's effects. What happens is not pretty. In a tirade of pain and agony the men are stripped of their humanity, and much of their skin, as they slowly turn Undead. The plague was not meant to kill the citizens of Lordaeron - it was meant to turn them into zombies to aid the Scourge in its plot to wipe out humanity.

The defense of Hearthglen seems nearly impossible. Undead legions attack every corner of the base endlessly, while Undead bases surround the area. With the enemy having seemingly limitless numbers, Arthas sees no chance of survival until Uther arrives with reinforcements. Just as the Undead push past the guard towers and enter the center of the city, and all hope seems lost, Uther rides in with his cavalry, and slaughters the Undead.

"About time you showed up Uther" Arthas says abruptly. Arthas is frustrated that he did not receive reinforcements sooner and more so that he had to be saved by Uther, and not the other way around. The two share some more rude comments, but together the three (Uther, Jaina and Arthas) travel to Stratholme to take out Mal'Ganis, but what they see there is beyond any horror they could have imagined.

The entire city is plagued and soon enough, the villagers will arise as zombies, going from friendly liabilities to hostile, mindless soldiers for the Scourge. Arthas, as the Prince, orders Uther and his knights to purge the city of all its citizens before they turn into Undead zombies. Uther refuses to kill innocent citizens, and Arthas angrily suspends him and his Paladins from service in Lordaeron. Jaina also leaves, thinking Arthas a madman.

The moment of truth arrives. Arthas begins his slaughter, or "cleansing" as he likes to call it. As he and his knights raze house after house, the peasants are shocked to see it is the Prince doing the damage - and not the Undead. Arthas guts them by the dozens, and orders his men to do the same. He also encounters Mal'Ganis, but manages to drive the Dreadlord back into his compound while Arthas personally "handles" the citizens. Screams of terror and blood trickle down the cobble stone paths of Stratholme. The horrors seen in this city shall never be forgotten, and the remorse one should feel is absent in Arthas' heart. His soul has become vengeance itself, an unholy zeal that will turn his actions from revenge to evil.

After purging the city, Arthas finally faces Mal'Ganis. His insatiable thirst to destroy the Dreadlord is only further tested when Mal'Ganis retreats and tells Arthas to find him in the frozen land of Northrend, where they will have their battle, and where Arthas' true destiny lies. Little does Arthas know, the Dreadlord is dead right.

Arthas then takes the fleet, with a sizeable force and supplies to Northrend. I mean, you gotta commend Arthas. This Dreadlord commands an entire army of Undead, invites him to his base in Northrend, the frozen and most northern continent, and the human Paladin has the courage to accept and sail there. Meanwhile, back at Stratholme, Jaina Proudmoore meets up with Uther and other human relief forces. Carcasses are piled by the hundreds on top of each other on great pyres, and the stench of burning flesh and rotting meat is so thick in the air that breathing is a chore. Jaina is overtaken by her grief and disbelief of the events that have unfolded. Uther consoles the girl and tells her that it wasn't her fault, and that the king needs to be informed immediately. Jaina tells Uther that Arthas sailed to Northrend to hunt down Mal'Ganis, the leader of the vile Undead who plagued the Prince's people which in turn led Arthas to slaughter those same people.

Arthas reaches Northrend and just as he is about to establish a base camp, he meets up with Muradin Bronzebeard, son of the Dwarven King Magni Bronzebeard (I know WoW Horde hate King Magni because without exploiting there's no real way to kill him in an Ironforge raid). Muradin explains he is in Northrend searching for the Runeblade "Frostmourne" but recently he encountered a legion of Undead forces. His men are trapped somewhere in the frozen wild, under constant attack from The Scourge. Prince Arthas decides the Dwarves could be a powerful ally against the Scourge, and launches an attack party to find and eradicate the Undead who assault the Dwarves endlessly, and to bring the Dwarven base back to functionality. Assembling both his troops and the Dwarven Riflemen and Mortar teams, Arthas launches a full throttle siege.

The Lordaeron soldiers begin to warm up as the battle commences. Blood rushes through their frozen joints as ghouls, fiends and other devilish creatures begin to advance on them. In the distance, mortar teams are heard blasting the hell out of the Undead ziggurats while the riflemen provide support fire behind Arthas' front line. Courage is high as Arthas jumps into the thick of battle. An Undead Lich is in control of the base, and the determined Paladin jumps onto his foe. Weaving an awesome magic, the Lich summons a great frost nova in the thick of the troops, encasing some of them in solid ice, and freezing others into a paralyzed state.

Arthas is frozen for the moment, his joints not functional and his mind almost frozen in time. The Lich flows a few feet above the ground - his face as rotten as the ground the base is built upon. The lifelessness in his eyes is as cold as the continent on which the battle rages. As Arthas feels the frost effects wearing away, he summons all his strength to run towards his enemy. Introducing himself with a big fat hammer to the Lich's torso, Arthas begins to rage uncontrollably at the sight of this abomination of a being. The Lich recovers, and begins sacrificing the skeletal warriors around him for what seems to be nourishment. The Lich gains strength and let loose another nova of frost throughout the Dwarven and Human ranks. His arms then dance through the air in a hypnotic wave, and speaking a dark incantation, the Lich summons Death and Decay at the pink-skinned invaders. Arthas slowly feels his own flesh peeling away and rotting, and he knows he must stop the Lich before the spell overwhelms him.

Using the power of the Holy Light, Arthas summons from the sky a beam to shun the Lich and send him back to the Hell that created him. The Lich is conquered, but the Dreadlord that Arthas was seeking is not to be found. Mal'Ganis was playing cat and mouse with Arthas, but soon we find out that Arthas not only becomes the mouse, he becomes the cat too! Arthas orders that once the remnants of the Undead base are cleared, he wants a full main encampment built, with proper defenses and shelter.

Arthas and Muradin are out on a small errand in the wilds when an emissary arrives in a zeppelin. The emissary tells Arthas' captain that the Prince and his men are to return home - Uther has convinced King Terenas to recall the expedition. When Arthas returns to camp, he notices that none of the guards are at their posts. When he asks his captain where his men are, the captain tells him about the emissary and the recall. Arthas is infuriated, and will have none of it.

The young Prince gathers his remaining forces, including Muradin, and sets out to burn the ships before the bulk of his men can reach them. Undead bastions lay in between the several ships scattered around the area, so without some more muscle Arthas will not be able to reach them all in time. Arthas reaches a Mercenary Camp and hires Trolls and Ogres to help him battle the Undead. As Arthas burns the last of the ships, the main forces arrive to board them. Finding Arthas they ask him what happened to the ships. Arthas, using some ingenuity, stirs the troops to his favor by lying to them. He tells them that the mercenaries he hired were instead the beasts who burned the ships, and orders his men to destroy them. Muradin is beginning to see the vengeance in Arthas' heart, but dares not defy him. Arthas then tells the men their only way home lies through victory. The men return to their posts and ready themselves to battle the Undead.

After returning to his base camp, in relative quietness, Arthas plots his attack against Mal'Ganis, when all of a sudden the bells of the town hall ring. "The Undead, Milord!" Mal'Ganis' forces surround Arthas' base camp on all sides, and a panic erupts within the base. There is only one way to save his men: Frostmourne. He implores Muradin to lead him to the Runeblade's keeping place.

Arthas assembles a small scout party, and with Muradin, heads out on the path to Frostmourne. Arthas is feeling desperate, vengeful and hateful. The Undead lay siege to his base while he searches for a Runeblade; it angers him that he cannot be at the front fighting, but he knows what must be done. The initial Guardians of Frostmourne are easy prey, and Arthas strikes them down with great vengeance and furious anger. However, the final Guardians who stand just in front of the Blade's keeping place are tougher then that. Seeing a weak human and a few foot soldiers coming to challenge them, the Guardians are not aware of the fight they're in for.

The Runeblade is encased in a solid block of ice on an ornate pedestal in the center of an echoing chamber. But this is not what catches Arthas' eye. In front of the pedestal are three enormous Guardians, appearing to float above the ground, holding great dark maces and shields with burning skull emblems on them. Their long bodies seem stretched out, and their frozen crowns and burning eyes stare in contempt. With fire in his eyes Arthas charges the Guardians. Not suspecting such viciousness from a human, the Guardians are taken by surprise and quickly dispatched by the maniacal Prince. With its last breath, the final Guardian tells Arthas it was not trying to protect the Runeblade from the Prince and his men. It was doing the opposite - protecting them from the Runeblade. Arthas shrugs off the warning and enters the chamber with Muradin. Before Arthas can take the sword, Muradin runs ahead and reads the seal at the pedestal. Its incantation reads: 'With great power to rend flesh comes the sacrifice of a broken spirit'. Muradin then sighs in disappointment. "It's no use Arthas, the blade is cursed. I should have known!"

Undaunted, and clearly not taking no for an answer, Arthas says "I will bear any curse to save my people and avenge them" and takes Frostmourne as his own. But as he does so, the ice that surrounds the blade shatters, hurling thousands of lethal frozen spikes in every direction. Arthas is unscathed by the ice, but Muradin is fatally wounded. Frostmourne lands squarely in the ground, imploring Arthas to pick it up.

Arthas stares at Muradin's dead body which lay beside the pedestal. Regret, grief, remorse - nothing, Arthas feels nothing, except rage, and his insatiable desire for revenge. Arthas turns to Frostmourne, which is dug several inches into the ground. The skeletal handle glows a frosty white, and as Arthas' hand moves slowly to grab the sword, a voice enters his head. Arthas stops, as if halted by some psychic force, but after a moment or two grabs the sword and lifts it out of the icy ground.

Arthas returns to his base camp wielding the powerful sword. The Undead pour in from every corner, but they are no match for the power of Frostmourne. Arthas begins to cleave Undead flesh as he moves from side to side, pushing the Undead back until his base is free of invaders. The men ask about Muradin, but Arthas doesn't tell them the truth. All he tells them is that he is dead, but the men's salvation has been sealed with the acquisition of Frostmourne (it sure has, but I'm not certain it's for the better).

Arthas makes repairs to his defenses and begins to train more troops. After reestablishing formidable base defense, Arthas marches fearlessly into Mal'Ganis' main stronghold. Heavily fortified with ziggurats and an even larger army inside, the base seems almost impenetrable. However, Frostmourne now tips the scale for this manic Prince. As the Paladin begins the siege, Mal'Ganis seems not afraid, but surprised. Foot soldiers are dieing every moment of the battle, and as they do, skeletal warriors are raised from their remains. Arthas takes no notice - he continues to flesh out the front lines and destroy the Undead beasts. Driving his way into the base, Arthas finally destroys the Undead and their stronghold. Only Mal'Ganis is left. The Dreadlord has a few words with Arthas as they meet, "You've taken up Frostmourne at the expense of your comrades' lives. You hear the Dark Lord speaking to you through the Runeblade. What does he tell you?"

"He tells me" Arthas says, raising Frostmourne, "My time for vengeance has come," and as he does so, a swing of Frostmourne is all it takes to vanquish the Dreadlord forever.

Arthas wanders the frozen glaciers of Northrend for weeks, driven mad by the voices inside of his head. Finally he decides to return home to Lordaeron, to receive his just prize.

    A brief summary of the concluding cinematic for the Human Campaign: In an amazing cinematic by Blizzard, Arthas is shown coming home to the Capital City. Bells toll as the hero walks into a crowd of citizens singing his praises and throwing flowers at him. Arthas walks into the throne room, and after a small dialogue advances on his father. Arthas takes up Frostmourne and guts his own father. In his words:

    "This kingdom shall fall, and from the ashes shall arise a new order that will shake the very foundations of the world,"

Someone has issues.

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June 5, 2006