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World of Warcraft’s alternate timeline is getting weird in Battle for Azeroth

We’re going back to Draenor, and things aren’t going well

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor - crystal tower in Shadow Moon Valley Blizzard Entertainment
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth’s new allied race system will push players all over Azeroth (and beyond) to recruit allies. One of the newest allied races will have us traveling back in time to World of Warcraft’s alternate-universe Draenor, where things have taken a turn for the weird.

Thanks to some data-mined broadcast text from WoWHead (which is always subject to change), players have an idea of just how bad things will go when they return to Draenor. It turns out, time works a bit differently when hopping between timelines.

Players head back to Draenor to recruit the Mag’har orcs (which simply means un-corrupted in Orcish, or not green to the rest of us), whom players first met two expansions ago, in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. While many players may have left that expansion thinking they saved the planet from its horrible future in the default timeline — which was its destruction at the hands of the Burning Legion, a demonic army — things haven’t exactly turned out well.

When players return, it’s been about 30 years since the events of Warlords of Draenor. The orcs have now allied under Grommash Hellscream, the expansion’s initial villain, who saw the error of his ways before the story’s end.

World of Warcraft - old Grommash Hellscream
Old Grommash Hellscream
Blizzard Entertainment via WoWHead

The Draenei, a group of religious aliens who were exiled from their home planet of Argus only to settle on Draenor, have had a less stellar time. While the Draenei were almost entirely player allies in Warlords, it seems that some of them have gone down a much darker path over the past three decadres. Under Yrel, one of the main Alliance heroes from Warlords, the Draenei have created a sect of fanatics called the Lightbound.

When last we left these two, they were eager to work together. But it seems like the years have seen a shift in their power dynamic. Yrel has seized control and begun aggressively converting Orcs and Draenei to her cause. They now force all to serve the Light (their religion) or die.

You can see this have a direct impact on their world. Durotan, father of Thrall (one of Warcraft’s main protagonists) and a primary Horde hero in Warlords of Draenor, has been killed by the Lightbound. But interestingly, before he died, he and his wife had a daughter named Geya’rah, meaning that Thrall doesn’t exist in this timeline. Although never named in the text, it also appears that Garrosh Hellscream, one of Warcraft’s big-bads and son of Grommash Hellscream, has betrayed his people and joined the Lightbound.

Here, Warcraft YouTuber Bellular breaks down the Lightbound scenario and just how strange it is.

All of this comes as quite the surprise to most players. Before, Grommash was a recently converted good guy and Yrel was about as pure as you could get. While all this is still subject to change and may never end up going live, the Warcraft community is unhappy about the prospect of the Draenei doing this. After all, WoWHead has a very good track record with this kind of thing. Although it’s only a single small scenario that re-introduces the Mag’har, players seem pretty unhappy about Yrel’s sudden — or rather, over-30-years — change of heart.

Yrel was one of the two most important characters in Warlords of Draenor, an expansion that is looked back on very unfavorably. But for all of its gameplay problems, Warlords had an interesting story and cool characters. While there were alternate reality versions of characters players already knew, like Prophet Velen, there were also great new characters like Yrel.

The cinematic for Warlords of Draenor above shows the alternate-universe Prophet Velen, the leader of the Draenei, passing on his power to Yrel before sacrificing himself. This is a big move for one of World of Warcraft’s major characters. Velen is still the leader of the Draenei in the default timeline, and he’s not exactly known for bestowing power on anyone for any reason. He clearly saw something worthy in Yrel, just like players did.

And this is where this new take on Yrel runs into serious problems with the community. For two years, Yrel was the hero for the Alliance’. She was the new character that Alliance players built into a leader before heading back to their own timeline. Leaving her behind was hard, but it felt like we’d helped her grow from the small Draenei healer in the intro scenario of Warlords of Draenor into a leader worthy of Velen’s blessing.

Blizzard has always been a fan of turning the good to bad, with Arthas becoming the Lich King and Illidan transforming into a good/bad demonic hybrid. But those character arcs made sense, and players were able to watch the changes manifest and grow over the course of a storyline. Because Blizzard is skipping ahead with Yrel, so much of that motivation is lost. Seeing the change of heart after the fact isn’t nearly as interesting as it would be watching her progress down this path as the story unfolds.

It remains to be seen if this new storyline will actually develop in the beta and then make its way onto the live servers. But as far as players can see now, things have gotten weird on alternate-universe Draenor, and not necessarily in a good way. However, since this is broadcast text, there could be an element to this scenario that we haven’t seen yet. The full Mag’Har Orc scenario should be in the Battle for Azeroth beta soon.

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