Are you a lapsed World of Warcraft player? Do you want to know what’s gone down in the most recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth? That’s a trickier task than one might think, since the story is spread across two faction campaigns, endgame content, a book, novellas, and comics. Don’t worry — we’ve assembled the facts here, so you can get up to speed in time to go fight Azshara in patch 8.2.
The space drama setup
At the end of Legion, the Horde and Alliance united and teamed up to take out Sargeras, the fallen Titan, and the guy who — up until now — has served as the probable end-boss of Warcraft. We got on a spaceship and fought a planet, which was weird. Along the way, we learned that some planets — including Azeroth — have souls, and when those souls are born, they turn into Titans.
We stopped the Burning Legion, the game’s main villains since Warcraft 3, and then locked Sargeras up in space jail. He is imprisoned in the Seat of the Pantheon with all of the other Titans, and Illidan Stormrage stayed behind to act as a jailor. This will probably never come up again and we can consider the matter fully resolved.
However, in his desperation, Sargeras stabbed the planet before we could fully lock him up. That sword is still embedded in Silithus, and it is slowly killing Azeroth. Only by sacrificing our powerful Artifact weapons from Legion were players able to slow the damage. It’s an ongoing issue.
Azeroth is now bleeding Azerite, which is popping up everywhere. It’s a powerful alchemy ingredient that can heal, empower, and, most importantly, be weaponized. The logic and capabilities of Azerite are very vague, but it is essentially able to push warfare to a whole new level.
The Gathering ... of murder!
In the book World of Warcraft: Before the Storm, Sylvanas and Anduin set up a political conference for Forsaken and humans who are related to meet. Sylvanas hopes her people are rejected, making her rule seem all the more benevolent. Anduin is genuinely hoping for peace. He also brings Calia Menethil, the older sister of Arthas. Arthas is the guy who murdered Sylvanas, became the Lich King, and served as a major antagonist up until Wrath of the Lich King, so this wasn’t a great idea.
Calia is the legal ruler of Lordaeron, but she has abdicated her throne and served as a follower in the Priest campaign back in Legion. The Forsaken on the field recognize her and ask for her to help them join the Alliance. Sylvanas, in response, murders each Forsaken on the field and kills Calia as well.
Calia was brought back in the Netherlight Temple as a light-infused undead. She has not appeared in the game in this state. She probably will, though!
While this is going down, the Alliance recruit the Lightforged Draenei, Dark Iron Dwarves, and Void Elves. The Horde bring the Highmountain Tauren, Nightborne, and Mag’har Orcs aboard. (The Void Elves are corrupted exiles and the Mag’har Orcs are from another dimension. Don’t ask; it’s a whole thing.)
Blaze it (it being Darnassus)
Sylvanas, after the events of Before the Storm and Legion, decides that she cannot trust Anduin to rein in the Alliance leaders who hate her. Her solution is to attack Darnassus, the home of the Night Elves. This will remove the biggest Alliance presence on Kalimdor and the only major port they could use to transport Azerite. She states that her plan is for the Horde to have Kalimdor and live safely there, while the Alliance are stranded in the Eastern Kingdoms. High Overlord Saurfang eventually agrees with this decision, and the two of them coordinate the assault.
The Alliance is tricked into thinking Sylvanas will attack Silithus to take all of the Azerite for themselves, and so most of the army is gone by the time the Horde rolls up to Darnassus. A Night Elf named Delaryn Summermoon does her best to protect her home, but falls back in a way that is suspiciously like Sylvanas’ Warcraft 3 campaign leading up to her death.
Sylvanas pushes all the way to the tree, and gets into a fight with Malfurion Stormrage. She’s about to get murdered when Saurfang throws an axe into his back. Sylvanas, pleased, orders Saurfang to kill Malfurion. His death is one of her main goals, as she believes it will make the Night Elves too hopeless to fight back against the Horde occupation of Darnassus.
Unfortunately for Darnassus, Saurfang refuses to kill Malfurion since he was downed with a “dishonorable” blow. Sylvanas, realizing that the Night Elves will still have hope, pivots and orders Darnassus burnt to the ground. Saurfang is horrified, along with most players, but a good chunk of the Horde celebrate their victory.
The War of Blood begins
Now, both factions are officially in all-out war. The Alliance retaliate and attack Lordaeron. They succeed and take the city, so Sylvanas Blights the entire city so no one can have it and peaces out. Saurfang is captured by the Alliance, who eventually free him so he can start a revolution within the Horde along with some of the players and his troll friend Zekhan.
Both factions realized they’re tapped out, so they reach out for new potential allies.
The Horde enter the Zandalari Troll empire as unwelcome guests, but find that King Rhastakhan has ignored a major problem in his empire. There are three seals that keep a Titan facility sealed, and that Titan facility has been taken over by a synthetic Old God created during experiments. The Horde can’t stop the seals from being busted, but they do go into Uldir and save the world from being corrupted ... even though in the process, both Rhastakhan and the player resort to making a deal with Bwomsandi, the loa of death, a sinister figure who is obsessed with deals and collecting souls.
Jaina returns home to Kul Tiras, where she receives an icy reception, because she killed the nation’s grand admiral (and her dad) in an attempt to broker peace with the Horde way back in Warcraft 3. The Alliance player spends the campaign reuniting Kul Tiras under the Proudmoore banner, investigating missing gnomes, dealing with the traitorous Lady Ashvane, and freeing Jaina from ghost jail so she can lead her people.
While we achieve this, it becomes clear that the Old Gods have dug deep into the population, and the evil Naga Queen Azshara has struck deals with many powerful figures within the nation. This includes Ashvane, who runs industry, and Lord Stormsong, who commands the powerful tide sages.
The Alliance sabotage the Horde, stop them from allying with the undead elf vampire San’layn, and eventually attach bombs to a large portion of the Zandalari Navy.
During the hubbub, Vol’jin — the last Horde Warchief, who died during the opening act of Legion — is summoned as a spirit. He reveals that someone deceived him in his last moments and tricked him into making Sylvanas Warchief ... but some other power brought him back and empowered him. We don’t know who his trickster or savior is yet.
While the Alliance focus on winning the war against the Horde via traditional methods, Sylvanas tries something else. She and her champion, Nathanos Blightcaller, bring back a few Kul Tirans, including a Tidesage called Thomas Zelling. Zelling chooses to be raised as a Forsaken so that he can be with his family, but when his family reject him — and he’s overcome with rage due to his new nature — he decides to focus on his new job within the Horde.
Zelling proves to be useful. He helps the player acquire a Kul Tiran relic ... and the corpse of Derek Proudmoore, Jaina’s older brother and a Kul Tiran war hero. Derek died during Warcraft 2, so he’s been submerged for a couple of decades, but Sylvanas raises him anyway.
While Alliance and Horde heroes navigate this war, two regions are embroiled in a back-and-forth conflict. The Arathi Highlands is one such point, as the Alliance rebuild Stromgarde. Darkshore is also the site of an ongoing war. The Night Elves are reinvigorated by Tyrande Whisperwind, their high priestess, going through a dangerous ritual that turns her into the Night Warrior, the avatar of Elune’s vengeance. Nathanos and two Val’kyr survive her onslaught long enough raise Delaryn Summermoon, as well as the warden Sira Moonwarden, into undeath under Sylvanas’s orders. Tyrande kills one Val’kyr, and the Horde retreat.
While Sylvanas schemes, the Alliance interrupt her by raiding Dazar’Alor, the Zandalari capital. They destroy the troll fleet and kill King Rhastakhan before being forced out by the Horde. The Alliance hope that this will split the Zandalari and Horde apart; after all, the Horde just sunk time and resources in hopes of acquiring a fleet that no longer exists. Sylvanas is gracious and welcomes the Zandalari aboard nonetheless, and their alliance is strengthened. Still, the war is now heavily in the Alliance’s favor, with the Alliance military saying they are set to win within weeks.
Refusing to lose, Sylvanas announces that she plans to condition Derek Proudmoore to become a Manchurian candidate and murder Jaina. Baine Bloodhoof, the Tauren leader, is outraged by this. He was already feeling pretty bad about the whole “genocide” and “Blight bomb” and “leave Saurfang to die at Lordaeron” things, but mind-bending a guy who’s screaming for mercy is a step too far. Bloodhoof frees Derek and takes him home to Jaina, who softens her stance toward the Horde due to this act of mercy.
Sylvanas, in return, holds a political summit and calls out the traitors in the Horde. She kills Zelling and imprisons Baine in Orgrimmar, an act that bothers most of the assembled Horde leaders.
After the Battle for Dazar’Alor, Naga are suddenly appearing on the coasts and attacking Kul Tiras and Zandalar. While fighting them back, the player finds the Artifact that Shadow Priests used in Legion — Xal’atath, Blade of the Black Empire. Xal’atath explains that they were weakened in the efforts to save the world, and the player restores them and gives them a mortal form. In exchange, they immediately betray us, serve us up to N’Zoth, and then peace out. Players can choose to keep the “Gift of N’Zoth,” which is a third eye. The blade of Xal’atath is left behind.
This sets the stage for World of Warcraft patch 8.2! Players plumb the Crucible of Storms, the place where we encountered N’Zoth and received his gift. There, Horde players find the Blade of the Black Empire left behind when Xal’atah left, and bring it back to Sylvanas. The Alliance find out that Sylvanas has acquired the blade, and realize they must end this war once and for all before she can start a new plot.