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Warcraft is a franchise of video games, novels, and other media originally created by Blizzard Entertainment. The series is made up of four core games: Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and World of Warcraft. The first three of these core games are in the real-time strategy genre, where opposing players command virtual armies in battle against each other or a computer-controlled enemy. The last and best selling title of the franchise is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Expansion sets were also released for multiple games in the series, each adding more content to each game as an effort to expand the product lifespan of each. No expansions were released for Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. Warcraft II was accompanied by the release of Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal. Warcraft III was accompanied by the release of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Multiple expansion packages accompanied World of Warcraft, namely The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria.
All games in the series have been set in and around the world of Azeroth, a high fantasy setting. Initially, the start of the series focused on the human nations which make up the Eastern Kingdoms, and the Orcish Horde which arrived in Azeroth via a dark portal, beginning the great wars. The Orcs arrived from another world, referred to as Draenor or Outland, a world which will be shattered into pieces by demonic magics during the events of Warcraft II. Later on in the series the world of Azeroth was expanded, revealing the new continents of Kalimdor, Northrend and Pandaria, allowing the introduction of the Night Elves, Tauren and other major races into the universe. The world of Azeroth also contains the traditional fantasy setting races of elves, dwarves, gnomes, orcs, and trolls. Although a fantasy-set universe, the games have revealed to exist in space, with many planets being named such as Azeroth, Draenor and Argus.
Most of the Warcraft series takes place on the planet of Azeroth, with the only games taking place outside of this world being three expansions — Beyond the Dark Portal (Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness' expansion set), The Frozen Throne (Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos' expansion set) and The Burning Crusade (World of Warcraft's first expansion set). Other planets in the Warcraft universe include: Draenor (and its shattered remnants, known as Outland), Argus, K'aresh, and Xoroth. There are also several metaphysical areas mentioned, including the Emerald Dream, the Elemental Planes, the Twisting Nether, and the Great Dark Beyond. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, the first game in the series, takes place in the human kingdom of Azeroth.
Azeroth has four known continents, named the Eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor and Northrend, plus the forgotten continent of Pandaria, to be explored in the upcoming expansion. All continents are separated by the Great Sea. Two major islands also reside in the Great Sea: Kezan, land of the Goblins, and Zandalar, birthplace of the Troll civilization. In the center of the Great Sea is an enormous, everlasting vortex called the "Maelstrom" beneath which lies the aquatic city of Nazjatar, home of the amphibious Naga.
The Eastern Kingdoms are the primary setting of the first two games (and their expansions) and the first half of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and is currently made up of 22 areas or zones. The kingdom of Stormwind lies at the south of the Eastern Kingdoms, south of the dwarven kingdom of Khaz Modan and north of the jungle known as Stranglethorn Vale. The capital city of Stormwind, Stormwind City, is nestled into the northwest of Elwynn Forest, a large forest at the center of the kingdom. The Dwarven capital in Khaz Modan, called Ironforge, is located in Dun Morogh.
The former human kingdom of Lordaeron, which successfully headed the Human Alliance in Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness but later fell to the Scourge in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, is located north from the southern kingdoms. Underneath the ruined city of Lordaeron now lies the Undercity, capital of the Forsaken, a rebel band of the undead Scourge. The area is now known as Tirisfal Glades and is threatened by the Western Plaguelands held back at The Bulwark. Northeast of Lordaeron is the elven nation of Quel'Thalas and its capital city, Silvermoon, both of which were conquered by the Scourge in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.
The continent of Kalimdor was introduced in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and is made up of 18 zones. Whereas the Eastern Kingdoms can be described as the equivalent of medieval Europe, with traditional kingdoms with advanced cities, Kalimdor can be compared to the Americas and at the time of their discovery by the Europeans, full of wild and unexplored lands. The geography and topography of Kalimdor are similar to North America and Africa, with massive, ancient forests and mountains covering the North and vast deserts and savannahs in the South. The Night Elven kingdom is located in the northwest region of Kalimdor, also including the island Teldrassil (actually a giant tree, similar in lore and spelling to Yggdrasil) off the northwest coast, which contains the city of Darnassus.
To the south, past the Ashenvale Forest, is a stretch of land known as The Barrens, situated between the grasslands of Mulgore to the west, and Durotar, the land settled by the Orcs, to the east. Mulgore is home to the Tauren capital of Thunder Bluff, a large city of tepees and lodges built on top of a conglomerate of high plateaus which are only accessible by air travel and a great series of lifts built down to the ground. In the north of Durotar is the fortress-city of Orgrimmar, capital of the Orcs.
The third continent, Northrend, is the northern polar cap of Azeroth and is the primary stronghold of the malevolent Undead Scourge. Northrend is featured in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion set Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, and is the main location featured in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion pack to World of Warcraft.
In the expansion World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Azeroth has been changed permanently in-game, even for players without the expansion set installed. The corrupted Black Dragon Aspect, Deathwing the Destroyer (formerly Neltharion, the Earth-Warder) has broken free from imprisonment in Deepholm, part of the Elemental Plane, and caused major changes and destruction in the land. In addition, many new parts of the continents of Azeroth that have previously been inaccessible have become key parts in the new world.
Lorewise, this is the second major change to the face of Azeroth, the first being the Sundering. The Sundering was caused by the elves' overuse of arcane energies. It caused a massive explosion that split the one continent into the three seen in game today and created the Maelstrom.
In the fourth expansion World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
Following the successful campaigns in Northrend and in the lands opened by the Shattering, and the deaths of the Lich King at Icecrown Citadel and Deathwing the Destroyer at the Maelstrom, the expansion refocuses primarily on the war between the Alliance and Horde, in the wake of the accidental rediscovery of the mythical and long-forgotten lands of Pandaria, a continent far to the south that has until now been shrouded in magical mists. With both factions landing on Pandaria, adventurers rediscover the ancient Pandaren people, whose wisdom will help guide them to new destinies; the Pandaren Empire's ancient enemy, the Mantid; and their legendary oppressors, the enigmatic Mogu. As conflicts heat up between the Alliance and Horde, the land will change over time, with subsequent patches escalating the conflict between Alliance leader Varian Wrynn and the increasingly crazed Horde warchief Garrosh Hellscream, with Hellscream's descent into madness eventually becoming the catalyst for the expansion's concluding showdown.
The new continent reveals itself to a broken world just as the Alliance and Horde are spiraling ever closer to a war that will consume all of Azeroth. Will the mists of Pandaria part to reveal the world's salvation? Or will the battle to control this rich and breathtaking new land push the two mighty factions over the brink of war and into total annihilation? The answers await within Pandaria's mysterious shores!
As a first for Blizzard, the storyline for Mists of Pandaria will split into multiple chapters. The story arc that introduces Pandaria — where players will discover the continent and level up, helping to solve problems and figure out what happened for the past 10,000 years and why - will be included entirely within the initial expansion release. Later chapters in the storyline bring the war between the Horde and the Alliance back into focus, including changing parts of Pandaria (ostensibly via phasing) to show additional settlements, and eventually return the players back to the rest of the world for a final showdown to dethroning the current Warchief Garrosh Hellscream.
Draenor, which featured in Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal, is the original homeland of the Orcs and a former refuge of the Draenei.
Draenor was torn apart when the Orcish leader, Ner'Zhul (later the first Lich King) opened dozens of portals to other worlds in an attempt to escape the invading Alliance Armies from Azeroth. The sheer number and combined power of the portals ripped Draenor into fragments and cast the remainder into the mysterious parallel dimension called the Twisting Nether, Home of the Demons. The remnants of the world are now known as Outland, and feature in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne and more prominently in World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade.