Let me get the important bits out of the way first: if you’re someone who is interested in the history of the universe in which Warcraft takes place, then Chronicle Vol. 1 is worth every penny of its full price. No, I’m not being paid to say that. If you’re someone who enjoys the artwork of Peter Lee, one of the core conceptual artists behind the look and feel of Warcraft, then Chronicle Vol. 1. is worth its price.
However, it’s also important to point a few other key things, so you go into this with a clear indication of what you’re getting into.
WHAT’S IN THE BOOK
- Contains 165 pages of content. There are around 40 pages that are taken up with full page art (whether brand-new art by Peter Lee or pre-existing art by Joseph Lacroix) OR detailed maps relevant to the time period covered, and in both cases the art is either a full page or a double-spread. The other ~120 pages are straight-up WORDS in a uniformly small font.
- Starts at the creation of the universe and ends just before the opening of the Dark Portal.
- When it starts counting time, it starts 16,000 years before the opening of the Dark Portal… but that’s halfway through the book, so there’s a LOT of stuff covered before we even get to that timeframe.
WHAT’S NOT IN THE BOOK
- Detailed population numbers.
- Spell lists.
- Boss strategies or loot tables.
- Tables for generating treasure drops from random encounters that are in turn generated by other tables.
- What I’m saying is that this isn’t an RPG supplement or Wowhead in dead-tree form. It’s a history book.
The main project of Chronicle is to try and bring the history of the world of Warcraft into a greater sense of consistency. I would say that from what I’ve seen so far, that project has succeeded. Instead of getting bits and pieces of the history of the world in a piecemeal manner as they’re produced for game expansions or novels or short stories, this is a single, continuous narrative, with elements that build upon each to truly connect everything together.
As an example, let’s take a piece from the early history of the world. To set the stage, the Old Gods have infected Azeroth, and enslaved the four Elemental Lords as their servants. The Titans have installed their servants, the keepers, to oppose the Old Gods and end their corruption.
Wrath of the Titan-forged
Led by the keepers, the titan-forged slammed into the Black Empire’s northernmost holdings. The resilience and strength of the Pantheon’s armies made them an unstoppable force. They unleashed the wrath of gods upon their enemies, scouring legions of n’raqi and aqir and sundering their temples.
The arrival of the titan-forged caught the Old Gods completely off guard. They reeled in response to these stone- and metal-skinned invaders, but they were determined not to lose control over Azeroth. To reassert their dominance, the Old Gods called upon their greatest lieutenants: the elemental lords.
The enraged elemental lords and their minions beset the titan-forged on all sides. Ever wary of fighting a unified elemental army, the keepers resolved to divide and conquer their enemies. Thus they split their own forces and dispatched each group of titan-forged to make war on a specific elemental lord.
Tyr and Odyn volunteered to confront the most destructive elemental lieutenant: Ragnaros the Firelord. Their battle raged for weeks, engulfing the land in fire and magma. Yet the keepers’ resilient metal forms kept them safe from Ragnaros’s fiery onslaughts. Through sheer strength and force of will, Tyr and Odyn pushed Ragnaros back to his volcanic lair in the east. In a land of boiling acid seas and skies choked with ash, the two keepers defeated the Firelord.
Meanwhile, Archaedas and Freya unleashed their powers upon Therazane the Stonemother. To protect herself and her minions, the elemental ruler retreated into the towering stone spire that she called home. Archaedas used his dominion over the earth to weaken the citadel’s foundation and shatter the craggy giants who guarded it. Freya then made colossal roots sprout from the ground to entangle the fortress. They wormed through stone and crystal, buckled the citadel’s walls, and brought them down on Therazane’s head.
Ra, Thorim, and Hodir waged war with Al’Akir the Windlord. Using their mastery over the skies and storms, they forced the elemental lord back to his lair among the highest peaks of Azeroth. Lightning set the heavens aflame as Al’Akir struggled to hold off his foes. In the end, the three keepers turned the elemental lord’s own power against him, defeating Al’Akir atop his lofty domain.
Neptulon the Tidehunter and his minions rushed to aid the other embattled elemental lords, but they were waylaid by Loken and Mimiron. The two keepers used their wits to harry and outmaneuver Neptulon’s forces at every turn. Ultimately, Loken unleashed his arcane powers to freeze and shatter the water elementals’ forms, while Mimiron crafted enchanted bonds to imprison Neptulon himself.
Although the elemental lords had been defeated, the keepers knew that they could not utterly destroy the beings. The spirits of the elementals were bound to Azeroth itself. If they were killed, their corporeal forms would simply manifest again in time.
Ra soon found a solution. He set out to imprison the elementals, much as the great Sargeras had done to demons. Ra first called on the aid of the gifted titan-forged sorceress Helya. They worked in concert to craft four interlinked domains within a pocket dimension known as the Elemental Plane. Ra and Helya banished the elemental lords and nearly all of their servants to this enchanted prison realm.
Ragnaros and the fire elementals were exiled to a smoldering corner of the Elemental Plane known as the Firelands. Therazane and the earth elementals were locked within the crystalline caverns of Deepholm. Al’Akir and the air elementals were imprisoned among the cloudy spires of the Skywall. Lastly, Neptulon and the water elementals were sucked in the fathomless depths of the Abyssal Maw. Only a few elementals would remain on the surface of Azeroth. With their leaders gone, these beings scattered and abandoned the war.
Having contained the elementals, the keepers turned their attention to the Black Empire’s aqiri legions. Many of the insectoids dwelled in vast catacombs that snaked beneath the surface of the devastated world. Archaedes bent the stones and soil to his will, collapsing the aqiri burrows and driving the creatures aboveground. Upon emerging from their lairs, the insectoids found themselves surrounded by the titan-forged.
The battles between the titan-forged and the aqir proved unexpectedly vicious. In time, the keepers destroyed most of the aqiri race. Small pockets of the insectoids, those that had tunneled deep underground, escaped the keepers’ wrath. Yet they were too weakened to mount a counterattack.
This ties together characters and races from across multiple expansions, and it’s just one chapter of a long story that establishes how the Old Gods were contained, how the Keepers were betrayed by one of their own, and how the plight of the Keepers played into the rise of many of the player races, like humans, gnomes, trolls, dwarves, and the high elves.
In addition to tying together information from existing expansions, the book doesn’t shy away from laying the groundwork for content that we know won’t be in play until Legion is released later this year. Establishing how the Pillars of Creation (the great big macguffins we’re chasing in each zone of the expansion) came into play, or showing where Keeper Odyn and his Halls of Valor (that new 5-man we’re getting in Legion) are connected with the other Keepers is 100% part of the project here.
Another way to look at Chronicle is to think of it like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. That book, published after Tolkien’s death, contained dozens of stories and accounts that covered everything from the creation of the world up until the timeframe just before The Hobbit takes place, which in turn took place shortly before The Lord of the Rings. We’re talking thousands of years of history, the conflicts of gods and elves and men and dwarves, the tragedies and surprises that shaped the world, both literally and culturally. You don’t need to read it for the more focused Hobbit and LOTR to make sense, but getting that history in addition to the stories creates a more cohesive world.
Chronicle Vol. 1 is the first step in Blizzard’s project to turn the lore of Warcraft into something that complements the game and creates a more complete experience. It’s not required reading in order to play the game, but the delivery is more tonally consistent and informative than reading the individual dramas written in dozens of books by a dozen different authors, or trawling through the in-game history books trying to get a sense for how things ended up the way they are.
If you care about the history of the world of Warcraft and want to have a greater understanding for the places we’ve been to or the places we may go in the future, you really should pick up this book.
And you’ll have your chance on March 15th, from Amazon or another fine book retailer of your choice.