It can’t just be me thinking that.
Wars are predisposed to end over time. Resources run low, places run down, people run out.
The Legion. The Scourge. The Hammer. The Horde.
Great threats that Azeroth has suffered through and defeated – but we are coming perilously close to running out. We may just be one war from it being us collapsing, rather than the enemy.
In the course of an expansion, there are always deaths. The occasional major character, several minor characters, a settlement or two – nothing severe. Nothing that can’t be recovered. The issue here is that those are on-screen deaths – and off-screen numbers are quite different.
There may be 5.4 spoilers ahead.
The easiest way for me to cover this is to go through it on a group-by-group basis. As the original set of protagonists, we’ll start with the Alliance, and that of course means we start with Stormwind.
Stormwind. Or, as it should really be called, New Stormwind. It’s a settlement that’s only twenty years old, though that is older than a lot of the others right now. I say New Stormwind because the original was of course totally destroyed by the orcs. Despite the large amount of refugees that fled to Lordaeron, the outlying kingdom was decimated by the Horde, and there must have been a large population hit.
Let’s move on to the Second and Third Wars, and extrapolate from Stormwind to all of humanity. All things considered, Stormwind had it easier than the rest of humanity. A majority of Lordaeron was killed during the Third War. The Alliance itself ransacked Alterac and turned it into a wasteland, its surviving inhabitants forced into banditry. And they’re dead now, too. Dalaran was destroyed by Archimonde himself, and also took a large population hit. No one has heard from Kul Tiras in decades, but it was also hit by the Scourge and the Shattering according to some sources. Stromgarde is abandoned and does not even have a transient population, never mind a permanent one. Gilneas had its northern lands cut off by Scourge, went through a famine, civil war, the Worgen curse and were attacked by the Forsaken. It’s a given that the population of Gilneas dropped also, especially considering its comparative backwardness to the rest of humanity.
So, even before the beginning of World of Warcraft, humanity has been massively reduced from seven city-states to two. Let’s cover more recent events. The surviving members of Lordaeron (the subcontinent) have all been absorbed as refugees into the rebuilt Stormwind and the new state of Theramore. There’s been a sufficient chance for some population growth in what has been five years of peace (aside from that orcish occupation of Theramore when Daelin tried to attack Orgrimmar).
Except the King of Stormwind goes missing for two to three years, setting in motion a chain of events that results in Stormwind losing direct control over all its provinces, a huge bandit organisation is waging guerilla warfare against the capital from Westfall (which they entirely control), Blackrock orcs and dragons are making incursions into Redridge, undead and worgen are rising in Duskwood, and a human colony in Stranglethorn completely goes insane.
So that puts paid to anything that was accomplished in the last five years. But there is some good news when Dalaran is re-established – and then it ends up in a war with the Blue Dragonflight, and is forced to accept Horde forces into the city so that it remains strong enough to win.
Oh, and then in the Shattering, we find out that over 50,000 Alliance service members die during the Northrend campaign. This is an almost exclusively human number, because the Alliance’s army in Northrend was almost exclusively human. So Stormwind has another population drop, which is mirrored when humans leave in droves to join the Twilight Hammer, and many more go to die in the war against the Horde. And then Theramore gets blown up, and humanity is back down to two city-states.
Humanity was, upon the eve of the First War, the most widespread and most populous race on the planet. More than the Pandaren, more than the Trolls, more than the Elves. But humans have been in freefall since.
This post is already far longer than I anticipated. Let’s move onto the dwarves.
Compared to the humans, the dwarves haven’t actually lost that many forces recently. Well – the Bronzebeard clan hasn’t. The Civil War, three centuries ago, would have killed a few, but easily recoverable – except for Grim Batol. And Thaurissan. Both cities were wrecked during the attack the Dark Irons made later. The Dark Irons would go on to lose even more forces to the fury of Ragnaros, and the split after the Shattering which saw only around half of the clan’s members return to Ironforge. There is a parallel here’s with the Wildhammers, as although Aerie Peak has been fairly stable, the clans within the Highlands were decimated.
It’s quite poignant that despite having three clans and some gnomes in a city that three hundred years ago was barely big enough for one, Ironforge shows no signs of overpopulation. In fact, it’s quite comfortable.
Next up are the gnomes. This is fairly simple, because it concerns one event: the Trogg Invasion of Gnomeregan, which resulted in numerous deaths, and countless more to the ensuing radiation (the manual states that around 80% of the race died). Despite their amazing technological contributions to the Alliance army, the gnomish race today is only a fraction of what it was before the Second War. I’d estimate that they all could live in New Tinkertown, never mind Gnomeregan, without problems.
Then there are the Night Elves. Though they no longer have the largest empire in the world, the population of this race was fairly consistent up until the Third War, when they did indeed experience some deaths due to owning the only place that the Burning Legion invaded. Felwood was corrupted, Nordrassil exhausted, Ashenvale was wrecked by Mannoroth and Cenarius was killed by Grom Hellscream. But the Night Elves, like the humans, got a chance to rebuild. And then the orcs started logging Ashenvale, setting in motion a decade-long conflict that is probably the biggest long-term factor in the occurrence of the war we see in Mists of Pandaria.
The Gates of Ahn’Qiraj reopened, and the Kaldorei contributed their forces. In the Northrend campaign, they also contributed, but the biggest effect on the Night Elves came with the Shattering. Darkshore was annihilated. Hyjal literally burned. Hellscream expanded into Ashenvale. And the Kaldorei began to take a more prominent role in Alliance politics (in that they actually started showing up to meetings). The existence of the Druids of the Flame as a backlash to the doormat policy of Tyrande and Malfurion shows just how much war impacted upon them. As a race that lost their immortality just ten years ago, the Night Elves have not yet adapted. For ten thousand years, they did not need to worry so much about the future or about whether they were having enough children. Now they do.
The Draenei are fairly self-explanatory. 95% of an already small race were wiped out by an act of demon-induced genocide. Now, their population is split across two planets. Of all the races on Azeroth, they are the most thinly-stretched.
And that roughly concludes the Alliance. I’d like to wrap them up with one point that I hope has more impact than the giant list of deaths.
Stormwind is the largest surviving city on Azeroth. It contains refugees from every nation in the Alliance and every defunct nation that was in the Alliance. It is the heart of the Alliance: economically, culturally and militarily. And yet it has not increased in size in thirty years. The Stormwind of today is the same size as the Stormwind of Adamant Wrynm III. To put that into perspective, four generations ago. Stormwind is on the brink of industrialisation, it is a magical hub, it is a naval superpower – but its population is no different. If anything, its population has fallen.
Onto the Horde, and first of all, the orcs.
Unlike just about every nation of the Alliance, the orcs have never actually mastered agriculture. Prior to the Wars, they were hunter-gatherers. They probably kept some livestock, but there was never any farming. There was hunting and shamanism. So from the start, there was never a high orcish population because they wouldn’t have had any food surpluses. Years of ‘take, take, take’ followed, and this trend continues right up until the present. The orcs still cannot farm. They cannot cultivate the land, grow crops, sustain their population without help or a rich land. This explains why the race was never unified.
I’m talking about this because there’s less coverage of just how many orcs have died during the course of Warcraft – though they have been defeated twice, neither time has there been a large act of vengeance or retribution. The orcs were imprisoned in the aftermath of the Second War, but after Garrosh’s fall they are left mainly intact.
However, the nature of the orcish race inherently caps their population at a certain level until they master their own agriculture. They cannot live off the hands of the Tauren forever, especially now that the blood debt is paid. As the backbone of the Horde’s military, the Orcs have suffered similarly to the human forces of the Alliance in the four most recent conflicts – but they possess no infrastructure for recovering their population like the humans can.
The Tauren, while now settled, spent most of their existence as separate tribes (to the point where they evolved into three different races). United only by a hatred of centaur, the Shu’halo of Kalimdor were (to quote Wowpedia) on the brink of extinction when Thrall offered them aid.
The brink of extinction. Which the Tauren have moved closer to since the end of the Third War.
The tribes of the Thousand Needles have been wiped out. Mulgore has been tainted, and probably now produces less supplies, limiting the population growth. The Grimtotem tribe has suffered heavy losses, and the Tauren made considerable losses in the Barrens. Furthermore, the sister races – the yaungol and taunka – both have minuscule populations in comparison. The yaungol are all but extinct after the events of Mists of Pandaria. The taunka lived in the coldest place in the world, where they had to enslave the elements just to survive.
The story of the trolls is another of extinction and terrible losses. The Darkspear probably sent as many sacrifices to Hakkar as all the other jungle tribes before they were exiled – being a small tribe anyway, the events of the Broken Isles and the Echo Isles have further weakened them. It’s amazing that they were able to create a rebellion at all.
In terms of the greater troll race, deaths abound. The Drakkari Empire collapsed. The Gurubashi had to be saved from Hakkar by the Zandalari. The Amani were humiliated by several defeats by Quel’thalas, despite the elves being in their weakest state in millennia. Zandalar itself sank beneath the ocean.
The Forsaken – it is hard to say, but it’s probably more sustainable than any other race. You don’t need to wait several months to raise a dead body. Forsaken expansion suggests that their population can handle it, but they might start running out of corpses soon. They’re a race that naturally tends towards extinction anyway, as they are unable to reproduce. Who can say what would happen if Sylvanas ran out of Val’kyr?
The blood elves have had some of the largest population losses. 90% of their race was killed by the Scourge and the ensuing withdrawal, and while the RPG states that 9% of the remnant became Sin’dorei with 1% staying Quel’dorei, in-game it looks like Blizzard is trying to portray them as evenly-matched. Both have lost forces in the Nexus War, in the retaking of the Sunwell, during the Dalaran Incident and the Offensive on the Thunder Isle. The entire race lives comfortably in a small part of the city with massive empty space.
The goblins, like everyone else, have suffered massive losses. Kezan was destroyed, and only one cartel is currently known to have escaped in time. Imagine how many goblins were left behind.
However, goblins breed like rabbits, and they can have incredibly dense populations. They may be able to bounce back easily if there are enough resources.
With the two primary factions covered, I feel it’s necessary to use some heavily biased examples before moving on.
The mantid race has a lower population than ever before. The Klaxxi have been obliterated, the Empress is dead, the swarm has collapsed and the heir is not old enough to take over.
The Nerubians were almost all exterminated by the Scourge during the War of the Spider.
The Pandaren have gone through an unprecedented period of turmoil, as have the jinyu and hozen, and all have lost parts of their population and larger parts of their lands.
The Tol’vir have gone from three tribes to one. There are so few surviving Orsisi and Neferset that they’re unlikely to recover soon, if at all.
There are more examples, but I feel I have made it quite clear. The last ten years, the last thirty years, the last century – they have held enormous numbers of deaths, on a scale and range not seen since the War of the Ancients. Towns, cities, kingdoms, empires destroyed.
We have had no chance to recover. Bear in mind that each expansion takes up an approximate year, lore-wise, and you see that the events of World of Warcraft do not stretch over ten years but five. It’s been just a decade since the end of the Third War.
My point – my long, ridiculous point – is that we need a rest. The defenders of Azeroth need a rest. The cities and factions and peoples of Azeroth need a rest. The druids and the shaman, the priests and the warriors, the dead and the living. If we do not have a rest soon, we will run out of people. Whole races will start collapsing and going extinct.
As much as Azeroth has gotten stronger, even though it has repulsed all the Lords of the Burning Legion, war cannot go on forever. There needs to be a proper period for rebuilding, for regrouping, regrowth and repair.
Obviously, that is not something that would make an enthralling expansion in a game like this. There needs to be a fight of some kind, a purpose that can be easily converted into raid boss form.
I’m not entirely sure how, but the best solution for this is a time skip. A year, five years, fifty – it doesn’t matter. But it’s not going to be long until the threats become insurmountable, until the losses become irrevocable, and the clash between game and lore becomes inexplicable.