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'Warcraft' explained: What you need to know to understand the movie

If you don't know your Azeroth from your elbow, we fill in the basics you need to know.


"Warcraft" is in theatres now, bringing the epic war between humans and orcs from video games to the big screen. But with decades of complex fantasy lore to draw on, newcomers may have a few questions.

So we've donned our thinking helms to answer some obvious questions the film leaves unanswered. That includes some spoilers, but if you haven't seen the film this information might help you follow things.

What's going on in that duel at the start?

The prologue of "Warcraft", which director Duncan Jones describes as inspired by spaghetti westerns, looks like a flash-forward to the Warcraft era that's most familiar to players, in which the battle between the Alliance and the Horde has been raging for generations.

We'd hazard a guess that it's set in a region called the Barrens, judging by some of the improvised Horde-ish structures visible in the background, but that's by-the-by -- the point of this opening scene is to establish a long-running war before we jump back to see the origin of that conflict.

What's the Fel all about?

The Fel is ancient and corrupting stuff. This eerie green smokey goop is essentially very powerful magic that requires a sacrifice to work. Opening a portal from the orc homeworld of Draenor to the human realm of Azeroth was a massive spell, hence the need for the nasty Gul'dan to suck the life out of so many poor prisoners.

Fel is associated with the Burning Legion, who aren't shown in the movie, but are the real bad guys of the Warcraft universe. The Burning Legion was a massive army of demons hell-bent on destruction, and it was this gang of nasties that first corrupted the shamanistic orcs -- leading to the invasion of Azeroth that we see in the film.

What's the deal with Medivh the Guardian?

The Guardians of Tirisfal was a legacy of super-powerful mage types, entrusted to watch over Azeroth and defend the realm from the Burning Legion. Being Guardian was a pretty important job, so it's not surprising that King Llane takes Medivh's advice seriously. Unfortunately, Medivh was the last in the line, meeting his end thanks to Sargeras, the horrible chap who created the Burning Legion.

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Why don't the wizard fellas like Khadgar?

In the game, Khadgar was sent by elite magi the Kirin Tor to be Medivh's apprentice. The film doesn't explain why Khadgar has been expelled by his magical masters.

How does the magic work?

Oof, now you're asking. We've covered Fel dark magic, but the most common magic is arcane magic (the blue stuff in the film). It's just like Harry Potter magic really, summoned into action through spells and knowledge.

Doing magic in Warcraft also requires something called mana, which depletes as you cast spells, and needs to be regenerated before you can cast anymore. That might go some way to explaining why we see Khadgar throw a fireball, but isn't doing it, y'know, literally all the time.

What's the deal with Garona, played by Paula Patton?


Is Garona half-human?

Actually she's half draenai -- at least in the lore of the games. The draenai are a sort of blue-ish humanoid alien race, who lived alongside the orcs on their homeworld of Draenor...until it all went to pot following the orcish invasion of Azeroth, that is. You can see some draenai in the film: they're the poor blighters in cages near the start that Gul'dan slaughters to power his portal.

They have guns? Isn't that a huge technological advantage?

Dwarves are good at building things, this much every fantasy fan knows. Yes, guns -- or boomsticks -- are powerful, but in a world heavily charged with magic, owning one doesn't make you an unkillable god-king.

Hang on, was that Glenn Close?

Well spotted. She's uncredited, but IMDb says it's her and that's good enough for us. Close seems to be playing Alodi, who was the first ever Guardian of Tirisfal, and is a man in the lore of the games. It's not clear what the significance of that cameo is -- maybe we'll see more in a sequel.

Who are the other races?

The film focuses on the humans and orcs at the heart of the conflict, but there are dozens. Let's take the playable races in World of Warcraft, starting with those who side with the humans on the Alliance side. They are the draenai, dwarves, gnomes and worgen (essentially werewolves). On the Horde side are tauren (a race of giant cow-people), trolls, goblins and undead (read: zombies). The Pandaren (a panda-like race) fight on both sides.

Elves are interesting -- we see a few high elves during the film, but by the era of Blizzard's MMORPG, they've been largely wiped out. You can't keep a good elf down, however -- World of Warcraft features night elves on the Alliance side and blood elves supporting the Horde.

What happens to the baby?

Possible spoilers for a "Warcraft" sequel here (which may happen judging by the international box office performance, if not the critical reception).

That baby is Thrall, Durotan's son and future warchief of the whole Horde. In the lore of the games, he's raised among humans as a gladiator and a slave, but eventually escapes and rises through the orcish ranks to become boss of everyone. Despite his brutal upbringing, Thrall is pretty chill about visitors to orc lands, and when Thrall is in charge the world is relatively peaceful. We like Thrall.

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