Every genious has, no matter how smart they are, some sort of inspiration for their ideas. The same goes with Blizzard (yes, I'd say creating WoW was a stroke of genious on their part). And the immense amount of lore they've packed into WoW is of course not stolen from somewhere (as far as I know), but actually created by themselves, over the years. It all started with Warcraft 1, released in 1994 and Blizzards breakthrough game, eventhough they had done good games before that like Rock n' Roll Racing and Lost Vikings. A history lesson of Blizzard and the series of WoW would be interesting of course, but I haven't actually played any of the old Warcraft games (yes shame on me) and wouldn't know much to say about them. Instead I thought we'd look into the inspirations Blizzard have taken when they created the game.
As always this will have to be parted into several posts because it would take too long to write it all in one go.
The whole World of Warcraft is of course based on the Warcraft series, which main theme is of a fantasy style. The fantasy concept however, the whole orcs, dragons and elves thing, was in fact invented by J.R.R Tolkien. Most people know this. Blizzard are far from the only to have done some heavy lending from Tolkiens ideas, in fact Tolkiens fantasy concept has become its own genre since then. All the races of WoW, albeit somewhat modified from their original appearances, are lent from Tolkiens world. One exception would of course be the undeads who follow a sort of old zombie myth. But like mentioned orcs and elves and also dwarves and trolls come from Tolkien (hobbits could be gnomes). Now Tolkien himself also lent from other places, he didn't exactly invent the idea of dragons or trolls. Like I said - everyone has inspirations. But Tolkien put all these old myths together into one world with its own rules, the fantasy world.
The lore of WoW is quite a thing to dig through for the interested. One can follow the story fairly well in the Warcraft series and thus see what role WoW has in the story line. If you want to know more about lore, wowwiki.com is a great place to look. The different raid instances of the game have all played a role in this story line, and Blizzard have used quite different settings to keep us entertained. Let's start from the beginning;
Apart from being one of Blizzards april fools jokes --> http://www.wowwiki.com/World_of_Warcraft:_The_Molten_Core <-- Molten Core was one of the first raid instances introduced in the game (along with Onyxia's Lair). It is located at the core of a big mountain (hence the name Molten Core). Being a raid of fire elementals it is based on the classic idea of the world consisting of different elements. These elements are water, earth, fire and air. These elements are a big part of the WoW world and have been used all through the game history. Many of the mobs are based on belonging to one element and many of the professions need elements to craft things. The idea of elements have been used in many cultures and traces of it can be found as far back as the beginning of writing. Some have added a fifth element, called the quintessence or sometimes referred to as Aether, but there is no fifth element in WoW. The fire element is so far the only element that has gotten its own raid instance in WoW.
Onyxia's Lair/Blackwing Lair
These are two different raid instances. Onyxia is the broodmother of the Black Dragonflight, her lair is located in a swamp. Blackwing Lair is lead by Nefarian, son of Deathwing (who will have a big part in Cataclysm I think). As the name implies, this instance too is about fighting the Black Dragonflight as is located in a mountain (same mountain as Molten Core actually). There are several Dragonflights in WoW, some are good and some are evil. The dragonflights are affecting basically every aspect of WoW, although you don't notice them much at first. The dragon concept however is an old myth, used over the entire world. It is in fact quite interesting that the dragon seems to appear in myths of people prior to them having any contact with eachother. In other means it has appeared simultaniously over the world. Dragons can be found in greek mythology, japanese, chinese, persian and vedic among others. The vedic also connect dragons with "nagas", a creature which also can be found at many places in WoW (we'll get to them in a later post).
The style of Ahn'Qiraj is quite different from that of the rest of the WoW. It is located in a very dull desert and introduces C'thun as the end boss, one of the Old Gods in the warcraft lore. The idea of "old gods" and the name C'thun is clearly borrowed from H.P Lovecrafts stories. The top most picture is an interpretation of Cthulhu, as Lovecrafts creation is called. Cthulhu is part of the "great old ones" and plays a small but significant role in many of Lovecrafts stories. This implementation of Lovecrafts ideas is modest however, in comparison to what was going to be in Wotlk.
Most of the AQ instance isn't based on Lovecraft, but an egyptian style, with scarabs and versions of old egyptian gods as part of the enemy arsenal. These parables are either by name, like Ossirian (Osiris) and Anubisath Defenders (Anubis) or, and more common, by looks. Much of the bosses also resemble huge bugs, with Fankriss looking like a huge earwig, being one of the nasties looking things I've ever seen in a game (I nearly ran out of the room when I saw it). He can be seen on the bottom most picture.
Located in a jungle, Zul'Gurub introduces Hakkar the Soulflayer as the end boss. The concept of Soulflayer, and the other bosses being different aspects of animals, is borrowed from the maya/aztec religions. Xipe Totec, meaning "our lord the flayed one" and part of the aztec religion, wore the skins of flayed people to bless the harvests. This isn't really what the final boss in Zul'Gurub does of course, but the connection is clearly there. All the boss encounters include fighting some sort of high priest and his animal aspect, like tigers (Thekal), panthers (Arlokk), raptors (Mandokir), bats (Jek'Lik), snakes (Venoxis) or spiders (Mar'Li). This has been connected to the troll race in WoW, where the later raid instance Zul'Aman shows the same design.
These are all the instances there were in the old WoW, We'll go through the raid instances of the first expansion, Burning Crusade, next time. Naxxramas was added to the game just before BC was released, and since it didn't get much attention then they re-released it for Wotlk. Therefore I will mention it later. See ya then!