The Maelstrom is a massive, fierce vortex of water that was created when the Well of Eternity collapsed into itself during the Great Sundering. It is located in the middle of the Great Sea which subsequently filled the void.
As the aftershocks from the Well's implosion rattled the bones of the world, the seas rushed in to fill the gaping wound left in the earth. Nearly eighty percent of Kalimdor's landmass had been blasted apart, leaving only a handful of separate continents surrounding the new, raging sea. At the center of the new sea, where the Well of Eternity once stood, was a tumultuous storm of tidal fury and chaotic energies. This terrible scar, known as the Maelstrom, would never cease its furious spinning. It would remain a constant reminder of the terrible catastrophe and the utopian era that had been lost forever..."
Additionally, during the Third War, Thrall's fleet crashed and they made an emergency landing on an island near the Maelstrom, where they found a group of jungle trolls fighting desperately against human colonists and murloc invaders. The island was destroyed by Zar'jira, with Thrall and his allies barely escaping.
World of Warcraft
The Maelstrom can be seen on the world map of World of Warcraft, where it sits between Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. Ship and zeppelin routes go out of their way to avoid the Maelstrom, for fairly obvious reasons. This depiction of the Maelstrom, as well as evading ships/zeppelins, was continued in the following expansions which elaborated the map and added more travel routes.
The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King
The two first World of Warcraft expansions, The Burning Cruade and Wrath of the Lich King, included minor depictions of the Maelstrom:
The Burning Crusade:
The Maelstrom can be seen on the "super-map" which features Outland and Azeroth.
Azeroth - and the Maelstrom - can be seen from the Black Temple in Outland.
Wrath of the Lich King:
Ulduar holds two titan-made globes of Azeroth. The Maelstrom can be seen on these.
In the third expansion, Cataclysm, players became able to visit the Maelstrom.
Deathwing has used the Maelstrom to re-enter Azeroth's physical plane from Deepholm, triggering the Shattering. Thrall is present here on behalf of the Earthen Ring, and is trying to maintain the rift with other key Earthen Ring members alongside Muln Earthfury and Farseer Nobundo.
As far as game mechanics are concerned, the Maelstrom is a sanctuary, where PvP combat is disabled. The zone can be reached through the quests which lead the player to Deepholm from Stormwind City and Orgrimmar. Once the player enters Deepholm, the Maelstrom cannot be revisited.
Player mobility in the Maelstrom is limited: mounting is disabled, and an invisible wall does not allow movement outside of Thrall and Aggra's piece of land. As a result, players cannot venture over via flight or swimming to visit Kezan or the Lost Isles,
In the Dragon Soul raid, the final battle against Deathwing will end at the Maelstrom, after a long battle on his back. Deathwing will attempt to flee to Deepholm and players must face him before he can usher forth the final cataclysm.
Even after the death of Deathwing, the shamans of the Earthen Ring were still healing the world.
With the disastrous results of the Battle for Broken Shore against the Burning Legion, the elders of the Earthen Ring called an emergency council at the Maelstrom. While there, the Earthen Ring and a shaman adventurer pushed back an attack led by the fel lord Geth'xun. After the shaman adventurer reclaimed an artifact, a Class Hall was established at the Heart of Azeroth.
Just northeast of the Maelstrom, a titan vault known as The Primordial Observatory can be found.
The Maelstrom itself is located in the northern tip of the South Seas, to the northwest of the Broken Isles. At the center of the Maelstrom is a location known as the Eye. The empires of the makrura and the naga, named Mak'aru and Nazjatar, lie beneath it. They, along with the other regions within the Maelstrom, are considered sub-regions of The Eye. These are all located beneath it, below ocean surface.
It is implied that the Maelstrom is slowly eroding and damaging the artificially-raised Broken Isles, and will ultimately destroy them for good.
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