There's been a lot of talk about Neptulon recently, and what's going to happen with him now that the planned Abyssal Maw dungeon has been postponed. No one really knows what's happened with the Tidehunter since being Lord-napped at the end of the Throne of the Tides instance, but considering Ozumat's Naga masters have been trying to invade Neptulon's domain and seize control, his abduction and continued absence do not bode well.
However, the Neptulon we meet in Cataclysm is...well, he's somewhat of an enigma. His behavior really doesn't match up with anything we've previously known or thought about him, and I'm not entirely convinced he's the benevolent deity the Earthen Ring believes him to be.
Just who is this Neptulon guy?
Let's make one thing perfectly clear - Neptulon has, historically speaking, ALWAYS been a bit of a jerk. In the roleplaying guide Shadows & Light, Neptulon is the only Elemental Lord listed as having an evil alignment, and is described as cruel, fond of torture and murder(!), and extremely jealous over his territory. He is allegedly the strongest of the Lords, who were all more powerful than mortal comprehension, falling short only of the godly Titans. (This is important; more on this later.)
In addition to complete mastery over the ocean depths, Neptulon has traditionally been worshiped by all aquatic races, including Makura, Murlocs and Naga, as well as all water and ice elementals. He also rules over many powerful water creatures such as Ahune the Frost Lord, titanic Ancients like L'ghorek and Nespirah, and towering behemoths known as Kraken (or Krakken).
We haven't seen much of him directly in WoW before Cataclysm, but we have previously worked with his forces in the form of Duke Hydraxis and the Hydraxian Waterlords. This allegiance wasn't because they were particularly friendly - it was mainly because we shared a common foe: Ragnaros, Neptulon's greatest nemesis.
Neptulon and the Naga
Neptulon's relationship with the Naga has always been an interesting mystery. When Queen Azshara and her Kaldorei followers were cast into the ocean following the Well of Eternity's destruction, something happened to them that transformed them from Night Elves into the serpentine Naga. The common belief is that Azshara swore a pact with the Old Gods so that she and her people could survive.
However, perhaps it wasn't the Old Gods, but their former servant Neptulon that made this deal with the Highborne Queen. Considering Neptulon's absolute dominion over the seas, I find it unlikely the Naga would have been able to survive and flourish in their new underwater territory, practicing water magic and establishing civilizations on the ocean floor, if they didn't have at least some form of blessing or tacit consent from the Tidehunter.
Like all the Elemental Lords, Neptulon is not a kind nor diplomatic master, despite his curiously chummy attitude towards players during Throne of the Tides. No, he demands worship and reverence, and does not take kindly to those who trespass into his realms or try to wield power that he feels is rightfully his to command.
Long ago, a warrior of the Gurubashi Troll Empire found a powerful artifact called the Stone of the Tides, which allowed him to manipulate and control water, and also summon powerful water elementals. The warrior was given the title of "Tidebearer" and used this power to benefit the Gurubashi Empire for many years.
Eventually, perhaps because of the use of these powers, the Trolls drew the ire of the Tidehunter, and Neptulon sent great tidal waves and the fearsome Kraken to destroy the Gurubashi city of I'lalai on the coast of Stranglethorn. A Troll named Min'loth was able to divert the colossal waves away from I'lalai with powerful water magic, possibly implying that he may have been the current Tidebearer.
However, his magic was no match for the ancient Kraken, who "remembered when the land was first born from the sea," and "remembered when the Old Ones ruled and when the Travelers came and cast them down." Min'loth's spells did not destroy the Kraken, but it did enrage them, and they unleashed their terrible fury upon the Trolls, drowning Min'loth, I'lalai and the entire surrounding jungle, and shattering the Gurubashi Empire.
Another theory is that the Naga and Neptulon are intrinsically linked in another manner. No one knows for certain how exactly Neptulon came to appear on Azeroth, unlike his nemesis Ragnaros, whose entry into the material plane is well-documented. What we DO know from Ragnaros' story is that it took an ancient ritual of great power for Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan and The Seven to pierce the boundary to the Elemental Plane and summon Ragnaros to Azeroth.
The destruction of the Well of Eternity, which created the turbulent Maelstrom, was one of the most powerful magical events in all history. Could it not also have breached the planar divide into Neptulon's domain? Maybe the reason Neptulon granted Azshara her wish and saved her people is because their actions granted him free access to Azeroth, something no Elemental Lord had ever enjoyed. Even today, with the boundary between the material and elemental plane weakened, only Ragnaros and Neptulon seem to have the power (or desire) to freely travel between the two worlds as they like.
The Noble and the Corrupt
Another fact lending some support to this idea is the appearance of the Naga themselves. Female Naga retain some semblance of their Night Elf beauty, but elite female sea witches such as Lady Vashj and Lady Naz'jar have snakes for hair, similar to Neptulon, whose "hair" is a frill of thick tentacles. Azshara's appearance is currently unknown, but she is commonly depicted with similar attributes.
Naga males are stronger and less intelligent than females, and serve as the primary guards and fighters in Naga society. They are more bestial-looking, with draconic snouts and retain very few (if any) physical characteristics of their former Highborne lives. However, they do look oddly similar to Neptulon's most powerful servants, the Kraken. If Neptulon really was responsible for the creation of the Naga, it makes perfect sense that he would model their powerful warriors after his own most mighty servants.
A male Naga and Oacha'noa, a friendly Kraken in Dragonblight.
The Tidehunter's servants
In Cataclysm Neptulon seems to be at odds with the Naga, who have thrown their lot in with the Old Gods, Neptulon's former bosses. Queen Azshara seeks to invade the elemental plane of water and wrest control away from the Tidehunter. We learn of this goal in some early quests in Desolace, where a Naga priestess named Valishj reveals to disguised players that the Naga are combing ancient underwater ruins in the hopes of finding clues that might reveal the location of Neptulon's domain. We kill Valishj and thwart their efforts, but judging from the Naga assault upon the Abyssal Breach we witness in Vashj'ir, I'd say Azshara's minions found what they were looking for.
However, even without the Naga, Neptulon's domain is vast, with many loyal followers. We've even met some of them before. But where are they now?
The missing Waterlords
One of the most biggest questions when it comes to Neptulon is the whereabouts of Duke Hydraxis and the Hydraxian Waterlords, the only real contact we'd previously had with the Tidehunter's forces. Before the Shattering, players had worked together with these water elementals for years to combat the servants of the other Elemental Lords, but primarily those of Ragnaros, Neptulon's hated foe. In fact, many of their requests had you venture into Molten Core itself to strike against Ragnaros' lieutenants, or even the Firelord himself.
You would think that with Ragnaros' re-emergence, we would be once again working with these stalwart allies, and that they would be all too eager to renew the fight upon their fiery rivals. Surprisingly, however, Duke Hydraxis and the Waterlords are conspicuously absent in Cataclysm, with no explanation or reasoning behind their disappearance.
Were they destroyed? Lost in the massive quakes and fissues that Deathwing's emergence wrought upon the land? Or were they called back home by their master for some unknown purpose? We really have no idea, but I'd suspect that we'll see Duke Hydraxis again, and not necessarily to reminisce about old times.
The Frost Lord
Another well-known agent of the Tidehunter is Ahune the Frost Lord, the special ice elemental boss who is only present during the Midsummer Fire Festival. What's interesting about Ahune is that the reason he's being summoned to Azeroth is to fight Ragnaros, so that the "resulting clash between Firelord and Frostlord will rend the foundations of the world."
Considering that the masterminds behind this plot are the Twilight Cult, this objective falls right in line with their usual goals. However, what's special in this case is that this is a partnership deal - the Twilight Cultists are working together with Naga servants of Neptulon. Furthermore, the Tidehunter himself is fully aware and supportive of this endeavor, as one of the Naga remarks that "the Tidehunter will be pleased at this development. The Firelord's hold will weaken."
Knowing that Ahune is a herald of Neptulon casts these events into an entirely new light. All those daily quests where we go around the world and kill agents of Ahune? By doing so, we're actually directly opposing Neptulon and interfering with his plans, not to mention murdering his elementals. To make matters worse, the Naga in charge of overseeing Ahune's arrival, Skar'this, is fanatically loyal to the Tidehunter. The whole Ahune story is basically us screwing over and pissing off the Tidehunter. :O
Another thing to keep in mind is that Ahune is being summoned to directly battle Ragnaros. Now, Ahune is no slouch - it's theorized that he controls an entire region in the elemental plane known as Frostland, which lies upon the surface of the Abyssal Maw. And sure, Ragnaros is in a weakened state on Azeroth. But just how powerful is Neptulon if one of his retainers is a match for the Firelord?
Also, by destroying Ahune, have we forever cemented ourselves as enemies of the Tidehunter? We've either just deprived him of one of his most powerful minions (which he'd probably be pretty mad about), or killed a servant of no real consequence, which would mean he's got plenty more of these titanic soldiers who are on par with Ragnaros. Either way, it's a little scary to think about.
When everybody hates each other
One problem with having so many different factions and sub-groups is that they eventually all begin to mix together. There's a lot of people fighting each other, but are they actually working for the same side and don't even know it? We've got the Twilight Cultists meddling in everything, who worship the Old Gods. Ragnaros is allied with Deathwing, who also serves the Old Gods. The Naga are working with the Old Gods, as shown by their cooperation with Faceless Ones in Vashj'ir. Finally, Neptulon is wildly opposed to both Ragnaros and the Naga, but has willingly and enthusiastically allied with the Twilight Cultists in the past.
Continuing this trend of mixed-up allegiances is a bizarre circle of hatred in Blackfathom Deeps, where an imprisoned fire elemental asks Horde players to slay Twilight Lord Kelris (Alliance players receive this quest from a Night Elf, Scout Thaelrid.) Lord Kelris is the leader of the Blackfathom Twilight Cultists, who worship Aku'mai, a favored pet of the Old Gods. It's also interesting to note that when you encounter Kelris, he is deep in meditation, kneeling before a large statue of Azshara.
So we've got a servant of Ragnaros asking you to kill a Twilight Cultist who worships both a pet of the Old Gods and Azshara. Just who is on whose side here, anyway?
Futhermore, Skar'this the Heretic, a non-hostile Naga in Heroic Slave Pens, says that while he worships "the one true god, Neptulon," the other Naga have turned their backs on the Tidehunter. Whether this means all of the Naga, or merely Lady Vashj's troops in the Outlands, no one knows for certain.
Complicating things even MORE is that later on we meet Skar'this again, only now he is known as Skar'this the Summoner, and is working with Twilight Cultists to try to summon Ahune the Frost Lord to Azeroth. We first learn of Skar'this' involvement in this plot in the Midsummer quest, An Innocent Disguise.
Needless to say, I'm quite excited for this year's Midsummer Fire Festival, to see what will happening with Lord Ahune and who will be trying to summon him, and why! Historically, Blizzard has generally kept the seasonal events quite separate from the actual game plot, but we just recently saw this pattern shift during Orphan's Week, when we took our little friends to learn about poor Cairne and Magni. I've always thought the seasonal events could be used as great foreshadowing opportunities, and the summoning of Lord Ahune could have HUGE significance with the Neptulon storyline.
Why is Neptulon such a wimp?
Finally, this is the thing that really sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Why the hell is Neptulon getting his ass handed to him by some random Naga and a giant octopus?
Remember, the Elemental Lords are all basically demigods when it comes to power, and Neptulon is the most powerful of them all. Yet when he shows up to battle the Naga forces, what does he do? He wipes out some random, generic Naga, and then Lady Naz'jar fights him to a standstill. Neptulon shoots a beam of blue (probably water) energy at Naz'jar, who responds with a red beam of her own, and then forces Neptulon's beam back until they are evenly matched.
Think about that for a moment. A single Naga, who while powerful is still just a single unremarkable mortal, is able to single-handedly hold off NEPTULON, ELEMENTAL LORD OF WATER. That's like Garrosh walking into Molten Core and beating Ragnaros in an arm-wrestling contest. It's just wrong.
Apparently the POWER OF PURE WATER...is pretty crappy.
Bizarrely, it only gets worse. Not only is Neptulon unable to annihilate his enemies, but Lady Naz'jar then gets the jump on him by unleashing her trump card, Ozumat. The giant Kraken entangles the Tidehunter's head, causing him to retreat back into the rift leading to the Abyssal Maw.
Excuse me? Listen lady, the whole "Unleash the Kraken!" thing? Yeah, it's been done before, BY NEPTULON, against the Gurubashi. I think he's well aware of what Kraken can do, seeing as how he has numerous ones under his command.
And speaking of Kraken, they're pretty impressive and all, but since when are they strong enough to defeat an Elemental Lord? Even if Ozumat is a special case - he's described as "the Patriarch of all Kraken" - I find it very odd that it is able to essentially one-shot a being as allegedly powerful as the Tidehunter.
Furthermore, what the hell's wrong with Neptulon in Throne of the Tides? I mean, Ozumat is able to simply pluck him up like a discarded rag and steal him away? Remember, we're now inside Neptulon's domain, and just like how Ragnaros will be more fearsome in his home, the Firelands, so too should Neptulon be at the absolute height of his power in the Abyssal Maw.
It should be child's play to snuff out these petty intruders and drive off this giant octopus, and yet he needs our help to do it? And then he's ABDUCTED? This is the fearsome foe that's clashed with Ragnaros for thousands of years and proven the stronger? Some wishy-washy dude who can't even fend off a single Naga sea witch and one of countless ocean monsters he apparently rules over? If Neptulon is this inept, how will he fare against Queen Azshara herself, who 10,000 years ago was one of the most powerful beings in history?
It all seems a little suspicious to me.
Why ARE we helping him, anyway?
Queen Azshara as she appears in Darkshore (a placeholder - she reuses Lady Vashj's model).
We know that Queen Azshara wants to seize control of Neptulon's Elemental Plane of Water, and from what we know of Azshara, this is a Very Bad Thing. However, who's to say that leaving Neptulon in charge is actually any better? Remember, we're talking about an evil, ruthless Elemental Lord who has worked with the Twilight Cultists in an effort to bring about global destruction, may have created the Naga, and unlike the reluctantly cooperative Therazane, has never done anything to deserve our help.
Besides, if we do help him defeat Azshara and her Naga, and Ragnaros perishes in the Firelands...where will the Tidehunter then direct his infinite wrath and fury? "Play nice and live in harmony with thy neighbors" isn't really his thing.
And speaking of neighbors, Azshara wants to seize control of Neptulon's domain by invading and overthrowing (perhaps killing) the current ruler. Does this mean that if an Elemental Lord is killed, their sphere of influence is just up for grabs? If so, what does this mean for Skywall and the air domain, now that Al'akir is no more? The Abyssal Maw is adjacent to Skywall, and the border has long been battled over by Neptulon and Al'akir. And we know Neptulon is fiercely territorial and loves power...
I think what we're seeing here is a classic ploy used in everything from playground games to international warfare. Often, the best strategy is to sit back, feign weakness and let your various enemies expend their resources destroying each other. Then you simply sweep in past the depleted survivors and nab all the rewards for yourself.
After all, why are we helping Neptulon to begin with? Because the Earthen Ring is concerned about Azshara's ambitions, and because we see him struggle against the Naga. Now, the concerns about Azshara are well-founded, but have they blinded us to the bigger picture here? Neptulon is NOT a good guy, nor should he be this weak. Yet we eagerly leap to his defense because hey, he's fighting Naga, so he's our friend, right? (We can be so amazingly short-sighted.)
Ever pay attention to what exactly Neptulon says to us at the end of Throne of the Tides? When we approach, he calls us his "fearless assistants" - not really a very flattering greeting, considering his supposedly-desperate state. But perhaps that's all we are to him, mere tools and pawns in some bigger game.
Furthermore, if you fail to adequately serve him, Neptulon's friendly demeanor vanishes, revealing the scorn and spite seething beneath the surface. He will respond to a player's death with derision and disdain, declaring that "You are unworthy of my domain!" or "My attention was wasted on you!" And if his health drops, he continues his tirade, saying "Fools! Make yourselves useful!" at 25% health, and "Your kind... cannot be... trusted..." upon death.
None of these really sound like the reactions of a desperate victim grateful for our assistance, do they? No, what they do sound like are the frustrated epithets of someone who enlisted us for a specific purpose, only to watch us utterly fail to live up to his expectations. It makes me think that our interjection into his war with the Naga wasn't actually a result of the Earthen Ring's concerns, or our own noble sentiments of heroism, but rather a well-planned, devious plot by the Tidehunter himself.
After all, why waste all his energy dealing with these troublesome Naga when we mortals are so eager to handle the job? Why risk losing valuable servants like Duke Hydraxis and the Waterlords to the dangerous potential threat that is Azshara when a ready supply of cannon fodder is ready to volunteer in their stead?
And then when Azshara is defeated, Neptulon can reveal the incredible power he's held in reserve, easily seize control of the apparently-forgotten Skywall (and possibly the now-vacant Firelands, which is also adjacent to the Abyssal Maw), cast out all remaining intruders in his realm, and basically reign supreme since any threats to his throne who could hope to match him in strength - Ragnaros, Al'Akir, and Azshara - have been conveniently eliminated.
Queen Azshara and her Naga are a definite threat, no question. But sometimes, the Enemy of our Enemy is still our Enemy.
The dormant Abyssal Maw entrance. Who knows what lurks within?