Several times during the Death Knight intro quests you find yourself suddenly face-to-face with an event so simply human in contrast with the raping and pillaging you have been doing. The Wrathgate event is another specific instance where the outcome of a battle is so sudden and unexpected.
Crusader Bridenbrad's quest line, which is one big metaphor for cancer (the dev who worked on the quest made it as a memorial to a friend who passed away from cancer), you try all sorts of methods, some painful, to cure a stubborn and fatal disease, and in the end, you fail, your only solace the hope that they're no longer suffering on the other side.
Or its somewhat differently tear-jerking Horde equivalent. As opposed to freeing a lost loved one you take the wedding pendant of a dead man who had devoted his life to destroying the Forsaken back to his grave on the request of his now Forsaken wife, who wants nothing to do with him. Upon reaching his grave your greeted by a sad little bit of text detailing how lonely the grave looks and how the man will be forever forgotten.
Thesetwo quests (one for each faction) are probably the most depressing in the game, mostly because the player just killed the letter writer.
Even worse, the two family members the letters are addressed to are actual NPCs: the Alliance one you see every time you come off the ramp from the mage tower, and the Horde one is one of the female troll mage trainers in the Valley of Spirits, and the Horde one at least does remember (once it's delivered).
In an additional punch for Horde players, Overlord Agmar's condescendingly mocking reaction to the sentimentality highlights just why High Overlord Saurfang had to pass you a letter in secret through the NPC Torvus, and why he had such hopes for his son... because Garrosh was already having a negative influence on Horde forces in Northrend, and your earlier exploits which were a prerequisite for Torvus' quest helped amplify it by raising Garrosh's prestige.
The NPC quotes from one of the final main quests for the Oracles (a mentally-simple race of frog-like creatures) in Sholazar Basin where you try to save the mortally injured Oracles from the invading Scourge are a good example of this. Particularly unsettling about this is that the Oracles worship the Titan structures in the area as entities due to their weather-preserving properties, and as such are still confused about what they did wrong to cause their swift deaths. The last words of many of them are gut-punchingly innocent, asking what they did to incur their progenitors' wrath, including 'not giving enough shinies'.
Two phrases to sum up the fall of the Drakkari empire: "If our gods can die... then so can we...." and "Even the mighty... can fall."
Finally, the king of kings of Tear Jerker in the game is (A VERY MAJOR SPOILER, you have been warned) the Lich King's demise. First part shows Arthas' Death Equals Redemption as he died in his father's arms. And when you thought it was all... Bolvar Fordragon's Heroic Sacrifice as he took the responsibility of taking the Lich King's place, and sealing him forever while saying he must not be remembered.
I must be forgotten, Tirion! If the world is to live free from the tyranny of fear, they must never know what was done here today. Tell them only that the Lich King is dead. And that Bolvar Fordragon died with him. Now... go! Leave this place! And never return!!
Then he gets an epic monument in the middle of Dalaran. Clicking it plays you the Fall of the Lich King video. Facepalm.
Well, to be fair they're probably just remembering him as he was when he was alive, not...well...
First, the monument is to Tirion Fordring and "those who gave their lives in the war." Bolvar is still assumed to be dead. Second, only the player characters and Tirion know what really happened. Most NPCs who see the monument will only notice a sign. So, it's kind of justified.
Hell, one YouTube commenter summed up Arthas's death best:
What was the point? We didn't gain anything. He gave everything as both Arthas and the Lich King to both kingdoms and lost everything just the same. We didn't bring anyone he killed back, nor justified any that survived. We didn't beat an enemy or conquer a tyrant: We lost a hero. Twice. There was no victory here.
Maybe the fact that he was conducting a war worse than genocide against the world (as he not only wanted to kill everyone but raise them in undeath) qualifies him as an "enemy".
You forget Arthas lost his soul to Frostmourne and became a Death Knight by a gambit, he lost himself a long time ago and yet still kept his memories of Jaina and ended up dying as himself. Yes he was an enemy but in more of the Tragic Villian sense considering that he started as just a simple paladin with good intentions and ended up loosing sight of all that over time.
The Horde quest in Durotar where an orc woman asks you to find her son, who is apparently out hunting crocolisks after the two argue over whether or not it's safe. After cutting open a gator in the river, you find something of his in its belly. It's sad watching her reaction to the news. She then gives you a blanket (or cape) that she had just finished for her son. (In a bit of good judgment on Blizzard's part, they never reveal exactly how old her son was.)
This quest received a continuation in Cataclysm, in which you gather crocolisk teeth to create a memorial necklace for her son.
One of the new quests for Cataclysm has you watching in a vision Edwin VanCleef get killed by a 5-man group of various Alliance characters. Once the group leaves, a little girl comes out and stops over his body. The only thing you catch before the vision ends is her muttering the word "...Daddy?". If you completed the Deadmines before Cataclysm as Alliance, then this a rather big Player Punch, because it is YOUR FAULT!
It doesn't help that the 'quest item' you brought in to get your reward was his head. Yes, she does include his decapitation in her later rant.
Continuing in Cataclysm Westfall: You report the existence of the girl to Stoutmantle, and you're ready to take action, but then all the allied NPCs are instantaneously sapped. Right after that, Vanessa VanCleef reveals herself and orders her men to burn down the newly refurbished Sentinel Hill. All you can do at this point is flee to Stormwind and inform King Varian of these events. The clincher comes when you return. Upon landing the sky is dark and red and all of Sentinel Hill is in flames, with the guards doing their best to fend off the New Defias Brotherhood, while Stoutmantle just looks on in rage and sorrow.
Stoutmantle: Five years of work burned to the ground in five minutes. Damn the Defias!
When confronted about killing the Furlbrows and Ol' Blanchy in Westfall:
Vanessa VanCleef: I had no choice, lieutenant. They recognized me. The only people in the world who even knew I existed, recognized my face from when I was an infant. I took no pleasure in their deaths.
The tauren in Cataclysm in general. Upon starting a new tauren character, you find out that Cairne is dead, and the Grimtotem, quilboar, and several other enemy forces are closing in on Mulgore. Once you take control of your character, you discover that Greatmother Hawkwind (the nice old lady who used to welcome new tauren players into the world) was murdered by the quilboar, and you later attend her funeral service. If all that isn't bad enough, the Alliance has raided and destroyed Camp Taurajo in the Barrens, leaving what few survivors there utterly traumatized. Even the musicseems to suggestthe taurenare fighting a losing battle.
In amongst all the mass murder, torture and other metaphorical dog-kicking, the opening quest chain for Death Knights has one desperately sad moment: your character is sent into a nearby jail to execute the prisoner of the same race as them. The prisoner recognises you ("I'd know that face anywhere... What have they done to you, <name>?") and begs you to remember the hero you once were before you strike them down. * sniff*
The night elf version of this quest is particularly adept at playing your heartstrings. The NPC you're supposed to killactually took care of your character while they were still an infant. They even say that your character was their "little angel".
The Wrathgate cutscene. Wow... It goes from a Moment Of Awesome to this. Highlord Bolvar Fordragon marches out, charges into the swarm of undead headfirst, and fights them off. Then come the vrykul, half-giant humanoids of Northrend who seem to be unstoppable. At the last minute, however, Saurfang the Younger himself rides down and one-shots three vrykul after having witty banter with Fordragon. Pretty awesome, right? Except when Grand Apothecary Putress unleashes the Forsaken Blight on the Scourge... and Alliance... and Horde. Fordragon's last view is of red dragons coming to burn the bodies.
The end of the instance Escape from Durnholde has one when the bronze dragon tells you how history is back on its normal path, and how Thrall will now fulfill his destiny to become Warchief, then turns to Taretha's (Thrall's foster sister) fate: "As for Taretha...her fate is regrettably unavoidable." She's killed by the Lord of Durnholde as revenge for helping Thrall escape.
The Shady Rest Inn quest chain is especially a Tear Jerker. You find out that not only was the Shady Rest Inn destroyed, but the child and the wife of the innkeeper was killed during the burning; while, the innkeeper escaped, but became mentally unstable because of it. Luckily, you find out who did it, the Grimtotem tauren, and get much needed revenge.
It becomes a real Tear Jerker during the final quest in the chain, Peace at Last, where you go place a wreath at the grave of the mother and child. You can read the script here. Especially, the kid saying "Mommy, when will we see Daddy again?"
The quest line for "Rewriting The Battle of Darrowshire". It starts when you encounter the ghost of a little girl, Pamela Redpath, who asks you to find her dolly for her. As the quest progresses, she starts to ask about her daddy, she misses him so much. You start to find living relatives throughout the world who fill you in on her story, and that of her father, Joseph. Joseph Redpath was one of the last defenders of Darrowshire against the Scourge. He succumbed and was corrupted by the Scourge, then proceeded to murder the other defenders, leaving him forever known as the traitor of the Battle of Darrowshire. After a number of other quests, and the help of the Bronze Dragonflight, you are able to relive the Battle for Darrowshire and have the opportunity to defend the town with Joseph and the other defenders. Joseph is still defeated and corrupted, but because of your presence, you are able to redeem him; you are told that, while you could not save him, history has been changed to remember him as the fallen hero of Darrowshire. At the end of the quest, the ghosts of Joseph and Pamela are reunited, and embrace, and Pamela tells you that she is so happy to see her daddy again.This video will make you cry if you know the full back-story.
Also if you talk to Pamela before your quest with her is finished, she'll give you one of the saddest lines in the game. "I never feel warm anymore..."
If you wander around the Culling of Stratholme wing of the Caverns of Time, the Redpaths are all staying at the inn... Pamela even has her doll.
Even without having played through the quest, this fan-made video will make you tear up. If you have played through the quest you will bawl like a baby.
Tirion Fordring's questline in Western Plaguelands. It starts as you just helping some crazy old ex-paladin gather food. Then he tells you about why he's an ex-paladin. And then when you finally succeed in bringing together everything needed to turn his son away from the dark path of the Scarlet Crusade, you're treated to an epic march out of Crusade territory with an elite mob escorting you as he beats the hell out of his former Crusade-mates. Unfortunately, this whole moment of badass is cut short When the Crusade's big guns show up, and ONESHOT him before Tirion can reach him. Cue Tirion arriving, beating the hell out of every scarlet in the area and then breaking into a massive BSOD over the death of his beloved son. The fact the whole quest is named "In Dreams", referencing the Orbison song about having what you really want only coming in your dreams in reference to the fact he'll never see his son again just makes it that much more of a totally depressing scene. Try not to cry as you realize after all Tirion's work to save his baby boy, all he got was the death of his beloved son.. On the upshot this does set up his character development as the new leader of a reformed Silver Hand who becomes very important in Northrend...but still.
Then there's the quest "Of Love and Family" in Stratholme's Main Gate instance, which tasks you with finding the painting that has that title, which is said to be of great importance to Tirion. It turns out to be of Tirion's own family, which is quite sad when you consider how things turned out.
"The picture brings a smile to your face."
In the final scenes of Wrath of the Lich King, you face off against a fallen hero: Dranosh Saurfang. After defeating the Horde warrior, you're treated to his father coming to collect the body of his only child. Not even Varian Wrynn can bring himself to make war against the Horde at this point.
" King Varian Wrynn: Stand down, Muradin. Let a grieving father pass."
Even as Horde, the Tear Jerker quality does not let up. At the intro to the boss fight, you are treated to this line:
" My boy died at the Wrath Gate. I am here only to collect his body.
"The Mosswalker Savior" takes place near the end of a chain of mostly light-hearted quests involving two feuding tribes of creatures in Northrend. You are sent to a remote village to chastise members of one of the tribes for not coming to worship at the shrine, when you see the village burning in ruins at the hands of the Scourge, as the tribespeople are being hacked apart, dragged half-alive by chains, and being lit on fire. Your job is to save them. Most of them are already too far gone, and say things like "We not do anything... to them... I no understand," and "I do something bad? I sorry..." before dying. As you come to the realization that the Mosswalkers are a mostly peaceful people who had no idea what the Scourge even was, you can do little but watch them die in ruins and hope that there are a few left alive enough to save. Your companion grimly explains, "It's a small comfort to see that they haven't brought any back in undeath."
There is a Tauren character in Bloodhoof Village in Mulgore named Ahab Wheathoof who asks you to find his dog. Cue tearjerk, as Ahab Wheathoof was designed and voiced by Ezra 'Ephoenix' Chatterton, a 10 year old boy with a brain tumor (whose story is pretty tearjerkery itself.) Ezra died a little while after the visit to Blizzard studios. Further tearjerker, as in December of 2009, Blizzard began to sell non-combat in-game pets, and for one of their first - a Pandaren Monk - they donated half the money they received to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. $1.1 million was donated through this.
Every year, when the Lunar Festival comes around, there is an event called "To Honor One's Elders" which involves visiting spirits scattered throughout the lands to gain tokens from them. Last year, Blizzard changed the name of the Elder in Thunder Bluff to Ezra Wheathoof. Next to him is a phoenix pet. Ezra's character's name on World of Warcaft had been "Ephoenix". Dangit, Blizz... where's my tissues.... * sniff*
In the Barrens, there is the Shrine of the Fallen Warrior, dedicated to Michael Koiter - one of the two artists who made up 'Twincruiser' - who died during the World of Warcraft production.
The same artist gets another in Starcraft II: the penultimate cutscene, when Raynor returns to the war-ravaged front lines to give his final Rousing Speech, he takes "M. Koiter"'s dogtags from a dead Marine. At the end of the speech he holds them high, asking his soldiers to fight on - "because some things are worth fighting for".
Many of the quests in post-Cataclysm Darkshore are pretty depressing (particularly if you leveled in the area before the Cataclysm), but the Last Wave of Survivors questline takes the cake. You have to wander down the beach to find survivors from Auberdine...and you find the bodies of several familiar NPCs. You can interact with them, and often, it turns out they were *just* dying. And two of the survivors you do rescue don't survive for long.
The only one who survives is Cerellean Whiteclaw, poor guy can't seem to catch a break. What he says during his quest:
"I somehow avoided being inflicted with the same toxin that the other survivors now endure. I cannot help but be envious of them to a degree though... living an eternity alone seems not worth living at all. I miss you so much, Anaya." Damn...
One of the worst of these may be the flightmaster, who, because of Auberdine's (now former) position as a critical route from Kalimdor directly to Stormwind, you've definitely spoken to, and her hippogryphs, which you've definitely ridden.
Some of the statuses of the playable races seem to be partially in ruins. The tauren and human conditions were mentioned above and the gnomes and trolls have actually gotten better off, but the night elf condition can be a little bad. The nature-loving (and preserving) night elves are now at odds with the goblins, who seem to exist solely to destroy nature. Their lands of Ashenvale and Azshara are getting destroyed by the Horde and they've been reduced to "shit to kill" for goblin quests in the latter. Playing on the Horde and essentially kicking them out of their own land for money can make you feel like a bit of a bastard. However, before you're willing to say the goblins are evil for this, a goblin quest in Felwood mentions that if they don't do this work, the Horde may kick them out on their ass and implies that this happening would pretty much ruin Goblin society. So sacrifice goblin society for night elf society or vice versa? Also the dwarves have lost their leader, and since the heir is only a baby, a council is formed. While the alliance of the Dark Irons to the other dwarf factions is tentative at best, there are villainous Dark Irons, still aligned with the Twilight Hammer, specifically trying to make this worse and pry the leadership of the Dark Irons from said baby. His mother doesn't even seem sad, as much as she does exhausted with this.
One wouldn't particularly feel bad for Winna Hazzard in Felwood before the Cataclysm. But then she went insane with her slime experiments, unintentionally corrupted all but one of the inhabitants of Bloodvenom Post into slime creatures, and is an endless fount of the slime. Of course death is the only quick fix, but how do you do it? Kill her after snapping her out of her state by showing her the I.D. tag that belonged to the fully-grown mutated kitten of hers that you killed.
Winna Hazzard: ...Kitty? Kitty! KITTY! I'M SO SORRY! Please come back! Don't leave me all alone!
The Alliance's razing of Camp Taurajo. Using the funerary totems to send the tauren who couldn't escape their wrath into the afterlife, you get to see their final moments. The Tailoring vendor wonders why the Alliance would do such a thing while pleading the others to take the children and run; The Skinning trainer was futilely fighting off Alliance while using only a skinning knife; and even the Flight Master told everyone to run while he and his wyverns provided the cover and distraction needed for the others to escape. Like Auberdine to night elves, a lot of tauren players passed through to Camp Taurajo before the zeppelins to Orgrimmar were introduced... and now it's filled with looters.
The Alliance version of events surrounding Taurajo at least has the Alliance general telling players to arrest the looters, who he declares were conscripted criminals from the Stormwind Stockade, and claim that he'd deliberately left a gap by which the refugees could escape... small comfort to the refugees though, not least because that gap was in the direction of quillboar territory. Worse yet, Alliance players intercepted news of a death warrant on the general's head... and an Alliance "ambassador" who thought said general sat on said news, allowing for the Horde players' success in assassinating the general, whose successor died in the Horde attack on Bael Modan.
You probably don't feel sorry for the murlocs in Blasted Lands. You've probably been gang-murdered by them plenty of times before reaching this place. But then you'll reach the newly opened coast to find that they've all been enslaved by the naga. Even then you'll probably be a little apathetic about their plight. And then you'll notice that a lot of the enslaved murlocs are just babies. And there are three or four baby murlocs carrying one box.
What makes it worse is that despite killing said naga, defiling their idols, and basically ripping them apart left and right...you can't save the murlocs. The line of doomed, marching murlocs keeps going on, and on, and on....
Want it worse? If you wander around the cave the nagas have in the zone, you can see three baby murlocs left abandoned over a box, scared and left to die. You cannot see a yellow exclamation, but from the box you can get the quest of drag the box closer to the sea... or left the triplet where you found them if you feel like a bastard. It's no easy task, because you have to drag the box walking, and every time a naga see you a fights, you lose control of the box (warning, some players can make use of this situation to steal your box and taking the reward for them), so its kinda difficult. When you reach the water, the box begins slowly to float and moving to deep sea. Your quest watcher automatically opens for the reward page and says that you wish them to survive as they are all hope for surviving that is left for the Rockpool murloc.
The trolls now get one of these from the beginning. Through out the starting zone quests, you are joined by a troll named Zuni, however during the fight against Zar'Jira, he is killed while trying to stamp out the braziers that fuel her power. To add insult to injury, after the battle it turns out that he can't be healed because his soul was ripped out
The quest chain started by "Welcome to the Machine" is rather fun for a while due to its nature. You escort an aptly named Rogue called Dumass out of a mine, and assist a vain Blood Elf named Johnny Awesome in avenging his fallen steed. Then you get to the level 80 Player Versus Environment orc, Kingslayer Orkus. His quest chain involves running through a gauntlet of dwarves and humans to get your hands on some Alliance plans. In order to get you out safely, he orders his Frost Wrym Kasha to fly you to safety while he holds off the guards. Kasha loops back to get him out of there ...only for him to die mid-flight, asking you to keep his trusted mount and friend safe. Both you and Orkus are named heroes of the Horde soon after Kasha lands.
The end of the Badlands quest chain, especially the text for the final quest reward.
"Please take care of him for me."
The Culling of Stratholme. Even more of a gut punch than it was in Warcraft 3, it's not the purging, but what you can see before Arthas starts moving. Many tragic figures from the Plaguelands are there, all just living their lives normally, most notably the Redpath family, and knowing what they go through, it's kind of depressing to talk to them and have them respond so normally.
"Trident of the Son" reminds you that the Murlocs are sentient in an effective way.
<Reaching out to take his son's trident from you, Old Icefin's hand shakes a little. Could it be that the aged murloc is grieving?>
At the end of the Badlands quest chains, you help purify a black dragon egg. When the egg hatches, it will be the first uncorrupted black dragon in ten thousand years, and so it's heavily hinted that the whelp that hatches will become the next Aspect of Earth to save and redeem what's left of the Black Dragonflight. This is desperately needed, considering the quest "The Last of Her Kind" in the Twilight Highlands has you kill one of the last female black dragons in existence. Obsidia targeted deliberately because she's a breeding female, meaning the player is essentially helping the red dragons commit genocide; another tearjerker in its own right for that very reason. However, even after Obsidia's death there was one female left alive, and speculation went that this female would become a broodmother after Deathwing's defeat to help rebuild the Flight. In 4.3, however, the egg hatches into Wrathion... who, even though he's pure and free of Old God corruption, reveals himself to be just as nasty as every other black dragon, and uses Rogue players to kill off the last of his corrupted brothers and sisters, including Nalice, the last adult female black dragon. Unless the female whelps and drakes survive to adulthood, Wrathion, the child who was supposed to become Black Aspect and save his Flight, just doomed them all to extinction.
There is still a chance for a silver lining. Wrathion states that to his knowledge, he is the last black dragon in Azeroth. Yet there are still the Black Dragons residing in the Blade's Edge Mountains, including Lord Sablemane, aka Sabellian. Whether Wrathion discovers this and plans to kill them all afterwards or not is all based entirely on him. And the third chapter in the Wrathion story for Mo P is called 'The Two Princes'; perhaps Sabellian might make an appearance?
It's also arguable whether or not the Black Dragonflight could even be saved at that point. Wrathion's assassination missions aren't exactly selfish ventures on his part: the dragons he sends you to kill are malicious and actively engaged in doing bad things. Wrathion (possibly Sabellian also) is pretty much the only black dragon who isn't like this. That includes all of the females. It's entirely possible that the only feasible way to have more uncorrupted black dragons (and thus sustain the flight) would be to purify eggs like Rheastrasza did, which still isn't necessarily impossible since there are probably still some surviving black dragon eggs in Twilight Highlands or elsewhere.
D.E.H.T.A's questline in Northerend is capable of wringing tears by having you to free elephant babies from painful traps and prevent poachers from killing baby deer, but Blizzard really manages to shake those players who have been paying attention to the in-game lore with one of the final quests. The druids will send you on a quest to murder Harold Lane who oversees the hunter's camp. Many of the players don't probably remember him by the time you receive the quest, but he's one of the hunters you hunt with in Nagrand, namely the wounded man who is delirious from infection, his condition growing worse with every quest, and prior of coming to Northerend, the player is left without knowledge whether he will pull through or die due to his injuries. Think about it; He survives dreadful wounds and a painful infection, just to be murdered by the same player who was there to help him and sit through his fever-induced delirium, just because a group of fanatic, self-righteous druids said so.
Actually, Harold Lane was faking it—or at least playing it up—the entire time. It becomes quite obvious that he was simply playing up his injury out of laziness. If you sit around him long enough, he starts playing little emotes like "Harold Lane begins to whistle a tune, but then stops abruptly and moans.". While there is no denying that DEHTA are all completely insane fanatics, Harold Lane is not nearly as innocent as he seems.
A minor one, but when you get this item from killing one of the rare Cataclysm/Pandaria beasts, it does make you seem like a monster for killing them.
"The desire to serve as a loyal companion, coalesced into a single priceless crystal."
Tirion Fordring and Darion Mograine are both walking tearjerkers. Tirion had to watch his wife and son die without being able to do anything, was exiled by the people he vowed to protect because he wasn't a xenophobic jerkass, then came back to help the very people who exiled him, without getting so much as a 'hey, dude, sorry about that exile/dead family stuff! We cool?'. Darion watched his father and brother be corrupted, eventually killed, and his father's soul sucked into an evil sword. He then killed himself to free his father's soul, but was later betrayed by the person he served and his father's soul was taken AGAIN! His father's soul only gets freed if you manage to get a very rare drop from a very hard boss. Oh gods, Darion and Tirion are just walking tearjerkers. They do both display some side effects of this, though. Both are pretty huge jerks once their part in the story is done.
Even though many people hate him, Garrosh Hellscream is honestly one huge crowning moment of tearjerking if you think about it. He grew up thinking his father was a monster surrounded by other people who ALSO thought the same thing and likely looked at him as if he was going to snap any minute and murder them all perhaps a foreshadowing of him DOING EXACTLY THAT in Mists?. When Thrall came to Nagrand and told him the truth...just...Manly Tears, if you can get over hating him enough to actually see WHY he is the way he is. This doesn't give him an out for what he did to Theramore or what he triedto do to the Night Elves but it makes you think that MAYBE he's just trying to get other people to like him. He really just wants to make the Horde proud, but seems to think the Horde is still his father's bloodlusting demonic Horde.
Also, he has ZERO surviving family members and his foster mother (Geyah) is dying. When Thrall came and started treating him like a child (Garrosh is actually OLDER!) this really got on his nerves since his father and Thrall were more like brothers than the father/son relationship Thrall seemed to be wanting with Garrosh. Garrosh also never gets told he's like his father, which is what he wants more than anything else in the world, for anything he ever did/does, except for his victory in Northrend, and anyone who has played the game can tell you that it was MOSTLY SAURFANG not Garrosh.
Again, depending on whether you hate him or not, Thrall giving Garrosh his father's axe, Gorehowl is a pretty epic Tear Jerker AND Moment Of Awesome.
Magatha Grimtotem's entire family. She got SO PISSED at her son after he murdered likely hundreds of people in Thunder Bluff...but not because he tried to commit genocide, it was because he wasn't discreet enough about it. It really makes you wonder what kind of horrible life and childhood he and the rest of the Grimtotems must have had under that evil bitch.
The newly revamped Scarlet Monastary and Scholomance offer several:
First, Lilian Voss (an NPC from several quests in the Forsaken starting area) has players slaughter the Scarlet Crusade before she heads off to the Scholomance to kill the last remaining members of the Scourge. Before she can however she's mind-controlled by Darkmaster Gandling and forced to fight the players. She breaks free but then begs the player to let her die alone. Not to mention that the whole mind controlling process it's disturbingly similar to that of Mind Rape and probably rape of the other kind too, considering that Gandling does several unfortunate comments while he's at it.
Second, one of the bosses is so childish that she's surprised by how much dying hurts. Given the way she acted, it was likely she was a Psychopathic Man Child who didn't even realize the atrocities she was committing.
Lastly, the talking skull that gives you the quests to kill Darkmaster Gandling and burn all the books on necromancy in the Scholomance. It talks about how much his family has suffered because of Gandling so players naturally assume it's the skull of one of the Sarkhoffs who were tortured and killed. Once you complete the dungeon the skull is revealed to be the spirit of Alexei Barov, whose (almost) entire family, including himself, were bosses in the old Scholomance.
For the Scarlet Monastery we have the story of Sally Whitemane and Renault Mograine having evolved into an Alas, Poor Villain scenario. Mograine had been killed by his father's ghost as revenge for his betrayal and murder of him. Whitemane continues to be the final boss of Scarlet Monastery Cathedral, this time with Commander Durand to replace Mograine for gameplay purposes. But you really have to be a cold hearted bastard to not cringe at Whitemane's Famous Last Words after you defeat her this time:
That reaction is likely intentional since Garrosh is the final boss of the expansion for the Alliance and the Horde.
Even worse is that The Lady Jaina Proudmoore, not only one of the nicest and most understanding people of anyone in the game, is also one of the few who has campaigned tirelessly for peace between the Alliance and the Horde. One has to wonder what this tragedy might do to affect that attitude.
She nearly follows in her father's footsteps in wanting to utterly destroy the Horde. Thankfully she is snapped out of it.
Hell, even her suggestion that Varian take Garrosh's defeat as an opportunity to dismantle the Horde once and for all. She even smirks when it looks as though Varian is about to go through with it. That, along with the venom in her voice, is shocking and sad to hear given how peaceful she used to be.
The Fountain of Youth quest chain. It starts with a night elf, obsessed with immortality so much, he ignored his daughter in search of the fountain of youth. He finally found it, only to discover it wasn't what he'd hoped it would be—the waters did not create life, but transferred it. As he aided the pandaren he began to regret his actions prior. But most tearjerking of all, his daughter (a sentinel) died fighting the leader of the mogu... and he used the waters of the fountain to give his life for her.
Suna Silentstrike's grief at finding her dead husband.
And then the part in which she descends into grief-fueled rage against the yaungol and her friend Ban, whom she blames for what happens. Eventually, she gets possessed by the Sha of Hatred and you have to kill her. As she lies dying of her wounds, she manages to bring herself to forgive Ban.
The Alliance cinematic at the start of the Pandaria quest line. Varian Wrynn listening to the last message from Admiral Taylor telling him that his son was safe the time of recording and not knowing if Anduin is still safe.
Leza Dawnchaser'sDeath by Childbirth. The accompanying cutscene is just heartbreaking. Casting Holy Light over and over in despair did nothing.
By the same vein as the above Master Shang Xi's death. You almost see it coming, but it doesn't really prepares you for it. The music accompanying the scene is truly memorable and helps tremendously to sell the moment to you. Ji's comments afterwards don't really help.
Seeing his ghost bow respectfully one last time as you leave the Wandering Isle pulls at the heartstrings too.
In Mists of Pandaria, after the Jade Serpent tells you that she's dying, ready to transfer her life force into the huge statue you've just retrieved the last of the jade they needed to finish to create a new guardian, as she flies you back to the Jade temple, saying she's tired and needs to rest... the Horde and Alliance start a battle at the foot of it. Despite being specifically shown what happens in Pandaria when someone acts aggressively, they do it anyway, and the statue that had been worked on for a hundred years is destroyed, and a huge sha (aggression given form and life) pops out of the ground and wrecks both armies. The Jade Serpent ferries you out of the zone, saying maybe it's best if you make yourself scarce for a while, and she'll have to hang onto life for a while longer.
It's even more of a tearjerker because it's also a Player Punch; you played a major role in the events that set up the disaster. All of the events; not only did you deliver the jade to the builders, only to see their great work undone, but you also helped arm the natives who joined your side, which led directly to the major battle at the base of the statue.
Kalecgos disbanding the Blue Dragonflight in Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War. Following the end of Cataclysm the blue dragons had grown depressed and more and more left their home at the Nexus daily. Eventually, with a little pushing from his friend Kirygosa, Kalec declares that their organization no longer exists and allows all the blue dragons to go off on their own. The last one to leave is Teralygos, an elder dragon who had resisted Kalec's position as Aspect. When he leaves, Kalec is left standing all alone atop the Nexus.
In the Dread Wastes, Chen Stormstout is searching for his distant relatives Evie, Han, and Mama. He finds Evie but she's already dead. What really makes it sad is the scene after you turn in the quest.
Chen Stormstout: I never knew you... but you were family.
And then, after Chen starts walking away, he turns around to comment that she looks just like Li Li, his niece.
The end of the Shieldwall quest line. Let's just say Varian Wrynn's Papa Wolf tendencies are about to come out with a vengeance.
Near the end of the Domination Offensive questline we get a big one. The Purge of Dalaran. Seeing all the blood elven civilians being imprisoned, having their facade finally broken down, and wondering what their future holds, is heartwrenching. Fridge Horror sinks in when you realize that Dalaran was not a military base, it was a city, and Aethas in no uncertain terms says the majority of the Sunreavers are still locked away in the Violet Hold. This means entire families, children included, are still imprisoned.
Lei Shi, the third boss in Terrace of Eternal Spring, is a friendly water spirit under the influence of the Sha of Fear. She begs you to leave her alone the entire time you're beating the tar out of her. In a sweet little kid voice. Trust us, Lei Shi, this hurts us more than it hurts you.
For any fan of the Horde who chafes under Garrosh's mad rule: Seeing Vol'jin lying there in Binan Village, suffering from a poison designed specifically to kill trolls. This is one of the faction leaders that has his head screwed on straight, who could fix our diplomatic problems, who should have been Warchief, and seeing him like that would fill any true soldier of the New Horde (not Garrosh's army of warmongering thugs) with anguish and rage.
There are many tragic moments to be found in the story of the Mogu's enslavement of the Pandaren. However, one particular scroll found on the Isle of Thunder describes what the Mogu's first emperor did to the Pandaren people, and it is absolutely heartbreaking:
The Pandaren Problem: Even in the ages before the old empire, there is evidence that the pandaren love of learning had created epic poems, agriculture, and medicine. The Thunder King saw great potential in the pandaren, and for this reason he did not trust them. After he conquered the land, the pandaren were forbidden to learn to read or write. Their leaders and philosophers were executed. All pandaren art and literature was burned. Anyone caught speaking anything but the mogu tongue was considered to be a conspirator, a charge often punished with death. All of the work of the earliest pandaren artists and writers has been lost forever. Ages later, other great pandaren scholars would be born... but the language they spoke was not truly their own.
Thrall asking Vol'jin to take care of his family right before going on a suicide mission into Orgrimmar to find other Orcs who oppose Garrosh's rule. Vol'jin is clearly not happy to hear this.
Vol'jin: For da Horde. Thrall: For the Horde.
For Horde players, having to kill General Nazgrim, an NPC you served alongside over the course of three different expansions, who doesn't follow Garrosh out of a belief in what he's doing, but out of a sense of honor and duty, and he's ultimately glad that you struck him down. The saddest thing about civil wars in factions is that often, people who genuinely like or respect each other end up on opposite sides.
Nazgrim: You have learned much, and learned well. An honorable battle, in the end. I stood by the Warchief because it was my duty, and I am glad it was you who struck me down. May your strength lead the Horde into a new era of prosperity.
Getting Gamon involved is also touching, as Nazgrim was one of the few Horde figures he respected, and he swears that he'll uphold his honorable ways.
With the release of 5.4 The Destruction of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms by Garrosh. Not only is one of the most beautiful places in Pandaria damaged almost beyond repair, but it gets worse when you consider that was where many of the refugees from places like the Jade Forest (much of which was damaged by the Sha of Doubt) and Kun-Lai Summit (attacked by the yaungol, who themselves were displaced as a result of mantid attacks and sha manipulation). Worst of all is when you have to fight some of the Golden Lotus questgivers (three attack you as main enemies, and six others join as adds), who are being trapped in eternal torment by the Sha, who are playing off their despair over their failure. Hearing Lorewalker Cho as he sees everything that's happened and tries to talk to the spirit of Rook Stonetoe is heartbreaking.
Just listen to Taran Zhu when you meet him—while, being Taran Zhu, his first few lines are basically a bitter "I told you so", he doesn't sound vindicated or even that angry—just defeated.
It gets worse. If your group takes too long to engage the overseer, he WILL behead Ji. Aysa then flies into a rage and attacks the overseer, promptly getting killed in the process.
While storming Orgrimmar, there are several trash mobs that aren't elite or Kor'kron. They're citizens of Orgrimmar and Theramore that have been threatened (the Theramore citizens mention their children being held hostage) into fighting any invaders.
There's also Orphan Matron Battlewail telling the frightened orphans to stay inside and behind her—worse, still, just before Overlord Run'thak orders some demolishers to fire on you, as well as the various NPC merchants and civilians who get easily slaughtered when you go into the auction house, bank and forge. This is a reminder that you're fighting through a capital city, and civilian casualties are essentially inevitable.
Liam's death in the Worgen starting zone is jarring. In the heat of an epic battle against the Forsaken to retake Gilneas, Liem takes a poisoned arrow that Sylvanas intended for King Greymane instead. This has a profound impact on everyone for the closing chapter of the starting zone, particularlly when you attend his funeral.
Old Hillpaw in the Valley of the Four Winds. When you first meet him, he's a cranky old chicken farmer who wishes to be left alone, but, like all the other important Halfhill Market NPC's, you do quests and give him gifts to increase your friendship. Then you find out why he's so bitter: his wife and son are dead. If you give him Braised Turtle he mentions that his wife used to make that dish and it brings back memories. If you give him a blue feather...
Old Hillpaw: "... My son, Tai...he used to collect these as a little boy. When his mother died, I told him they were messages from her, fallen from the heavens." <Old Hillpaw falls into a quiet silence.>
If you completed the Klaxxi storyline, you may have developed an odd camaraderie of sorts with the Paragons, even though they reveal at the end that they unashamedly worship an Old God. Still, the fight with them in Siege of Orgrimmar can be kind of sad if you liked any of them, Kil'Ruk's death quote in particular making you want to salute him.
Even after all he did, Garrosh Hellscream's death in Warlords of Draenor is nothing short of heartbreaking and Tear Jerking.
It's especially painful for those who played through the Horde's Nagrand quest chain in The Burning Crusade, since Thrall and the player helped him regain his confidence, so in a way, this whole thing was our fault...
Thrall might deny Garrosh's claim that he failed as Warchief and left Garrosh to pick up the pieces, or even that he made Garrosh what he became... but the player absolutely participated in "making" Garrosh.
For Alliance players, the fate of Admiral Taylor in Warlords of Draenor. Thanks to the Shadow Council, the people in his garrison were killed off and turned into spirits, most of whom forgot what had happened to them, and you only just save his spirit from being made to serve the Shadow Council. In a bittersweet moment, he decides to make the best of his situation, and to join your garrison so he can fight alongside you, just like old times.
YMMV, but Taylor's death coming so close on the heels of Nazgrim's death is tragic. Both Horde and Alliance lose two heroes they journeyed throughout many quests and zones with, and the two aforementioned heroes who engaged in witty banter, battles to the death, and arguably a "if I can't kill you" bromance, die so close together in time to one another makes this sad indeed.
The fate of Nethergarde Keep in the Warlords of Draenor pre-patch. You find that the Iron Horde has taken over, and one quest involved retrieving items of some deceased non-player characters. Later on, you even meet the sister of one of those characters, and she is very upset about what happened.
For Horde players who happen to come across this NPC or this NPC in Frostfire Ridge, each can be looted for an item and a note suggesting where the other is and fleshing out the story. It's basically a starcrossed-lovers story, except the male was set upon and killed by wolves while the female froze to death waiting for him.... and combining the two items forms the Talisman of Yearning Unfulfilled.
In Talador, there is a quest a draenei NPC gives to you to find portions of a potion that he hopes will revive his sister, who was just killed in a wagon crash that he survived as the two were on a pilgrimage. It doesn't work.
The penultimate garrison campaign for Alliance (A Strike at the Heart) involves an attack on the garrison in which The Bad Guy Wins and gets away with the artifact you retrieved last time, but that's not the really sad part. The sad part is that in the process, Baros Alexston, your garrison's architect, was killed protecting Lieutenant Thorn from Azuka Bladefury's blade. At the last, he finally confessed his love for Thorn (the two had a bad case of Cannot Spit It Out up to that point), handing over the rose he was planning to give her that very night as he died. After that event, Lieutenant Thorn is completely heartbroken, and stays in her worgen form (previously, you'd seen her human form only). Damn.