It is time to break the cycle, you might have heard Saurfang say recently and for a long time before this, I was feeling very much the same way. Hell, most of my guild tends to agree: the Horde vs Alliance thing? It is old hat now, and things need to move on.
Back at the launch of World of Warcraft, it made sense: The Horde and Alliance were fighting over territory, and many of the tensions from the first three games were all too present, the wounds too fresh to stop the fighting. But then a new threat emerged. The whole reason for player characters stepping up to the plate was because the soldiers were away and things at home needed new blood to take action.
It was also a simpler time. Quest designers were still finding themselves and working out how to tell a rich, complex narrative across dozens or hundreds of quests. Many, many fetch quests and kill X boars/whatever were there to make up the bulk of levelling content before dungeons quests delivered bigger moments. A lot of it felt disconnected, and that took time to change. Now every zone has a storyline that flows through it and you finish storylines rather than just hunting down random quest hubs. It took several expansions to reach a point where the story flowed properly, before we watched big names moving around the world and engaging in their conflicts and battles. We moved onto big in-game cinematic moments, voiced over quests and much more.
In Burning Crusade, a new threat appeared. While the Alliance and Horde wouldn’t fight side by side just yet, they did fight the same enemy and spend less time trying to kill each other. We all played nice in Shattrath, abiding by the rules and being good visitors (ish). Both sides got a chance to see how the other side worked and we learnt a bit from one another. Then another threat emerged, one really close to home. (this happens a lot in World of Warcraft).
When it came to Arthas and his host of the undead, eventually the Horde and Alliance tried to work together to best the Lich King. Things didn’t go too well in that attempt, especially with blight being tossed down on both sides of the war (and yes, I still don’t believe Sylvanas planned this moment to happen, but after the latest reveal I can see why they might want to cling to that). The losses there drove a massive wedge between the two sides, which carried forward into Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria where despite their being much bigger threats, we kept being at each other’s necks. Hell, most of Pandaria’s problems were thanks to our literal bloodthirsty, warmongering presence drawing out the worst of the spirits of the land.
This ebbs and flows many times through the game, with one side or both doing something ranging from poor taste to downright despicable before banding together to fight the big baddie, before the tension rises again. The cycle feels set to do this again, with enemies becoming friends and working together to fight the big bad and… well, I am tired of it.
I am tired of silly reasons for Horde and Alliance to hate each other. Sure there are factions who have a real beef, or who act as splinter factions, doing their own thing hoping their faction doesn’t notice or intervene and maybe that is the problem: the space for nuance. Take for example the Night Elves right now: any call for peace without some form of serious reconciliation or even revenge for Teldrassil seems pretty much insane, but their pain and suffering has been dismissed entirely for now as we deal with N’Zoth. Will we see more, or will it become a reason for everyone to go to war?
Battle for Azeroth’s main focus, for some reason, is a faction war, when several much more pressing things are going on. The planet is literally in trouble and we are running around calling each other names. A captive elder god’s minions are making final preparations for the god’s return and instead of dealing with these threats, instead of trying to help the world, we are fighting over… something. It has taken a year for the story of Battle for Azeroth to (hopefully) lose the preamble and get to the real fight of N’Zoth causing true havoc and destruction.
Since we took the fight to the Burning Legion and won thanks to working together, everything feels off going back to the old Horde vs Alliance style. All those heroes you worked with against the Legion, all those notable characters that shared a class hall with you… suddenly they want to kill you without a second thought. We worked together for ages towards a common goal and all that was obliterated for the latest expansion. Going into a battleground or hearing Turalyon proclaiming how evil the Horde is after we just literally finished what he couldn’t achieve in thousands of years, helping him fight the demons on their home turf. All that work is just forgotten about, apparently and it feels… downright shoddy. This isn’t the only place where our previous work and achievements have been forgotten as we somehow went from: champions and paragons of our class, leaders in our own right to… mildly distrusted and disliked characters (looking at you Nathanos and your constant negging).
Over the last 15 years we have been at each others’ throats, untrusting allies, friends, fought to kill each other and defend each other from some of the biggest problems in Azeroth and wow does this planet have its problems: Old Gods, The Burning Legion, Death (yes I think we are finally going to see something new here a force behind all of our gods and champions of death in various forms) and more keep assaulting us again and again and the big conflict is upstaged by the old faction war that is given centre stage again and again.
It is becoming hard to believe characters going from hating a faction to almost dying for that faction and back again, changing direction like a weathervane in a tornado. Every time it happens, someone’s character or a story gets cut short because they have to stop what they are doing to get involved in the fight.
So can we just give it a rest? Stop the faction war, at least for an expansion, at least for long enough to have a real, solid reason to hate each other again. Something more nuanced, character-driven and natural in feeling. Or give us a third faction, a group made up of those who no longer want to be part of the bloodshed between two factions warring while the planet dies. And that feels, well a little too close to home for me.