Monday, June 03, 2013

Alliance vs Horde Storyline Favoritism

One of the current issues in WoW is the perceived imbalance between the Alliance and Horde storylines. The Horde story, the rebellion against Garrosh, is a more interesting and central experience. The Alliance storyline feels like more of an afterthought. On the various fan sites, many fans ascribe this fact to Blizzard favoring the Horde at the expense of the Alliance.

However, in my view, this story "imbalance" was an inevitable consequence of the Cataclysm decision to heat up the war between the Horde and the Alliance.

In 2009 I wrote a post on The Nature of War, where I said that the modern view of war is "the only moral war, the only just war, is a defensive war." Thus it would not be possible to start a war without one side being considered evil.

Now in Pandaria, we see the end result of that. One side had to go evil to make the war "fit" with modern sensibilities. Thus one of Garrosh or Varian had to go bad, and Garrosh was the one chosen.

That sets up two stories: a civil war within the Horde, and the Alliance attempts to finish Garrosh. Of those two stories, the civil war is always going to be the more interesting story.

It could have gone the other way. Varian could have been the one to go bad, and the Alliance be torn apart by civil war. Possibly with Anduin leading the forces against his father. (To be honest, this might have been a better story than the Horde civil war.)  But in this alternate future, the Alliance storyline would have been the more interesting one, and the Horde the ones left behind.

Ultimately though, the storyline would still be imbalanced. The modern view of war demands this outcome. Parity between Alliance and Horde stories can only come when the two factions are not directly focused on each other.


  1. Is this a modern view of war these days? Certainly, one side as blatantly "evil" and the other as blatantly "good" is a romantic/naive one. But these days, it seems everything and everyone are just shades of moral grey and immoral gray with crimes and atrocities on both sides in war with whatever just cause that started matters soon lost in the jingoism and chaos.

    Honestly, I was hoping that both Alliance AND Horde who have blood on their hands and both doing questionable horrible things, but after what happened in the Jade Forest initially, Varian turns into Purity Stu Who's Always Right (while Jaina and Tyrande get thrown under the bus for being "impatient" and "rash") while Garrosh grabs the Idiot Villain Ball and takes off running headfirst into the abyss.

  2. That's true. The other option was making both sides evil. Though that would have been even sillier (both Varian and Garrosh have been corrupted?).

    But what I was saying was that the goal at the start of Cataclysm was:

    1. War
    2. Both sides are essentially good.

    This can't be done because it is a contradiction with the modern conception of war.

    Thus we necessarily end up with the leadership of (at least) one faction being evil, and thus a civil war.

  3. Blizz would have been better off keeping the old cold war stalemate in place. Both sides could argue equally the superiority of their own side, and both sides could plausibly band together to fight an evil more powerful than both of them.

    That is the natural outgrowth that the Aldor/Scryers and the Argent Crusade/Ebon Blade factions could have provided, but the need to emphasize "both sides at war" trumped that.

  4. The issue isn't that the Horde story is more interesting, as it treats with a civil war, but that the Alliance actions are an afterthought. We get to Durotar, presumably the representatives of a major power, and end the quest chain paired as equals with a fraction of the Horde. There is no indication that the Alliance has the strength to do much of anything, we are (again) just an adjunct to the Horde - a mercenary force helping Vol'jin this time rather than Sylvanas.

    Blizzard could have spun an interesting story for the Alliance. We could have been trying to prolong the war, to make the Horde bleed itself (and they included some throw-away text to that effect). By the end of the first hour we are just another set of Horde gatherers working to support Vol'jin's bid to topple Garrosh.

    From an RP perspective I have to wonder why my character is doing this, I certainly have no clue why the King of Stormwind thinks it's important or valuable.

  5. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. WoW could have played a few more cards to make the conflict much less black and white. Especially while in the midst of said conflict. In character, you should not have this. Objectively though, I can understand the good/bad aspect.

    Otherwise, why would the evil side fight if they clearly saw themselves as evil yet just?

  6. @rimecat, maybe they could have done a bit better job with the current Alliance story.

    But I think that whichever side got the civil war would have ended up with the better story. Civil war conflicts are just more interesting and have more hooks to build stuff with.

  7. Rohan, that depends on the story you are trying to tell. If I had the mystical Staff o' the Storyteller at Blizzard I would have had the main Alliance thrust be elsewhere, to recover lost territory. The players would have had a spy story. We would not be another set of hands for Vol'jin but would have had active assassination, sabotage, related missions. I do understand that this would have been much more work but it would have been interesting for both sides and reinforced the 'world at war' that they seem to want.

    Ask yourself this - why does the Alliance remain at war with the new, new, new Horde after Garrosh is gone? Yes, Vol'jin throws out some insults but why wouldn't there be some level of rapprochement? The new model King of Stormwind is being played as a diplomat, renewed conflict makes no sense.

  8. @Rimecat, Well, that could be taken two ways. The players could complain that the Horde goes after the real problem while the Alliance is just messing around on the edges of the conflict.

    Also, I'm assuming that the war will cool down after Garrosh is deposed. I haven't seen anything to indicate otherwise, and I'm not sure why you assume the war will still be hot.

  9. The Alliance only exist as a foil to the Horde. You can imagine a full, rich narrative blossoming even if the Horde were the only faction to exist - Forsaken vs all, Blood Elf elitism, conflict between Trolls and Orcs, growing disillusionment among the Tauren regarding all off the above, Goblins exacerbating things at every turn, etc, etc etc.

    Can you imagine an all-Alliance game? There wouldn't be one. Maybe some Dwarf clan nonsense, but that has always felt forced. Where is the drama? Where are the Night Elves complaining about Dwarf/Gnome pollution? Where are the Draenei... anywhere? No seriously, do any exist as more than wallpaper or token foils to Blood Elf agency? Have Worgen done anything since their starter zone?

    Bottom line is that I disagree with the assertion that Horde would have been boring if Blizzard went with the Alliance civil war scenario. Horde would still have had intra-faction rivalry and drama, perhaps with the Forsaken ramping up conversion efforts and Tauren protesting while the Blood Elves start hatching up some scheme.

    The opposite cannot possibly occur because the writers at Blizzard have no idea how to write an Alliance faction story, and haven't since 2007. The "Alliance" is basically just a half-dozen hero units from Warcraft 3, with a faceless army of automatons behind them.

  10. I'm pretty sure that for the last eight and a half years, players of both factions have been whining about Blizzard favouring the other one.

  11. The Alliance has plenty of potential to not be annoying. Any government that controls more than an inch of land is bound to have the second inch fighting for independence. A civil war would have been enough to trigger many already-existing internal conflicts, such as the Defias. The integration of the High Elves could have been messier, with places such as Dire Mail taking the form of players intervening in a civil war over whether to join the Alliance or stay separate, with extremists even going toward the Burning Legion.

    Both sides can be good and still fight. Misunderstandings can happen. Resources may be limited, so that neither side can have everything it needs, let alone wants or has legitimate claim to. They may even view war as practice for greater threats to come. The fundamental reasons that we consider war to be bad may be different for them: a collective society can lose individuals more easily, death may not be as negatively perceived, and it's not clear what the resource losses are.

  12. "But I think that whichever side got the civil war would have ended up with the better story. Civil war conflicts are just more interesting and have more hooks to build stuff with."

    I'm not certain this is entirely true, but even if it is, the problem isn't that the Horde has a more interesting story, it's that the Horde has a more compelling story. There are ways Blizzard could have given the Alliance a similarly compelling story, but instead what was given feels more like a Horde story where the Alliance experience was just tacked on due to time constraints.

    For example, the Alliance could have had a storyline where they're using the civil war that's distracting Garrosh as an opportunity to build up a forward outpost in Ashenvale - along the Azshara border - in preparation for laying siege to Orgrimmar's northern gate. Not only would that have made sense tactically, but it would have shown the Alliance being proactive in their planning (rather than just following along with Vol'jin because we've got nothing better to do), as well as given Tyrande a moment of redemption/growth following the events of the A Little Patience scenario.

    Furthermore, in such an example, the gameplay elements in the Northern Barrens (stealing Korkron supplies; escorting Alliance caravans; killing Korkron commanders; etc.) could have been left completely intact, with the only difference being that Alliance players would be working to subvert Korkron power in the region in their own interests rather than to support a Horde rebellion. To me, that feels like a much more compelling story for Alliance players to experience because it shows the Alliance finally pivoting away from being on the back-foot all the time and towards the head-on Alliance vs. Horde mentality that's been the mainstay of the WarCraft RTS games.

    Instead, Blizzard's current implementation just feels disappointing because it portrays the Alliance as A)opportunistic rather than noble, and B)weak and cowardly for refusing to try to stand toe-to-toe with the Horde until and unless the Horde implodes.