Friday, August 16, 2013

The Story

I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of reaction to the trailer for 5.4 has been positive. However there have been detractors: there's a lot of testosterone flying around here for starters, which has understandably caused some concern. Most significantly of all in the discussions I have seen thus far is the prospect of the Alliance and Horde lining up together to defeat Garrosh in Orgrimmar, but the inescapable feeling that the Alliance themselves seem to have become something of an afterthought in this entire campaign. The fact is, at least from where I'm standing, this is only part of a larger problem.

I'd like to think this game works best when we're not embroiled in faction politics but directing our anger at an outside aggressor.

Of the two Scenarios introduced in 5.3 to explain the escalation of events in the Barrens, the Horde's 'Dagger in the Dark' is a wonderful slice of storytelling, mostly because we have the prospect of Vol'jin openly moving his faction into rebellion. Hot on the heels of the Blood Elf Sunreavers being forced to confront the consequences of Garrosh's dirty work, this is a great way to set up the Kalimdor-based escalation. We are also aware of the Taurens having problems of their own with Garrosh... in fact, being on that side of the fence has been richly supplied with potential flashpoints.

In comparison, Jaina's anger at Theramore seems far less righteous and far more motivated by revenge, a point the Shado Pan seem keen to reinforce on the Isle of Thunder. Anduin's actions at Lion's Landing, albeit brave, were ultimately conducted alone and without any backup. The Alliance may be as fractured in its own way as the Horde, but it also appears gutless. The Dwarves are in clear dissent without a leader, the Gnomes seem as forgotten as the Forsaken in all this... and there is the problem with trying to maintain the faction storylines. There is simply TOO MUCH TO BALANCE, and not enough development time to allow everyone decent motivation.

If we go back to Expansions where we can agree things worked well, where the most people were playing, where the storyline compelled us all to forge towards a conclusion: what made them different? Well, in both the case of TBC and Wrath we were united behind a common enemy, separate from factional politics. Arthas may have been an Alliance Prince but his hatred of anything that lived was enough to cross factional lines. The Legion's single-minded and all-consuming destruction of anything and everything forced both sides to work together, but allowed wonderful moments of humanity to shine through, using third parties like the Broken as a method to focus our understanding of events.

For me by far the best example of focus was Bolvar's attack on the Wrathgate in Wrath, allied with the Horde at the crucial moment, without the need for a complicated political backstory. Two 'friends' fought together and died for a common cause. Again, in the Citadel, after the death of Saurfang, as Alliance we are given the chance to see what happens when compassion is more important than single-mindedness, a moment that defines that final campaign to oust the Lich King:

High Overlord Saurfang: Behind you lies the body of my only son. Nothing will keep me from him.
Muradin Bronzebeard: Don't force my hand, orc. We can't let you pass. He... I can't do it. Get back on your ship and we'll spare your life.
King Varian Wrynn: Stand down, Muradin. Let a grieving father pass.
High Overlord Saurfang: I will not forget this kindness. I thank you, highness.
King Varian Wrynn says: I... I was not at the Wrathgate. But the soldiers who survived told me much of what happened. Your son fought with honour. He died a hero's death. He deserves a hero's burial.
Lady Jaina Proudmoore cries.
King Varian Wrynn: Jaina, why are you crying?
Lady Jaina Proudmoore : It was nothing, your majesty. Just... I'm proud of my king.

The Alliance were proud too, because our faction leader, who had for so long been considered as arrogant and thoughtless showed a humanity that had been sorely lacking. In a simple piece of storytelling we were able to galvanise all that had been wrong about our faction, and find a way to make it right again, to feel reassured we were in pursuit of a righteous goal.

This time around what began as an attack on an old enemy with Theramore was pretty much mismanaged on the Alliance side from the word go. It is still not clear in my mind from the starting zone whether my faction considered Pandaria as a place to be explored or conquered: sending an army to investigate and not the Explorer's League, for instance, says in my mind that we'll default to Battle State Russet whenever possible. After all, this is the World of WARCRAFT. The trailer for Mists shows a good old fashioned Red v Blue fight, until a certain Mr C. Stormstout intervenes. We have always been at each other's throats, with only the enemies we face as the distraction.

Now we end up at 5.4, and inevitably all the emphasis has to shift to Orgrimmar, because that's where Garrosh lives. There is no distraction from the Horde/Alliance conflict this time, the Horde have become the enemy. The problem is that separating Garrosh from the red banner, after eight years, has proved far more complicated than I suspect Blizzard had anticipated. You can make this Warchief as evil and unscrupulous as you like, as heartless and possessed by pride, but the fact remains HE IS THE HORDE, even with all the other factions standing in one place, fighting together, against him.

He's not our common enemy, he's STILL THE RED TEAM. And BECAUSE there's not an Alliance character in a similar horrendously morally ambiguous situation for the Blue team to empathise/hate/get annoyed about, we have a problem with association. But that's not all.

Even if there is is no common enemy for the Alliance to associate with, we're fighting the Horde for goodness sake, where's the issue in us being under-represented? We had the cry 'For Theramore!', why not simply take up the cry 'For the Vale!' and be content with avenging the lands the Horde destroyed instead? Well yes, we could do this, but why are we involved to begin with? When we saved the Undercity we didn't roll tanks and artillery all over it, we went in covertly. When Anduin took up his mission against Garrosh in 5.2 it was deliberately undercover. In fact his father has been advocating patience and strategy from Lion's Landing as well. No rushing in, no stupid moves, let's just take our time and wait for our moments... but what is the actual motivation to win?

What exactly does the Alliance have to gain from removing Garrosh?

I suspect many people in my faction are aggrieved because it would be only right and proper to gain SOMETHING from all of this, not simply the satisfaction of knowing we won. When Illidan was defeated we righted an ancient wrong. When Arthas was removed we understood that sometimes you can't kill a legend, it needs to remain intact. When Deathwing died we understood that Dragons should never be trusted (yeah look what we did with that) but when Garrosh dies unless the Horde is in utter and total disarray then what's the point? The Alliance should be all over the map, reclaiming the stuff Garrosh destroyed and conquered, and it should expect to at least gain an advantage from the Horde for saving their asses in a major fashion.  However, what has become very clear is that Blizzard don't go back and change stuff like that because a) it's not new content and b) see a).

When we banish Big Bad's traditionally, the World is safe again. When this Big Bad hits the ground absolutely NOTHING is clear or definable any more. This could, of course all be part of a deliberate, long term plan on Blizzard's part. However, if that plan does NOT involve a major shift in the powerbase on Azeroth, there are going to be raised eyebrows. This HAS to put the Horde on the back foot, make them have to fight to re-establish themselves as a cohesive fighting unit. The choce of the Orc's Faction Leader is crucial, as is seeing how EVERY OTHER HORDE FACTION responds to this. The Alliance really do need to come to dominance as a result, or we will demand the mother of all reasons to distract them from that task. However, what is absolutely and enormously crucial at the end of it all, is to NOT JUST FORGET ALL OF THIS HAPPENED.

By establishing Pandarians as either Horde or Alliance, Blizzard I now realise set a dangerous precedent. Suddenly the faction didn't matter, you could be either to get to play the race you wanted. This has unintentionally contributed to the destabilisation of both faction bases, who are now united against a common enemy, but still an enemy who fights under the flag of Horde. The problem now, especially for those who remain true to the Alliance, is that the defeat of this villain does not make Azeroth safe again, it should make Azeroth ripe for total Alliance domination, or at least give us the upper hand, if we choose to ignore the Pandarans wisdom. After all, that's the way it has always been, because why do we fight to begin with? Ah yes... why do we fight again?

To ask why we fight... to ask why the leaves fall. It is in their nature. Perhaps, there is a better question. Why do we fight? To protect Home, and Family... To preserve Balance, and bring Harmony for my kind. The true question is: What is worth fighting for?

This is the final and great unanswered question of the expansion. Eventually, when enough Alliance have defeated Garrosh, will they find themselves as I have been since the Jade Forest, questioning the very nature of their participation in every fight since? Has the message of this expansion really been that fighting each other is okay if it returns balance to the World? If that's the case, then balance is a very long way away right now, and it will take some pretty impressive storytelling to restore that feeling for both sides. Is there any point in trying to begin with: some might argue that no-one really cares about which side they're on... except if that were the case, we'd not be her after nearly a decade, and this game's basic ethos would only remain as a Wikipedia entry.

The story is what drives us, like it or not. This expansion has suffered from being pulled in too many directions at once, in trying to appease too many complaints simultaneously. What Blizzard have always excelled at, and continue to do so, is the ability to tell a ripping yarn, a great story that makes us laugh and cry, and allows us to form emotional bonds with pixels. The trailer that started this braindump has that in spades, and has done more than a thousand quests or official blog posts will ever do. However: somewhere Blizzard has forgotten how to tell a good story, that its best bet at keeping everyone enthralled is going back to doing what it does best: the Big Bad that BOTH SIDES WANT DEAD, but which allows them to remain true to their factional identity.

Again, this was a great idea like so much else that the game has presented, but it wasn't the right one. However, there's no going back now: what transpires in the next couple of months will show if the Alliance can come to terms with being placed second in a fight they should have at least been equal to. Some might say the Blue team's missed the best opportunity they ever had. What we don't know yet is whether that was just a deliberate move on the Devs part. What I believe is clear however, is that when Garrosh has passed into the stories of legend, the next Big Bad needs to be something very special indeed.


Rades said...

Logically, there's no way 5.4 should end without the Alliance disbanding the Horde or at least razing Orgrimmar, sending the surviving members to the other cities, and establishing a powerful dominance in the faction war.

Practically, we know that won't happen because it would be utterly unfair to Horde players. But I think a reasonable compromise would be like you said, Alliance retaking lost territory and being the aggressors in the turf war. Southern Barrens, Arathi Highlands, Gilneas, Hillsbrad, Ashenvale, maybe even Northern STV...these are all ripe areas for the Alliance to target now, while the Horde is weakened and disorganized.

Not only would this make sense, but I think players would like to see this! Alliance players would finally get to WIN some battles, which they really have not gotten to experience very much lately. It could create interesting leadership dynamics, as some would probably advocate aggressive action (Tyrande) while others might desire caution (Velen). And simply being in a position of power would be something that some of them (Moira, Greymane) have never even experienced as an Alliance leader.

And Horde players? Well, it's about time the Horde players get back to the old underdog theme that worked so well back in Vanilla. We've been on top for too long and are growing fat and content. I think being driven back and humbled would be a good chance to explore new stories and character arcs.

Will they do it? I think it'd be tough, since they just redid so many zones in the Shattering. But I HOPE they do, because I think you're right - we need repercussions for this to feel real. But more than that, it would just be awesome to see happen as well.

Nyxrinne said...

My hope is that the phasing of the Barrens will be a prototype for future changes to zones as the Alliance push their advantage.

Blizzard put so much work into the Cataclysm revamp that I can't see them happy to flat-out replace some of those questlines so soon, and I think that style of phasing allows them to revisit old zones without the main issue that blighted the first revamp - a huge amount of content geared toward new alts and low level characters rather than our mains.

I'd really, really like to see the night elves make a massive push and regain Azshara. If Alliance forces are already in the Orgrimmar area in force, it wouldn't be that far to walk...

I suspect zones closer to Lordaeron would be a far more difficult fight for the Alliance, mind. The absence of the Forsaken in this expansion seems suspicious to me. I think it's kept their armies in better shape than the rest of the Horde's, and I can't see their involvement in the Siege as putting a massive dent in that unless the Alliance do something drastic to deal with them.

I'd like that, though. Easier victories in some places, and real struggle in others, especially when those places are as important to the Alliance/Alliance players as the general Lordaeron area seems to be.

turq8672 said...

I keep saying this and everyone keeps telling me that Blizz won't make this drastic a leap. What we are working toward is peace. As ou pointed out, the last several expansions have Horde and Alliance working together against the "Big Bad". Wrathion is preparing us for a much bigger threat. I see the removal of Garrosh as eliminating the major obstacle to a Horde/Alliance truce. Imagine the game if players from both sides could work together against a common foe. Dungeon together, raid together. BGs could become more of training exercises. But, again everyone says Blizz doesn't have it in them to take this step. We will see.

TheGrumpyElf said...

A true leader would have let the horde fight it out and dwindle their forces and then we would swoop when only one side is left and finish them once and for all and be done with the horde forever. It shows the weakness of our king and his lack of leadership.

But because of game play that could not happen. However, something along those lines should have been added. The alliance should have been put in a huge power position when it was done. Anything less is chalked up to horrible story telling.

We should have let the horde and the true horde slaughter each other. Sure, help vol'jin at least to the point where he was strong enough to mount a force, but sit on the outside looking in until one side was defeated. Then, and only then, we would go in and shout "for theramore" and kill whomever was left, the horde or the true horde makes not difference.

Red is red and they were all together as one when they wore that same red that killed innocent women and children. They all wore the same red when they committed atrocity upon atrocity against us, and basically anyone that was not them.

The rest of the horde was all fine and dandy with everything mr big, bad and smelly did, until he turned on them. So in my opinion, when the alliance entered Org they should have considered all horde the enemy, not just the true horde, and we should have not left until all faction leaders either unconditionally surrendered or were dead.

There is no motivation for the alliance to play it out as it is written.

Basically, as Rades said, there is no reason 5.4 should end with the horde even existing as an entity any more.

Anslym said...

Much of how I feel has already been said but at least in my mind we still don't really know how Garrosh will end.

I feel that the only conceivable way that doesn't completely screw the alliance is that during the fight with Garrosh, he sends order to attack Stormwind.

Instead of Varian staying and giving the Vol'jin and Baine a list of his demands - the Alliance needs to rush back home and save Stormwind.

Or something to that effect. There NEEDS to be a reason the Alliance leaves Orgrimmar and at this point it seems more like a pick your poison. Lose our hold on the Horde or deal with something else.

Of course the Alliance will be upset and rage that not only have we lost our once-in-a-lifetime hold on the Horde but that we're also losing land or our city is being damage or whatever it may be but unfortunately Blizzard has painted themselves into a corner and it just so happens it's the same paint that they used to paint the city red.

Saya said...

Great read. I think you hit the nail on the head with the Big Baddie and both factions having a common enemy to fight, while staying loyal to the Alliance/Horde.( I always think of the Wrathgate cinematic as the glorious moment for both factions).

When I read the post this morning, I thought that ingame tangible repurcussions would go a long way in addressing the issue. And then it hit me later, that the issue goes far beyond that.

I believe that the Alliance disconnect from this piece of story is for the most obvious reason: they aren't needed to progress the story. I considered the trailer for a moment and thought "would the story shown there make any sense if Warcraft had no Alliance for a second?" The story still makes perfect sense - a compelling civil war within the Horde. And they're taking out their crazy Warchief.

I flipped the question with the trailer and wondered, would it work if the Horde didn't exist for a moment. Sure enough, the story makes no sense. The Alliance cannot take out the Warchief of the Horde if there's no Horde to begin with.

It's a simple test to see if two players are vital to the story and in this case, the gaping hole is that the Alliance isn't really vital to the story. Will tangible repurcussions change this? I'm not sure it will.

Lakh said...

Having recently played through Westfall again, it seems to me as if the Alliance already has some serious re-securing of their own backyard to do once the immediate existential danger of a aggressive horde warchief is dealt with.

Avoiding a secondary war with well armed & resourced sub-factions (e.g. all the blood elves & forsaken) makes a certain strategic sense for an Alliance whose own backyard needs major attention.

But the real truth is that Blizzard is bumping up against a "dynamic" world that's actually static. Ashenvale should end up being secured by the Alliance. Silvermoon should be re-militarised post 5.2. Et cetera.

I'm hoping they'll pursue the approach of battlefield barrens, using phasing to create a high-level-layer in some zones & allowing for ongoing story advancement.

R said...

Like Turq above, I've posted a few times in comment threads that this entire expansion has been ultimately leading us toward the joining of Alliance/Horde. I'd still be shocked if it does happen but it would be more jarring for it NOT to happen at this point than for it to happen. Note - I'm not a lore nerd so this will be pretty general.

* New race introduced that can join either faction
* Horde and Alliance working together to usurp the Horde leader rather than some external threat
* Wrathion seems to want peace between the factions and might have some say in the matter
* Servers are being combined but they're not doing it with any focus on faction balance, which could imply that it's because faction balance won't matter soon
* Tauren have always been a horrible fit in the Horde
* Blood Elves were in discussion to join the Alliance, apparently
* Goblins have no loyalty and even having done their intro I'm not sure why they ended up in the Horde. Did their leader basically sell them out?
* Forsaken are Horde only in name, with a lot of work I could see them becoming the other faction if there needs to be one for PvP
* Trolls have been treated very badly by the Horde for a while now, if not from day one

Seriously, knock the Orcs down a peg, have the Alliance stop killing the other Horde races on sight and what's holding those other races together? I'm not seeing anything at this point.

Ultimately, the Horde was an Orc construct that other races joined for various reasons... none of those reasons, far as I can tell, have really tied them deeply to the Horde. The only reason I can see keeping the Horde intact is for gameplay reasons, not lore-based ones.

In my perfect world, the next expansion, in addition to the Burning Legion big bad, will also be the 2 years where Horde and Alliance merge... I won't want to log into 6.01 to find that the work has been done, I want to be part of that process during the course of the expansion. There will also be seeds sown about how the Forsaken will step forward as the second faction once everyone else merges and the expansion after this one will have two fully-formed factions, Alliance/Horde and Forsaken.

Or not. But it just makes too much sense.

In terms of what's happened to Garrosh, I think the missing link is that they needed to usurp him FIRST, before 5.4 hit...

1) Garrosh goes nuts
2) Garrosh is usurped
3) Garrosh is about to wipe out both Alliance and Horde using (/handwave) Sha power
4) 5.4 hits

Going after a current faction leader is just ... awkward. That does tie in even more to the merger idea, though, if they'd replaced him before 5.4 the merger would be less likely to happen.

The other possibility I see is for Alliance and Horde to be more an issue of identity than anything else. Think American vs Canadian. Two different factions but working in cooperation with PvP being the Olympics / World Championships / etc with the players as the athletes. In that case we could still get cross-faction communication, AH (free trade!), grouping, etc, but still have PvP. It would also be a lot less work for Blizz and would probably be less disruptive to those who are really into the Alliance vs Horde thing.

Dahakha said...

I really don't see why the Alliance should come out in a dominant position after the Siege. There is reason to believe that the night elf presence in Kalimdor would be stronger, and the southern Eastern Kingdoms would remain Alliance-dominated, but there is nothing else that *needs* to change, from a lore perspective. Let's look at the factions and their conflicts.

The major conflicts are: Nelf-Orc (Ashenvale being the frontline); Human-Orc (Theramore); and Human-Forsaken (Southshore and the Worgen).

The Dwarves don't have any real beef with the Horde as a whole, as long as they don't intrude on Dwarven lands. The Gnomes would be friends with everyone if they could, but if forced to choose they will stand by their closest friends, the Dwarves. The Draenei would prefer peace to war and fight only to defend themselves and their friends. They even forgave the Orcs for the slaughter on Draenor! (Well Velen did iirc.)

Once Orgrimmar is razed (and I think it must be), then the orc powerbase is shattered. The survivors would need to seek refuge in other factional cities (Thunder Bluff and Silvermoon, realistically). The Orcish outposts in EK would remain, but would be cut off from reinforcements and would therefore not be much of a danger to Alliance territory. Certainly no more dangerous than the rebel Dark Irons, the Defias, the trolls in STV, the Bloodsail, etc.

The Tauren only go to war because they are honour-bound to support their allies, the Orcs. Now the Orcs are no more, and are dependent on the Tauren for survival. The Darkspear trolls were searching for a home of their own, and the reason they rose up against Garrosh is because that home was being taken from them. If the Alliance agreed to leave them alone, they'd be willing to peacefully co-exist with the Nelfs and Humans in Kalimdor. I believe they would maintain close relations with the Tauren, but there would be no doubt that Baine would be the leader of that partnership.


Dahakha said...


I seriously doubt Velen would condone a war of expansion from Tyrande, and the Dwarven clans have their own internal struggles. Likewise, the Gnomes would not provide more than token support for a Human war of expansion. So the main struggles are between Nelf and Bilgewater goblin in Azshara, and Human/Worgen vs Forsaken in Lordaeron. The goblins were pretty much press-ganged into supplying the Garrosh war machine, so it's hard to tell what they would do after Orgrimmar falls. My guess would be to turn neutral.

Human vs Forsaken. The Forsaken have been the biggest threat to the Alliance in northern EK. But Lordaeron is gone, and according to the Silverpine Forest questline, the Worgen have an uneasy truce with Sylvanas. A war against the Forsaken would probably be attractive to the Humans who feel the loss of Lordaeron, but how many of those are left in positions of influence? Only the Wildhammer would be interested in such a campaign, and there is the very real possibility of Silvermoon feeling forced to support Sylvanas to maintain a buffer. I'm not sure Stormwind and the Wildhammer could afford a war with Forsaken + Silvermoon. Sylvanas would need to pose a very obvious and distasteful threat, and Lor'themar to be approached as a potential ally of Stormwind, for the Forsaken to be directly attacked without the support of Silvermoon.

The idea that the Alliance could sit back and watch Garrosh's army fight the rest of the Horde, and then waltz in to clean up the winners, is ludicrous. There is no way that any invasion would succeed without both Alliance and Horde. If the Alliance held back, the trolls, tauren and belfs would be repelled and retreat to their cities, leaving Garrosh just as strong. Same if the Horde tried to sit by while the Alliance attacked. That was the whole point of Vol'jin needing the help of both sides to start his rebellion. Without both, the rebellion fails. And since both sides are committing to the Siege, both sides will take losses that could easily make continuing hostilites fatal to all involved.

I think Rades is right that we need to see Orgrimmar razed at the end of the expansion, and the surviving orcs scattered or at least refugees in TB. I think he is wrong that the Alliance needs to be in a position of dominance, though. They cannot press an advantage without either becoming the (genocidal) villains, or starting the all-out war that Jaina and Thrall spent so much time trying to avert. Which would also make them the bad guys. A balance of power, where the majority of the factions are at peace and the main focus is the tension between Humans and Forsaken, is the most logical result from my reading of the lore.