WoW Factor: Why are we going back to factional squabbles after the end of Antorus?

Antorus is out now, and if you want to see the cinematic that ends the very long-running story about the Burning Legion and Sargeras, well, that’s easy to do. It’s kind of spoiler-filled, though, so I’m not going to be talking about it here in any detail beyond mentioning that Azeroth does not exactly end things without a major impact. And needless to say, people have already started asking “why is it that World of Warcraft’s next expansion is going back to factional squabbles when this just happened?”

It’s a question with lots of good answers. So I want to dive into exactly those. In fact, you can neatly divide the answers up into three categories: The anthropic principle, real-life parallels, and the change of flavors. And it’s not that one or the other is the “real” answer or the “right” one; it’s that all three of them combine perfectly to make factional squabbles a perfectly reasonable next destination after the cosmic invasion of the last expansion.

Real-life parallels

Genn really, really hates the Horde.When did the Cold War start? Around 1947, with the first real armed conflicts starting up in 1949 or so. That’s a four-year turnaround between “allies” and “enemies.” And that was when we were just dealing with an abhorrent philosophy coupled with unchecked aggression as an enemy, not a cosmic horror bent on destroying the planet.

The reality is that the Alliance and Horde have a lot of reasons to dislike one another. Some of them work better than others, but at the end of the day, there’s no part of the Horde that hasn’t been victimized by some of the Alliance, and vice versa. The Warchief of the Horde literally watched her one chance at continuing her people’s society get demolished by an Alliance general, and said general watched his own nation fall due to that Warchief’s unchecked aggression. Hatred, resentment, and rage simmer beneath the surface for both sides.

Yes, both factions have worked together for the greater good frequently. But let’s not forget that the reality is that the Horde hasn’t ever had time to recover from a civil war that the Alliance helped stoke; both of them have been chasing one world-ending crisis after the other ever since. To the Horde, the Alliance has now led to the fall of two separate Warchiefs, assaulted a third, and then brought its finest soldiers to an alien world replete with Alliance forces; to the Alliance, the Horde not only abandoned them on the Broken Shore, they seem to have then allied with all of the political forces on the Broken Isles that both factions tried to liberate.

There’s a definite mark on the world after the end of the conflict on Argus, but that mark also means the conflict is over. What’s left? There’s no more Iron Horde, no more Deathwing, no more Legion or Scourge threat. Years of crisis after crisis, and both factions have reason to feel like the other side just kept making things worse in the midst of other troubles.

Really, it’s astonishing that both sides have managed to repeatedly work together when necessary, not that they’re happy to start bickering again. It’s much easier to understand the stakes when they’re immediate and personal, and the roots of the Horde-Alliance conflict are just that. There’s nothing cosmic there, just who gets to live where and who gets what resources.

Changing flavors

It can't be the same all the time.Let’s assume, for a moment, that the map of World of Warcraft was decided upon long ago and hasn’t been changed multiple times. (This is demonstrably not true, but bear with me.) If this is the case, why did we go to Outland and then go to Northrend? For that matter, why didn’t we go to the Broken Isles before Northrend, since it’s on the way? Or Kul Tiras and Zandalar much earlier, such as around the time of the Cataclysm when everything was in upheaval?

Yes, some of the answer is “because the map is being made as the game expands.” But there’s a reason why the map keeps changing, and that’s the reason why we went from the etherial weird fantasy of The Burning Crusade to the grim rivets of Wrath of the Lich King. Or from the Eastern-themed Pandaria to the intentionally savage Draenor.

In real life, you don’t have cultures and places divided from neighbors. But for expansions like this, it’s important to have a distinct and different feel for each new destination. Not just for armor sets and the like, no, that’s just a symptom; what’s really important is feeling like each new destination feels new, different, and distinct. You aren’t just continuing in cosmic locales, you’re coming back home to a grounded place.

That extends in all directions, too. Warlords of Draenor was an awful expansion, but it told different sorts of stories from Pandaria, moving from factions and conflicts in stasis to an active adventure. Then we moved on to the Broken Isles and explored places of power, old problems we long had thought were buried, all ringed by burning green flame and the sheer overwhelming might of enemies. Each place, each story, each expansion feels different.

Making the next expansion “and now we go kill all the Old Gods” would feel like more of the same of Legion. No, it wouldn’t have the same aesthetics, but it would feel like the focus was on things that hadn’t actually changed; we’re still fighting against big cosmic forces. Having a different flavor is important for feeling like things are actually different.

For that matter, it allows seeding of the conflict to come. Legion in particular has done a good job of seeding that renewed factional conflict in the background all through the expansion, never as a focus but always present. It’s also been playing up the tragic side by showing that the various classes usually have more in common, that fundamentally all Paladins are part of the same group. But even that isn’t enough to actually keep the groups together.

Anthropic principle

The story must be the story.Last but not least, we have the anthropic principle, and this is one of those things that seems obvious when you hear it but also is easy to forget. In simplest terms, the anthropic principle in fiction is the idea that in order to have a story, you need to have the elements of a story.

What does that mean? It means that in order to have a mystery story, you have to have a crime of some sort and someone trying to figure out what happened. In a superhero story, you have human beings capable of doing things beyond the limits of normal human beings and using that to fight threats beyond the normal caliber of what police deal with. And in a game with a factional conflict, you need to have at least two factions in conflict with one another.

The split between Horde and Alliance is hard-coded into the game, it’s been shot through every side of the game’s systems since launch. This is part of the game, full stop. That means that it also needs to be something with actual lore and gameplay to support it.

You can dislike the factional conflict, and I myself have some issues with how it’s been consistently implemented and zig-zagged multiple times. I get that. On the face of it, there’s a certain degree of weirdness at having a conflict that keeps going away sometimes but then getting dragged back into the limelight every so often. But the fact that it’s not always at the forefront of every single interaction doesn’t mean that it just goes away.

It’s right in the premise of the game. Heroes of the Alliance and the Horde fighting for the glory of their factions and against the threats to the world. In order to have the story, you need the elements of the story; in order to have a factional conflict, you need to have two factions, and you need them to be at odds, and while that conflict can simmer down it can’t ever actually be resolved.

Heck, the largely excellent post-Chaos Transformers comics from IDW specifically take place in the aftermath of the Autobot-Decepticon war, when theoretically factions are over and done with. And if you read the comic you see that factions still matter, that aspects of the conflict still flare right back up, and the official “war is over, we’re all on the same side” line doesn’t really stick over the long term.

So yes. After Antorus, we’re fighting amongst ourselves. And there are lots of good reasons for why, even taking into account that ending.

Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments down below, or you can mail it along to eliot@massivelyop.com. And let’s remember, of the game’s expansions, we’ve had at least one great one without a clear and obvious enemy to fight from the start and two awful ones that gave us straightforward, strong enemies that were separate from factional conflicts. So it’s a bit early to judge on that basis.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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23 Comments on "WoW Factor: Why are we going back to factional squabbles after the end of Antorus?"

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Kevin Cowart

The spectacle creep in WoW reached its up limits, we literally saved God at the end of Antorus.

Blizzard obviously has to return the narrative to status quo if they want to keep the game going and make any coherent sense.

As far as the faction conflict, considering that “The Wound” has created the equivalent of a new Well of Eternity, the rush of old enemies to secure power is a foregone conclusion. How could any responsible leader allow their enemies to obtain such an immeasurable power? It would be the highest ethical error to allow your people to become killed or enslaved because they want peace.

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Cosmic Cleric

Or maybe, with a well that large, they could share it?

At some point, even Orcs have to be weary of war and what it does to their society and lands/world.

There’s such a thing as being ‘spent’, and needing down time.

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Necromonger

Also reading some comments about WoW not having any direction or lore left is wrong….

Sargeras like i already mentioned was affraid of the Void, so affraid he wanted to reset the universe and cleanse all life it had.

If the most powerfull titan has such fear of this entity to betray his brothers and sisters then you can bet that the Void is the next evil on the menu.

Our Titan Soul on Azeroth might get corrupted, hell it might even be that we need to leave Azeroth behind if this event occurs.

You guys should dig a little more into the lore of WoW i kid you not when i say that the power of the Titans are no match for the Void Gods who on their own also have their own agenda.

This war between the Horde and the Alliance might be a short one, with if the Void finds a way to corrupt our titan soul and find a way to manifest itself into the fysical world.

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Necromonger

Seems we finaly get back to the core of the game.

War between Alliance and the Horde and for me that certainly is worth it.

I just hope pvp will not be a one shot festival and that pvp will become as good as it gets.

And finaly for the PVE players they can just walk into Ogri / Stormwind and set PVP off no matter their server wich for them must be a relief :)

Also the old gods and the Void are on the agenda wich for me personaly is more intersting then the Burning Legion \o/

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Dreema

The whole factions squabbles thing just bored me to tears. The Alliance and the Horde have been warring for years now without any kind of resolution ever coming about, yet they always end up putting aside their differences and joining forces to fight the Next Big Bad Evil, and as soon as it’s defeated they’re back to their squabbling again. It seems more like something Blizzard fall back on when they run out of ideas than an actual progression of the overall story.

Aside from anything, we know that no one side is going to win in BfA. The Alliance won’t wipe out the Horde and the Horde won’t wipe out the Alliance. Come the next expansion, we’ll all be working side by side to fight off the Next Big Bad Evil and the millions who’ve died in our squabbling will be conveniently overlooked.

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Utakata

This Gnome will be going into the next expansion with the idea of making One Azeroth. And ending the warring nations once and for all, by placing them under a single banner, one system of justice and good governance…

“But this expansion is about bringing war back into World of WarCraft, Uta…”

Screw Blizzard! No seriously…when the developers insist on a direction of the that doesn’t jive with my pigtails, I make it the tradition of flipping them the bird. When they tell me I have to focus on a single character, I roll an army alts. When they tell me I have to raid or die, I progress my characters through dungeons and questing. And when they tell me to war against the other faction, I’ll with bring peace and harmony instead.

For One Azeroth! /flexes pigtails <3

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Fluffy Magical Unicorn

Damn it, Utakata. You almost make me want to play WoW again. I

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Bryan Correll

Gotta squabble with somebody.

Theryl
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Theryl

We have always been at war with EastAsia the Horde

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I’m very disinterested in fractional conflict. While I really like Blizzard’s cinematics, I usually find their stories overblown, needless soap opera in-game. What another betrayal? Another backstabbing, one for me twist? Another unsurprising surprising villain?

However, the notion that you can’t have story without a mcguffin is pretty much true. Iconic director John Ford is famously supposed to have said, “Then there would be no movie,” when asked why the Indians didn’t just kill the horses in the equally-famous chase in Stagecoach.

And that’s all you really need to know about why we are back to factional conflict in WoW.

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Zora

The cold war was a armed truce following a war that exhausted all, whereas here we are seeing WW3 escalate immediately following the last two, without even the time to recover for any side.

It makes no sense even in the context of the game, which itself starts in the aftermath of the previous invasion of the legion, following several years of recovering and an uneasy truce…the drums of war thunders once again, the narrator told us in the intro.

And after major escalating catastrophes and a civil war in between and not a moment to recover, I feel it’s more a question of “who is there left to fight these wars?” because between all those who died in years of conflict and those who would be too exhausted to keep fighting, it’s quite the mystery that anyone in either faction other than 10 years olds can pick up a weapon or prove willing to follow a leader pushing for more -open- all-out war. Wars are attrition and at some point sides who cannot defeat each other call for treaties. It just beggars belief, even in a boisterous testosterone-ridden universe such as that of warcraft.

I am all out for head canon and finding reasons to rationalize what happens next, to justify creative bankruptcy, for my own sake of avid roleplayer. But I stop short of any resolution that suggests anyone on azeroth has a killswitch implanted in their brain with the war-peace remote sitting in the hands of the two faction leaders at any time.

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Bannex

Curious, was the one great one MoP and the two awful ones cata and WoD?

As far as factional conflict is concerned, I agree with some below that it’s tired and uninteresting. However, is it tired and meaningless because of the way it’s been handled or because the 2 faction thing is old?

Furthermore, what if there is no big n bad at the end and they choose 2 final expac bosses (sylvanas for the alliance and golden boy for the horde)? They could drive a massive factional wedge into the pvers by making the story faction driven.

I think if history tells us anything, the expac will simply be more wow, very playable and much maligned after about a month regardless of the setting.

Celestia
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Celestia

The core of dramatic action is conflict.

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Cosmic Cleric

Including the building up to it.

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David Goodman

My issue with the faction conflict is purely mechanical: In a game with two playable factions at conflict / war with each other, neither side is ever going to “win”

Because we know 100% sure that the Horde is not going to destroy the Alliance, and the Alliance is never going to destroy the Horde, it makes the idea of a faction conflict absurd because it’s impossible to believe and be immersed in.

Maybe it’s just me, but that’s how I feel about it. It can be “core” to the game story all it wants, but the second they made an MMO based on that story, an ongoing never-ending war – for the last 13 years – just seems painfully forced. Another year, another Villain Ball. Another forced “betrayal” (the idea that the Alliance doesn’t know EXACTLY why the Horde pulled out of the Broken Shore is idiotic. Even in Azeroth there are cross-faction organizations who could have slipped them a note that are taken seriously, such as the Cenarion Circle for freakin’ one.)

And at this point, 13 years of MMO, the “war” between the Alliance and Horde is NOT the defining feature of the world’s overall story – it’s the never-ending war with a seemingly limitless number of external, nearly-all-powerful world-ending disasters and monsters.

But they’re running out of monsters in the lore for us to face — we’re burning through them too quick. Gotta do something to extend the story out enough for them to create more and make them compelling. I see BfA as an interlude.

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Necromonger

We dont know what will happen that sets off a full scale war.

We know Azeroths Titan Soul might get corrupted by the void, that in silithus Sargeras sword might have awoken the old gods linked to the void lords and gods.

If anything Sargeras created the Burning Legion as he was terrified for the Void and what it could do and thus wanted to wipe out all life before the Void got a hold in the universe.

The world tree will be set on fire, Sauron and Sylvanas are watching it in the distance with a death elf lying on her feet with arrows in her back.

War is comming and i like it :)

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mysecretid

For whatever it’s worth, David, I agree with you on all points.

For all that I have come to enjoy World of Warcraft recently, Blizzard does seem to have this strange indecision concerning how they want players to regard their story content.

At times, it seems like they very much want the players to engage with the story, and immerse in the “macro plots” of the expansions, and yet, when they “hand-wave” highly implausible plot McGuffins like the (non-) betrayal of the Horde as an excuse for a return to war, it seems like they’re basically saying “Oh, it’s only a game — just go with it, okay?”

Immersive or casual — either way can work for storytelling — but constantly switching back and forth between the two styles tends to undercut the effectiveness of each.

Sometimes I wonder if WoW could benefit from a permanent all-NPC third faction?

This bunch could be the conduit for many of the Azeroth-shaking mega-events going forward, and could also give both the Horde and Alliance players a “second front” enemy.

I’m not suggesting that the original two factions would kiss and make up and get engaged — no doubt their semi-cold war could continue indefinitely, but a third faction would perhaps make this odd conflict less universal (all-on versus all-off).

Some players would favor the traditional conflict, which could continue to flare up in certain regions of the game, while others would see the new “third faction” as a more pressing threat, and focus their attentions and animosity there.

I suppose the biggest problem for Blizzard would be that no matter how villainously horrible they made the evils of the new NPC third faction, the company would be constatntly subjected to calls of “when will the third faction become playable???” no matter how thoroughly and unrepentantly repulsive the new enemies were made out to be.

So, I know it won’t happen. I’m just saying that a constant NPC evil faction presence in Azeroth might be one means of breaking the increasingly difficult-to-rationalize cycle of conflict and co-operation which currently plagues the Alliance and Horde factions on Azeroth — while also allowing for “cosmic conflict” mega-event expansions to continue to appear ever X years, as needed.

Apologies for the length of this post,

Cheers,

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Danny Smith

Because they have nothing left and need time to think up an entire new series of storyhooks or risk pulling it out their ass each time?

Zeph
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Zeph

The Horde vs. Alliance dynamic for most of WoW’s history has been kind of a disappointing afterthought. BfA will obviously shift focus over time to a Big Bad, but in the meantime I’m encouraged that Blizzard is taking it seriously for at least one expansion. Warfronts sound pretty awesome and the PvP mode stuff they’re talking about are equally exciting to me. That they’re backing up the “War” in Warcraft with some actual story focus is super refreshing and has me interested in the game again.

Dantos
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Dantos

They keep fighting because there is no reason for them to really stop, they both seem to have infinite resources and soldiers that they can just send off to one world ending threat after the next, and have plenty more to send against each other, they have never really needed a period of peace to rebuild/repopulate. Neither of them have reached a point of, we just cant fight anymore, because the nature of it being a dual faction game wouldnt allow it, there CANT be a winner or loser.

Outside of the ‘adventurers’ saying enough of this crap, we’re forming our own Adventurer’s Guild faction to govern the relationship between the horde and alliance, they’re just gonna fight because they can and they hate each other.

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Ben Stone

The faction conflict was a big driver in why I was interested in WoW to begin with. I actually hated all the ‘lets be friends and save the world’ story that they concocted between WOTLK and now, I get it, but it just never sat well with the constant PvP on my server. We were meant to believe we were putting aside our differences, meanwhile I was murdering every Alliance in sight.

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