WoW Factor: Battle for Azeroth was a complete waste of time

    
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Actually call it a comeback.

Well, dear readers, I was totally wrong. All of you predicting that this expansion was a waste of time were right and I was wrong.

Long-time readers know that I put my predictions front and center and own them when they play out. If I’m right, I will point to being right, but just as important in my eyes is being willing to own a prediction in which you didn’t see something going a specific way and you were wrong. And when it comes to World of Warcraft, my predictions about Battle for Azeroth ultimately hinged on the idea that the game’s story wouldn’t be a complete waste of time.

Instead, the latest Q&A session contained the one answer that actually made me angry by saying that no, the game’s faction restrictions aren’t changing at all, and any hopes of things being slightly different were not going to be borne out. This means that yes, when combined with the upcoming level squish and such, this expansion was a complete waste of time for everyone involved. I predicted otherwise. So much for that.

Let’s make something clear: As much as I dislike the faction divide as it exists in the game due to its regressive and backward design, I don’t actually care if it goes away. That’s fine. Yes, it’s intensely silly that Star Wars: The Old Republic has at least made talking to the other faction possible since launch while WoW still requires you to buy an elixir in-game to make that possible, but while I will happily point out the fact that this is dumb (due to the fact that it’s dumb), it’s not one of the game’s more egregious design choices even in the arena of bad calls.

So I am, to some extent, glossing things over to say that I was angry about the lack of changes to factions during the Q&A panel. It’d be more accurate to say that I was angry because that’s what the entire thrust of the storytelling centered around.

You really shouldn't have.

I’m serious. The entire takeaway and point at the end of the war campaign hammers this point home over and over. We get repeated scenes insisting that your home isn’t Stormwind or Orgrimmar; it’s Azeroth. There’s the whole constant development between Saurfang and Anduin. There’s a big cutscene in which Thrall gets the swell of music as he explains that there could be peace now because we’re different now than the last time.

This isn’t reading between the lines; this is just reading the lines. “Something is different now,” the cast says. Except nothing is different, really. All that’s changed over the course of Battle for Azeroth is the number of locations you can visit and the number of living faction leaders.

I mean, this isn’t even the first time that we’ve literally had a bad Warchief taken down by a cooperative venture between the Alliance and the Horde. It’s literally the same plot we’ve already gone through. The only difference between this and Garrosh is what Sylvanas left to go do and whether or not she was jailed first. No change, no novelty, nothing. There’s no sense of Sylvanas slowly changing into a villain (remember, Garrosh changed over the course of three expansions to become a villain in Mists of Pandaria). Even if we’re told this ties back into something that happened around Cataclysm, it hasn’t been evident in her actions, which jumped from “she schemes” to “she commits genocide openly without any pretense about why” at the drop of a hat.

There’s nothing about what’s happening now that requires Battle for Azeroth. Remove Sargeras stabbing the planet and jump straight to Shadowlands, and the plot still lines up just fine. “Oh, Sylvanas needed to create more deaths.” The Burning Legion was invading; I’m pretty sure there were plenty of deaths during that particular occasion. Even if it’s not actually a retcon, it sure feels like one.

Since players noticed all this, characters in the story had to notice it, too, filling the story with meaningful sounds like “no, Azeroth is your home” over and over. But then nothing actually changes, which means that players rolling their eyes about it were right the first time.

It’s even worse when you consider the fact that literally every single expansion has featured at least one major story arc about putting aside factional differences and uniting to take down a common foe. For all this talk of the faction war being a pillar of the game, it really isn’t. It’s the justification for PvP and having a handful of different storylines in an expansion that largely follows the same beats every time. Remember how the Alliance and the Horde had one slightly different opening in Stormheim and then basically ceased being distinct entities for the remainder of the expansion?

Oh, and let’s not forget that the designers will happily knock away any and all other pillars the moment it feels momentarily convenient. So that isn’t even an authentic justification.

And if so, who answers?

I’ve already done the idea of having an alternate story play out here, so I’m not going to go through all of that over again. But the real problem here isn’t just the story being one we’ve already seen before or any of that. It isn’t even that the end of the story features both factions coming together for the umpteenth time. It’s that the story tries to get away from accusations that we’ve seen this before by assuring players that this time, it’ll be different.

And… that was a lie. It’s not different at all.

The weirdest part of all of this is that it’s actually not just reducing player agency but reducing the feeling that could actually be done by embracing a genuine change to the status quo. It’s always felt vaguely creepy that Blizzard has driven the idea of faction identity so hard for players, hammering on the notion that if, say, you like cow-people, you must also like brutal orcs, corpses, and periodic genocide. But if you actually remove that after 15 years?

Some players are going to refuse to play with players on the other faction. Some are going to be suspicious. Some are going to be welcoming and try to be peacemakers. Some aren’t going to care. And it’ll be widespread enough that you barely even need to touch on this tension in any sort of game-wide storyline, especially if you have this be a feature that unlocks only in the Shadowlands. Players will actually drive the story entirely by themselves.

At the end of the day, of course, Blizzard can do whatever it wants with the game’s mechanics. But by insisting that a story will be different while demonstrating that it’s exactly the same as it has always been, you throw away any pretense of authenticity. You really do double down on the idea that the story doesn’t matter at all, that what matters is entirely down to what the designers feel like doing and some story gets hand-waved to justify it later.

Much like credibility, that’s the sort of thing that’s way easier to lose than regain. And telling your most ardent fans that they’re stupid for investing in your story doesn’t seem like it’ll prompt more connection in the future.

So what’s wrong with not merging the factions? Nothing… aside from confirming that this expansion was, in fact, a complete waste of time. Sorry, people. I expected better.

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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NecrococoPlays

I can see where some people would consider it a waste, perhaps when evaluating the end product or outcome, but I really enjoyed BfA. I left WoW years ago because I was bored with it and felt other titles were doing things that were more exciting. Coming back to BfA and playing through the Alliance storyline was really enjoyable for me. And I’m at the point in my gaming “life” that enjoyment is really what matters to me – not that levels are going to get squished or that factions are disappearing or that I’ll need to level a new gear set. Having been in the realm of almost strictly horizontal progression, it’s kind of refreshing to have again. I like that they’re continuing to reiterate on different means of progression too.

And honestly, there are so many faction die-hards that build part of their identity on their allegiance that removing factions would have been a fucking nightmare with the WoW community.

Yes, our home is Azeroth, not horde or alliance – but that doesn’t mean factions must go away. Much like our home is Earth, not just the US or EU. We can work together while still retaining our national identities. We can recognize that our prior conflicts were stupid and join forces when needed, that doesn’t mean we must merge into one. True, you can actually visit the EU, but I think the point is that this marks a period in which the ongoing conflict between factions for the sake of conflict is no longer a narrative priority. For now. Until some other asshole takes over one of the factions.

Does that make the journey a waste? I guess it depends on why you play.

the fact that literally every single expansion has featured at least one major story arc about putting aside factional differences and uniting to take down a common foe.

True. Which is why expecting something else is a bit foolish, no? Seems a bit irrational to get angry over this. IME, communities are wildly change averse, so I don’t know why Blizzard would change something to fundamental to the game over the last 15 years.

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glenn woodcock

Not surprised one bit . If the changes Elliot wanted to the faction system had become a reality the game might as well have called itself World of Peacecraft . The minute peace erupts between the Horde and Alliance that is game over , WoW has reached its conclusion and they might as well start thinking about a sequel .

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Nathan Aldana

*eyeroll*

yes, because the thing i care more about than anything in warcraft is definitely whether the green men or the white european men win a meaningless , temporary victory in a ever-so meaningless endless pixel-war

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Louie

“WoW has reached its conclusion and they might as well start thinking about a sequel”

This but unironically

Covynant001
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Covynant001

Huh, people pay attention to the story in a MMORPG….who knew?

But hey, playing WOW has always been pretty much a pointless waste of time, just how things work in a themepark.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah, but not to this point. If anything, WoW always had interesting lore ( bad sure, but interesting ), and this specific problem kills even that.

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Dobablo

MMOs cannot tell nuanced stories because a handful of characters gets 2 lines of progress each month. There is no room for them to do pacing or depth.
I suspect WoW is too ambitious. They try to give a deep story with complex motivations but the format shrinks each chapter into a single line of discordant gibberish. For MMOs to work the story has to be kept simple and clear-cut.

The limited pipeline for story turns WoW into a bad whodunnit. We are asked to play through the story with limited understanding and have to make up our own reasons. Once everything is finished the detective will sit us down, explain the real story and motivations and why we were wrong to make the assumptions we were guided into making.

Lighthope
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Lighthope

Sorry, people. I expected better.

If you expected better than you haven’t been playing WoW for long.

The faction divide wasn’t going anywhere and the only reason you’re disappointed is because you wanted it to and didn’t get it.

That’s okay, but that’s a “you” thing, not a “WoW” thing.

BfA failed story-wise because there was no faction fighting. Aside from a few scenarios, Ally and Horde spent the vast majority of time avoiding each other. So no one was invested in the conflict.

I’d love to go make life hard for the Horde. But the game narrative didn’t let me. No towers to control, no objectives to capture. Just world PvP, and if you weren’t into PvP, you were out of luck. No Battle against the opposite faction for you.

Frankly, I’m sick of all the teaparties Ally and Horde have. Either kill each other or make peace. But this continual temp-alliances are getting tiring.

I’d love to have a real faction war. We didn’t get it in BfA.

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Bruno Brito

BfA failed story-wise because there was no faction fighting.

We didn’t play the same game then, because ever since Vanilla, we had faction fightnings and they were shit.

The faction divide wasn’t going anywhere and the only reason you’re disappointed is because you wanted it to and didn’t get it.

That’s okay, but that’s a “you” thing, not a “WoW” thing.

Now i’m sure we didn’t play the same game. Have you played WoW? The entire prospect of the damn game is that ever since Vanilla, the leaders of the factions are realizing this war is setting them up for failure. They end up empathizing with the enemy several times because they get together to destroy the big baddie of the xpac, and then, they go back to waste valuable resources into war. Have you read the comics? If Garona didn’t attack Varian, him and Thrall would have one of the best deals in Azeroth history: Stormwind would negotiate bundles of wood for Orgrimmar, since Durotar is basically dust and rocks, and Orgrimmar would trade for pelts and skins of huge animais, like Kodos and Thunder Lizards.

The faction wars in WoW were always due to a stupid incident, and every leader, except Garrosh and Sylvanas were wise enough to see that staying at war was just valuable resources being used in a completely idiotic way.

Every xpac, we got the factions united. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Even Vanilla.

Even the lore doesn’t support the faction war anymore. Hell, the fucking mechanics of the game doesn’t. 2-way faction was always shit and fucked WoW’s pvp balance. 80% of the arena players on WoW were Humans because of Every Man for Himself, which freed a trinket slot for a dps trinket ( arena is about burst ). Before Wrath, they were Orcs because Hardiness and Bloodfury ( again, burst ).

The only reason factions exist is to improve World PvP. Except that Blizzard never actually worked on that, so that point is moot.

You faction-wars loyalists need to open your eyes and realize what game we are actually playing.

Yangers
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Yangers

Every expansion is a complete waste of time once the next xpac comes out.

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Bruno Brito

True, but at least the lore wasn’t. Now not even that.

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NecrococoPlays

I still enjoy the lore. But most of the good stuff existed outside of the game’s time period for me.

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styopa

Like a banal sitcom, everything starts basically at the same state it ends at, no real progression or change.

Makes for easy syndication, not so great in an mmo.

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Skoryy

I am close to betting real American dollars that Sylvanas somehow escapes at the end of Shadowlands. I’m convinced Blizz is just that lazy when it comes to lore that they’ll just make her into a pointy eared Skeketor for the heroes to foil.

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Utakata

…I’m hope she comes back as a little kid, so you can raise in your dojo Blade & Soul style. o.O

Alyn
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Alyn

comment image

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Utakata

Mr. Schlag posted me a gif like that once. O.o

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NecrococoPlays

I’m sure she’ll have been working for our best interests all along, despite her unconventional methods. And the horde will welcome her back because she is their dark lady.

If I thought Blizzard were capable of wild twists and turns, or had narrative agency like some other titles, I’d wonder if they were keeping some sort of “union” of factions under wraps as a major reveal… but that doesn’t seem to be their syle.

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Ben Stone

The point of BFA was to set up Shadowlands. Lots of death to trigger a visit to the afterlife.

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Bruno Brito

Yet, they didn’t even think about how the death mechanic works on the Shadowlands, so, they just painted it.

It’s funny that people actively think that Blizzard is thinking everything so forward, when their story clearly shows they’re holding everything with spit and garbage essays.

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Nathan Aldana

via retconning into existence a whole new planar cosmology never before touched on

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Neurotic

I always thought the “cow people” being part of the Horde was hugely egregious anyway, beyond their initial ‘Oh okay, we’ll help you poor oppressed orcs in your struggle against the horrible hoomans’. Talk about not changing over time!

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Aiun Tanks

I dunno. How fast does game-time move compared to real-time?

You see it enough in real life: when one nation invades the ancestral homeland of another and claims it as their own, it only takes one generation for there now to be a group of grown adults who can sincerely claim to have lived in that place for the entire lives and known nothing else, and they call this place ‘their home’ that they will fight for, to the last. Job done, invading nation. You have a ‘claim’.

To some young Tauren today, the Horde is likely all they’ve ever known, and they’ve spent their lives with the reality that the Alliance races of Azeroth have been determinedly killing their people for as long as they can remember.

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Neurotic

That is an excellent point, well made. I hadn’t thought of it from a generational point of view — at all. You know, since 2005 when I started playing, I’ve had two kids myself, who are 12 and 10 now, and they play WoW sometimes too. So what about, as you say, in-game? Ha! That’s kind of a mind-blower! :D

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NecrococoPlays

I thought it was odd for the blood elves and trolls to be in a faction together too. But I figure the Horde needed a “pretty” race of their own.