WoW Factor: Pulling the trigger on cross-faction play (in the weakest way possible)

    
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Looking closer.

At long last, World of Warcraft is finally pulling the plug on one of the dumbest system decisions that was ever made for the game in the case of its rigid and unyielding faction divide. Well… partly, anyhow. The faction divide is still there, as cross-faction guilds still aren’t a thing, but you can at least join a group with people of the opposite faction and do things together because if the developers aren’t being obstinate and obstructionist it just doesn’t feel like WoW, does it?

Sure, it comes after this should have happened at least two or three relevant points in the storyline, but better late and half-baked than never, right?

I have a lot of snark about this particular slow roll, but it’s important to state up front that this is clearly the right decision for the game and for players. The only wrong decisions are tied to it taking this long and being done in such a tepid, half-baked fashion. And to explain that, we really need to talk about how the faction divide has never made much sense, even from the initial launch of the game.

Here’s the thing: Warcraft as a franchise stopped being about Orcs vs. Humans as soon as Warcraft III came into being. The entire climax of that game was about the Alliance and the Horde putting aside their enmity and working together, recognizing the ways that both sides were manipulated and had done bad things, and acknowledging that the best leaders were those capable of seeing past poor choices and working together. This isn’t subtext; it’s just overt text of the game. Trying to follow that up with a game in which the Horde and Alliance are back at one another’s throats was always asinine.

It gets even dumber when you get into the idea of conflict because it essentially reduces half of the game’s population into a non-entity. Which is more emotionally motivating: Facing off against a Tauren you never interacted with in a battleground beyond as an opponent, or facing off against a Tauren you know and recognize and have partied with and laughed with and regard as a friend? Which creates more interesting emotional moments?

But even once you move on beyond launch, if you accept that for whatever reason this is the state we’re starting off at, fine. The faction war still doesn’t make sense because we’ve literally already had the logical ending point at Mists of Pandaria, and then when we just were forced to pretend that didn’t happen, it was again explicit text at the end of Battle for Azeroth. This is disregarding the fact that every single expansion has featured Alliance and Horde teaming up to fight some greater threat at least once, sometimes more often than even that.

Seriously, go back and check. This is what happens every time.

Should or shouldn't?

In other words, if you’re getting bent out of shape at this point about the change removing faction identity or removing the nature of the game, I’m sorry, but you’re an absolute clownbird and should not be listened to. (Also, I’m not sorry.) This has been a dumb vestigial idea for much longer than it’s been vital or relevant to the game. The time to pull this trigger was ages ago. Now it’s just an overdue change that, at best, should be greeted with a sigh and a muttered “finally” under your breath.

Unfortunately, this is not helped by the fact that the implementation of this cross-faction play is being dealt with in the most insipidly half-hearted way possible.

Let’s give credit where it’s due, first and foremost. As I’ve already made clear, this is a good change for the game, and I do actually respect that Hazzikostas has the right idea with this being a one-way street. While it seems immediately obvious that we should be walking further along the street than this early implementation is doing – and the cynical part of me notes that when that inevitably happens, Blizzard can frame it as “see, we listened!” by ignoring that feedback now – he’s entirely right in saying that this is not something that can be rolled back. Each step is irrevocable.

However, the actual implementation here leaves a lot to be desired. Essentially, the effort seems to be to keep this as marginal as possible – only in pre-made groups, only without using automatic group matching, only in instanced areas instead of out in the wider world. It’s honestly kind of silly, almost reading as if the developers know this change needs to be made but are trying to get away without really making it for as long as possible.

It’s also possible that some of this comes down to technical limitations, but I tend to doubt that’s an overwhelming element of this particular decision tree. To be fair, I do believe that the game has been structured to regard the faction split as inviolable; I just also believe that if the work is already being done to overcome those technical limitations, multi-faction guilds or implementing some kind of cross-faction group finder toggle would not be that much more technically challenging.

Why.

That having been said, I also don’t think this is a final limitation for a moment. Once that bell is rung, it’ll be impossible to miss the momentum or requests being pushed for it, and it’s only going to intensify over time; you can’t let people group across factions without people asking why these other faction restrictions exist as an unnecessary vestige. And considering the general attitude of the WoW development team, I’d say it’s just a matter of time until those restrictions get whittled away too. This is a restriction now.

Of course, that’s also why I think that people should in no way comport themselves as being satisfied with this change and the half-assed way it’s being implemented. If you’re part of the majority playerbase that has been pushing for this to be a thing for ages, now isn’t the time to fall silent because you’re getting some of what you wanted; no, it’s time to be louder about removing the unnecessary restrictions that this change is still being saddled with. Let us speak other languages. Let us communicate freely. Let us party up in the open world. The winds are at your back; keep pushing.

Again, these are good changes. They’re several days late and several dollars short, but they are still good changes. But at this point, it’s not enough to make half a change and act like this should bring everyone back to WoW’s embrace; it’s time to keep pushing and keep agitating. With enough pressure, it’s possible the launch version will look less restrictive than this to begin with.

Ultimately, I’m a little underwhelmed by the degree to which this is pulling the trigger; it’s some forward motion, but ultimately not nearly as much as you would expect given the scale of the problems WoW is facing at the moment. At the same time, though, it’s clear that the tide is shifting about these particular archaic bits of design, and that might be the first indication of a larger sea change in the works for 10.0 and beyond.

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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