Fair warning, there are spoilers for content up to and including 8.2.5 in this blog.
One thing I’ve always tried to avoid getting involved in is the accusations that Blizzard Entertainment and/or the WoW dev team have a bias toward one or the other primary faction in World of Warcraft. It’s been harder to stay out of that highly charged fray, because I have my own bias. I main a draenei paladin, although I also do have a brace of Horde characters. It struck me with WoW Classic’s launch when I went to roll characters and was like… I don’t actually like any of the vanilla Horde races very much except Tauren. I think it’s mostly due to my own prejudices regarding good and evil characters in fiction stemming from the first time I read Tolkien when I was a child oh so many years ago. And yes, over the course of Warcraft (not just WoW), leaders or leading members of both primary factions have done some super terrible things. Arthas, Illidan, Gul’dan, Ner’zhul, Daelin Proudmoore, Garrosh Hellscream, Aedelas Blackmoore, the list goes on.
Blizzard created the world here, and they could have tried to straddle the clear fiction that they don’t favor one faction over the other. However, as I said before in my Legion retrospective and conjectures for Battle for Azeroth, and I feel it even more strongly now, Blizzard doesn’t really seem to care about the Alliance as a faction, certainly not enough to give them an active story with agency. True, the foundational story of the Warcraft universe comes from the original RTS where the Horde invades Azeroth, and the vanilla WoW login screen is the Dark Portal from Draenor looking into the green and lush lands of Azeroth, so it immediately adds the subliminal messaging that the player is a member of the Horde.
I wasn’t entirely correct about my conjectures in that previous post about what we’d see in Battle for Azeroth, but now that we’re a year into the expansion, it’s so blindingly obvious that Blizzard doesn’t see the Alliance as an active force in the overall Warcraft story. It doesn’t seem as if Blizz really cares about giving them and their players an even playing field, despite trying to incentivize the Alliance to use War Mode, as I wrote in this post about a max-level Horde quest plopped into the middle of a lowbie Alliance leveling zone.
Overall, I have to say I’m really disappointed with how the Alliance fared so far in this expansion. This feeling has been growing over time as the expansion has been rolled out. Some might say ‘but both factions got…’ regarding several things, but it’s not entirely true if you actually look beyond the surface. ‘Both factions lost a capital!’ Technically true, but the Horde lost the Undercity because Sylvanas ordered it Blighted, not because of anything the Alliance did. ‘Both factions lost a leader!’ One had a single glorious clutch play after being in the background for most of the entire game and didn’t even manage to die, the other had a thoughtful and deep story attached to his eventual death that threaded most of the expansion.
Let’s look at the factional leaders featured in cinematics:
- Anduin – Mild-mannered king who reluctantly engages in war and won’t do much to help the Night Elves after Sylvanas committed genocide against them
- Tyrande / Malfurion – Malfurion is seriously injured at Darkshore and Tyrande does the only truly active thing any leader in the Alliance does after the burning of Teldrassil, becomes the Night Warrior
- Velen – Was present more or less in the background early on and then is simply gone later
- Genn Greymane – Loses his home a second time with the burning of Teldrassil but straddles the Alliance’s passivity and the Night Elves’ rage until toward the end when cross-faction negotiations began
- Jaina Proudmoore – Reconciles with her mother after the player does all the heavy lifting and gets most of her family back
- Gelbin Mekkatorque – Mostly in the background doing a couple of cool things until he sacrifices himself during the battle of Dazar’alor, not dead, but effectively off-camera
- Alleria Windrunner – Nearly completely in the background if not for her ties to the Void
- Turalyon – In the background
- Sylvanas – Manipulates everyone and then peaces out after proclaiming the Horde is nothing
- Thrall – Looks like he just re-inherited the Horde?
- Baine Bloodhoof – Gets rescued from certain death for ‘betraying’ Sylvanas, possibly the next Warchief if Thrall refuses
- Varok Saurfang – Has a heroic death after an epic series of stories about his choices and decisions
- Lor’themar – Seen being loyal to Saurfang
- Jastor Gallywix – Discovered azerite and its uses, supported Sylvanas, unknown now, but he’ll be near the money
- Vol’jin – Off in the Shadowlands cos he’s still kinda dead, but he did some stuff first as Talanji’s advisor
- Princess (Queen…?) Talanji – Not on-camera since the death of her father
- Thelyssra – Seen being loyal to Saurfang
What about the cinematics as a whole over the course of the expansion? Most of them feature Horde-heavy stories, focusing on or reacting to Saurfang’s rebellion against Sylvanas. The Alliance doesn’t do much of anything other than show up and emote a couple of times, with the only actual choice or action being Anduin opening the cell door to let Saurfang leave the Stockades. Heck, even Jaina got her brother Derek back due to Baine Bloodhoof’s actions and not because of anything she did (and that nearly cost Baine his life).
As for the 8.2.5 brace of cinematics, they’re all about the final showdown between Saurfang and Sylvanas or reactions thereto. Other than Anduin’s role mentioning he set Saurfang on this path in the big CGI cinematic, lending Shalamayne to him, and then being the first to stoop to pick up his body, the Alliance almost might as well have not been there for all the agency they had. In all the shots where the two armies were visible, the angle made it so hard to see the Alliance side, or there was someone standing in front of them in either mid or foreground. Even though Sylvanas proclaimed that the Horde was nothing, in this cinematic, they and the definition of honor were everything.
Now let’s take a look at player agency. Twice in key points in the expansion, Horde players got to choose options during certain questlines which led to different experiences. In the first, players can choose whether or not they’ll strap on a Blight tank during the Battle for Lordaeron or just fight normally. In the second, players can either choose to be loyal to Sylvanas or Saurfang, and it changes certain questlines and cinematics later on and Sylvanas loyalists get an exclusive cinematic after the big CGI one.
Alliance players don’t get any choices during their BfA experience, it’s just one story with all the same quests and cinematics the whole way through, even though they’re also dealing with a potentially fracturing faction in the form of Tyrande becoming the Night Warrior and promising vengeance to the Horde for the decimation of her people at Teldrassil. The Alliance doesn’t even get exclusivity to the post-duel discussion back in Kul Tiras featuring Jaina, Calia Menethil, and Derek Proudmoore. Alliance players watch the interaction in normal landscape with all their fellow players standing around the NPCs. Horde players can eavesdrop and actually get a separate screenshottable cinematic.
Finally, let’s discuss fan favorites. This expansion introduced some new characters that the community fell in love with. We have two Alliance-side folks, one who married into the Alliance, and two internet sensations from the Horde. First there’s the gnome Sapphronetta Flivvers and her goblin husband Grizzek Fizzwrench. They are nominally affiliated with the Alliance because they refuse to make weapons of war for Gallywix, but both factions can interact with them on Mechagon. In the grand scope of things, they’re not that important to the story. Another Alliance character who became a fan favorite was young Taelia Fordragon, daughter of Bolvar and ward of Boralus harbormaster Sir Cyrus Crestfall. During most of the Alliance story, we didn’t know who she was until she revealed her father’s name, and even afterwards, they don’t show her surname in her nameplate. Also, while she’s not a new character, let’s not forget how Blizzard took the Warlords of Draenor fan favorite Yrel and turned her into a murderous religious zealot who was the plot excuse for the Mag’har Orcs joining the Horde.
In the original expansion CGI trailer, there was a young troll shaman named Zekhan, aka ‘Zappyboi’, and the memes flowed like crazy. Despite his being featured in the subsequent Old Soldiers cinematic, Blizzard had stated that the creation of those movies started so long ago that there was no way for them to have known how popular he’d be in the opening cinematic to be able to scramble fast enough to feature him in the second one. It was just a lucky coincidence. Finally, during the big CGI finale in 8.2.5, a new challenger entered the arena. The Dark Ranger herald who accompanied Sylvanas out of the gates of Orgrimmar and used her banner to tap the ground ‘tink tink’ has been promptly dubbed ‘Flaggygirl’ or ‘Bannerbae’ by the community. She doesn’t yet have an officially-revealed name, but she’s more popular than any of the Alliance characters in this comparison of new characters.
In all, between the Alliance constantly being reactive to Sylvanas/the Horde, most of the key cinematics focusing on or being entirely about the Horde, and giving Horde players far more agency than Alliance players, Blizzard is showing which of the two factions it favors and values more.
So, I suppose I should simply advise that if you want the best/more interesting/more active story in World of Warcraft (not to say the faction that tends to be more populous and wins more at PvP), roll Horde. As I’m Alliance main, I just kinda shrug and have begun to lose interest in the game, because they’re making the Alliance boring.
I feel bad about saying this, because I’m blessed to know some amazing developers at Blizzard, and they’ve created some epic work. I know there’s such a huge cast of characters to juggle, art to make movies to write, storyboard, etc., and they have to serve the overall narrative of the game as decided by folks higher up than they. I just wish the folks who made those top level decisions would at least try to create a narrative that was a bit less lopsided, y’know?