Factionally Imbalanced

I typically feel assuaged when reading the Dev Watercoolers, because they represent both that players have a legitimate grievance, and that the designers are on the case. With the latest Dev Watercooler entitled Faction Favoritism though, not only am I appalled by the lack of understanding, but I am beginning to lose faith in Blizzard’s ability to craft narratives worth experiencing.

So when it comes to the game’s ongoing story developments, it’s no surprise that Alliance and Horde fans are “keeping score.” Maps and charts of territory gained and lost started showing up around the time the Cataclysm shook the world to its foundations. Southshore plagued? Taurajo burned? Oh no they didn’t!

Implicit amidst most of the grumbling from either side is the assumption that Blizzard should be fairly treating both factions. Then there’s the more explicit assumption: if one faction is losing ground, then Blizzard must be biased.

Are we?

What is this I don’t even

Dave “Fargo” Kosak painfully goes on to talk about how it is precisely because of unfairness that “Hero Factories” get built. In the process of the explanation, it fully dawned on me how much Blizzard has no goddamn idea what the problem even is.

The Widening Narrative Gap

Claims about faction favoritism have never been (or should not have ever been) about the lack of tit-for-tat in territory gains/losses. Perfectly even exchanges are formulaic, boring, and have no place in stories worth experiencing. For Blizzard to address the fact that Horde gained more territory than Alliance in Cataclysm – or even to try and justify it with events that took place in the RTS games – is to miss the point entirely.

The fundamental issue vis-a-vis Horde bias is that Horde have the lion’s share of inter-faction narrative drama. Sylvannas is pulling a Lich King, the Tauren are reeling from the inadvertent loss of their beloved leader in a duel, there is deep divisions amongst the trolls, the orcs are going xenophobic, and the goblin starting experience cements the fact that your own faction leader betrayed you for profit. Meanwhile… what? Malfurion woke up, Audiun grew up, Gnomergan is still irradiated, Magni turned to diamond, and Prophet Velan has neither made any prophecies nor repaired the Naaru ship since it crash landed “two months ago.”

If the two factions represented two different creative writing papers for English 101, which would receive the higher grade? Where is the conflict between gnomes, dwarves, elves, humans, and draenei? Why aren’t the Night Elves complaining about humans cutting down trees to fuel war machines? Or Draenei starting to distrust the growing number of Alliance warlocks? Perhaps the new dwarven council decides it would be better to go isolationist, especially after a particularly disastrous gnome experiment caves-in part of Ironforge?

Bottom line: the Horde interaction is multifaceted with many conflicting goals and desires among the groups. Alliance interaction is one-dimensional, for basically no reason. Horde has Wheel of Time meets Dune whereas Alliance has goddamn Jack and Jill meets See Spot Run.

And so when Fargo says:

In the midst of this crisis, the Alliance is going to need to pull together like never before. At the BlizzCon lore panel we promised that key Alliance characters are going to get more time in the spotlight throughout Mists and the subsequent patches, and I wanted to reiterate that here. They’re going to come out of this stronger than ever, but the road ahead won’t be easy.

…I die a little on the inside. Alliance “pulling together” presumes a division that doesn’t exist, leaving the implication that Alliance will simply see some territory gains and some more Jaina/Varian screen-time. Wrathgate was the closest the Alliance has ever come in actually being angry with each other, and it was simply between Varian and Jaina, the latter of which has never been presented as even being part of the Alliance in any meaningful way.

All the while Horde will continue getting all the interesting narrative, what with Garrosh’s overreach, the growing problem with Silvannis’ blatant disregard for the use of plague and desecration of the dead, and the brilliantly implicit tension from the widening gulf between the Horde that Tauren and the Trolls pledged to so many years ago and the monster it has become. If Baine Bloodhoof doesn’t liken Garrosh’s militaristic Horde with the violent centaurs that Thrall helped Cairen defeat so many years prior, Blizzard will have left the ripest, low-hanging fruit in the history of narrative fiction to wither on the tree.

I wish I could say I have faith in Blizzard’s ability to do a narrative course correction. And I would… if I thought they understood why the present heading was wrong in the first place. Instead, the best any Alliance player can hope out of the lore team is summed up in the Alliance battlecry:

We’ll Keep Trying!

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Posted on December 1, 2011, in Commentary, WoW and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head; the concern from Alliance players is not that they are losing territory in the actual world, but that their characters are uninteresting or haven’t developed.

    The Gnomes had the potential for growth as a race with retaking Gnomeregan…that failed and they’ve fallen by the wayside.

    The Draenei haven’t done anything of note since TBC and even then Valen’s “I’m here fixing ur sunwell because Naru.” felt shallow (and was seen by relatively few players).

    The Humans…well Varian has the character of a potted plant and Jaina lost her confidence now she cries about the spilling of milk. In The Shattering the only character to actually show some growth was Anduin.

    The Worgen were awesome, but their development abruptly stops once you leave Gilnaes which is now a ghost town (which is really sad since I loved it). You have to play a new Forsaken to actually see the aftermath.

    The Night Elves…well Malfurion keeps showing up to show off how awesome he is and Tyrande has gone from “Badass who kicks ass and takes names from the back of a cat” to “Nooo Eee-lee-daaan, don’t do it! Oh snap I am out of arrows!” (Seriously, play the new heroics just for her new voice actor, she sounds like Naytiri from Avatar).

    The closest the Alliance has to internal conflict and interesting politics is the Dwarves. The Twilight highlands unification of the Wildhammer was cool and all, but Blizz has set up some awesome potential intrigue with the whole 3-Hammers thing…then has more or less ignored it.

    Anyways got on a tangent. TL;DR: I agree, the Alliance needs character development, not land.

  2. Welcome the club. There’s a fundamental divide between the perceptions of Blizzard and those of the aggreived portion of the player base. One that has grown significantly since Wrath. Until Blizzard identifies those issues and tackles them directly, there’s going to continue to be increasing unrest amongst the disenfranchised members of the player base.