World of Warcraft launched on November 23, 2004, and one of its core concepts revolves around a faction war that's lasted 18 years. The Horde and the Alliance are in constant conflict, and depending on which side a player picks, their journey throughout Azeroth will look vastly different.
But the world has changed so much. We’ve seen the Alliance and Horde take up arms against Azeroth’s greatest threat in World of Warcraft: Legion only to suddenly fall deep into faction wars (in an overly contrived and universally reviled narrative arc) in the Battle for Azeroth expansion. Even now, in Shadowlands, we see the Alliance and Horde fighting together against a monumental threat.
Why wouldn’t the Horde and Alliance tackle the world’s biggest foes together? We see them fighting side by side throughout the story, yet when we need to queue up for a dungeon or raid, we’re only working with other players from our faction. The presence of this divide makes less and less sense as the years go on.
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What cross-faction means
Even with the promise of cross-faction play, there are many questions regarding what this could entail. There are hundreds of ways Blizzard could approach this system, and although the company revealed how it’ll start, there are plenty of methods on how it could evolve. Will Horde and Alliance be able to communicate with each other in the world? If not, will they be able to understand each other within group chats? Will they be able to start guilds with one another? How long before the Horde and Alliance can quest together? Is there going to be a day where we see friendly Horde running through Alliance cities?
Putting aside the exciting potential for the future, we do have definitive answers. As the initial reveal tweet suggested, cross-faction play will be limited to dungeons, raids and rated PvP. When the update goes live, players who have added one another through Battlenet can invite each other to a party, regardless of faction. And players will also be able to invite one another through Premade Groups and Group Finder, making it easier to search for others if you’re running a specific instance. Just the other day my friend and I were searching for players to run Tazavesh, the Veiled Market. It took us more than 30 minutes to find a tank and healer, but this time could have been cut significantly if we were also able to recruit Alliance characters.
While in a party, players will be able to chat with each other through party text, but they will appear unfriendly while outdoors. But once those players enter the instance, whether it be a dungeon, raid or rated PvP battle, they’ll appear as friendly. This means that players can freely trade loot during instances, and this should allow for a seamless experience when doing Mythic+ and group raiding.
Unfortunately, random matchmaking will not be included in this change. If you don’t want to work with the opposite faction, you don’t have to. There’s a section of the announcement post that refers to there being “decades of animosity to overcome” between the Horde and the Alliance. Blizzard doesn’t want to be in a situation where it’s “randomly placing a queuing orc in a group with a night elf.” Quotes like these are jarring. I get that this is just fiction, but even in the context of fantasy, it’s discomforting to see a casual appeal towards racist ideology.
Putting two characters of different races in a group together is apparently a bad idea because “there are many who will react warily to this change.” This reads like a grossly irresponsible appeal towards racial intolerance, some of which evokes trauma that mirrors reality. Blizzard doesn’t want to force those members of the community to do something that “overrides their preferences,” but that preference revolves around not wanting to play with someone of a different race. If that genuinely makes some uncomfortable, they should not be given a space to thrive in this community. Sure, it’s just fiction, but this type of intolerance could far too easily trigger somebody.
Blizzard should have worded this better. Faction wars have been a core concept throughout Warcraft history, and it has contributed to incredible battles through Azeroth and exciting narrative moments tangled in political conflict. The announcement could have focused on allowing people to opt in for the sake of immersion (even then I think this is largely untrue due to the state of the story) rather than because some players would not be able to overcome “decades of animosity.”
Why cross-faction is great
Many claim that the Cross-Faction update somehow “goes against the lore” as if the Horde and Alliance aren’t constantly working together. As if Jaina (a human) and Thrall (an orc) don’t fight side by side in the latest Shadowlands raid. As if someone born of a certain race could not possibly fight with someone born of another race. Fans are overly obsessed with a binary, two-party system. They can’t see people for the complex bundle of emotions and personality traits that embody them.
This is an idea that is deeply rooted in nationalism, as it assumes the conflicts and desires of the leaders running factions like the Horde and the Alliance must apply to all of the people that are forcibly placed underneath its wing.
Perhaps the only reason some believe it “goes against the lore” is because it’s what they’ve been used to for 18 years. People hate change, and there’s no group that embodies an adversity to new ideas more than the overwhelmingly vocal minority found in World of Warcraft’s fanbase.
Beyond it making perfect sense for the lore (contrary to what many fans believe), this is just a great quality of life change. Finally, I can have fun with my friends on either side. Creating a character won’t be limited, as I now know that whichever race I pick, I’ll eventually be able to do raids and dungeons with anyone. Blizzard doesn’t want players to “choose between their personal preference and the ability to play with friends,” and I couldn't agree more.
The lore is already controversial
While it feels painfully in-line with human nature for creatures to never learn their lesson and continue useless wars and petty squabbles, World of Warcraft has failed to showcase the intricacies of politics in a genuinely compelling manner in the last few years. Battle for Azeroth tried to make the Horde evil, as the faction happily stood by their leader, Sylvanas Windrunner, while she burnt the night elves’ world tree to ashes. Darnassus and Teldrassil, some of the most iconic areas in World of Warcraft history, were completely destroyed.
This was devastating, but it also created a powerful emotional stir in the community. But what really hurts is the idea that my character would somehow be okay with this. It made it difficult to continue playing her, as much of my journey throughout the intro of this expansion felt awful. Why would my blood elf be okay with this? I’m not okay with it, so why would they be? Why doesn’t Blizzard play into my character’s internal conflict more? None of the game’s characters showed remorse during the Horde’s campaign, and it genuinely felt like Blizzard was trying to paint the Horde as unabashedly malevolent.
It’s hard to buy into the idea that cross-faction play somehow “goes against the lore” when some of World of Warcraft’s recent arcs have felt like a punch in the face to longtime fans. Out of all of the choices Blizzard has made with the game’s narrative, finally putting an end to faction wars is one of the most exciting. And in a recent interview with IGN, Game Director Ion Hazzikostas claimed that an “all-consuming faction conflict expansion" would be unlikely in the future. This is great news that could signal a future where these two factions have learned from their mistakes and go beyond the nonsense.
Nothing more can be said to counter the haters than the final quote in that same interview with Hazzikostas: "It's easy to assume as shorthand that the core idea is Horde versus Alliance. I think if you go back to like Warcraft 1 or Warcraft 2, well then yes, that literally was the case…. But really from Warcraft 3 onwards, I think the ideals of Warcraft have been adventure, exploration, but also the fact that we actually fundamentally have more in common than what separates us. That Alliance and Horde are both defending their homes, searching for homes, fighting for family, for honor, for justice."
World of Warcraft is desperately in need of change. Even since before The Burning Crusade in 2007, we’ve seen the Horde and Alliance work together to take up arms against a looming threat. Friendships that cross the boundaries of nationality have formed throughout the game’s many narrative arcs.
Why wouldn’t the Horde and the Alliance fight those threats together in gameplay? Seeing the two groups fight side by side throughout the story and not allowing this to occur within the game makes far less sense than keeping the status quo. This should have happened many years ago, but we’ll finally see it implemented within the 9.2.5 Playable Test Realm.