The Issue with Alliance Lore

Okay, before I get into this I want to preface – I do NOT believe there are any intrinsic biases against the alliance in this game. I do NOT believe in horde favoritism. However, I do believe there is a difference in the types of lore both sides get that contributes to an overall lacking feeling of depth of the allianceside questing. This is strongly opinion based, and people are sure to feel differently than I do but please do not take this as me attacking either side.

ANYWHOZZLE. I’ve been taking a vacation from my alliance main and have spent some time in Pandaria on my troll druid. I’ve leveled several characters allianceside through Pandaland and I used to consider myself a player of both sides, but I hadn’t quested enough to back this up in the recent expansion. There is so much that goes on between both sides during the questing experience and you never get the full story unless you do everything. This was especially true of the new cataclysm lowbie leveling quests.

Certain areas of Pandaria are largely the same regardless of the faction you play. But other zones, specifically Jade Forest and Krasarang, are strikingly different both in tone and content. The quests are mostly the same (“I want you to kill 10 mogu”) but the overall tone is vastly different.

I’ve had an issue with alliance lore that I couldn’t quite put my finger on for the longest time. It was as I was questing through Jade Forest on my horde alt that my grievances began to take shape. What was previously intangible to me started fading into view until finally I had it – a fleshed out gripe about my alliance lore issues. I was consulting with a friend of mine at the time and worked out these issues as I was talking to her. (Yes, Bells, it was you!)

When I think of the horde I think of passion, strength, fervor, and character depth. This is the faction that brings such great characters as Sylvanas, Baine, and Vol’jin. When I think of the alliance I think of honor, compassion, pride, and unity. One this side we have people like Jaina, Tyrande, and Magni Bronzebeard.

Now here’s the thing – both sides have done terrible things in their past. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. For all the sanctimonious preaching of the alliance – there is a dark history lurking there. But here’s the difference between the two factions – the horde acknowledges their moral grey area and runs with it. The alliance does not. The alliance does absolutely everything it can to appear as the justified, morally righteous cause in an otherwise war-torn world. Honor above all!

And there, my friends, is the issue. Honor is fascinating for a while but um, being the good guy all the time? It’s boring. It’s really, really, REALLY boring. People tend to wonder why the horde faction leaders get more in depth storylines?

For example, Vol’jin – the guy has always had a morally grey compass. He does what he feels is best for his people and isn’t afraid to tell someone to expect a dagger in their back. Sometimes he doesn’t even warn them. Another example is Baine – who is the most noble of the horde leaders but rightly encourages the slaughter of the Grimtotem.

Now let’s compare this to an alliance faction leader like, oh, say, Velen? Remember that guy? He’s the draenei prophet that sits on his butt in the Exodar all day. They have built Velen in such a way (even to the point of retconning previous lore) that he is a pinnacle of all that is good and pure in the world. He’s so good and in with the light that he and his people are the most ambiguous when it comes to open hostilities with the horde. They fight, to be sure, but it’s been made clear that it’s not their battle and rather one of the alliance they made when the night elves saved them.

So they have built Velen to be this champion of righteousness and good. And because of that – they can’t do ANYTHING with him except trot him out every now and then to give nebulous “prophecies” during the gatherings of the alliance leaders. His horde counterpart would likely be Lor’themar Theron – leader of the blood elves. A leader who has had to fight off the legacy Kael’thas left for his embattled people and is now taking center stage in the alliance/horde conflicts in Pandaria.

Velen just sits in the Exodar forever. Because he’s a force for good. He CAN’T be used in a way that would tarnish that reputation. Who else has had this treatment? Starts with an “M” ends with an owlbearcat outfit. Yep, Malfurion. Now he’s a force for neutral good, so he’s off the map as well.

This is the essence of the alliance. They are the faction force for good. Because of this, there is rarely a moral grey area for them to engage in during their storylines. The quests in Jade Forest force feed you the narrative that the alliance is in Pandaria for the greater good. We’re there to stop the horde. The horde is evil and enslaving Pandaren children! THEY’RE JUST SO DAMNED EVIL, AND YOU’RE JUST SO DAMNED GOOD YOU GOOD DO-GOODER GUY! You should feel great for being such a good person!

Meanwhile during the horde quests you are actively engaged in the faction war. It makes no qualms implying that the horde will wipe out the alliance and is willing to use any means, Pandarian locals included, necessary. A couple of the horde scouting party actively express their dislike of the Hozen but claim they are tools for the horde war machine. That right there? That’s messed up. But it makes for a hella good story and character development.

Meanwhile the alliance encounter the Jinyu and something something saving a race from being wiped out by the hozen. Yes, that’s the storyline for your character. Your character has appeared with the alliance in the nick of time to save these fish people who are otherwise going to be purged by the hozen. Conveniently, the hozen are also allied with the horde so it serves both purposes. You get to save a people AND staunch the horde war effort in Pandaria! You get to fight a bloody battle and still feel sanctimonious about it, yippee!

There was a big hullaballoo when the alliance Jade Forest starting area was revamped because at one point a swarm of fleeing, drowning orcs is shot to death by the Lady alliance general. People on both factions flipped. their. shit over it. “The alliance doesn’t do things like this!” Even General Rell comments that, “It isn’t right. This isn’t the alliance’s way.” Well, for pete’s sakes, it’s WAR! And you are BORING!

And maybe if they did things like that more often, the storyline would be more engaging. The jade forest alliance questline is a snooze up to and including the part where Lorewalker Cho makes you do his daily chores so that you can find Prince Anduin. (By the by, hordeside you get to do a quest where you actually CAPTURE Anduin. But no such allianceside rescue mission to get him back. Cool.) In my humble opinion, Cho seems to connect more deeply with horde players. Exploring the linage of their races and making many comments along the lines of, “We have a lot in common.” Meanwhile the alliance feeds his birds and gets a karate kid meditation lesson.

Hordeside there is an alliance fortification and several bases that must be secured and destroyed. There is a camp with overworked Pandarian laborers but the alliance is so evil that they’re keeping the laborers there by uh…umm. Nothing. They aren’t keeping the laborers there. And when you free them, all they do is complain about being tired or hungry. Well gosh gee willickers, how frightfully rude!

Meanwhile allianceside the horde fortification is a nest of orc and undead warlocks. Said warlocks have enslaved Pandaren Children using demonic magic. Not even adults and children, just the children. .So children are enslaved helping fortify an area teeming with demons and sha corruption. That’s uh, that’s pretty darned mean right there. Are you starting to see the difference yet?

If you’re horde in that scenario you’re going in to kill alliance with the afterthought of helping the Pandaren. If you’re alliance you’re going in because DAMN the horde is evil and you’re just so GOOD to be saving those children!! GOOD FOR YOU, PAL! Pats on the back all around!

This air of sanctimonious crap infiltrates almost every aspect of alliance questing, right down to daily quests in operation shieldwall. Oh yeah, we’re there to stop the goblins and orcs from polluting the area and killing off the wildlife. It also, ONCE AGAIN, conveniently helps the war cause. The war is a convenient afterthought instead of the main focus because I guess they don’t want us to feel like we’re being too mean or maybe for once not doing something for the greater good.

Instead of a scenario like Dagger in the Dark we end up with a Little Patience which is basically a 20 minute exercise to show alliance players that, relax, our High King is pretty smart and even tempered. So there’s no air of worry here because we’re in good, patient, strong hands. Oh and some orcs die too, I guess. The best character in that scenario is Tyrande, and that is a stretch.

The horde can see a little taste of this by being exposed to Anduin throughout their questing, as well. The kid is just so naive and dumb. He should have been killed at least 8 times during his stay in Pandaria, up to and including the point where he was captured initially by the horde. Anduin, in a way, is representative of the entire alliance. His chance at being an interesting, engaging character was robbed from him for the sake of the greater good. He NEEDS to be practically neutral to both sides because he’s the prince of stormwind and has a higher calling. Meanwhile: Zzzzzzzz.

It’s funny, because Wrathion is another neutral character and yet he is heads and tails more interesting than Anduin. Tortured backstory, doesn’t make qualms about who he is. Compare the two characters and consider which one would make for a more interesting character in a novel. Which one, if you were in Azeroth, would you want to spend more time with?

Now, Krasarang is the other major area that has vastly differing storylines between the alliance and horde. Hordeside you get the awesomeness of Sunwalker Dezco and his plight as his wife and best friend pass away in a strange land.

Allianceside you get some doddering old Night elf looking for the fountain of youth and his patient, but fierce, daughter who leads a team of sentinels. His daughter, the more interesting of the two, spends half the time in a coma and awakens in time to die at the same time as Kor. At this point the old night elf decides to sacrifice himself for his daughter. Abloobloobloo. Except – there’s no real feeling of attachment to the characters.

The old fart was a selfish git who wanted to renew his immortality and lost his daughter in the process. And instead of DEALING WITH THESE ISSUES he sacrifices himself so she can come back to life. Everything gets wrapped up with a neat little bow because the smarter of the two, his daughter, gets to come back to life. No real consequences except the loss of some old guy you probably didn’t care much about anyway, seeing as he was more concerned about sending you to find the waters of youth while his daughter languished in a coma. Again, don’t worry about heartbreak or tough issues, alliance, because you came out for the greater good once again!

Meanwhile Dezco loses his wife and best friend in the same damned day. Yet he presses on, and so does your horde character. You muse about the unfairness of it all but marvel at his strength as he totes his two newborns further through the mysterious new land of Pandaria. He also names one after you and that is pretty rad. There is no super happy morally good resolution. And that’s the way it should be.

So I have to ask – alliance, why are you afraid of powerful, but uncomfortable, lore developments? Why does EVERYTHING have to be for the greater good? Why do we have to feel great about everything we do? WHY? It’s BORING!

They tried something new with Jaina and completely flipped her on her alliance-do-gooder head. Once again, people lost their shit. Even the bombing of her home wasn’t enough to justify her actions in Dalaran, apparently? Are you kidding? Come on people. If you want good lore allianceside, you need to start accepting these difficult moral situations.

I am absolutely tired of do-gooder sanctimonious and paper thin alliance lore. Tired of it. The few instances where the alliance does something morally ambiguous and grey are situations where they use a dummy character like John Keeshan so that you get the feel of a cool battle without all the negativity of a non-joke alliance character getting involved. You won’t catch Varian Wrynn wiping out a settlement like Sylvanas did to Southshore or Garrosh did to Theramore. Nope, nope. He’s too good of a person. He’d never resort to that. And because of that, he leaves no lasting effect on the plot.

I love the alliance and a lot of what it stands for. I love a lot of the alliance characters as well but I cannot ignore how I feel about this anymore. Now that I’ve pinpointed my major issue it’s hard for me to look at the alliance the same way I used to. My main will always stay alliance, but I won’t lie and say I’m not enjoying my horde characters a metric ton more. It just feels better because there is more weight to the lore, more conflict behind the decisions, and no quest designers patting me on the head and reassuring me that I’m doing the right thing all the time. That might be what some folks like, but not me.

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6 thoughts on “The Issue with Alliance Lore

  1. Reminds me a little of this, actually:
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GoodIsBoring

    I don’t really buy that good is always boring, but then, given that WoW is trying to be all “hey, we haz WAR” and such, they could use a few “Well Intentioned Extremists” messing up the place.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WellIntentionedExtremist

    …and yes, I used two TV Tropes links in one comment. Apologies if that makes your site explode. :)

  2. If you want a perfect microcosm of the differences between how Horde lore and Alliance lore are approaching, take a look at Garrosh vs Anduin during the whole Domination Point/Operation: Shieldwall quests in 5.1. (Well, and all of Mists, really.) Anduin is cute and endearing and innocent and naive, and he’s completely out of his element and like you said, should have died 8 times over. He’s there to SAVE EVERYONE, and oh no Sunwalker Dezco, he totally believes he can achieve peace if he just had a chance to talk things over with Garrosh!

    Meanwhile Garrosh is getting up to UTTERLY NASTY SHIT and it’s horrible and omg wtf are you doing Garrosh and OH GOD WHY ARE THERE ALL THESE SHA HERE and it’s horrible, but it’s also awesome.

    And how does this all end up? What’s the eventual result of Garrosh meeting Anduin? Anduin SAVES THE DAY (of course) and gets crushed by Garrosh. Victim card, villain card, both played as strong as ever.

    And I mean, at least the old Varian would have immediately sent the entire might of the Alliance against Org upon hearing what Garrosh did to his son. But current Varian? I mean, I don’t play Alliance but…has he even done anything? Does he even CARE? I sure haven’t seen anything to be worried about.

  3. Hell, my main is Alliance and even I’m annoyed with how one-sided the morality is in terms of storylines. I thought we were going to get shades of grey on both sides in MoP. I thought the whole point was that both sides [MEEP]ed up big time and that they both had blame in causing the Sha to be unleashed.

    Nope! Varian can do no wrong, and the rest of the Alliance leaders are clueless chumps. Garrosh is EVIL~!, and the rest of the Horde is impotent. And I loathe the fact that Jaina’s justifiable rage at this point is seen as Wrong & Irrational, whereas Varian got off scott-free FOR YEARS being a xenophobic cockbib. I’m terrified she’s going to be set up to be killed off or fridged “for her own good” just for the sake of Varian to get EVEN MORE spotlight time and pump up his manpain.

  4. I feel that the real driving force behind the Horde’s depth of character (certainly for the Faction leaders and the primary NPCs) is the fact that the unity of the Horde is preposterous.

    No sane being would trust Sylvanas at this point and few with a working brain would tolerate Garrosh either. The main threat driving the Tauren to join has passed, the Darkspear have seen the might of the other Trolls repeatedly crushed and our BElf friends have no real enemies with Outland handled AND Arthas a bad memory. Why, exactly, does the Horde exist? Inertia?

    Excepting the fact that Varian as sole rightful autocrat is puerile, the Alliance is actually a logical and functional Aliiance. The component bits have a coherent reason to remain a unified organization, so making the lore support the obvious is less critical. I think Varian remains perched atop the Alliance because Blizzard decided that depicting rule by council lacked clarity.

    We have to have compelling stories for the Horde’s component members because the Horde as such is becoming progressively sillier. Blizz can skate on depth for the Alliance side of things because their backstories still make sense.

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