The end of World of Warcraft's Battle for Azeroth storyline and the beginning of Shadowlands has the potential to mark a new era for the MMO. The BfA narrative pitted the Alliance and the Horde against each other in a way that we haven't seen for many years and the conclusion to its War Campaign suggests the cycle of violence between factions needs to come to an end.
These big narrative moments featured in World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth cinematics, quest text, and other in-game moments led many players to speculate that the original faction lines between Horde and Alliance may come crashing down as the two groups come together to face an external threat in the MMO's next expansion: Shadowlands. Those hopes were dashed away pretty quickly by the man in charge, Ion Hazzikostas during an interview at BlizzCon.
During an interview with Forbes, the topic of faction balance came up as a point of discussion in relation to Mythic+ progression and the lopsided advantage the Horde has, simply in terms of player numbers...
"It's a problem we acknowledge, and something that we consider to be a problem that we need to work on. We don't have any solution to announce right now, but it's something we actively discuss. I think in terms of the balance of racials, in terms of what each faction is capable of, I think there's a good argument actually that tools like Shadowmeld are actually optimal for Mythic Plus."
"The challenge is also we're not looking to encourage mass amounts of faction migration. It's more, how can we build a healthier high-end Mythic Plus scene, or a healthier high-end raid scene on the Alliance side, among the Alliance population.But there is ample critical mass to support healthy communities on the Alliance side. It's more a matter of encouraging the formation and encouraging more people to dip their toe into those types of activities, so that there are more people to play with."
"Honestly I think that’s extremely unlikely for a few reasons. The Alliance-Horde divide is something that’s integral to Warcraft. It’s integral to the franchise, to the world, integral to World of Warcraft."
Those final few sentences felt a bit like the nail in the coffin for anyone holding out hope that the spirit of "Breaking the cycle" that Saurfang and Jaina discussed would have concrete gameplay consequences. Although the faction divide has always been a part of the Warcraft franchise, the Alliance and Horde leadership have teamed up so many times in recent years that it feels a bit silly at this point.
The Horde and Alliance worked hand in hand throughout Legion (one of World of Warcraft's most popular and critically acclaimed expansions to date) to defeat an external threat and the factions were so close at the end of that content that the war started in Battle For Azeroth actually felt entirely out of place to a lot of players. Even by the end of BfA, many players are still confused by Sylvanas' actions and why so many members of the Horde would have gone along with her violent plans.
This cycle of of teaming up and then turning on each other has become so meta that the characters themselves talk about it. BfA's cinematics promise an end to the same old cycle, but the game's narrative isn't the only reason that some players feel a change to the faction divide is needed. There are some concrete gameplay problems that could be addressed by some degree of faction cooperations, as well.
In recent years, population on the Alliance side has been dwindling to the point that many Alliance guilds are unable to field competitive rosters for Mythic+ dungeons and endgame Raids. Some vocal members of the Alliance community have been pleading with Blizzard to allow for cross-faction guilds that would allow Alliance players and Horde players to come together to defeat raid bosses. In terms of the game's narrative, this seems like a logical request, but Ion certainly makes it sound like it's not a changing that will be arriving in Shadowlands.
There is likely still most of a full year before Shadowlands releases (and the incoming WoW level squish happens), so it will be interesting to see if the WoW development team reconsiders adding some kind of cross-faction guild feature or takes any other action on the pleas from the Alliance community. The lack of endgame guild opportunities and a need for cooler mounts on the Alliance side have become a meme in the WoW community in recent years, so it would be exciting to see Blizzard make some changes that could positively impact the Alliance side for a change. Although a full-on faction merge may not be in the cards for this expansion, perhaps there are some cross-faction guild related features that could act as a compromise and wouldn't ruin any of the narrative or gameplay features already planned for Shadowlands.
It seems like it should be possible to maintain the main faction divide as a core mechanic for PvP, while also allowing some players to opt in to cross-faction cooperation for guild recruitment or maybe even questing. The Alliance and the Horde have learned to work together after all of these years of war and many players feel that its time for the game's mechanics to reflect that evolution. Time will tell whether the devs are willing to go for that sort of thing anytime in the near future.
Be sure to check back for more WoW Classic strategy guides, news, and updates in the coming days. Until then, For The Horde!
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth and WoW: Classic are both available now on PC. Shadowlands does not have a release date yet.