Faction, Race, and Character Bias in WoW

Towards the end of Warlords of Draenor, I had orc fatigue fatigue.

No, I didn’t accidentally type “fatigue” twice. Shortly after Hellfire Citadel was released, I was absolutely exhausted from listening to so many people complaining that there were too many orcs. Yes, an orc was the main bad guy of the last expansion. Yes, the primary antagonists throughout Warlords were, spoiler alert, orc warlords. No, there wasn’t any cinematic screen time given to gnomes or worgen.

You know what, though?

That’s totally fine.

Orcs, orcs, orcs

“Orc Fatigue” was a thing as early as Mists of Pandaria. A large part of Cataclysm and the tie-in publications gave a lot of attention to Thrall. Even Alliance members had to travel all over Azeroth and beyond to glue “Green Jesus” back together after Majordomo Staghelm busted him into elemental bits. The expansion wrapped up with Thrall becoming the stand-in Aspect of Earth and saving the world. Players left Cataclysm having had their fill of orc saviors, and then moved into Mists of Pandaria, where the main story line revolved around Garrosh Hellscream. We then spent more than a year raiding Orgrimmar before the big angry jerk just snuck off into an alternate past. By the time we caught up with him, we were neck deep in a whole planet of orcs. You couldn’t throw a rock in any direction without the pretty big possibility that it hit an orc, and said orc when into a berserker rage and murdered you.

Telling a story

Now, I’m not asking you to like orcs. I’m not asking you to like the Horde. You can like or dislike whatever you want. What I will ask, though, is for people to look at the story of World of Warcraft, and storytelling as a whole, and try to be a little more… open-minded.

First, it’s always healthy to look outside the main story arc and see what you find there. Warlords of Draenor, though undeniably about orc warlords, gave us a ton of juicy new lore centered around the draenei and other allies. We got to watch Yrel rise from imprisoned acolyte to fearless exarch. We stormed through the dark portal with Vindicator Maraad at our side, watched him go toe to toe with the best the Iron Horde could throw at us, and wept big wet tears when he made the ultimate sacrifice in battle with Blackhand. We had Archmage Khadgar at our side after we went from Second War throwback to powerful yet quirky sidekick, helping us through some of our most difficult trials with his powerful arcane magics and eye-rolling dad jokes.

Draenor also gave us another great lore gift: the Arakkoa. Spires of Arak was an entire leveling zone devoted the hitherto mysterious avian race. Although the zone didn’t get one of the cool cinematic treatments like the ones in Talador or Frostfire Ridge, those of us who read quest text got a big dose of deep and suspenseful story. Questing through the spires told us much more about what Arakkoa society was like before the Adherents near extermination of the Outcasts than we had before in Outland. These quest chains, as well as the short story Apocrypha, told the incredibly engaging story of Viryx and Iskar, two Arakkoa paired as hatchlings only to walk (or fly) paths apart as they grew older.

Secondly, it helps to be realistic. The depths of Warcraft lore has evolved from simply “Orcs vs Humans” to encompass dozens upon dozens of races, each with their own unique characters, culture, and story to tell. The dev team at Blizzard is fantastic, and their ability to tell so many stories at once is downright phenomenal, but asking for equal amount of writing and screen time for each race just isn’t feasible. I saw a lot of Horde fans upset when the quest chain and cinematic following Anduin through the Broken Shore was released. Most were upset that the Horde didn’t get similar content with red flavor. To this, I would say two things: First, it’s a story that needed to be told. The Alliance lost their great warrior-king on the eve of the greatest war Azeroth has known. A new king, his son, was indeed crowned, but never truly tried the way his father was. Seeing his trials ourselves was very important to Alliance players’ sense of identity as a faction. Second, most should recall that the Horde already had their own leader cinematic. Although it didn’t come with a quest chain on the broken shore, the Horde cutscene was also well done and quite emotional, though it may have been more stirring while the Alliance version was more sobering. Besides, the Horde was already winning 2-1 on cinematics. Blizzard wasn’t being biased and giving an extra cutscene to Alliance, but instead using the Anduin chain to even the score.

It’s incredibly unrealistic to expect a mirrored event on the opposite faction every time Blizzard tries to tell a story about the other. Should they have to kill someone’s dad Horde side just because Varian died? Actually, now that I think about it, just about every single leader (with the possible exception of Gallywix) in the Horde has already lost their father. Cairne Bloodhoof was killed by Garrosh Hellscream, whose father Grommash was killed by bomb cleverly planted inside a pitlord. The mother of Sylvanas and the other Windrunner sisters was killed by trolls towards the beginning of the Second War. Vol’jin’s father, Sen’jin, was killed by a freaking murloc. Nothing at all is mentioned about Lor’themar Theron’s family, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume they either died in any number of wars with trolls, or when the city fell to Arthas and the scourge.

Man, Father’s Day in Orgrimmar must be a pretty sad affair.

Winners and losers

The other time players like to accuse the developers of faction bias is when they start going back through history and making a tally count of wins and losses. “The Horde won this, this, this, and this battle, but the Alliance only won these two” or “The Alliance is always losing” are two that I hear a lot. Now, Blizzard has already covered this in a Dev Watercooler from 2011, but I’ll throw my two cents in real quick: These complaints are, once again, not being very realistic. Having each faction win the same number of battles is first and foremost an absolute narrative nightmare, but would also undermine any sense of engagement, immersion, or suspense the player would normally experience. If the story was building up to a big battle, and the Horde had just won the last one, then we would already know the outcome before it happened, because the Alliance would have to win to make it “fair”.

Is the development team absolutely free of bias? Of course not. Everyone has their favorite race, class, or faction. There are a ton of people on that team though, and I personally trust in their professionalism and dedication to creating an engaging story. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but I’m just trying to make the point that each faction winning the same number of battles or getting the same amount of story focus is not only impossible from a development point of view, but would absolutely ruin the player experience by gimping what is, without a doubt, the best storytelling in an online game to date.

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