Friday, 14 June 2013

A special look at - the horde - part II

Now for part two, where I discover I have a surprising amount of things to say about TBC.

Expedition to the unknown!
I mentioned before how little sense the orc outposts in the eastern kingdoms (minus Kargath) made little to no sense because the horde should be focused mostly on securing their new homelands. This becomes even more of a problem when it comes to expansions, because both factions need reasons to establish a presence throughout the new zones. For the alliance, this is rather easy. They already have large forces present in both Outland and Northrend, as well as forces present for hypothetical south seas and emerald dream expansions.

For the horde, it's a bit harder. They don't exactly have much of a motivation to send random military expeditions into every new land that pops up. Hence, the horde always needs a specific reason to get involved in expansion content.

And a lot of the weirder story decisions for TBC can be traced back to just giving the horde a reason to go to outland. Magtheridon surviving and being used to create fel orcs? A group of orcs (including the families of four of the greatest horde heroes) somehow remaining uncorrupted? An entire community of half-ogres? A vast community of blood elves somehow surviving on Azeroth and thus needing the help of the horde to reach Outland? The alliance attacking the blood elves despite being friendly with them before? One could even speculate that one of the motivations for Illidan and Kael'thas turning into generic evil overlords between games is to explain why the forsaken don't just tell the horde to go screw itself and join them instead.

And really, it still didn't really work. Sure, we've given them a reason to send forces to Hellfire Peninsula and for Garadar and Mok'nathal village to join the horde, but still nothing beyond that. Why would they establish a military presence in Terrokar Forest or Blade's Edge Mountains? They're not on the offensive against anyone there. Sure, there are guys they dislike, but no one who is an active threat to them. Why not spend those soldiers on the conflicts at home?

The one that strikes me the most though is Zangarmarsh. Seriously, why is the horde there? Even if we accept that the horde simply has soldiers to waste on picking fights with random factions, the zone still doesn't make sense. The naga plans and broken hostility are only discovered during the cenarion questline in the region, when the troll outposts have already been long-built.

Which brings us to other questions. First, why trolls? No, seriously. Why would the darkspear trolls, a near-extinct tribe incapable of defeating a single rogue witch doctor decide “Hey, screw retaking our capital or defending our handful of barely defended villages against local threats. We should really just send our soldiers to another planet to fight people we never even heard of. It makes complete and total sense to have the single largest city we own to be outside our territory.” Second, when exactly were the troll outposts established? Or any of the other new outposts for that matter? For the alliance, all outposts existed before the opening of the dark portal, so it makes sense. However, the horde only got in troops after the opening of the dark portal. So how did they get so much materiel and soldiers into areas beyond Hellfire Peninsula, when demon and fel orc forces were still blocking all access routes?

Looking at the quests, the entire affair makes even less sense. Why are troll scouts investigating missing water? Why is there an entire outpost that only consists of random traders? Why do 90% of the quests have nothing to do with anything, simply consisting of grabbing stuff for random traders and killing animals because they annoy people? No, I'm not exaggerating. There's several quests where you massacre animals just because the local horde forces find their sounds annoying.
And those aren't even the most baffling quests. How about the quests where you are sent to kill the ogres because they're cutting a path to Zabra'jin, despite the fact that the ogres are clearly cutting a path towards the Orebor Harborage? Or the quest where one of the trolls complains that there aren't enough murlocs on outland, and has the player release them into the wild? Did the writer forget the entire backstory for the darkspear tribe, what with them being slaughtered en masse by murlocs?

Zangarmarsh is easily the single most blatant example of a zone only being designed for one faction, with the plot of the other faction being tacked on without thinking for the sake of balance (and considering the existence of patch 5.3, that is saying quite a lot). However, even the quests for other zones feel really half-assed, because the vast majority of them basically amount to the same three things in every zone:

1) Somebody randomly attacked us, now go kill them. Whether it's the Shienor arakkoa in Terrokar or the ogres of Zangarmarsh, the horde seems to attract a lot of rather odd amount of aggression from the natives, who seemingly attack the horde for no reason other than general evilness.

2) Go help our merchants. Apparently, the horde has suddenly turned into a mercantile empire between expansions, as there are way too many quests that are justified by needing to do them for horde traders. Seriously, we're on a military expedition to deal with demons, get blood elves to Netherstorm and find the mag'har. Why are we concerned with setting up trade routes and outposts? If it was just one or two quests from opportunists, I would understand, but it seriously is about half the horde quests on Outland. Guys, we're supposed to be noble tribal barbarians and mana-addicts. Neither of those societies is aimed at the acquisition of wealth. This is the laziest possible way to give the horde quests. Try again.

3) Just kill something. Nevermind about number 2 being the laziest. This one is worse. All too often we have to go kill enemies without any justification whatsoever. My favorite has to be Stronglimb Deeproot however. Apparently, the faction peace-supporting Rexxar has put out a kill order on an alliance ancient for the horrible crime of standing guard.

There are admittedly some similar quests for the alliance as well, but not nearly to the same quantity as the horde. Mostly, it's because the alliance towns actually have a good reason for existing and are in a unique situation, with quests that tie into that reason and situation. Meanwhile, most horde towns are just there because... well, when you have two factions you need to give them an equal amount of content. It's why Nagrand and the Blade's Edge Mountains have by far the best quests for the horde: The population there is actually in a unique situation.

Why do we want this?
While we're at it, let's talk about PvP. Because the world PvP objectives from vanilla were so incredibly popular with the fans (a.k.a. no one did them, even before PvP started focusing on battlegrounds), they decided to add them to Outland as well. Hellfire Peninsula had three small outposts near the back that could be used to stage attacks on the citadel, while Zangarmarsh, Terrokar Forest and Nagrand had old draenei ruins. So, my obvious question: Why the hell are we fighting for these?
The attack on Hellfire is a joint effort by the alliance and the horde. Even with the logical distrust from the alliance side (being stormwind and expedition forces), they do end up actually helping out the horde. So you'd think that, even if they refused to actually work together, reaching an agreement would be as simple as “You guys get the northern outpost, we'll take the southern outpost, and we give the third one to the cenarion guys so we have a buffer and they won't have to sit on a random hill anymore. We all win!”
The other three world PvP objectives make even less sense. Why does the horde care for random draenei ruins? Why are we willing to fight and die for something that has no strategic, monetary, tactical, religious, historical or even entertainment value for us? Plus, if we're trying to steal holy sites from the draenei, shouldn't the sha'tar and aldor be really pissed at us? They are the draenei pantheon and priests after all.
Finally, there was also the new battleground. I don't think the writers even bothered to think up a reason for it, they just wanted to add a new battleground for the sake of diversity. Well, good for them, but couldn't they think of a reason why either the alliance or the horde would want it?

Also related to this is pretty much the entire Blade's Edge Mountain Zone, where we keep getting mentions of and quests related to a local conflict between the horde and the alliance, without any mention whatsoever of how or why. This zone seems like the one where conflict should not be happening at all. The horde is being led by Rexxar, who has been advocating living together with the alliance for decades. The goal of the alliance presence in the region is to restore the nature of the blade's edge mountains, which seems like it would be something the orcs and half-ogres would both want.
And yet the quests treat the two factions as if they were in a state of war, with several horde attacks, including at least one directly ordered by rexxar, against the restored nature of the living grove. Meanwhile, the alliance is planning to permanently occupy the region (of all the regions in Outland, why would you do that here? Go restore the nature near Honor Hold, or some other place you actually already own) and creating a blatant contradiction to justify killing horde wolves by stating that the new horde orcs brought and command the wolves to attack their fey drakes despite the wolves being thunderlord wolves (the thunderlords aren't in the new horde, were in the region for a long time, and died before the alliance even arrived. Plus, the wolves don't seem to be commanded by the new horde at all). Also, why isn't the cenarion expedition of Evergrove, whose goals and methods are the exact same as the alliance night elves, involved in this conflict?
I think this stems from the blade's edge mountains quests being part of an early draft. While it's never been officially confirmed, you can notice that a lot of design conventions here work differently from most other zones. Quest items have a limited amount of charges, important quest items appear as separate objects near the corpse rather than loot, there are some random stealth-detecting generic mobs and the merchants in Ogri'la are largely unnamed. It's likely that the original idea for the expansion was that the arrival of the draenei and them joining the alliance would have set off the war with the horde, as Rise of the Horde, essentially the prequel to the expansion, ends on Thrall thinking that that's going to happen.

As a side-note, while I was speaking of the cenarion expedition, I realized something. Evergrove has several NPCs who are very obviously not druids. It has the same dryads as Sylvanaar. It has a gnome from Toshley's station. It has several alliance-only questgivers, and ties closely into their quest-line. Meanwhile, members of the horde races present are very generic, and could be replaced without changing any dialogue. It also ties in very awkwardly to the questline, with the horde player likely passing through it several times before he's supposed to visit it according to the quest flow (where it comes after Mok'Nathal Village). I'm calling it: This place was originally an alliance-only quest hub, but got changed late into design.

Where mah orcs at?
There is also a weird retcon thing going on where orcish presence on Draenor is being seriously down-played in favor of the ogres, the arakkoa and especially the draenei, to the point where it becomes more than a little silly. Remember the old warcraft II maps?



Good luck finding most of this in TBC. The warsong, bonechewer and laughing skull territories are completely devoid of any sign of orcish presence, instead being replaced by draenei territories. Fortress Auchindoun gets retconned from being a great orcish fortress into being a draenei necropolis in the bone wastes, with a massive draenei temple complex (Shattrath City) taking its place on the map, while Fortress Shadowmoon gets replaced with another draenei temple complex.

Seriously, you're neutral?
Okay, one final point to make. Remember how I talked in the previous post about all the changes made to lore to try and justify the horde and the alliance as counterparts? Specifically, how alliance-themed factions have this tendency to go neutral, because otherwise the alliance would be ridiculously more varied than the horde? Well, as a natural counter-point to this, it also means that neutral quests tend to be alliance-themed, especially at the highest levels.

We already saw this in vanilla, where the most important neutral factions were the paladin-themed argent dawn and the druid-themed cenarion circle. Even amongst the less important factions, the majority really had nothing to do with the horde, but had a long relation and cultural kinship with the alliance. The bloodsail buccaneers were Kul Tiras deserters, the brood of nozdormu were allies of the night elves, the shendra'lar were former members of the highborne class of night elves, the thorium brotherhood are dwarves and Timbermaw Hold was a long-time ally of the night elves. Meanwhile, the only neutral factions that were horde-themed were Ratchet and the Zandalar tribe.

As a result, horde players basically stopped being horde players as early as level 45, instead becoming an off-brand version of the alliance. Again, this is why the horde should never have been a playable faction. There just isn't enough good guy horde culture on the planet.

With vanilla, I honestly didn't mind too much. I like both the alliance and the horde, so I do have fun playing an alliance-lite character. If anything, I wish the neutral factions wouldn't downplay their ties to the alliance as much. Having members of the horde actually work with an alliance faction that isn't trying to kill them fits in perfectly as a sequel to warcraft III. However, I can't say the same for the sha'tar.

There's a couple of reasons for that. First, I don't really like the naaru. Star-beings constructed out of holy energy are a pretty cool idea, but the fact that the naaru are the ultimate good guys is being played up way too much. I generally don't mind having clear heroes and villains in a story, but the naaru take it way too far, going into mary sue/gary stu territory (what exactly do you call a genderless mary sue?). All the good guys love the naaru, even when they don't really have much of a connection and the naaru really don't do anything. Every command given by any naaru is treated as if they are absolutely right, with no good guys questioning it. The only way a naaru could do anything wrong was if he was corrupted by some outside force. Everyone who opposes a naaru is an evil and corrupting presence, and no one questions whether exterminating them is wrong.

Second, I don't like how much the naaru dominated the TBC story. Having a city of refugees was a cool idea, but that aspect of the sha'tar was forgotten way too early, with the lower city only appearing in Terrokar Forest. Instead, all the big engagements of TBC just featured the scryers, the aldor and the naaru themselves.

Now, neither of those points have much to do with a horde retrospective. However, they do lead into a point I'm trying to make here: TBC is the story of the naaru, and their sha'tar. The entire expansion revolves around the way the naaru bring light and guidance to the people around them.

And the naaru are pretty blatantly alliance. And no, I'm not saying alliance-themed here. They are beings of the Light, they are the gods of the draenei, they provided guidance and safety to the alliance expedition, they power the draenei capital, they are the gods of a theocratic alliance society, they live in the city of the aldor, whose highest ranking member is a leader in the alliance, several of their temples are members of the alliance and they have Khadgar as their personal agent.
Meanwhile, the horde is keeping one naaru prisoner, torturing it to fuel a drug addiction, while another naaru is accidentally eating thousands of orcish ancestor spirits.
It's really like they intended shattrath and the sha'tar to be an alliance faction, but when the expansion was nearly ready to ship they realized that they'd either forgotten the horde counterpart or that the horde counterpart just sucked. Some of the quest dialogue feels especially out of place for quests that are available to the horde:

Kirrik the Awakened: If the touch of the blessed Naaru, A'dal, is not enough to bring the arakkoa to redemption, nothing will be.
Ramses: Hold on here. Weren't the naaru unable to cure the broken as well? Maybe if we tried some alternative divine magics..
Kirrik the Awakened: Those who have not given themselves over to the Light are mere servants of evil. They must be destroyed.
Ramses: Dude. I'm, like, standing right here.
Kirrik the Awakened: We cannot hope to redeem those in Terokk's grasp. But we shall deliver them a devastating blow in the name of the Light.
Ramses: Okay, dude. You can just go straight to hell. I'm off to stonebreaker to play grab-ass with the wolf spirit or something. Maybe get a troll/blood elf cultural exchange party involving hookahs and blow going. Try not to have people killed for having a different religion while I'm gone, 'kay?

The Kirrik quest is admittedly a bit of an exception, but I really do get a pretty serious case of cultural whiplash whenever I play TBC. It's just not very hordey, which, considering it starred the orcish homeworld, was very disappointing. Also, small side-note. In Kirrik's caravan, there is also a troll by the name of High Priest Orglum. There is no possible way that his dialogue was written for him. Seriously, he was written as a draenei, and then at the last possible second someone realized that the neutral sha'tar really should have some members from horde races, switching around this guy and a couple of generic mobs in the lower city.

Well, I think I covered everything relevant to the horde in TBC here. Let's just move on to Wrath of the Lich King and...

Blood elves
Oh, right, the blood elves. Completely forgot about them. I'm not even making a joke here. I seriously went through no less than seven completely different drafts of this post, trying to get my opinion out in exactly the way I want. And yet somehow, none of those drafts ever talked about the blood elves. How exactly could I forget about them?

Well, it ties into one of the big problems I have with how the horde is used in TBC. The way I do these special looks is by looking up the major quest hubs for the respective factions, and going over a list of the quests. The horde blood elves only have one quest hub in the entirety of outland: Falcon Watch. And while the quests aren't exactly bad, there's really not much of a story to them.
Outside Falcon Watch, there's barely any horde blood elves at all. As far as I can tell, the only ones are Advisor Faila in Stonebreaker Hold, the four NPCs that appear when the horde conquers Halaa and Yala the Fair, the Eye of the Storm battlemaster in Shattrath City.

Considering just how big of a role blood elves play in the expansion, I was more than a little bit surprised to discover just how few of them there were. And because they're nearly all concentrated in hellfire peninsula, none of them even mention anything related to finding out Illidan is insane or finding out Kael'thas joined the legion. They aren't involved in their own story arc!

No, instead, that's left up to the aldor and the scryers.

TBC seems to have a real problem figuring out who it should focus on during the conflicts. For example, take the naga of Zangarmarsh. Should we focus on the plight of the sporelings, who have been driven to the brink of extinction, their very last eggs under siege? The Kurenai, whose brethren were systematically hunted down and enslaved? The jungle trolls, who lost their chieftain and most of their populace to the naga plots? NOPE! We should focus on the cenarion expedition, whose conflict is strictly about maintaining bio-diversity for its own sake.

Terokk? We've set up this backstory throughout Terrokar, establishing two redeemed arakkoa who have taken it upon themselves to direct the battle against Terrok, and are the ones who first uncovered evidence of his return. But when it finally comes to taking the battle to him, we instead focus solely on the sha'tari skyguard, which has no backstory at all.

However, there is no greater example of this than the scryers. The blood elves of Silvermoon have been suffering hardships throughout the starting zones. They've been divided internally, betrayed by their allies, have seen their friends and family reduced to gibbering madmen and have been rejected by nature itself. And throughout all that, there was only a tiny glimmer of hope. A distant world, a paradise where they could build anew. And then it all turned out to be a lie. There was no paradise waiting for them, only enslavement by forces from beyond the stars. But no, all of that is ignored, with us not even seeing the reaction to the betrayal. The people we follow have suffered none of the hardships. They just fight Kael'thas because a shiny light told them to.

Both the scryers and the aldor were terrible, terrible ideas that should have never made it past concept, though for entirely different reasons. The scryers are just a pale imitation of their silvermoon brethren. They have none of the internal conflicts and none of the tragedy. Hell, even their mana addiction seems oddly absent. They just saw the light one day, and turned a shade of uniform blandness. Even the idea that they're slightly shadier than the aldor is so completely underplayed, it seems more like a left-over from an earlier draft rather than an actual characteristic.

Even during the final battle on Quel'danas, the silvermoon blood elves seem oddly absent. Okay, Lady Liadrin is involved, but she's been practically converted to the scryers by this point. Like I said in my TBC review, the complete and utter absence of the horde in the resolution of any of the blood elf plots creates the rather massive plot hole of the blood elves still being in the horde by the end of the expansion. As a result, I'm somewhat loathe to call the blood elf plot a horde-related plot. Really, the blood elves only have the thinnest of story threads connecting them to the horde. Though those story threads are actually well-handled, they don't change the fact that they just aren't part of the story. In the end, it's a very weak story, both from the perspective of a horde fan as well as the perspective of a blood elf fan.

I think I should also talk about the idea of the blood elves joining the horde. Thinking about it, there actually is a surprising amount of cultural overlap between the blood elves and the horde. Rangers share a lot of their cultural aspects with the tauren. Partying and substance abuse form a nice connection to the trolls. Dark magics and shared history form a connection to the forsaken. And all the red and green coloring makes them fit in with the orcs. Okay, that last one is stretching it a bit.
However, my point remains. Blood elves as part of the horde is something that could definitely work, if you emphasize the right cultural aspects. They still wouldn't be as closely integrated as the orcs, trolls and tauren, but they'd fit a hell of a lot better than the forsaken.
On the other hand, that's not what's being done. The partying was a one-time thing only, and the substance abuse is removed at the end of the expansion. The connection to nature is pretty much removed entirely, with regular arcane magic being emphasized very heavily. The most frequently used colour scheme is red and gold, rather than red and green. And, to put a final nail in a potential great cooperation, the horde and the blood elves barely have interaction beyond tranquillen.
They still fit better than the forsaken though.

Final thoughts
I do feel like I'm being a little too harsh here. There were admittedly some bits of lore for the horde. However, even some of those felt out of place or underdeveloped.
For example, there was the wolf spirit quest in Terrokar Forest, in which the player crafted a magical pelt from wolves to call back the wolf spirit to the forests of Terrokar. Except that's completely contradictory to the way animal spirits are supposed to work. The wolf spirit is quite literally the spirit of all wolves. As long as there are wolves in the forest, the spirit should be there. And if it wasn't, something would be seriously wrong with every single wolf in the zone and restoring it sure as hell would be a lot harder than simply calling for it.
Or the Nagrand quest chain connected to Garrosh Hellscream, in which the player discovers one of the naaru has become a creature of void, and is feeding on thousands of spirits. The naaru, K'ure, is rather regretful of his om-nom-noming, but has no control over it. Instead, he sends the player to A'dal to ask for help. A'dal says he can't help either, but that this other corrupted naaru, D'ore, can totally help. Then the player speaks to D'ore, and he too says he can't help, but that he can at least give the player a mirror to help safe a few spirits.
The player uses the mirror, makes fifteen ancestor spirits ascend, and returns to the Mag'har. And suddenly, everyone treats this like a total victory. Thousands of souls have been eaten by one of the draenei gods, with no sign of stopping. Guys, this really isn't a happy ending. Hell, I was expecting the next quest to be the player being ordered to kill K'ure, stopping any more spirits from being absorbed and maybe even freeing the consumed ones. But nope, apparently the mag'har are fine with their ancestor spirits being eaten by the gods of their enemies. Because everybody loves the naaru!

Wait, wasn't I trying to be less harsh? Attempt number two!

To end on a positive notes, there's actually a few good quests for the horde as well. My favorite has to be Rexxar's quest chain, where he lends you his various beasts in order to defeat the ogre threat to his people. I also like the blood elf starter zone, which delivers a pretty good story and gives you a very nice feel for the new race. It's just a shame that that was all there was.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

A special look at - the horde - part I

Due to my, by now usual, tardiness, I'm going to split this post into two. A while back, I did a special look at the alliance, where I mainly looked at the individual factions. The look at the horde is going to be a little different, focusing mainly at the horde as a concept. Why?

Because the concept of the horde is warcraft's biggest problem.

That statement may come as a bit of a surprise, considering I've already outed myself as a fan of the horde. And it's true, I like the horde. However, the problem with the concept doesn't lie with the existence of the horde. It lies with the horde being one of the two playable factions.

Progression of the horde
Over the course of the warcraft RTS trilogy, the horde went through a story arc, though certainly not one that was planned out from the beginning. In the beginning, the horde was simply an army of evil. Warcraft I actually treated the orcs very much like demons are treated in current lore, coming from a cold, dark realm of utter chaos. They were a swarm of locusts, descending upon the world due to the misuse of magic.

Warcraft II added more moral greyness. It revealed that it had been the warlocks that were responsible for many of the darker aspects of the horde, even controlling the first warchief. When Doomhammer killed the shadow council, the warlocks largely lost their hold on the horde. The horde was still evil, yes, but it became a mundane kind of evil, focused more on obtaining land and power then it did on being evil for the sake of being evil.

Lord of the Clans and Warcraft III then fulfilled the story arc. A young orcish warrior named Thrall had grown up amongst humans, isolated from his kin. In an effort to control him, Thrall had only heard idealized tales of his people, portraying them as noble warriors. When he finally escaped, he saw the orcs in the containment camps, reduced to husks of their former selves. He met the frostwolf clan, and learned of the shamanistic heritage of the orcs. He met the warsong clan, and saw the last remnants of the old horde as the noble warriors he envisioned them as. Thrall was blatantly ignorant of the true nature of the horde, but in the end, that ignorance was what allowed the horde to be redeemed. It could hold the horde to an idealized standard that no person with full knowledge of the actions of the orcs could ever hold it to. Unbeknownst to himself, Thrall was the one who made his idealized orcs a reality.

After freeing the camps of Lordaeron, the orcs retreated into the mountains of Lordaeron. Had it not been for a vision from Medivh telling Thrall to lead his people east, they'd probably have been hunted down by either the knights of the silver hand or the rising scourge, like what happened to the remnants of the blackrock clan. Instead, the orcs under Thrall and humans under Jaina were able to overcome their old hatred and unite against a common foe, and gain allies and a land to call their own. The story arc was completed during the battle against Lord-Admiral Proudmoore. We saw that, even when given the opportunity, the orcs would respect the new pact with humanity, and only harmed those who sought their destruction. The character arc was complete.

The problem: What was there to do with the horde after that?

Global Faction, local faction
Warcraft three had ended with there being six notable factions in the world: The alliance, the night elves, the illdari, the forsaken, the scourge and the horde. Each of these six had the potential to serve as a playable faction, as they had a variety of playable races, strong backstory and an appeal to fans. However, thanks to the nature of World of Warcraft, and limits in resources, not all of these factions could make it in.

Blizzard chose the horde and alliance for their playable factions. I can't be certain due to not knowing what happened in design meetings, but I'm guessing they just chose the two because of the history of the franchise. I have never seen any evidence or even heard any rumours of there ever having been plans for other or more factions.

That was where the mistake happened. Let's play game designer ourselves for a minute and make a list of basic requirements for the playable factions:

1) The factions should have some degree of conflict between them. Whether it is all-out war, a cold war or conflict through proxy nations, some degree of conflict is necessary. If there is no conflict, what's the point of isolating players into factions?

2) The factions should be roughly evenly matched. As established, the factions need to have some degree of conflict. However, if the factions aren't evenly matched, it would mean that any conflict would be quickly squashed by the superior side, which doesn't really make gameplay fun for the inferior side.

3) The factions should control roughly equal amounts of in-game territory. If not, players of one faction get screwed content-wise.

The horde and the alliance break all three of those rules.

Horde vs. Alliance, round one
That wasn't always the case though. The ending of warcraft III had the factions in a perfect spot. Each of the races in both the alliance and the horde had suffered a near-extinction, and had only just started rebuilding in Kalimdor. The horde had more established territory by this point, but there was unexplored territory in southern Kalimdor to compensate for that. Conflict is a bit harder, but still possible. For example, what if the alliance refugees had found out that Jaina was the one who gave the horde the information needed to invade Theramore? Some of the veterans of Mount Hyjal might have understood, but you can bet your ass that most of the alliance survivors would have called for her head.

Unfortunately, there was an RPG. Conflict was made nearly impossible by showing Thrall and Jaina having no real opposition as rulers of the horde and the alliance. Balance was also destroyed, by having Stormwind, Ironforge and Nighthaven (the night elf capital at that point in lore) all survive the third war relatively intact and joining Theramore. This also destroyed the balance of territory in a very major way, as the alliance now matched or even exceeded the horde's terrain in Kalimdor, and controlling even more in the eastern kingdoms, where the horde didn't have any presence at all. Let's pull out the old warcraft III world map and color it in a bit to demonstrate:



And that's being very generous. The Barrens probably shouldn't be listed as horde territory, as it was really under the control of the quilboar, the centaur and the harpies. The terrain of the alliance is also a bit on the conservative side. Aerie Peak, Stromgarde and Southshore also had a big chance of surviving the scourge, and it is likely that Stormwind retook the territory that was horde controlled in Warcraft I (so the Stormwind and Nethergarde territories would be connected).

Population-wise, let's also try to make a guess to the strength of the horde. The orcs that came with Thrall are all either from the frostwolf clan, the warsong clan, or freed from the internment camps. The frostwolf and warsong holdings are described in lord of the clans, with the former having a single village, and the latter staying in a bunch of inter-connected caves. Neither clan could possibly be more than a few hundred people (which fits with their portrayal in warcraft III). The internment camps are similarly small, containing a few hundred orcs each at best. The amount of internment camps didn't seem to be very high either, maybe one or two dozen. So let's be generous and say that Thrall's initial horde was eight thousand orcs, about the population of a large medieval town or a small medieval city. It couldn't really be any more, as they were able to fit the entire horde on a bunch of stolen ships from a small naval outpost.

On their way to Kalimdor, they met up with the jungle trolls. The jungle trolls had only a few small villages, no big towns at all, and were so low in number that they were losing a war against another small alliance naval outpost, even with the advantage of home terrain and voodoo. Then the murlocs attacked and imprisoned the jungle trolls, killing many of them. In the end, the isles sunk, the few surviving trolls joining the horde on their fleet. Let's again be generous and put the number of survivors at a thousand, which is a very large medieval village or a small medieval town. Any larger number couldn't fit on the boats.

On Kalimdor, they met the tauren, under the command of Cairne Bloodhoof. The tauren seemed to be even lower in numbers than the jungle trolls, just consisting of a single small caravan that couldn't even stand up to small bands of centaur marauders. 750 seems a good guess.

The horde was also joined by a single ogre clan, the stonemaul, who were brought in by Rexxar. Like the tauren and the jungle trolls, the stonemaul were a isolated bunch, occupying a single town. Let's once again be generous and put their numbers at 2000.

Factor in all the war losses the horde suffered, which included a large portion of the warsong clan (which lost in battle against the small naval base and was captured, and much later on was corrupted, with Jaina and Thrall killing a large portion of the clan to get to Grom) along with Samuro's entire village, and we can put down the final population at a solid 11000 people. Again, that's being very generous in all departments. 11000 people is a nice basis to start a new nation with, but it's not exactly a global super-power. It's not even a single large city. As a frame of reference, Venice had a population of 115000 people in the year 1500, and wasn't even the largest city in Europe, let alone the world.

Now, I don't expect WoW to really keep track of population numbers. Actually, I do, since, y'know, the RPG was planning to list them. But aside from that, this is just to give a general idea of relative sizes. The horde has the population of a mid-sized city. The alliance has the population of an empire. Obviously, those don't make for very balanced conflict, even with the physical advantages (greater strength for orc, tauren and ogre, regenerative abilities for the trolls) of the horde races.

We've covered point two and three. Let's cover point one now: conflict. From a storytelling perspective, the conflict between the alliance and horde was done. It already had the highest possible stakes and an interesting conclusion. From an in-universe perspective, conflict was still possible, but not in a way that would have fitted gameplay. None of the leaders of either the alliance or the horde on Kalimdor was going to provoke the other faction without it being utterly necessary. The horde has relatively crappy lands, but they have a lot of them, only have to support a very low population and they're used to living in such areas, so a big enough resource shortage to cause a war seems unlikely. Plus, the horde would be utterly annihilated during a real war, even without a resource shortage to weaken them.

So how about aggression from the alliance side? Well, some of the eastern members of the alliance probably still want the orcs dead. However, considering that she allowed her own father to die to preserve the peace, it's rather unlikely that Jaina would stay in the alliance if Stormwind or Ironforge were to attack the horde, and might even try to protect them. Without Jaina, the night elves don't really have any connection to the alliance either. So, an attack by the horde is going to be hilariously short-lived, while an attack by the alliance should make the alliance fall apart. That's not a good setting to have PvP with.

Also, before people say that you don't really need conflict outside a select few battlegrounds: Lemme stop ya right there, ya young whippersnappers. The original WoW was aimed much, much more at PvP outside the battlegrounds, to the point that it barely happened inside them. Tthere were no cross-realm battlegrounds, and the only way to enter the battleground was to actually walk (Warsong Gulch and Alterac Valley had no flight master near their entrances) to the in-game entrance and queue there, meaning that it usually took several hours to get enough people for a battleground. To still have some opportunities for PvP combat, PvE and PvP were much more tightly integrated. There were tons of quests that had you engage NPCs of the opposing faction, triggering a PvP flag. Hell, the questgivers were disturbingly casual about ordering someone to waltz right into supposedly allied territory and kill people. TBC and WotLK, despite there actually being a war between the alliance and the horde in the latter, turned down the random inter-faction conflict considerably.

Balancing it out
But blizzard decided to go with it anyway, taking various actions to ensure there was at least a degree of balance and conflict. Let's play spot the differences with the setting before and after world of warcraft and see if it made any sense.

First, the number of orcs was increased through what someone more professional than me has dubbed a “voodoo shark”. Basically, it's an explanation for a series of events that is so stupid that no explanation could possibly explain it. The voodoo shark in this case is the idea that other orcish clans sailed to Kalimdor to join Thrall's horde. The obvious questions:
-What clans? All the active clans of Azeroth and Outland are known, and none of them are unaccounted for. Blackrock got captured along with Doomhammer, Stormreaver and Twilight's hammer were destroyed at the tomb of Sargeras, the Black Tooth Grin retreated through the dark portal and became servants of Magtheridon, the Bleeding Hollow Clan survived the second war but was captured after fleeing from Draenor, the Dragonmaw was captured in Day of the Dragon, the Burning Blade destroyed itself, Warsong and Frostwolf already teamed up with Thrall, and Shadowmoon, Shattered Hand, Thunderlord, Laughing Skull and Bonechewer were still on outland when the dark portal was destroyed. While the shattered hand exists as an organization in the new horde, it has never been confirmed whether it is the actual clan or just an organization named after the clan. No other clans have been confirmed as joining the horde either, because any established clan joining the horde in an organized capacity would be a massive plot hole, and any new clan would need a very elaborate explanation as for where they'd been in the second war, which would require delving into more plot holes.
-Where have these orcs been? It's been about twenty years since the second war. How did these clans stay undetected for such a long period of time? If they're remnants of the old horde, their bloodlust should have made it impossible for them to just stay peacefully hidden. And if they aren't remnants of the old horde, what the hell are they doing on Azeroth?
-These orcs were able to come to Orgrimmar of their own free accord. That means that they weren't imprisoned. So why is everyone acting like the vast majority of the orcish race suffered the indignities of the internment camps when it was really only a tiny portion?
-If there are so many of these free orcs that they turn Orgrimmar from an average city into a global superpower, how was the second war ever over?
The answer to all of these is questions: “There is no answer, because it was a half-assed handwave.”

The number of tauren was increased in a similar manner, through the introduction of more tauren tribes. Unlike the example with the orcs, I wouldn't exactly call this a voodoo shark, since the existence of more tauren tribes is rather logical, and them joining the horde is certainly a possibility. That isn't to say that the introduction of these tribes was done well. Like the orcs, the only thing we ever heard of these tribes is that they just decided to join the horde. And like the orcs, that causes a giant yellow question mark to appear over my head, though this time for only one question:
-Why are the tauren tribes suddenly united under the bloodhoof? If they'd just joined the horde, I would have accepted it blindly (there's new enemies and the horde offers protection. Seems like a pretty sensible choice), but the extra addition of the tribes placing themselves under the leadership of Cairne Bloodhoof is what baffles me. Why would they ever do that? The bloodhoof tribe was portrayed as incredibly weak. I've heard it suggested that the other tribes joined the bloodhoof because the bloodhoof had retaken Mulgore (it's also on the wiki, though unsourced), but that doesn't make sense either. When Mulgore was mentioned before in warcraft III, the problem wasn't with retaking it, but with reaching it. In fact, the very reason that the tauren were trying to reach it was because there were no enemies. Plus, if retaking it was so significant, why didn't any other tribe ever do it? As I said, the bloodhoof were an incredibly weak tribe.
And like the orcs, the answer is: “There is no answer, because it was a half-assed handwave.” However, with the tauren it's even worse. With the orcs, we at least know something of the history of its members. For the tauren, that is not the case. Seriously, tell me anything about what happened to the tauren between the war of the ancients and when they were found by Thrall. Tell me something about the various tribes, like where they lived or how they interacted with one another.

Three, the horde started founding random strongholds outside their territory. Why do places like Bloodvenom Post, Grom'gol Base Camp, Hammerfall or Stonard exist? They're not sending valuable resources back home, they're not outposts against known threats and they're too far away from the horde homelands to protect them in case of a war. Seemingly, the only reason these exist is to piss off the alliance, contributing to the conflict that shouldn't exist anymore because we did an entire damn game where the crux was overcoming that conflict and the leader of the horde desperately wants to avoid that conflict. GAH!

Four, the conflict in Ashenvale. By the end of Warcraft III, the horde was led by one of the greatest supporters of inter-faction peace, Thrall. By the start of WoW, the night elves were hippies with giant cats. As you can imagine, it's kinda hard to have a conflict between the two. Blizzard's solution? Be as vague on the specifics as possible. Has the warsong clan invaded Ashenvale, with the sentinels nobly defending their sacred forests? Is the warsong clan simply keeping to the territories they kept from warcraft III, with the brutal sentinels trying to slaughter their former allies at Hyjal because a few trees are more important to them than orcish lives? Was it something in-between, with minor incidents caused by people working independently being answered by organized efforts on both sides? Even now, I still don't have an idea.

Five, dwarves become dicks. While the dwarves were never exactly morally superior to the other races, WoW makes it absolutely ridiculous. The dwarves invade the territory of the tauren twice, blowing holes in sacred mountains while slaughtering an entire tribe. The dwarves also decide that the alterac mountains are theirs, and use a misunderstanding with the frostwolves as an excuse to order the death of every orcish man, woman and child in the alterac mountains. Again, how can you have such major conflicts, but still be at peace?

Six, the alliance was severely weakened. I know, I keep talking a lot about both factions in my special look at the horde, but that is because a lot of problems with the alliance stem from it having to be balanced with the horde. The Night Elves and other human nations in particular were hit with the nerf stick. The elves lost almost all of their natural allies, and there were a few bits of dialogue that implied things had gotten so bad that they were fleeing to Stormwind in massive droves (So yes, I was wrong when I stated that it was never explained why there was suddenly a night elf district in Stormwind. I apologize for the error, though I still think it was a stupid decision on the writers' part. Night elves are supposed to be fierce warriors, dedicated to protecting the forests of Ashenvale. Them running to the other side of the planet is just wrong.). Theramore, previously the last great city of humanity, was reduced to a mid-sized town. Stromgarde was torn apart between games with nary an explanation. And we still don't know what the hell happened to Kul Tiras.
Okay, that last one isn't entirely true. Contrary to what most fans seem to remember, there is nothing in the game to indicate that the forces of Tiragarde are from Daelin's invasion force. More likely, and suggested with the year between Proudmoore's invasion and the arrival of the reserve fleet, is that the reserve fleet was left in Kul Tiras. Which means that the only thing we hear of Kul Tiras is them invading the orcish homeland. That seems like the kind of thing that would be important enough to warrant an occasional mention, doesn't it?

Seven, the alliance was given a ton of enemies that really should be gone (and admittedly a few that made sense). Again, this was another reason why the balance between the alliance and the horde neccesary for the plot couldn't exist. The alliance just had more control over their territory lorewise. The dark horde is probably the single most blatant example of this. Last time we saw the Black Tooth Grin Clan, they weren't even on the same planet any more, with Rend and Maim last seen as fel orcs in the service of Magtheridon, being killed by Illidan during his conquest of the Black Citadel. And yet now they've suddenly returned and are in control of former old horde holdings, with no explanation whatsoever. Seriously, what happened? Were the guys in outland just two people who coincidentally had the same name and similar positions of power? Plus, if these guys were still around and fighting both dwarves and Stormwind, were in control of blackrock mountain and had an army of dragons, I have to repeat my old question from both Day of the Dragon and this review: “If these guys are still around, raiding your kingdoms, how can the second war be considered over?”
The dark horde isn't the only example of this though. The denizens of felwood are another big one, as they were defeated by Illidan and the source of the corruption in the lands was destroyed. Yet by the time of WoW, felwood is still firmly in the hands of demons, and corruption continues to spread, even affecting Darkshore and Winterspring. You'd think that once the games made a specific point of the spreading corruption being stopped, it would actually have stopped spreading, wouldn't it?

Eight, the introduction of fake alliance-horde conflict. Now, I've made it obvious that a conflict between the alliance and the horde just couldn't work. The writers actually seemed to be somewhat aware of this (though not often enough), instead using fake horde-alliance conflicts a lot of the time. Instead of fighting the actual alliance, the horde would fight the scarlet crusade, remnants of Gilneas or the Kingdom of “we're-still-members-but-not-actually-working-with-the-Alliance” Dalaran. Or the fights with the alliance were caused by neutral parties, with the horde players only acting as mercenaries, like with the attacks on Northwatch or that one Theramore tower. Similarly, the alliance fought the dark horde and the grimtotem tauren quite a lot. This way, people who were only vaguely familiar with the lore would get the idea that the conflict was larger than it was.

Nine, neutral factions, neutral factions, neutral factions. The alliance was much more diverse and had a wider cultural spread by the time WoW rolled around. It had druids, mountain kings, rangers, paladins, priests of the Light, priestesses of the moon, wardens, two flavors of shaman, and several flavors of mage. Meanwhile, the horde only had blademasters and a lot of shaman flavors. That's not exactly going to amount to an equally varied gameplay experience. As a result, a lot of unique racial traits were suddenly represented through neutral factions, or were left out completely. Argent Dawn and the Brotherhood of Light became the main paladin and priest of the light players, Cenarion Circle distanced itself from the alliance-aligned other night elves, and about half of the other alliance-unique classes were left out completely. This gets them a lot of flack, but the only real alternatives doing the same thing as the RPG and just giving the alliance more, or adding a ton of people to the horde without any justification.

Which, bringing us to ten, they also did:

The Forsaken
In The Frozen Throne, the forsaken were an interesting development, and one that opened a lot of possibilities. The forsaken were absolutely ruthless, doing anything to further their goals without being hindered by any morals. While not nearly as great in number as the scourge, or even the dreadlord insurgents (three dreadlords who kept control of an army of undead after Arthas broke away), they made up for that through the control of others, either through the magic of banshees and dark rangers, or through trickery.

And that's the entire problem with the relation between the forsaken and the horde. The entire gimmick of the forsaken was controlling others and having no morals to hinder them in that regard. This makes the entire excuse about Sylvanas seeking allies (and therefore joining the horde) moot. If Sylvanas needed more manpower on her side, she would brainwash or manipulate people into joining her. Her placing herself and her faction under the control of a foreign power is both completely out of character, because it is completely unnecessary.

Which is also a problem for the vast majority of forsaken quests, because the solution for them should be the same: Brainwash someone. The gnolls are worshipping the scourge and stealing corpses for them? Brainwash the leader and make them worship Sylvanas instead. The local humans are aggressive against the forsaken? Brainwash the leader, let him lead his subjects into a trap, and use the corpses to build abominations. Apothecaries need murloc parts for a new version of the plague? Brainwash the tribe leader, and have him send you a few murlocs to be quietly killed, and then train the rest as warriors for your army.

There are so many ways to use the forsaken in your story, but you simply can't use them as mere member in a playable faction because there is no way they're going to play nicely, and they have other ways of gaining “allies”. Because of this, the writers had to completely cut the brainwashing aspect from the forsaken, leaving them without their single most defining characteristic. Why even use the forsaken if you're just gonna cut their unique qualities?

Still, to give some credit, the writers did seem at least somewhat aware of the fact that the forsaken were in no way going to play nice with the rest of the horde. Hence, the forsaken conspiracy storyline, which I mentioned in my last post. The forsaken were basically doing everything that Thrall was against. They were aligning themselves with the burning legion, aiding the burning blade and the cult of the dark strand. They were corrupting nature and enslaving the elements, raising the elementals of Mystral Lake and brutally poisoning the druids of the Dor'danil Barrow Den. They brutally capture, experiment upon and kill the humans Thrall tried so hard to make peace with. They did everything the new horde shouldn't.

And that was admittedly a fairly interesting idea, with Sylvanas effectively using the horde's trust of her against them, creating a dark horde of her own (in fact, the comic had them connected to the actual dark horde). However, it was an idea that absolutely didn't belong in World of Warcraft. Why? Because the second Thrall discovered the forsaken were working with the burning legion, the dark horde or corrupting the elements, he would have kicked them out of the horde. Instead, despite all the tons upon tons of in-game evidence to their betrayal (seriously, did Thrall's massive network of spies just never walk into a forsaken town?), he must remain unaware of it for the sake of maintaining this stupid faction-vs-faction conflict that completely goes against the ending of the last game. Simply put, it was a status quo that couldn't possibly last long lorewise, but had to last forever to maintain gameplay.


As a final note, the forsaken really don't fit the horde thematically. The horde are former villains turned good, content to just try and make a new homeland for themselves and live in peace with the land. WoW even added an implied dark past to the tauren to fit with this (check the scrolls on the Elder Rise in Thunder Bluff). The forsaken are former good guys turned amoral, out for nothing but revenge. These are two philosophies that are not very compatible for anything beyond short-term cooperation. To say nothing for the completely incompatible aesthetics of the horde and the forsaken. Could you ever imagine the forsaken trying to live in the barrens? Or the orcs in Tirisfal Glades? They're too divergent to form a horde.