Monday, November 18, 2013

WoW: Fiction Has a Horde Bias



Rohan of Blessing of Kings had an interesting little post about the lore in Warlords of Draenor about Horde bias in World of Warcraftstorytelling. Basically, the Alliance players calls decrying favoritism of the Horde versus the Alliance. It’s not just that all the good things happen to the Horde, it’s that all the things happen to the Horde period. I had a comment on there that I’ve decided to expand into a post of its own, because there’s quite a bit to say.

Despite Chris Metzen’s most candid assurances about Warlords of Draenor being the Alliance’s finest hour, one can’t help but notice that there are seven Orcs, two Draenei, and a partridge in a pear tree one human listed on their promotion website.

I believe the term "Horde bias" can be summed up by this set of characters.

While I have doubts about them hand waving the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey away—largely due to the fact that while all of the Orc leaders are dead in current Azeroth and there won’t be overlap, the Draenei leaders are not. Two Velens? Twice the prophet, twice the pacifism, but more on that in a bit—I’m still pretty excited about the lore even though I’m almost exclusively an Alliance player. I mean, the Horde has all the things the Alliance do not: a new world, and internal conflict.

A Whole New World

Unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings. The “savage” world of Draenor is built from the ground up for this expansion, and provides a historical context for Outland today. It’s also the native homeworld of the Orcs, and the temporary world of the Draenei (despite being named by the Draenei, they were only there for about 200 years). So while the Draenei get a little time in the spotlight, the Orcs clearly have a much longer heritage, and therefore it is to be expected that the planet reflect that. 

Which is hilarious when you compare it to the history of Azeroth. While Orcs and Draenei were new comers to this stage, Orcs and the Horde still dominate much of the geography of Kalimdor. The Draenei are off on Azuremist Isle, and the Night Elves have lost most of their territory in northern Kalimdor during the Cataclysm. Heck, the Orcs have even managed to push them back in the never-ending war of Ashenvale. Looking over at the Eastern Kingdoms, the alliance owns a large chunk of the middle of it, while the northern part is dominated by Sylvanas’ Forsaken and the Blood Elves. While the overall control remains somewhat even if you use the map below to start counting territories, it’s clear that the Alliance is fractured, whereas the Horde is in a dominant, consolidated pair of positions. The Alliance is losing the war on almost all fronts, with the sole exception of Swamp of Sorrows, where the Alliance finally has an actual outpost. Except Theramore is a crater. So much for even exchanges.

Draenor is likely to be far more lopsided, but given that the Draenei are refugees whereas the Orcs are natives, I’d actually expect that, despite not being true in Azeroth.

Found on the Internet here. A fantastic map of Azeroth after the Cataclysm, complete with outposts/flight paths.

Conflict Eternal

But frankly, who owns what land isn’t what makes the Horde the better story anchors. What makes a story exciting? Conflict. Without conflict, you’re basically involved in a dull documentary. Whether it’s the internal conflict (like Lo’Gosh vs. Varian), or external conflict (Horde vs. Alliance), the Horde has what the Alliance does, and so much more.

The Alliance is made up of largely stereotypical fantasy races. Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes, and they all mostly get along, with a few minor caveats.

The Humans have their Defias problem mostly under control, and Lo’Gosh and Anduin’s growing pains are mostly resolved at this point, as is the story of Arthas, the Lich King. While Jaina’s reaction to Garrosh’s atrocity is an interesting bit of story, she’s been sidelined by Varian, and while Dalaran going Alliance was pretty big, every one of Jaina’s moves were a reaction to something the Horde did.

The Night Elves don’t really do much of anything except get slaughtered in Ashenvale, despite Blizzard’s ham-handed attempt to create a foil for Varian’s wise king moments in Pandaria, where the 10,000 year old Night Elf ruler Tyrande throws at what can be best described as a fit when Varian doesn’t just charge right in. Hilarious that the woman who’s ruled for longer than the human kingdoms have existed, and has also lost her immortality, is suddenly impatient.
After getting some criticism about Tyrande's personality in recent years, the designers wanted to get back to her Warcraft 3 roots, in which she was very much gung-ho. So with Patch 5.1.0 they wanted to show Varian's development, and thought she'd be an interesting foil.
http://www.wowhead.com/news=208882/wowheads-exclusive-interview-with-lead-quest-designer-dave-kosak
Gung-ho does not mean stupid. Just for the record.

The Dwarves also have some slightly neglected internal conflict. Moira Thaurissan provided the writers with the perfect opportunity to have some discord amongst the Alliance races, especially when Varian waltzed in and created a Tribunal. But besides Moira participating in the “Blood in the Snow” scenario, they’ve largely ignored the value here.

Toss in the Draenei, whose biggest issue is now that their spaceship is finally repaired, do they stick around or flee yet again? Velen’s pacifism, while noble, doesn’t make for good storytelling. The Gnomes are busy failing to retake their homeland from irradiated troggs, still. The Worgen are off licking their wounds in Darnassus, and not doing much of anything except be grateful they have a place to hide from Sylvanas. And the faction Pandaren were completely ignored (though the Horde have this issue as well).

But for the most part, the Alliance is made up of goody-goody races that don’t really have their own agendas outside the glory of the Alliance. While the Gnomes and Worgen have pressing issues about their immediate survival as a race, there’s not much to be done about either. Not unless we do Assault on Gnomregan 2.0, or Greymane convinces the Alliance that Sylvanas needs to be stopped will we see anything there. I’m interested to hear what they have in store for the Space Goats in Warlords of Draenor, but I’m not holding my breath.

Compare that to the Horde, and wow is there ever a difference.

Whereas the Alliance is made up of mostly standard fantasy races, the Horde is a mishmash of unique, or at least differentiated, races. Undead, Trolls, Orcs, and Tauren all have their own twists to the genre.

Sylvanas is probably the best example of awesome potential internal conflict and unique racial attributes here. It’s clear in her interactions with Thrall, and then Garrosh, that she not only has her own agenda, but she’s willing to risk the Forsaken’s place in the Horde to achieve it, be it plague or valkyr. Her rule of former Lordaeron is absolute, and the Forsaken’s very existence is now in jeopardy with the Lich King unable to bolster their ranks. The difference between her and the Worgen or Gnomes is that she is in a position to help herself, and move forward with those plans, and so she has. She’s also interesting because the idea of an undead race is actually pretty different from other fantasy tropes, so her methods and motives can be radical as there’s no real genre template the writers would have to fight.

The Trolls are another interesting idea, as one of the primary progenitor races of Azeroth. They’re barbaric, yet at the same time not without their honor or capability. After the retaking the Echo Isles, Vol’jin became a spokesperson (spokestroll?) for the rebellion against Garrosh, especially after they were evicted from the city as they were “lesser” Horde in Garrosh’s eyes. So not only did the Trolls succeed where the Gnomes have failed, but a non-Orc heading the Horde is very interesting indeed. So now the Trolls are thrust into the spotlight, and all Horde eyes will be watching their new position very carefully.

The Orcs, of course, are one of the most prolific Horde races in Azeroth. Their history with demonic forces and overcoming them, as well as creating the Horde in the first place, gives them a solid basis, but when you compare and contrast Garrosh to Thrall--ignoring the effective retcon that was Garrosh making progress in Stonetalon and stopping the use of a weapon of mass destruction, then reverting for some reason and bombing Theramore to smithereens with a magical nuke—there’s an immense source of conflict there. Thrall is the peaceful goody-two-shoes, Garrosh wants to relive the glory days of the Orcs before they drank the demon’s blood (hence Warlords of Draenor), not to mention Garrosh’s overt racism against the “lesser” Horde. And who’ll be the new Orcish leader? Not likely Thrall. The Orcish race is in flux, and when the Iron Horde comes crashing into Azeroth, what will the Orcs do?

The Tauren had Magatha Grimtotem’s betrayal of Cairne, Baine Bloodhoof’s subsequent rise to Chieftain, and a relatively quick civil war that caused the Grimtotems to be evicted from Thunder Bluff. Besides that, Baine is largely untested and would not stand up to Garrosh on his own when the Warchief attacked Theramore, though his honor did prompt him to warn Jaina. Magatha Grimtotem is still out there, but like the Worgen, Blizzard has largely ignored this with the exception of a quest chain in Thousand Needles. The Tauren’s primary point of interest at this point is the fact that they’re pretty well the opposite of fantasy minotaurs. Peaceful, and tribal, rather than monstrous or mercenary, which gives the writers some tools.

Blood Elves aren’t terribly interesting now they’ve mostly kicked their magic addiction, and despite Lor’themar’s rebuttal to Jaina Proudmoore’s eviction notice, his hand in the war wasn’t that large. That, and Elves. How exciting can Elves really be? Even if they have the term ‘Blood’ prepended. The Goblins can largely be written off as either green Gnomes, or Horde-favored versions of the same Goblins who already worked mostly with the Horde anyhow. And like above, the faction Pandaren? Entirely ignored.

The Alliance is mostly stable, with not a lot of internal strife or discord, and unfortunately what little there is can’t compete with the sheer chaos and flux that is the Horde right now. With Garrosh on the loose and the Horde reeling from a costly civil war, even if the next expansion wasn’t Garrosh-incited, the Horde just have so many more interesting plot hooks and unique ideals.

Chris Metzen. Senior Vice President of Creative Development of Blizzard. Voice of Ragnaros and Thrall. Orc Wannabe. His shirt? Orc skin green.
As an Alliance player, I can say that yeah, the Alliance is pretty boring from a storytelling perspective and pretty much exists only as a foil to the Horde. Blizzard wrote themselves into a corner, and Metzen’s unabashed love for everything Orcish certainly isn’t helping matters there. But that’s okay. I’d rather have a natural progression that feels interesting, even if it’s Horde-centric, than more clumsy attempts at randomly injecting conflict, like with Tyrande or Jaina.



Bonus Picture: Doc Brown Explains the Warlords of Draenor Timeline

Original Image here: http://i.imgur.com/pHNbEZa.jpg. Not mine. But brilliant.

7 comments:

  1. I think part of the problem is that despite having plenty of amazing ideas for other stories (such as fallout of the whole three-hammers thing, or Magatha's attempted coup) Blizzard has always been most in love with the story from the first Warcraft, whose title spells it out perfectly "Warcraft: Orcs and Humans". Other stories might pop up, but in the end the spotlight shines on the dynamic between the original races, and the two have always been stuck in a dance that the Orcs lead.

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    1. Yup. Entirely agreed. The Alliance, or the humans at least, have always existed as a foil to the Orcs. I'm personally okay with that being the focus given I've been playing Warcraft games since the original RTS, but can Blizzard afford their continued focus, or will it hurt sales and subscriptions in the long term? The WoW playerbase is extremely diverse, and decently sensitive to this sort of thing. On the other hand, I really don't miss the players who were endlessly complaining about ZOMG Pandas! So perhaps it's not a big deal either way.

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    2. I think it's part of the problem of having such a wide player base with varying interests. Some players want Game of Warcrafts, others want Warcraft 2. I personally think some of their strongest potential stories are some of those they've left hanging in the wind; such as the council of three hammers, or even ones as far back as Calia Menethil's disappearance. I don't know if an endless back and forth between Orc and Human will sustain the series, eventually it's going to get stale (and for some of us it already has).

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  2. Agreed with Clockwork. And even the start of the whole series involved the ORCS invading and the humans reacting.

    But yes, Talarian, I'm annoyed with Tyrande's portrayal in A Little Patience. They just want to portray Varian as being better than her in every way despite being about 1/200th of her age.

    And on a broader point, yeah, the Horde tends to spark events while the Alliance pretty much exists to fight against threats like the Burning Legion.

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    1. Seriously. I think I nearly did a spit take with my drink when I first watched the beginning of that scenario. It was almost silly.

      Like I said in my post, I'm okay with the Horde being the primary story drivers. They're clearly more proactive and more interesting from a story perspective, unless Blizzard gets a little more creative with their Alliance-based story hooks.

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    2. I'm glad I am not the only person that thought that Scenario was weird. My first time through I spent the whole time thinking that it must be some other NPC with Tyrande's voice. I find it odd that Night Elves that are supposedly hundreds of years old or more are so prone to flights of naivety (especially since, IIRC, using ambush tactics was something you did as Tyrande in WC3...)

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  3. "The Goblins can largely be written off as either green Gnomes, or Horde-favored versions of the same Goblins who already worked mostly with the Horde anyhow."

    ...................... DAMMIT. We get no love. No respect! /shakes fist

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