*This post has some spoilers for Battle for Azeroth and should be generally avoided if you’re trying to stay clean. Here is some more filler text to make sure no spoilers leak into text previews. Hey, Allied Races are pretty cool, right? Void Elves have the best hair in the game, and Highmountain Tauren the best antlers/horns/whatever you want to call them.*
The faction capitals for Battle for Azeroth are fascinating and actually deliver something I’ve hoped for since I started playing WoW back in 2004.
They feel alive and logically make sense.
Firstly, they are huge cities, with a small area carved out for Horde or Alliance representation. It’s nice that we don’t take over completely in either case, instead being relegated to smaller portions of the overall cities in question. While Boralus has a lot of work to be done to fill out the liveliness of the zone, we can speak to the population of Zuldazar, and my, it is awesome. Horde tourists taking selfies (they’re Blood Elves because of course). Kor’kron trainees working out, finally inclusive of all Horde races since Garrosh is no longer around to dictate that they are only Orcs. The kind of things that give a fictional city a sense of realism – the indication that people live and work in it, is absolutely present, and we have many indications that point to the idea that Boralus will be similar in that regard.
However, what I truly appreciate about this approach to cities is this – for the first time ever in WoW, our faction capitals aren’t just places we’re allowed to roll up and take over fully. Shattrath was awesome, but it was also just given over to us strange people from Azeroth. Dalaran has always served as a mobile base, so both expansions it has been present for are clear here – Dalaran is “our” city in a way and so we get all of it, great! Cataclysm didn’t have anything outside our main “big” capitals, and that worked for that expansion. Mists of Pandaria had the Shrines – which you don’t discover until close to max level and which honestly felt kind of lame. Yes, they were “Shrines” but having a capital you could cover on foot in under 1 minute was disappointing. Warlords of Draenor arguably made the Garrison the capital, and while the Ashran settlements could have been cool if they built up over time, they remained a weird patchwork of scaffolding and half-done buildings, wasting their potential.
But more than that is the simple fact that we always roll up and take over the whole city – short of a few NPCs that remain, places like the Shrines and Shattrath are no longer parts of their original heritage – they are places for the heroes of Azeroth. What both Zuldazar and Boralus appear to be doing so well is that we are not trusted. In the case of the Horde, the Zandalari are not onboard with them to start. The Horde are given a tiny chamber in which they can hold a presence, but it is clear that this is done for the sake of control. Likewise, Boralus for the Alliance is that idea turned to 11 – we are fugitives in the city and our presence has to remain compact and quiet, less Lady Ashvane get pissed off and try to imprison us…again.
And really, why shouldn’t it be that way? After all, looking back in WoW history, many of the places we take as capitals are taken after some horrific event or with a minimum of interaction. The Shrines in Pandaria are protested against by Taran Zhu – in fact, he doesn’t even want to let us into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms at all. This itself makes an interesting plot point that is played into all expansion – we attempt to win over Taran Zhu while having the Celestials on our side. This kind of conflict within our protagonist core is essential to having a better overall story – it doesn’t really make sense that we would be given free reign, yet often we are.
That is why I find the idea of the way BfA handles these places so refreshing. Think about it like this – the Kul’Tirans have not come to find or join the Alliance once over the last 20 years, and further, their last interactions with the Alliance saw Jaina betray the kingdom by allowing the death of her father, their ruler. Why should the Kul’Tirans welcome the Alliance with anything more than contempt? Likewise, for the Horde, our last interaction with the Zandalari was pushing back against their efforts to establish Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman as forces for a new Troll empire. Further, in Mists of Pandaria, we worked against their ancient Mogu allies and thwarted their efforts to gain power at the Throne of Thunder. Why would they be willing to bring in the Horde, especially when their one link – Vol’jin – is dead? It sets up an interesting conflict to resolve in the leveling content, for once – our attempt to build up the war machine against the other faction should have us working against other foes. The Horde(or Alliance on the other side) aren’t present for that experience – and something needs to drive the plot forward meaningfully.
And a look around both areas will reveal why. Zandalar is ravaged by conflict, with a story of palace intrigue as the royal council seems pretty split along some differences, with the early indications being that the Old Gods are also involved in some way. Likewise, the Kul’Tirans are into some weird shit – the Sea Priests seem to be an all-out cult to the Old Gods, Lady Ashvane has taken charge of Boralus and turned the populace against the Proudmoores that remain, especially Jaina. All of this is happening at a time of turmoil for the Alliance – Anduin still settling in as King, the return of Jaina, and the end of the Argus campaign fresh in everyone’s minds.
One of my chief concerns with a faction conflict expansion is that the level-up stories either have to also focus in on that topic a lot, or you have a weird leveling flow where the main story isn’t touched on much in favor of sideplots. What I like about this is that ultimately, it seems we get a good split. The story focuses heavily on faction conflict, but also gives us something to chew on before that takes center stage. Now, can it be said that all of these stories will be good? Not yet – we just don’t have enough to go on. However, I do think it is a promising start to see all of the stuff we have currently on Alpha and know that there is a great mix of faction conflict, new faction conflict, and intrigue to be learned with the new places and people we will meet.
If we went to Kul Tiras or Zandalar and everything was just swell, but they were fighting each other as a proxy war for the one we bring to them, well, that would have been rather dull. It was, to be fair, also completely what I expected to see. What we have so far is unique in WoW and different from any other expansion, better capitalizing (hah!) on what I liked about subplots of the past like Taran Zhu. Why should these new factions trust us and let down their guard?
For all the good we have done, we are ultimately creatures consumed by war, and we are hellbent on bringing war to the places we will be. If you inhabit these places, there is no incentive in allowing us to drag our conflicts to your shores. You should, as one of these races, push back against us being there at all – we have a well-documented history of ruining things.
But, maybe we can earn trust along the way, endearing ourselves to the people of these locations, settling their conflicts, and eventually enlisting them into our war machines, the inter-factional conflict that rages on, while slowly becoming clued into the true nature of our true enemy.
Because more than the parallels between both continents, I would note one other similarity.
Both have a bit of an Old God problem.