After years of defending the world from outside threats, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is finally taking things back to the simple Horde versus Alliance conflict that the series was built on.
In the events leading up to the expansion’s release, the Horde’s new warchief, Sylvanas Windrunner, has committed quite a few atrocities in the name of the two factions’ conflict. This all started with her burning Teldrassil, the home of the night elf race, killing everyone still living there. When the Alliance invaded Lordaeron, Sylvanas’s de facto capital city, she used Blight, a chemical weapon that turns those affected by it into zombies, something that has been seen as so horrific, that it would have required the Alliance and Horde to put aside their differences and fight together against the enemy using it.
But not this time. Instead, it’s all justified by Sylvanas, who’s hellbent on winning this war. As for Horde players, whose job it is to follow her orders, it allows them to do something players have been gotten to do in World of Warcraft before: be villains. And that’s kind of exciting.
Before Battle for Azeroth, Horde players helped Sylvanas burn Teldrassil and destroy the alliance army along with most of Lordaeron. And that doesn’t stop once the expansion hits. Without spoiling too much, the Horde double down on their war effort and attempt to get more factions to their side, including the Zandalari trolls and even one of the troll’s gods, Bwonsamdi the Loa of death.
For years now, Blizzard has tried to put the two factions on equal moral footing. No one faction was good or evil — just different shades of grey, Blizzard employees would say. But, that’s not really true anymore. Under the leadership of Sylvanas — who has, in all fairness, always been an extremely evil character — the Horde has done things worse than the Alliance have ever dreamed of.
And sure, there’s always a chance the story of this expansion will end with us all uniting to fight some massive threat, like Void Lords or Old Gods, while everyone conveniently forgets what Sylvanas and the Horde did. But hopefully Blizzard will tell a more interesting story than that. But for now, we have abject villainy.
This direction has already angered a few players — after all, Blizzard probably could have done all of this without making the player party to genocide. But for many, the release of the Saurfang short helped galvanize them in their belief that the Horde would one day find honor again, even if its current actions are horrendous.
The excitement about playing Horde is about way more than just being the antagonist in this expansion. When the inevitable reconciliation between the factions happens, the Horde will — hopefully — be forced to own the actions of its leader, as well as its own role as complicit in those actions. Sure, we the players didn’t order Teldrassil to be burned, but we cleared the way for the catapults that set it on fire.
This idea of taking responsibility for your actions and attempting to reconcile them is entirely foreign to WoW at this point, but the Horde storyline in Battle for Azeroth means that this might not always be the case. World of Warcraft may be opening up to an entirely new type of story that allows players to truly take on the role of heroes and villains. And while it’s always nice to see yourself as the hero, watching your character attempt to grapple with the things they did as a villain should be even more interesting.