Battle for Azeroth, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, has been almost entirely centered around the Horde. The Horde made the first strike in the faction war, burning down the Night Elven home of Teldrassil. Sylvanas, the Warchief of the Horde, stole the spotlight and was the most compelling character in the Battle for Lordaeron. The Zandalar campaign led the Horde to the first raid of Uldir, where Horde heroes slew G’huun. For many Alliance players, there’s a sense that they’ve been tagging along for the ride so far.
Polygon recently spoke with Steve Danuser, senior narrative designer on World of Warcraft, and Steve Burke, senior designer and assistant quest lead, about the Alliance’s role in Battle for Azeroth so far — and what’s next for the game’s other faction.
Spotlight on Darkshore
“In Battle for Azeroth, one of the things we set up to do is tell a really strong Horde story and a really strong Alliance story,” Burke says. This is the first time that the Alliance and the Horde are at war with no reservations, which he adds leads to unique opportunities.
Danuser acknowledges that, so far, the narrative has been focused on the Horde. “All wars have ebbs and flows,” he said. “One side takes the upper hand for a while, and the other side gets their turn.” The Horde fired the first volley, but the upcoming raid and new warfront are both centered around telling an Alliance story. Right now, the story’s focus is on the Night Elves.
Tyrande Whisperwind, the Night Elven leader, leaves Stormwind and starts a rogue operation of her own. Tyrande becomes the Night Warrior and begins the task of hunting down Forsaken in her territory. It’s a major change for the character, and one that almost didn’t come to pass.
“We certainly considered” making Maiev, the notoriously vengeful Warden, the Night Warrior instead, he says. Maiev had a full story arc in Legion with Illidan and the Vault of the Wardens, however, so the writing team decided that Tyrande and Malfurion needed a time to shine — as well as the ferocity of the Night Elves.
As for Sira and Delaryn being raised and joining the Forsaken, that was a “very deliberate choice,” according to Danuser. The team wanted to show various aspects of the Night Elves, as opposed to presenting them as a monolith. We should expect to see them return, too, he says: “These characters are important to the Night Elf culture.”
Burke also noted that many Night Elf characters were alive during the time of Queen Azshara (who is set to return in Patch 8.2). The Night Elf presence in the story will likely continue throughout that confrontation.
An Alliance divided?
The Horde have had a meaty political storyline so far, even including the first major branching storyline choice offered via dialogue in World of Warcraft. So far, the Alliance has yet to see that level of division. However, with the new stories, tensions are brewing.
“When you go through the introductory quest lines on Darkshore, there’s a tense moment between Tyrande and King Anduin,” says Danuser. “That brings to the forefront a lot of feelings that a lot of players felt, like, Anduin, you haven’t been helping us!”
Both Burke and Danuser repeatedly stressed throughout the course of the interview that the Alliance is not a monolith of views and approaches. However, one character has taken the spotlight and the reigns of action: Anduin, the new high king. “With the death of Varian in Legion and the rise of Anduin to Kinghood, we’ve spent a lot of time on his character and showing his growth,” says Danuser. “He’s a great character, and we wanted to show how he interacts with big figures in the game.”
The Stormwind house of nobles is still present, and the writers say that there’s a strong chance the entire city of Stormwind isn’t united behind Anduin. “We’ve got to pick and choose who we focus on,” says Burke. “We’re telling so many stories and there are so many things we’re excited to show.”
That being said, while the Horde story is currently one of deep division, Danuser notes that the Alliance aren’t at each other’s throats. “The Alliance is like a family. Brothers and sisters can disagree, and things can get heated, but there’s still a deep and abiding love and trust there.”
The challenges ahead
In Battle for Azeroth, the developers are getting away from grand space opera theatrics and broad strokes and into grittier territory. So far, there have been some wins: Zones like Drustvar and Nazmir have been intriguing stories set in gorgeous setpieces. There have also been raging controversies, like the one around Warbringers: Sylvanas. So far, one of the biggest challenges the writers have is dealing with a world that is hard-locked into two factions.
For instance, Horde players see their story through an oppressively dark light, and it’s easy to see why. The Horde exclusive content — the War of the Thorns, the end-game war campaign, and the Darkshore quests and warfront — is all focused on killing, blighting, burning, betraying, and raising people into undeath. Yet canonically, the Horde is the one who stopped G’huun in Uldir and saved the world. The Alliance had access to the exact same content, just with less lore and story. The Horde players don’t get the balance of feeling like they saved the world, because it would mean Alliance players would sit on their hands for months watching the rest of the players advance.
The upcoming raid, Battle of Dazar’Alor, tackles this problem by having the Horde and Alliance have two raid stories — and the opposite faction will temporary flip sides for flashbacks that show the whole story. The Alliance storm the Zandalar capital and gain a massive upper hand in the war. From there, the writers will have to balance a compelling Alliance story with the rising threat of the Old Gods (and, of course, the ongoing Horde story.)