Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Siege of Orgrimmar: A Roadmap for Failure

On March 19th, Blizzard lifted the NDA on the Mists of Pandaria press tour. It was already known that Blizzard intended to focus on factional conflict in the upcoming expansion, even more so than they did in prior expansions. Blizzard is continuing to paint themselves into a corner here, and one of the keystones of their presentation was the unveiling of the final raid of the expansion, The Siege of Orgrimmar. Apparently the final boss of the expansion that they weren't willing to reveal earlier in the process is going to be Garrosh Hellscream. We know a few things about the intended raid and its storyline, both factions will be involved, with King Wrynn leading the raid for Alliance players, and the end result will be the restoration of Thrall to the throne of the Horde. Some bloggers and many forum goers and commenters have mentioned their fears of this being a signal of Alliance favoritism. Spinks has a good post on her fears, you should read it. There are others who fear that it signals yet another expansion of Horde favoritism and Alliance marginalization. Both these groups have valid fears, there aren't many ways Blizzard can take this, a lot of people are going to be unhappy no matter what they do, and there's some major concerns that will need to be addressed to minimize the impact of this poor choice of plot arc on the overall narrative. I'm going to go over their fears, and lay out a blueprint for Blizzard to try and minimize the damage, as they are clearly too far into development to completely abort the story line.

It seems like the story is going to progress through Mists of Pandaria that Garrosh is going to come increasingly under the influence of a mysterious entity called the Sha. These creatures gain strength from negative emotions, such as doubt, and use that strength to corrupt those around them. Eventually, Garrosh is going to cross a threshhold, possibly the destruction of Theramore, possibly something hitting closer to home, such as the murder of Varok Saurfang, that will convince Thrall that it is time to remove Garrosh from the throne. That's the Horde side of the raid, the Alliance side is pretty much that they finally figure out that they're at war. I have a lot of issues with that set up, but I'll save those for when we have more information, or I'm particularly bored. The biggest fears at the moment are with regards to how the event itself will be handled and how the aftermath will go down.

Alliance players are afraid that this is going to be a rehash of the second half of Cataclysm, where it's nothing but "Save Thrall from his own angst!" and "Help Thrall become the Earth Warder!" and Alliance players are wondering why they're helping their sworn enemy. If the raid devolves into "Help Thrall defeat Garrosh!" for Alliance players, then it would be, as I said earlier, the death knell for the Alliance as a interesting faction, they'd be nothing more than foils to help propel Green Jesus to greater glory. It's an incredibly demoralizing prospect.

At the same time, Horde players are understandably upset at the prospect of an Alliance army, led by King Wrynn, smashing down the gates of their capitol city and butchering their leader. If an opponent can take your capitol and decapitate your leadership, then your nation is a step away from the dustbin of history. Spinks was worried that it could herald the annexation of the Horde into the Alliance in order to facilitate cross faction grouping in the expansion afterwards. While I find that notion unlikely, the fear of losing their unique perspective within the game is a very primal one.

Blizzard is walking the razor's edge here, and they don't even have a good reason for it. But I have some advice for them as to how they can avoid catastrophic alienation of either factions.

The first step, and admitedly, the most unlikely, is to scratch Thrall from the story. Either just put him on the first bus to Nagrand so he can raise his oddly colored children in peace, or, my personal favorite, have Garrosh kill him as the catalyst for the Horde players to rise up against him. Whatever you do, don't just put him back as Warchief and then carry on as if nothing happened. Doing that exposes Garrosh as nothing more than a cheap plot device to create the war that allows Thrall to come back as the messianic peacekeeper. The Horde then gets to deflect all the blame onto Garrosh, completely undermining any analysis of the foundation that the Horde is built upon. At its core, this path is tantamount to retconning away everything the Horde has done in Cataclysm. Nothing that happened would matter because it was "Garrosh's Horde".

Regardless of weather they keep with the decision to use Thrall as Garrosh's successor, or someone else, there's another thing that they need to keep in mind, faction segregation. Do not have the Alliance following the Horde leader around again. Do not have Horde players following King Wrynn around. You can have them meet up in an ICC gunship or ToC faction champs fight, but don't make them feel subordinate to the opposing faction. That's a recipe for discontent. Both factions need their own reasons for pushing after Garrosh, and their reasons have to be driving force within their instance.

One final tip. Do not make the impetus for Horde action be that Jaina went and cried to Thrall after the Horde smashes Theramore. That'll just piss everyone off.

As far as to how the Alliance is going to be convinced not to simply crush the Horde under its boot after they storm the streets of Orgrimmar, you're on your own there Blizz. I warned you this would be coming, and you really don't have a way out that doesn't involve some ridiculously hack writing.


  1. Fantastic post! Wish blizz would hire you!

  2. The writers have really written themselves into a corner on this one. What's the probable outcome from the Alliance killing Garrosh? Do they force the surrender of the Horde? Occupy Orgrimmar? Do they get Gilneas back? Do the Forsaken abandon Hillsbrad and retreat? Those are all things that would happen in a real conflict but we're talking about a game with limited opportunities for change. For gameplay purposes none of those things will happen. When I play one of my Horde characters through Ashenvale I will still stand among the fallen bodies of the Night Elves. The Alliance does not gain by the death of Garrosh no matter what he may be up to underneath Orgrimmar. The only benefit in this story is to the Horde with the return of Thrall.

    And I think that is the ultimate goal. They want (Metzen probably most of all) Thrall back for the next expansion. The end-game raid as we know it now, will probably not satisfy either faction. If it's seen that the Horde is surrendering to the Alliance, Horde players will naturally be upset. If Alliance players merely "join" the Horde (ignoring the obvious question of "why would you help your enemy when he's down?") and reinstate Thrall, it will only further inflame the perceptions of Horde favoritism in story development.

    It would have been much better if they had developed independent story arcs for the two factions. We could have seen a Horde story with a civil war occurring within the Horde and Vol'jin and Baine dethroning Garrosh (and reinstating Thrall). That would be something Horde players could have been invested in.

    We could have seen an Alliance story where the Alliance retakes Gilneas through phasing while the Horde leaders are preoccupied in Orgrimmar with civil strife. An Alliance territorial goal would have been completed, the Gilnean story come full circle, and given a reason for Thrall to sue for peace. That would be something Alliance players could have been invested in. Instead the writers decided they needed a way to bring Thrall back into the limelight. The worst problem is that the Alliance will have gained nothing concrete from this when they clearly needed some attention after the problems in Cataclysm's story writing. No territory will be recovered for them and no storyline developed that revolved around realistic Alliance story imperatives. It's a mess right now.

  3. Nice post!

    I pretty much /facepalm'd when I heard Garrosh would be a raid boss. They went and ruined Thrall for me in Cata, the only story hook left for him now is to die, and I know they won't do that.... Instead they'll keep shoving him down player's throats, just like Varian.

    There is just no way, a raid on Orgrimmar will make sense to my alliance characters. Garrosh's horde was GOOD, they made me feel like there was finally some WAR in Warcraft! Sure, that makes my characters want to kill him, but if my worgen warrior gets into Orgrimmar, he would start burning it to the ground! I guess my pally would leave the unarmed civillians alone, but that's the ONLY mercy they'd be shown. As far as reinstating Thrall? None of my characters would support that! Take Orgrimmar and you take the Horde down, and that's the only reason the Alliance should be going in there!

    Your last paragraph? Infinitely better than anything Blizzard seems to cook up these days. I know they've told good stories before, I just can't grasp how they've managed to forget how to do it now. Gilneas NEEDS to go back to the Worgen.

    In particular I find they just can't write story for the alliance. It's all horde flavored.

    Compelling horde story? One leader, forsaken having secret plans, Garrosh: maybe not the best leader? Trolls: acting without Warchief's consent. Disorganized leadership and internal conflict.

    Compelling alliance Story? Leaders having equal sway, strong leaders with full support. Huddled masses facing external threats. Standing united, organized armies. Protecting the weak. Varian is currently a Warchief, commanding other people's kingdoms. He should be consulting his allies and formualting GOOD plans. He's king of only one of the human kingdoms, and all their hackneyed, forced attempts at giving him Herculean trials to make us like him will not work because he'll still be an Orc in a human wireframe.

    Tyrande is the only Alliance leader who should really be leading her troops into battle, IMHO.

  4. There could be an small chance that Thrall gets killed by Garrosh, this starts the attack on Ogrimmar and then Vol'jin enters the throne after Garrosh is killed, that would be à nice turnover and à chance for the horde to make up for the way Garrosh treated the trolls. Hell why can't Vol'jin be the one thats leading the siege for the horde?

    1. Nope, I found something out after I wrote this post that really pissed me off about this move, I'll write an addendum to this post later. But as it stands from the various interviews given out by blizz employees like Metzen and Brack, none of the events you speculated on will occur. Metzen's already decided on how things will go.

  5. As for how the Alliance can be convinced not to just burn down Ogrimmar and salt the earth, I've got an easy solution. Send Baine and Vol'jin as emissaries to Malfurion, asking Malfurion to speak to the Alliance on their behalf.

    Let the Alliance raiders be an assassination squad aided by certain traitors to Garrosh's Horde. You can even make things more interesting by having the Alliance betray the deal by also launching a huge strike against the Horde at the same time. This lets Alliance players have a good reason for working with certain Horde figures during the final raid, but also doesn't paint it as a fight between the Evil Horde and Nobel Alliance.

  6. But... But... ridiculously hack writing that glorifies Thrall is what Metzen does best! If he can't fall back on that, then what can they do?!

    1. They can always fire Metzen.

      And hire The Renaissance Man.

  7. I don't see why there's so many complaints on having Garrosh as the final villain in this expansion?
    Burning Crusade had Illidan, a alliance night elf turned demon,
    Wrath of the Lichking had Arthas a human traitor
    and they cry Horde favouritism when there faction isn't in the centre of the story line

    1. Illidan was a Night Elf, true.
      Pretty sure he was never an "Alliance" Night Elf.

  8. Re: "As far as to how the Alliance is going to be convinced not to simply crush the Horde under its boot after they storm the streets of Orgrimmar, you're on your own there Blizz."

    Varian thought putting Garrosh on trial was a good idea, overruling Jaina's recommendation to execute him.

    Then Garrosh escaped, giving us our next expansion.

    Should have listened to Jaina.