Monday 19 February 2007

You must pick one or the other, though neither of them are to be what they claim

I'd been putting off the decision of whether to join the Aldors or Scryers for a while, and finally made my decision over the weekend: I've thrown my lot in with the Aldors. I looked around the city, chatted to a few people of the two factions, found out what their true aims and goals were, assessed how these aligned with my own aims, and decided that (i) the Aldors have a nice sword, if I ever become Revered with them, and (ii) a couple of friends have gone Scryer, so we can trade tokens between us. As Tobold noted, there's not really that much difference between Aldor and Scryer, but at least it's a slightly more interesting use of factions that the previous "hey, here's a timesink so you can spend a few months watching your reputation bar slowly edge upwards" model.

The backstory of Warcraft is a bit of a sprawl. From the original "There's some Orcs! And some Humans! And they don't really like each other and poke each other with sharp sticks!", the subsequent RTS games, board games, roleplaying games, card games, novels, breakfast cereal and tie-in floor wax have developed the entire Warcraft universe with its many and diverse factions, so you now have the noble, brave Orcs, some of whom were corrupted by the evil demons to be bloodthirsty savage Orcs, and the Undead, nobody likes them, they're evil, well, except maybe the Forsaken, who are probably still evil but in a slightly different way, and the Humans, some of whom are fine and noble and others rather unpleasant, and some started fine and noble in fighting the undead but then went a bit bonkers in the nut so you'd better kill them too, and then there's the Night Elves, High Elves, Blood Elves, Guive-Guive-Guisarme-Elves... For an RTS game, this is great; it lets you pit pretty much anyone against anyone else in whatever combination takes your fancy. For a roleplaying game, either pencil and paper or a single player CRPG, it allows all sorts of subtle and intricate interactions, betrayels, uncoverings of true motives and other good stuff to keep a story moving. The MMOG, though, suffers a bit of a split personality. On the one hand, all players are either Alliance or Horde. The two sides hate the other, grrr, and attack on sight (on a PvP server, at least; on a PvE server everyone's much more polite, and will attack on sight, grrr, provided the enemy has indicated they don't mind being attacked. Otherwise it just wouldn't be sporting.) On the other hand, there are some *real* enemies who everybody agrees are a bad business, padre, such as the Undead Scourge in the Plaguelands and the insectoid unpleasantness of Ahn'Qiraj, and both sides can fight against these under the guidance of neutral factions like The Argent Dawn and the Cenarion Circle.

Now all of this is understandable from a game perspective. By divvying up players as Alliance and Horde, you've got your two PvP teams, with some story behind them and some reason for fighting other than "you're the red team and you're the blue team". For PvE, to save having to create double the amount of content, you add in the neutral factions, and hey presto, everyone can go to The Scarlet Monestary/Scholomance/Ahn'Qiraj.

It's all a bit arbitrary, though. The Argent Dawn show that it's quite possible for a human, a tauren, one of the forsaken undead and a gnome (this is turning into a "... go into a bar" joke) to work together against a greater evil, and they're more than happy for a human or a tauren player to work with them... but the human and tauren player can't work together, because they're Alliance and Horde. You can't pull off that classic storyline of "we may have been enemies in the past, but the only way to overcome the current situation is to work together".

What would be more interesting is if more of the world worked like the Aldors and Scryers; perhaps even having the Alliance and Horde as a whole as factions you could gain or lose reputation with. You could follow your own path in the world, aligning yourself with organisations as you saw fit. PvP wouldn't just be Horde vs Alliance, but could depend on more local context. Of course there are any number of difficulties with such a model, especially considering it would have to work for both roleplayers making decisions based on story and character and hardcore number crunchers calculating the optimal route to increase their power, so I can understand why Blizzard have taken the slightly easier route of making the Alliance and Horde experience virtually identical in the Burning Crusade, regardless of whether you align with Aldor or Scryer. A range of different, but equally good options would be great, but failing that, choice alone doesn't make up for quality; I’d prefer to just have a really good vanilla ice cream than the choice of 23 badly made flavours.

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