It’s time to look to the future. We know that World of Warcraft Patch 5.0 is coming down the pipeline, and we also know that there are some pretty major events planned – Theramore will be destroyed by the Horde, and subsequently a naval battle will end up with us shipwrecked in Pandaria. But there’s a lot more we don’t know. How will this actually impact us as players? What parts of the story will we hear, and what will we just read about? What are the results and the reactions of the Horde vs Alliance battle heating up likely to be, and what will that mean for us in terms of quests, instances, and loot?
A foreword: This article actually comes out of a discussion with Rades of the Orcish Army Knife blog. We’ve been bouncing ideas on what will happen during the transition back and forward for a while, and have ended up writing a pair of complementary posts on the subject. You can read his, focussing on the lore (which as regular readers will know, Rades knows better than anyone, possibly including Chris Metzen) over at Orcish Army Knife.
Meanwhile, over here, I’ll look at the possibilities from the point of view of what Blizzard needs to achieve, and what we’ll actually end up playing through in-game!
Blizzard fans the flames of War with Theramore
We already know that in WoW 5.0, Theramore is destroyed by the Horde.
It’s pretty obvious from the event they’re setting up that Blizzard are serious about bringing the war between Horde and Alliance to a new level. Theramore’s one of the oldest and best-loved of the Alliance settlements, and Jaina Proudmore, its ruler, is a fan-favourite. We’re already seeing from the furious reactions on the forums that this event is going to piss a lot of players off – and that’s obviously exactly what Blizzard are intending.
What’s more interesting is what reaction they’re intending the event to provoke from the Horde players. There are basically two possibilities here – either they’re wanting the Horde to have some level of dismay also, or they’re wanting to stoke the fires of the Horde just as much as the Alliance.
The Theramore attack will be a surprisingly hard sell to many Horde players. Thanks to the fan-fave theorised romance between Thrall and Jaina, as well as the latter’s general popularity (and, let’s be honest, position as the rare Warcraft female leader), Horde players tend to be fond of Jaina and by association Theramore too.
It’s true that in recent years Theramore’s been introduced as the bad guy in the Camp Taraujo massacre – which I’ve not played, but Rades tells me is extremely powerfully written – but nonetheless, I don’t see Blizzard managing to enthuse the Horde players en masse about the prospect of burning Theramore to the ground. Indeed, speaking as a Horde player myself, they’re as likely to be pissed off with Garrosh for screwing up again.
It’s possible that Blizzard are intending the Theramore attack to be the next episode in the ongoing saga of “Garrosh Hellscream – what a tool that guy is”. A full-scale razing of Theramore, almost certainly rousing Jaina to some sort of action and heating up the Horde-Alliance war again would certainly fit well with that. But given that the focus of the next expansion is meant to be “war”, will Blizzard want the Alliance baying for blood whilst the Horde are mostly baying for a leadership referendum?
Unlikely. It’s possible that the Blizzcon announcement that “the next big bad is War” is meant to be quite literal, and the focus will be on the devestation and human (orc/elf/dwarf) cost of the war, but frankly that seems a bit unlikely for the heroic fantasy focus of the Warcraft franchise.
So the most likely possibility is that Blizzard want to get both sides baying for each others’ blood.
And that means that we’re going to be looking at a similar blow to the Horde, probably as a retaliation, but equally possibly as the reason for the Theramore raid.
(A brief side-comment here. Something happening before Theramore would fit with Blizzard’s recent pattern of misdirection, too – remember the “wildly overhyped” comment Tom Chilton made about Mists of Pandaria? Everyone’s assuming that the burning of Theramore will be the initiator of the events of 5.0 – what if it’s the conclusion? What if Garrosh is right – has to happen some time – and he’s actually burning Theramore for a good reason? But I digress.)
Blizzard are going to want to make the Horde as mad as they do the Alliance. And that means we need to start looking for something that they’ll be taking away from the Horde.
What will the Horde lose in 5.0?
In order to get the Horde pissed, Blizzard will need to have the Alliance attack someone or something most players actually like, or want to have around.
There are a bunch of immediate options that spring to mind:
- As the Horde have taken the Alliance travel hub on Kalimdor, the Alliance could move down and conquer Grom’gol – removing a travel point for the Horde and making the event symmetrical.
- Jaina could attack Garrosh, perhaps defeating him – maybe even killing him, although that’s not so likely.
- The Alliance could move against the Horde en masse, capturing capital cities and giving Horde players the feeling of having their backs to the wall.
- The Alliance could attack a peaceful, undeserving target, infuriating the Horde in turn.
All of these options have problems with them. The first is the easiest and the most symmetrical – it takes something from the Horde, it’s a signal that War is happening. However, it’s also really boring. I don’t know anyone who’s going to be particularly upset if Grom’gol burns – there are no notable NPCs there I can think of, and Stranglethorn’s never been in the running for “favourite WoW zone”.
As for attacking Garrosh – if there was a quest option for this one, Blizzard would have a lot of popular pressure to let Horde players help Jaina finish Garrosh off!
Whilst I like the idea of an attack by Jaina on Garrosh – and it’d certainly be satisfying – it’s not going to annoy the Horde enough. Even if she succeeds in taking the Warchief out, many Horde players are going to be more thankful than upset.
The “Big Damn War” option might work, but the amount of content creation would be prohibitive – changes to all major cities and settlements would be needed in order to sell the idea that the Horde was really in trouble. That’s more budget than Blizzard are likely to want to spend on a world event, judging from previous examples. In addition, the pre-WoTLK “zombies” world event – which Blizzard stopped half-way through due to player complaints – shows that the WoW base really doesn’t like a story event to screw with their gameplay – if flight paths and settlements started disappearing left and right, they’d be facing a lot more complaints than they can handle.
As for the peaceful, undeserving target, there’s an obvious candidate. Many Horde players are very fond of it, it represents the most peaceful of the Horde factions, and there’s no real gameplay reason not to strike at it.
I’m talking about Thunder Bluff.
Will Thunder Bluff burn?
TB’s a perfect target in many ways. Whilst a lot of people retain a lot of fondness for it, like all the capital cities it doesn’t actually retain that much use these days. There’s no pressing gameplay reason that Blizzard can’t mess it up. And it’s close to Theramore – close enough that a retaliatory strike could hit it. There’s a reasonable way it could happen, too – if Garrosh happens to be in TB at the time, an attempt to take him out in revenge for Theramore’s destruction could easily blitz the city and many beloved NPCs by way of collateral damage.
But there’s a problem with this idea, too – logistics.
TB burning makes particular sense if it’s Jaina doing the attacking – mage-fire not being particularly known for its discriminating targetting – but I’d be very surprised if that’s what happens. Jaina has always been written as the consumate peacemaker – whilst it would be a really interesting character turn if something did hit her hard enough to turn her indescriminately vengeful, it’s unlikely to happen.
(Although, see below.)
More likely is the Kul Tiras connection – Jaina’s brother getting irate on her behalf – but Mulgore’s land-locked and the Kul Tiras forces are primarily naval. It’s hard to see how they’d get there to do the razing. Likewise, none of the Alliance forces are particularly close – although it’s interesting to note that Mulgore does have a dwarven presence, and the major problem with getting an army in there is – wait for it – a mountain range.
A dwarven sneak attack? It’s a possibility, and with the Dark Iron involvement, the dwarves are probably the most “sinister” of the Alliance races right now.
Alternatively, possibly with Dwarven aid, this could be the event that kicks off Varian Wrynn’s “trials” plotline where he must gain the trust of the Alliance – gain their trust back, possibly, after doing something Garrosh-level stupid in retaliation for the Theramore assault.
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. It’s pretty sure that Blizzard are going to do something to attempt to fire the Horde up too – the question is just what.
(Oh, one more mind-bender of an idea. There is one character whose death would immediately have every Horde player up in arms and baying for blood – Thrall. What if a retaliatory strike goes very, very wrong, perhaps as Thrall is attempting to remonstrate with Garrosh, and Jaina ends up killing her old friend by accident?
Let’s face it, it’s not going to happen. The WoW story team are reluctant to kill any character, and Thrall’s their main guy. But damn, it’d be a great story kick-off – and a great way to move the story forward – if it did happen.)
Gameplay – will we get to defend Theramore? Or attack it?
So how is this going to play out in gameplay?
The big question is whether the Theramore raid – and, of course, the subsequent Alliance retaliation – will be in-game, in cutscene, or presented after the event.
A lot of people want to play through the Theramore assault, particularly on the Alliance side. They want a chance to defend their city. Will this happen?
The key question we need to know before we answer that is this – what will the Horde be doing? It’s very unlikely that Blizzard are going to allow the attack to be playable from the Horde side. As previously mentioned, Jaina is a very popular figure, and unless there’s a powerful and direct reason why we as players want to raze the place, a plotline where we as characters assault and burn a (comparatively) peaceful city isn’t likely to be popular. At the same time, they’re unlikely to put a massive amount of developer time into developing an “attack” event that only one side will play – previous examples, like the Battle for Undercity and every previous world event, show that they’re likely to want to reuse as much content for both sides as possible.
However, the defence of the city is likely to be very popular indeed. If Blizzard don’t allow players to defend their beloved Theramore, they’re likely to be facing a repeat of the “ten years later” problem that afflicated Cataclysm. One of the chief problems with the expansion has been the playerbase’s collective disinterest in Deathwing, largely because the Cataclysm was presented as a fait acompli. Given that, and given the massive popularity of events like the Battle for Undercity, it’s hard to see them just updating the world and saying “Oh, yeah, Theramore’s flat now”, unless they really haven’t learned the lessons of the Catalcysm.
So what will happen? Well, there’s a fairly well-established story trope that can serve them well here – the desperate quest through a warzone on a mission not quite related to the war.
So, the Horde attacks Theramore for whatever reason, and the Alliance are busy having a great time defending it. What are the Horde doing?
Perhaps they’re trying to stop Garrosh being a jackass.
We already know there’s considerable division in the Horde ranks. A very plausible plotline for the Horde starts with us meeting with a leader of the Horde who’s more inclined to peace post-Deathwing – Baine Bloodhoof, perhaps. (Or, if you’re following my very unlikely “Thrall dies” theory, Thrall). An “investigation” plotline, similar to the plotlines we saw before Catalcysm, could lead us to the news that Garrosh is planning an attack on Theramore.
Regardless, we end up in the Theramore assault for a different reason – instead of being one of the attackers of a peaceful town, we’re racing against time to try and stop Garrosh before he does something really, really stupid. (As Rades details in his article, the Horde isn’t in nearly a strong enough position right now to restart a full-on war.)
This would give us some powerful gameplay, with a strong emotional connection – the lone messenger attempting to stop a war – and a great “alternate” take on the battle, as we attempt to get through the fighting and to Garrosh without getting too involved.
The only problem here, of course, is that this gameplay doesn’t give us the anger that Blizzard will want to instill in us against the Alliance – at least, not yet. But here’s one off-the-wall theory…
We accompany Baine Bloodhoof through the warzone as he attempts to get to Garrosh and broker a peace before it’s too late. But we do, in fact, get there too late – late enough that we arrive just as Garrosh does something truly over the top.
Here’s a thought – what if we end up in a naval battle because Jaina is now in charge – say, because Tandred Proudmore was in Theramore when the attack happened, and Garrosh kills him? (Perhaps Garrosh is attacking because he fears Kul Tiras’ attacking him – classic dramatic irony.)
If anything’s likely to enrage her, that’ll do it.
So, Jaina sees her brother fall, or something else awful happen – and Baine’s there, right beside Garrosh.
Now we’ve got the final act. We end up in Thunder Bluff. Garrosh and Baine are there. Perhaps Baine’s even getting somewhere with convincing Garrosh that he was wrong. (Gameplay-wise, there’s no reason we couldn’t be involved in the conversation as a hero of the Horde, perhaps even the decider as to whether or not Garrosh is leaning toward repentance.). As we’re there, the Alliance counter-attack.
Either we get to defend TB, or more likely for development budget reasons, this time it plays out in cutscene. Either way, Garrosh escapes – but Baine, who appeared to be in charge of the attack alongside Garrosh, doesn’t. And the Alliance – which could be Jaina in “vengeful archmage” mode, or Varian, or a horde of dwarves – murder him before our eyes and torch the Bluff.
And now, we’ve had a thrilling plotline, and whichever side we’re on, we’re baying for blood.
Cue Mists of Pandaria, a massive naval battle, and Alliance and Horde both ending up shipwrecked (perhaps even stranded? No hearthstone? Please?) on the shores of an unknown continent…
What do you think? Could it play out this way?
Don’t forget to read Rades’ counterpoint to this article too, where he discusses naval logistics, Thrall’s return, and whether the Theramore attack really is Horde favouritism .