Warfare often has twists and turns that when viewed later through the lens of history seem absurd. In our own history (a history devoid of things like magic), we've seen bat bombs, fire balloons, and even British Secret Service agents playing pranks on Nazi sympathizers in South America. War is often terrible, yes, but it's also ludicrous and insane. How much more bizarre, incomprehensible and deranged could war become in a world where orcs throw demon fire at humans who pull the raw power of Light down through themselves?
This leads me to wonder how total war between the factions in World of Warcraft will be presented.
As the world girds
World of Warcraft has presented the horrors of war in a variety of ways. We've seen sneak attacks, ambushes, torture for information, bacteriological warfare, commanders turning on their own troops, treason, the sacking of various cities. Unfortunately, in a persistent world, it's hard to show the ebb and flow of war, with territory changing hands and battle lines shifting. To a degree, phasing has made more of this possible, but another reason for this is that unlike the RTS games, we haven't seen the Horde and Alliance go directly to war like we're about to.
Cataclysm has made clear that the Horde has modernized its war machine. The lessons of the war in Northrend against the Scourge have been learned, and the modern Horde boasts airships, large-scale munitions of sufficient power to destroy an entire settlement, an advanced and well-trained military with plenty of support. We see Horde troops using siege vehicles to seize portions of Ashenvale, Forsaken and orcs unleash a sophisticated invasion of Gilneas, and Horde weapons reducing the population of Southshore to goo. The Horde is ready for this war, at least in terms of pure battle preparedness.
The Alliance, on the other hand, came out of the campaign in Northrend lacking both in terms of willpower and in resources to fight another prolonged conflict. If the Horde can be said to have developed new tactics, recruited new soliders in the taunka, and gained new styles of weaponry in siege tank vehicles and airships, the Alliance really didn't gain much of anything in Northrend. They spent lives and resources and gained no new allies, no weapons they didn't already have, and nothing new in terms of how to fight a prolonged war against an entrenched enemy. One could argue this is because they already knew how to do all that. It doesn't change the fact that the Alliance has spent most of Cataclysm playing catch-up with the Horde.
Now that the huge distraction of Deathwing is out of the way, these two forces are free to turn their attention fully toward one another. They do so with the Horde clearly in the ascendent position over the Alliance. The Horde has won every engagement between the two factions. They've taken Gilneas (a neutral nation that only joined the Alliance after the Horde stole their lands), Southshore, and all of Azshara and much of Ashenvale, and they've pushed into Arathi and Feralas. In turn, the Alliance burned down Camp Taurajo and made temporary common cause with a few Grimtotems.
After the Destroyer, the destruction
What I'd personally like to see is actual warfare. Knowing that it's unlikely that we'll see anything major happening to the Eastern Kingdoms or Kalimdor, that means we'll have to expect that warfare on the continent of Pandaria itself. How should it be presented? A proxy war like this (similar to how the United States and Soviet Union fought throughout the world in the middle to later 20th century) will mean a lot of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Neither faction can be expected to come out of it clean-handed. There's a ton of dramatic potential in this kind of warfare, but it's also sometimes hard to watch your character participating in it. I definitely think that open PvP zones like Wintergrasp and Tol Barad need a rethinking; there needs to be at least one battle that's purely about destroying the enemy.
The Alliance is going to have to fight offensively, while the Horde has the luxury of picking and choosing its battles purely because it's more ready for war. In essence, the only hope the Alliance has for victory is to come out swinging to try and reduce the Horde's lead and make use of its greater numbers to offset Horde preparedness. Groups like the Forsaken and blood elves will have to decide if the Horde's war effort suits their goals, while the night elves and draenei will be forced into a more active role if the Alliance wants to survive.
In the end, I expect that Mists of Pandaria will be the beginning of things and not the denouement. Whatever wins or losses each faction accrues on those foreign shores, they will still have their main territories to draw resources from for continued warfare. I expect we'll see the hostilities ramp up, atrocities will be committed on both sides, and the stage will be set for the war to expand to other shores, perhaps even other worlds, before it all comes home to Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is the next expansion, raising the level cap to 90, introducing a brand new talent system, and bringing forth the long-lost pandaren race to both Horde and Alliance. Check out the trailer and follow us for all the latest MoP news!