Which faction does Blizzard love more?
For several years it's been all the rage to claim that Blizzard loves the Horde and hates the Alliance. Players trot out the "green Jesus" theory. They show how the past two expansions have focused far more on Horde characters and storylines than on Alliance intrigues.
It's true that Blizzard placed Thrall and now Garrosh and Vol'jin in the spotlight over the past few years. Players also look at the shiny new Orgrimmar that the Horde got when the old one burned down, and how Stormwind also took a beating and still hasn't recovered.
You can make the case that Blizzard has somewhat favored the Horde in WoW's recent history. But this is so very, very strange to vanilla players like me. Back then, players were convinced of the exact opposite. Players were so convinced, in fact, that some actually wanted a CM to die. In vanilla, Blizzard "loved" the Alliance and "hated" the Horde.
Don't believe me?
This quote is from a 2005 editorial called "Why the Horde is worse, and how Blizzard could fix it":
Let's take a trip back to 2005. On a bus, perhaps. A bus made out of elemental electrical energy.
In the end, I am just a jealous Horde player... It is up to Blizzard to fix this game; I have done all that I can. Either World of Warcraft can be remembered as a great MMORPG, or it can go down as a horribly imbalanced one, like many before it. That's for Blizzard to decide.
In a 2005 article, BBC News wrote about why people loved World of Warcraft so much. One of the few negatives in the article lamented the relative lack of content for the Horde:
In classic WoW, Alliance had more zones to choose from while leveling, and more quests in those zones. The lack of quests for Horde characters in the 25+ range had many players turning to mob grinding or running dungeons in order to keep leveling.
World of Warcraft is staged as a game of epic conflict between the two factions of Horde and Alliance, and we chose to play Horde. Though obviously biased, the most annoying part of the game for most of us is the level of development of the "other side."
Prior to 25, it was rough trying to level a Horde character without visiting the Barrens. In Gamespy's 2004 list of "Top 15 Things Every World of Warcraft Player Should Know," their number one tip for Horde players was, "You will end up in the Barrens - accept it."
Of course, the Barrens is infamous now for its chat channel in the early days of WoW, but the Barrens was also hated by many players for both its layout, lack of amenities, and design. It was an enormous zone with very few flight points and graveyards. Despite this, quests sent you to all of the Barrens' most remote corners. Since you couldn't buy a normal mount until level 40, the Barrens meant a marathon session after marathon session of running around. The zone also had very little visual appeal. It was a brown wasteland with few landmarks.
Why was this the case? Well, Blizzard developed Alliance content earlier. Alliance zones, quests, and cities generally received more polish and attention through the development cycle. Blizzard likely hoped to make the factions equal in this regard, but time ran out on them.
Players, of course, realized the imbalance during beta. Beta also included some obvious drawbacks to playing Horde that have since been removed. For example, spells that targeted undead NPCs specifically, such as Track Undead or Exorcism (the original version), also worked on Forsaken characters.
Rumors began to circulate that the Horde side of the game was "unfinished" and people should play Alliance characters at launch. IGN's WoW Vault ran a "Topic of the Week" about population balance two months before the game went live. The top commenter wrote,
Whether or not this was a large factor in people's choices is debatable, but the fact is the Alliance had a far larger population during classic WoW than the Horde did. And this imbalance naturally created further problems.
I think people who are saying that the #s will balance out are wishing on a pipe dream and unfortunately it's Blizzards fault. If they continue to develop both sides at the same pace, the Horde will always be behind in content and polish, and be ahead in bugs. Thats not exactly the way that is best for the game.
Part of the perceived bias came from the state of major cities in vanilla. Blizzard made Stormwind first. Stormwind has always been a thriving and beloved metropolis, full of little events, lifelike NPCs, nifty details, and incredible locations. Stormwind has heroic statues, annoying kids, hawkers, and even a giant alligator. Ironforge, too, has its charms, with its enormous halls, detailed museum area, and Deeprum Tram. The alpha version of Ironforge was even more impressive, with an entire second story. Rumor has it the once-secret airfield was supposed to be part of the city, also.
None of the Horde cities could really compare. Undercity has always had an incredible design, but it has never had the same level of activity or the sheer variety of memorable areas that Stormwind has. Old Orgrimmar was lifeless, mostly bland, unimpressive except perhaps for its main entrance, and confusing to navigate. There's a reason Gamon is so famous. He was literally the only interesting NPC in the entire city.
Horde cities also had strategically unfortunate layouts and back doors. Old Orgrimmar had the western bridge that gave Alliance more or less a straight, lightly contested shot to Thrall. Undercity had the secret sewer entrance that sometimes allows Alliance raids to reach Sylvanas without even being spotted by Horde players. And Thunder Bluff had its north-side express elevator to Cairne. The back entrances are all still there, although Garrosh is now closer to the main south gate.
Stormwind and Ironforge, on the other hand, had one entrance each. Unless you already fought your way through one city and took a ride on the tram, there was no way to be sneaky about an assault. It was the front door or bust, and none of those doors were anywhere near their city's leader. (Remember that Stormwind didn't have a harbor originally.)
The Alliance had another strategic advantage: ease of travel. Most of vanilla's endgame at and after launch centered around Blackrock Mountain: Blackrock Depths, Blackrock Spire, Molten Core, and Blackwing Lair were all located there. The mountain was conveniently wedged between Ironforge and Stormwind.
Horde players, on the other hand, had to take a cross-continental flight down from Undercity or take a boat to Booty Bay and proceed north by wyvern. There just wasn't an easy way to get there.
Alliance also had the advantage when it came to world PvP travel. Gleeful Alliance players could take a ship from Booty Bay straight to the Horde's most vulnerable questing area, the Barrens. There's a reason why the Crossroads was such a frequent target of Alliance raids. By comparison, Redridge Mountains might as well have been on another planet for Horde players.
Undercity and Orgrimmar were both relatively close to Alliance flight points, whereas all three Alliance cities were tucked away far from any friendly Horde NPCs.
Frailty of the Frostwolves
Once Blizzard added battlegrounds to the game, players found another reason to feel Alliance bias. Alterac Valley's infamous asymmetrical layout seemed to give the Alliance serious strategic advantages. The long bridge chokepoint with siege towers on either side proved far more defensible than the Horde's bridgeless wooden fort.
A flaw in the map design also allowed Alliance to get over the fence and capture the Horde's key graveyard without fighting their way through swarms of NPCs. Since early AV's were decided solely by who killed the other faction's leader first, Frostwolf Village's vulnerabilities galled Horde players.
Blizzard's decision to make paladins and shamans unique to their factions had far-reaching consequences. The vanilla versions of these classes had far more differences than similarities. Once again, Horde players felt as though their faction had received the shortest of shrifts.
In PvP, shamans had great burst damage and crowd control, but they didn't have the staying power of paladins, especially Holy paladins. It's arguable which class fared better, since it often depended on the situation. More people would probably vote for shamans here.
However, WoW has always had a bigger focus on PvE, and in classic PvE, no one argued that paladins were the superior class. The basic mechanics of blessings worked better in PvE. Blessings lasted longer, and one paladin could buff the entire raid with one blessing. Totems, on the other hand, cost more mana than blessings and could only buff one party. Worse, they weren't mobile and could be killed by NPCs.
Blessing of Kings was a great buff for tanks, and the Horde didn't have anything like it. The most coveted blessing, however, was Salvation. Threat was a huge issue in classic encounters. Tanks constantly fought for it. Healers and DPS constantly adjusted for it. Pulling aggro meant not just the death of the unfortunate person who pulled it, but often a wipe, as the boss cleaved all the melee or breathed fire on the healers. Salvation reduced players' threat, so healers and DPS could afford to heal more and do more damage. It made the entire raid more efficient.
The Horde finally got a Salvation effect late in classic in patch 1.9. Tranquil Air Totem, however, shared a totem type with the one totem that most begged for a threat reduction: the bursty Windfury Totem, which originally gave players a chance to proc a triple melee attack. A player couldn't have both buffs at the same time unless his group had two shamans. To add insult to insult, Blizzard made Tranquil Air 10% worse than Salvation (20% vs 30%).
The birth of bus shock
During WoW's era of fixing one class per patch, paladins received a comprehensive overhaul in patch 1.9. Paladins received the much-welcomed Greater Blessings, making buffs that much easier to distribute. Shamans thought that they must be next, purely out of what remaining fairness Blizzard could muster up after paladins had their overhaul first.
Then 1.10 addressed priests instead.
The lore behind this patch order is that shamans were supposed to get an overhaul alongside paladins in 1.9. Then Eyonix, the CM who was supposed to collate all the shaman feedback, got very sick. Blizzard had to push back the shaman fixes.
Shamans had to wait six months after paladins for their overhaul, and they had to share their patch with mages. Mages got a bunch of buffs and fixes. Shamans didn't get the same apparent level of scrutiny. The Enhancement and Elemental trees were still very lackluster. Shamans still felt highly inadequate compared to paladins. CMs hadn't communicated much on the shaman forums leading up to the patch, and shamans felt that their concerns hadn't been taken seriously.
The shaman forums exploded with outrage and disbelief. One poster took his sentiments to a very bad, very dark place. He wrote that he wanted Eyonix to get hit by a bus. Many echoed the sentiment. Thus, the term "bus shock" was born.
As one poster put it,
"Bus shock" took on a life of its own and became one of the forums' most enduring memes. When Eyonix left Blizzard years later (in 2010), fellow CM Bashiok told him, "You will be dearly missed around here, and remembered fondly. Just watch out for those buses."
Eyonix is like the guy you hire to do work, and he tells you he's doing work, but you never actually see examples of his work, or proof that he's actually doing work and not sleeping in the back room.
At the time, Eyonix tried to calm the shaman forums with promises of fixes in the expansion, including better totem UI and new talents and abilities. The most inflammatory posters were banned.
Looking back, it's likely that Blizzard held back on making too many shaman changes on purpose. The devs probably knew at that point that the two classes would become available to both factions in The Burning Crusade. They later stated that the best way to address the imbalances was to give the classes to both factions. Otherwise, they would have to make the classes too similar.
After all the fuss, Resto shamans actually became indispensable in TBC. Chain Heal and Bloodlust were absolute musts for many encounters.
There is no bias
With very few apparent differences in the factions since vanilla, players have looked for excuses to claim bias one way or the other. Of course, Blizzard is not biased for or against either faction -- and never has been. We players sure do like to make it seem like they are, though, despite all rational arguments to the contrary.
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