The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
The Siege of Orgrimmar is almost upon us, and the Alliance stands strong, ready to dive in and put an end to Warchief Hellscream's reign. Along the way, they've picked up some entirely unconventional allies in Vol'jin's group of rebels, who are also insistent upon getting Garrosh out. But when the dust settles and all is said and done, if and when the Alliance prove their military superiority, take out Hellscream, and are declared the ultimate victor of what has been a very messy, bloody war, what happens next?
Does the Alliance simply go home and wait for the world to rise up with yet another threat? Do they at last attempt some kind of tentative peace treaty with Vol'jin and his group of rebels? Will Varian Wrynn take a moment of clear victory and use it to crush what remains of the Horde? Will the Alliance leave a military presence in Orgrimmar, to carefully watch and make certain events like this don't come to pass again?
What does the future for the Alliance hold, once Orgrimmar has been taken down?
The High King?
Varian Wrynn has spent most of Mists traversing a route that is less brute-force and more military-tactician, taking the route of patient observation and calculated strikes. Along the way, he's taken steps to strengthen the outlying allies of the Alliance by evidently bringing together the Dark Iron, Wildhammer and Bronzebeard clans into some semblance of diplomatic unity. He's shown Tyrande Whisperwind that a patient stance will lead to victory, which may or may not have left its mark on the kaldorei leader, and he's struggled with the ever-growing independence of his son, Anduin, who seems to have his own tactics in mind -- and isn't afraid to jump into the fray, whether advisable or not.
Yet for all the bluster of proving himself, Varian hasn't really seemed to have done so in any major capacity. Yes, he's tempered the Alliance into a fighting machine that could orchestrate an attack on the Horde, and he's demonstrated a clever mind by allying with Vol'jin's rebels -- after all, if two parts of the Horde are busy fighting each other, that's less that the Alliance has to take out in the end. But the draenei are still left without a purpose, simply orbiting the Alliance with no clear reason for their continued alliance. The worgen are still holed up in Darnassus, their homeland nothing more than a wasteland at this point.
The gnomes are still -- still -- working to take back Gnomeregan of their own volition, the united efforts of Operation: Gnomeregan only a mild success at best. Theramore is still nothing but dust and ash, and while Varian has vowed that the Horde will pay, that punishment still hasn't been doled out. In a game where players can choose between one of two factions, wiping out one of those factions entirely isn't an option. So what is Varian to do? How does he come out of this on top of his game?
Remnants of the Horde
Obviously the Alliance cannot take over the Horde -- from a game play standpoint, it simply cannot happen. You cannot wipe out half your playerbase and suddenly create one giant group of united races when your stance for the past ten years has been one of duality. So how, exactly, does the Alliance claim victory in this situation? This is the issue that has concerned Alliance players all along, and the lack of a really cohesive, compelling Alliance storyline to run in counterpoint with the Horde has only highlighted the reasons for concern.
I've pointed out before that the Alliance didn't really need a reason to attack Orgrimmar, but the Horde absolutely needed one for it to be a valid raid instance. This is why we've seen so much Horde story all expansion -- the actions of the Horde and the Horde rebels have to be justfied and feasible in order for that raid to take place. But the unfortunate side effect of all of this has been a lackluster story on the Alliance end of things -- a halfhearted attempt to make the faction look strong. Yes, the Alliance already had motivation to attack Orgrimmar, but what exactly was motivating them through the rest of the expansion?
It's left a gap in the storyline, a gaping chasm that has yet to be filled with any real story. For all the tales of how wonderful a king Varian Wrynn happens to be, we've barely seen any evidence of it. For all the tales of Alliance triumph, we've yet to see any major examples of that triumph. And because of the nature of the Alliance and Horde dynamic in game play, whatever moment the Alliance gets at the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar runs the risk of not feeling like a real victory.
And then we have Jaina Proudmoore. Once a firm supporter of peace alongside the former Warchief Thrall, Jaina has taken a dynamic turn that sets her in a position far more center-stage. Through the purging of Dalaran, Jaina has demonstrated that she's no longer willing to let the Horde take precedence over her loyalty to the Alliance. Through her assault on the isle of the Thunder King, she's shown she is more than capable of being a leader. In fact, in those two moments, Jaina has proven herself a far more capable leader with far more willingness to take decisive action than Varian Wrynn.
What becomes of Jaina after the Siege of Orgrimmar? Is merely deposing Garrosh Hellscream going to be enough to make up for the loss of so many lives and Jaina's treasured home of Theramore? Will Dalaran turn back to its neutral roots, or will it continue to stand as a point of Alliance support? Oddly enough, Jaina and Varian seem to have acted out a dance in which they have supplanted each other in terms of story position -- Jaina now acts as an outspoken leader who desperately has the best interests of the Alliance at heart, while Varian's role seems to have been downplayed to a cheerleader for the Alliance forces. Varian has become the thinker, and Jaina has taken his place as the person who acts immediately, sometimes without thinking first.
After all is said and done with the Siege of Orgrimmar, what becomes of Dalaran? Will Jaina return it to its original home in the Eastern Kingdoms? I would argue that honestly, to give the Alliance a real moment of victory, to give Jaina a much more valuable role in the Alliance she has thrown herself behind, Dalaran should land again -- not in the Eastern Kingdoms, but in the crater where Theramore once stood. Jaina is the one person who has lost the most in this war. She's lost her lifelong friends, companions, soldiers, and allies that called Theramore their home, and breathed their last trying to defend it. It's only appropriate that Jaina reclaim her home -- and only appropriate that Dalaran be that home for her.
By doing so, the Alliance once again has a strong settlement in mid-Kalimdor -- far stronger than before. Taking down Theramore, a small port town, is one thing -- taking down the bastion for magical research and teaching is another thing entirely. By relocating Dalaran, the Alliance still has its stronghold in Kalimdor, and it sets Jaina back where she began, in a slightly different role -- one of teacher, leader, advisor ... and one of observer, an outpost from which the Horde can be watched. Dalaran has spent more than enough time being rebuilt and floating in the skies of Northrend, it's high time it was used in a far more useful capacity.
So what happens after the Siege of Orgrimmar? Where does this leave the Alliance? There are plenty of Alliance stories that have yet to be touched upon this expansion, and it only makes sense to highlight those stories moving forward.
In the Eastern Kingdoms, Sylvanas Windrunner still runs rampant through the forests of Silverpine, and Gilneas lies in ruins. Why not highlight the ongoing struggle between worgen and Forsaken, with a possible return to Gilneas for the worgen race? Phasing already allows players to play through the starting experience and watch the city ruined around them -- why not have a major reclamation effort, also phased, that allows Alliance players to take the Gilnean homeland back again for good? If Varian is dead set on fortifying the Alliance footprint on Azeroth, this would hail back to the days in Wrath when Varian swore to reclaim Lordaeron. Gilneas isn't Lordaeron, but it's a good start.
If we're looking at possible new heroics in the next expansion, why not Gnomeregan? Yes, Gnomeregan was one of the most confusing, difficult dungeons back in vanilla, but it's high-time the gnomes took another stand. The trolls managed to re-take the Echo Isles completely, yet the gnomes were left with only part of their beloved home. Why not make the dungeon a heroic, and focus on taking the city back in its entirety? Better yet, why not have a much more defined reclamation effort that results in a proper gnomish capital?
What about the kaldorei in the Eastern Kingdoms? The destruction of the Cataclysm still ravages the forests of the night elves, and the uprising of Horde forces has threatened much of Ashenvale. With Hellscream's fall, will the forests remain in contention? Will Tyrande allow the Horde access to resources, or will she take a much firmer stand and insist on Alliance protection? As for the draenei -- what have they been up to all this time? What keeps them allied with the Alliance, how has Velen convinced his people to stay?
And lastly, let's take a look at Stormwind and the surrounding kingdoms. In Cataclysm, it was revealed that Varian still has yet to settle into his reign, and he is far from beloved by all. Westfall has been beset by not only the remnants of the Defias, but homeless beggars sent adrift from Stormwind, too poor to support themselves and incredibly bitter about the current state of the Alliance. I'm not saying we need yet another uprising a-la the Defias, however.
What we need is for Varian to take some kind of action to help and support his people. Either Varian or Anduin needs to take a good, long look at the state of the human race, both good and bad, and figure out a way to address the issue. Short stories have shown that Varian has the support of his people, but events in game are far, far different, and illustrate that Varian, despite all his best efforts, is still not quite in touch with his kingdom.
It's understandable, really. Varian returned to a Stormwind beset by Scourge, was promptly thrown into a massive war in Northrend, then watched the world crumble beneath him during the Cataclysm, then had to deal with the uprising of Hellscream's Horde and the discovery of a new continent immediately after. Varian has yet to be given enough room to breathe and decide what he's going to do for his people -- the constant onslaught of attacks from afar hasn't really left him with time to even consider anything else.
The problems of the Alliance as it stands today are currently too diverse and too numerous to simply wash away with one raid and one pat solution. There are a multitude of storylines that have yet to be addressed, and although this expansion has been fascinating to watch as a Horde player, as an Alliance player, it's been by and large a lackluster experience. Helping the pandaren race is all well and good, taking a stand against Garrosh and preventing further atrocities is also a step in the right direction.
But the Alliance still doesn't seem to have that united front that the Horde has so readily embraced. Even when being torn apart from within, the Horde has united in the form of a rebel faction and actively sought to excise the infection that keeps it from being everything it is meant to be. The Alliance, while making a strong showing in the Siege of Orgrimmar, has yet to have that same feeling of unity and strength that the Horde is coming out of the war with.
The Horde will come out of the Siege of Orgrimmar, while less in physical numbers, far greater in strength of conviction. They will have drawn together in a significant fashion that hasn't been seen before, able to stand as a united front and state with conviction that despite Hellscream's best efforts to redefine the Horde, the Horde will not bend. It will not break. It will fight to uphold the values and traditions that Thrall so desperately wanted preserved when it was first formed so many years ago.
For the Alliance ... they will come out of the war victorious, yes. But the struggle that has brought the Horde closer together than ever before hasn't really made a showing in the Alliance faction. That strength, that unity has to come from somewhere -- and while the war has been dire, it hasn't been dire enough to imply that same sense of unity. And that leaves the Alliance in a very precarious position from a story standpoint, one that should by all rights be addressed, and addressed in detail.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.