On Friday, Chris Metzen stood on stage carrying a Doomhammer and wearing an Alliance hoodie. Yes, something very odd was going to happen to World of Warcraft.
For a man known for his love of the Horde (indeed it sometimes feels like company policy), it was remarkable but even more amazing was his declaration that Blizzard would be introducing a new expansion with a neutral faction playable by both Horde and Alliance but without a main antagonist.
Antagonists have been a vital part of the WoW storyline Onyxia, Nefarian, Ragnaros, Illidan, KilJaeden, Malygos, Yogg Saron, Arthas, Nefarian (again), Onyxia (for like the third time), Chogall, Sinestra, Ragnaros (twice!) and Deathwing. All these bosses have threatened Azeroth and its people. They forced us, its Champions, to take a stand for the sake of all those who cannot fight. Theyve also acted as a focal point which has, on occasion, allowed both Horde and Alliance to look past their common enmity and join together for the common good.
Not any more. Mists of Pandaria will be the first expansion without this antagonist, this focal point. Instead its all about the continuing conflict between the Horde and the Alliance. This has been the driving force of the game from Day One however its only since Cataclysm that the devs have really upped the anti. When Deathwing sundered Azeroth, land and resources became finite, territory shifted and there was a sense that the battle for survival of the races and factions just became that little bit more difficult. As a result weve seen Garrosh and his forces marching across Ashenvale and the Forsaken have advanced into Gilneas, forcing the Worgen to return to the Alliance.
Will these mighty warriors and their land inflame the conflict between Horde and Alliance?
The addition of the Pandaren makes this a fascinating moment in Azerothian history. This peaceful race has been hidden from history for ten millennia and it seems an odd concept that they should put aside their own peaceful nature and join one of two warring factions. How does this work? How can they fight seriously when their loyalties most likely lie with their own people? Theres this enduring image from BlizzCon of Horde and Alliance meeting on the battlefield, both with Pandaren in their ranks who wave at their brethren on the opposing faction as if they were old friends.
The lack of an antagonist is, in some ways, a refreshing change. It will, no doubt, make relations between the two sides worse. Indeed its not a great leap to assume the presence of the Pandaren and their lush, untouched homeland, will also make things more complex. After all, if you needed resources and they appeared on a gilded platter, youd be tempted too. But will Garrosh and Varian succumb to their baser instincts or rise above them and embrace the Pandaren for what they are, not what they have?
This really is a game-changing concept though, new ground and a proper chance to forge ahead when it comes to the key foundations of the MMO. Its a welcome change after the formulaic feel of most titles out on the market. Blizzard have taken the rulebook and ripped it up and this only means good things for us.
So while the specifics of the expansion (eg the Pandaren) might have quite a few players amazed/flabbergasted/pleased as punch, its really the dawning of a new era for Azeroth and for massively multiplayer online games in general. This is Day One of a new age and its going to get more interesting from here on in.
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