Blizzard has announced that a future World of Warcraft update will allow Alliance and Horde players to communicate and play together.
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Game Director Ion Hazzikostas made the announcement during a recent Development Preview, informing players that the development team “are working on adding the ability for Alliance and Horde players to form premade parties together for dungeons, raids, and rated PvP.”
“The faction divide could keep close friends from playing together, or cause players to feel that their faction leaves them with far fewer opportunities to pursue their favorite group content,” Hazzikostas admitted.
Currently, Alliance and Horde players are unable to play or even communicate with one another, with their only possible avenues of interaction being the game’s PvP modes or their official forums.
Though this divide was justified by in-game lore, quoting Garrosh Hellscream in the Warlords of Draenor expansion opening, Hazzikostas declared, “Times change.”
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Hazzikostas then revealed that, since World of Warcraft’s two decades of code and content was made under the assumption that the factions could never mix, these changes will first roll out on the Public Test Realm following the upcoming 9.2.0 update, then later officially as part of the game’s full 9.2.5 update.
According to Hazzikostas, this new feature was designed with two goals in mind: a “focus on organized instanced gameplay” and the intent to “make this an opt-in feature as much as possible”.
“In terms of in-world fiction and player preferences, there are decades of animosity to overcome,” he explained. “While we are excited to offer players the choice to reach across the faction divide and cooperate to overcome common foes, we know that there are many who will react warily to this change, and we don’t want to override those preferences.”
“This is about increasing options for players,” Hazzikostas reassured.
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As part of these new cross-faction capabilities, players will be able to invite those from the opposite faction through the use of the other player’s BattleTag or Real ID friendship, while group leaders using the Group Finder can dictate which factions can answer their calls for party members.
However, guilds will continue to be sworn to a single faction, as well as “random matchmade activities like Heroic dungeons, Skirmishes, or Random Battlegrounds.”
Likewise, even when partied together, players of opposite factions will be considered “unfriendly” by each other outside instances and outright hostile in War mode – though they will still be able to communicate.
While this option will be available for most older content, some major faction-specific components will remain exclusive, such as Battle of Dazar’alor, Trial of the Crusader, and Icecrown Citadel.
Hazzikostas also discussed past attitude to the Alliance and the Horde divide, noting that the company’s previous assertion at BlizzCon 2019 – that the “Alliance and Horde separation … is a pillar of what makes Warcraft, Warcraft” – was “an oversimplification” of the issue.
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“Alliance and Horde identity is what is fundamental to Warcraft,” he clarified. “And while at times that identity has been one of division and open conflict, we’ve seen Alliance and Horde finding common ground and working together ever since Warcraft III (notably including the last time a Warcraft chapter was named “Eternity’s End” …), and the instances of cooperation in World of Warcraft itself are too numerous to count.”
Blizzard are hopeful these changes “will serve to actually strengthen faction identity by allowing more players to play the faction whose values, aesthetic, and characters they find more compelling, rather than feeling forced to choose between their personal preference and the ability to play with friends. ”
The conflict between Alliance and Horde has existed for most of Warcraft’s history, starting with its second entry, and has since continued into World of Warcraft.
There, the conflict would escalate into a pair of massive wars, with an uneasy peace eventually declared between amidst massive losses and the looming dangers of larger threats.
An exception to this divide are the Pandaren. Introduced in the Mists of Pandaria expansion, they are the only player race who can choose to align with either the Alliance or the Horde.
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As it currently stands, yet another crisis threatens to endanger Azeroth.
“Following the events of Battle for Azeroth,” Hazzikostas explains, “the Alliance and Horde are poised in an uneasy armistice. The factions still stand apart, and even as some of their leaders cooperate in the Shadowlands, countless members of each faction will neither forgive nor forget the wartime actions of the other.”
“For every Jaina, there is a Genn, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon,” he continued. “But why shouldn’t players be able to make that choice for themselves, especially in cooperative settings where the story revolves around coming together to overcome dire threats?”
Though Hazzikostas did not speak as to the business-level reasons for this change, it’s possible it could have been made in response to Microsoft’s recent purchase of Activision Blizzard for $68.7 Billion USD – though admittedly it would be a small request for Microsoft to make in the grand scheme of things.
Of course, there may also be other reasons for this decision, particularly in relation to salvaging the company’s sinking reputation.
As admitted by Activision Blizzard in their Q1 2021 financial report, the company’s games have lost 11 million players since 2018.
In those three years, Blizzard Entertainment experienced yearly PR disasters, including their announcement of Diablo Immortal – which was questioned as an “out of season April Fools joke” – denying of a Hearthstone Grandmaster his winnings after he voiced support for Hong Kong’s independence, and their complete mishandling of Warcraft III: Reforged.
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Further, compared to years past, the once popular MMO now faces fresh and competent competition in Final Fantasy XIV, which has become so popular that Square Enix had to temporarily stop selling the game in order to meet server demands.
Final Fantasy XIV has also enticed away several World of Warcraft-focused YouTubers and streamers – including Asmongold – with many of these newly christened “WoW Refugees” praising it over the once-reigning MMO champion and adding their voices to the chorus of those already calling others away from Azeroth.
However, the final nail in Blizzard’s reputational coffin was arguably delivered last year when the studio’s parent entity, Activision Blizzard, was sued for sexual harassment and discrimination – a development which has since seen accused staff let go and references to them stripped from Blizzard’s catalog of games.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands was also poorly received, but thanks to the aforementioned controversies, it’s hard to pin down how much of the disgust surrounding the expansion was based purely on its quality and content.
Could World of Warcraft players being able to play and communicate more with one another help turn Blizzard’s fortunes around? Let us know your thoughts on social media and in the comments below!
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