Alliance vs Horde Lore in Northrend
I’m not sure whether Blizzard has different quest designers working on the Alliance and Horde quest lines, but sometimes it seems as though one side has been given more care and attention than the other.
Back in the days of Vanilla WoW, the quest line that differentiated the sides the most was that to become attuned to Onyxia’s Lair. This was a massive chain on both sides, invoking both excitement and fear. One of my guilds instantly gkicked anyone who mentioned the quest Jail Break!, usually with a quick re-invite…. usually.
Having completed both the Alliance and Horde versions of the chain, it always felt as though the alliance side was more epic, due mainly to the climactic march through Stormwind and the final unmasking of Lady Katrana Prestor as Onyxia. While the Horde version was just as hard (if not harder, as it required you to complete about half of UBRS in a 5 man group, which wasn’t a walk in the park at the time), it didn’t feel as “special” to me. Though I have nothing to substantiate it, my memories of the time say that I wasn’t alone in this position.
In TBC, it seems like the pendulum swung back the other way with the Hero of the Mag’har chain. If you never played Horde in TBC and have always wondered why Thrall was appearing in Nagrand, you missed out on what was to that point one of the best in-game events, re-creating the cinematic from Warcraft III in which Grom Hellscream defeats Mannoroth. Perhaps Blizzard shared the above opinion and was giving Horde some love to apologize.
Now we come to WotLK and Northrend. Having recently completed Loremaster of Northrend on one of my Alliance characters, I’m sad to say that while the Lore seems to be balanced between sides a little better than it was in Vanilla, Alliance get a more epic experience while leveling than Horde do. Let’s go through the zones and examine why.
Most of the lore quests in this area centre around the Temple City of En’kilah in the northeast of the zone. Alliance participate in a quest line from Thassarian, the Death Knight you first encounter (chronologically) in the DK starting experience. Horde get their quests from the Chieftain Wintergale at the nearby Taunka village. Perhaps it’s just my inability to connect with the Taunka, but the shorter quest line with Thassarian feels more connected to the overall experience in Northrend.
I also challenge any Warcraft III player not to bust out in a grin when you are given a quest to ring the bell of a town hall, only to watch the farmers run in with pitchforks and run back out armed as militia.
Result: point, Alliance
There isn’t much differentiation here, but the alliance do get introduced to Loken way earlier than the Horde do. While it wasn’t quite clear until the release of Ulduar, Loken is a major lore figure, and his death at your hands in the Halls of Lightning puts all of Azeroth in jeopardy (from which the top raiding guilds on your server have to bail you out). It was neat to see that he was pulling the strings of the Iron Dwarves long before Grizzly Hills. This is even more of an issue given that the quest in Grizzly Hills where you are introduced to him is near the end of the zone, and many people will level past that zone and into Zul’Drak without completing it on their first character.
Alliance also get to have their head popped like a grape by the Lich King. Woot!
Result: point, Alliance
If you’ve played Warcraft III and raided during Vanilla WoW, you’ll likely agree with me that the Alliance have the more engaging quests in this zone. We have:
- a re-enactment of a crucial scene in Arthas’s slide into madness
- a re-enactment of Arthas finding Frostmourne along with a revelation about another lore figure
- finally learning the details of how Kel’Thuzad came back after his defeat in the original Naxxramas
This is not to say that the Horde don’t have some good lore quests in this zone. If you didn’t hang around in the world of Shadows while doing this quest, you really owe it to yourself to do so on another character if you can. The way the timing of the event works is unfortunate, but stick around (just keep asking Koltira to return you if the buff runs out). Trust me. The chain where you help free Roanauk Icemist and instill him as leader of the Taunka within the Horde is also pretty neat – but again, I just can’t seem to embrace them as a race.
The Horde version of the Wrathgate chain, which starts in the Howling Fjord, is much more epic than the Alliance version because you’re end up being partly responsible for the carnage at the end. After all, it was you who shuffled the plague samples, binding agents and canisters back and forth between Agmar’s Hammer and Venomspite, wasn’t it? Strangely, the Alliance version of the Battle for the Undercity is also quite a bit shorter than the Horde Version, containing just two bosses and consisting of much less travel within the city.
As we get further into the expansion we tend to interact more with neutral factions and get the exact same quests regardless of the side we play. Still, where things differ they tend to favor the Alliance. Case in point: Report to Gryan Stoutmantle… Again. He even asks you what reward you chose after taking down Van Cleef nearly 60 levels earlier.
Horde get an extra 3-man Ring-of-Blood style event, but that’s just a nice bonus and not really connected to lore. It’s permanent effects on Conquest Hold are a neat use of phasing though.
Result: point, Alliance. Maybe a half-point, as I’m feeling charitable.
Muradin vs Stormhoof. Muradin vs Stormhoof. Muradin vs Stormhoof.
I won’t lie, I really would like to see these two pair off. Muradin would get all FOR KHAZ MODAN! on Stormhoof, and that would be the end of it. In case you haven’t read about the quest chain before or clicked on the link in the Dragonblight section, I won’t spell out the revalations of the quest chain in Frosthold. It’s a continuation of the Frostmourne cavern quest in Dragonblight, and a really neat addition to the zone. Stormhoof, while interesting in isolation just doesn’t grab me.
The Brann Bronzebeard chain is also more interesting for the alliance: not only do you learn of the missing keepers of Ulduar in this quest, you get to travel into the Engine of the Makers. All through patch 3.0, I was hoping that the entrance to Ulduar would be at the bottom of that pit, and if we didn’t have the siege to deal with before getting underground, I still think it could have worked.
Result: point, Alliance
While the other zones (Zul’Drak, Sholazar Basin and Icecrown) sometimes have different quest givers, the quests themselves are virtually identical. The one thing I do find strange is that one quest that differs has you killing Alliance soldiers if you’re Horde and … killing Alliance solders if you’re Alliance. Sucks to be a dying alliance soldier is the lesson we can take away from that I guess.
!!QQ!! Why Does Blizzard Hate the Horde ??!?!?
They don’t. They just hate you. True story.
Perhaps my conclusion is driven by the fact that I just don’t like the Taunka. There’s a few zones where I might have called a draw if I could just learn to embrace them. I can’t say why I don’t like them, as I have two Tauren characters. Perhaps it’s the lack of differentiation that gets to me, especially in the female models.
I’m not sure why the balance is this way in WotLK. Perhaps the next expansion will favor the horde again, and Blizzard has no plans to keep lore perfectly balanced within a single expansion. But regardless of which side you play, you can’t deny that for a lorehound, WotLK is far richer than anything that has come before in the WoW line, and hopefully an indicator of more to come.