Players have been choosing sides in World of Warcraft's central conflict for nearly two decades at this point. The initial choice a new player is faced with when making a character is simple, but carries a lot of weight. Internet debate has raged throughout the history of World of Warcraft concerning whether the Horde or the Alliance is the better faction. But with a game so focued on social aspects, it's natural that some players want the ability to play with members of the opposing faction.
The popularity of World of Warcraft has always has a root in that initial conflict between the Horde and the Alliance. The best storylines often allow for large-scale battles or political maneuvering. These moments and the grander story in general help fuel some of the fervor the game has seen in the past. With World of Warcraft bringing in more changes that fans have requested, the debate around Horde and Alliance being able to play together has cropped up again.
The Pros of Cross-Faction Play in World of Warcraft
There's already precedent from a narrative perspective to allow the rival groups to work together. Many of the major conflicts in expansions like Legion saw some of the heads of the Horde and Alliance putting aside their differences briefly to combat a larger threat. Even then, players couldn't cross the faction lines in raids or other group events. Many players enjoy the solo elements of World of Warcraft, but the emphasis on multiplayer makes that choice feel counterintuitive from a narrative viewpoint.
Tensions between the Horde and Alliance are high once again thanks to the events of Shadowlands, but assuming another expansion is likely, the two factions may have to cooperate again. While shake-ups at Blizzard following widespread accusations against the company may impact timing of a new expansion, allowing players to join forces in the next expansion could be a good move for the series.
The biggest positive in allowing groups to play together goes back to the multiplayer core of World of Warcraft. A big reason many new players enter the game is because they have friends already playing it. Limiting the ability for those friends to join the same faction has long been a gripe among some players. Even raid bosses throughout WoW's history where the Horde and Alliance were teamed up together didn't allow for players across those factions to play together. Adding ways for players to join their friends across faction lines could eliminate that issue.
Allowing players to cross those lines could also feed into the story of an expansion, or inspire new areas or mechanics. A simple way to have an Alliance character join their Horde friend is adding some kind of disguise mechanic. This would fit the game's sense of humor, and would allow for the Alliance player to move freely through the Horde areas with their friends or vice versa. This could also function as a fun set of new character creation options in WoW, allowing players to choose their disguise for when adventuring in other faction zones.
This does bring out the biggest drawback behind allowing players to cross party lines, from the perspective of the developer. World of Warcraft's development is affected by all of the turmoil at its parent company, and the work to implement cross-faction play in a meaningful and successful way would be no small undertaking.
The Cons of Cross-Faction Play in World of Warcraft
Speaking to the cons of allowing the two factions to play together, beyond the aforementioned disguise concept, game zones themselves are built with opposing factions in mind. PvP between the factions would need to be considered in whether or not other players could see through disguises and attack. These zones only grow as each of WoW's expansions release, adding to the pile of work involved in subverting the faction system.
While there are story events that see the two sides taking up arms against a bigger threat, allowing players from either one to play together could contradict a lot of narrative. The tension between the Horde and Alliance runs deep, even before World of Warcraft's story. The competition between the two is inherent to many of the game's storylines, and explaining why players from each faction in WoW can join the same guilds is just one example of a big narrative hurdle to jump.
A long-running game like World of Warcraft is inherently reticent to big changes. Plots and mechanics that have been built upon for years now could be upended by something seemingly small like cross-faction play. It's a safe assumption that many players could suspend their disbelief in service of a more cohesive multiplayer, but others would likely be put off by such a core change to the formula. World of Warcraft is already in a precarious place with many of its players, so that drastic of a shift is something that needs to be considered carefully.
Looking toward the future is key for World of Warcraft. A shake-up as major as cross-faction play could be what the game needs to reinvigorate some players, and make it easier for new players to jump in regardless of which faction their friends have joined. On the flip side, that kind of change has a lot of baggage as well. There's a lot more competition from MMOs like Final Fantasy 14 than historically, in which World of Warcraft has largely dominated the space. Change could be what the game needs most, and at least trying out a version of WoW where the factions can play together might be the mix-up Blizzard needs for its long-running online game.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is available on PC.