Reactive vs. Proactive story
In Cataclysm, the Alliance spent the majority of the expansion getting smacked around by the Horde, who had a new and far more bloodthirsty leader in Garrosh Hellscream. For Horde players, this was interesting because it introduced a new dynamic. Since vanilla, they'd had a leader they could look up to. In Cataclysm, that leader stepped down and stuck a warmonger in his stead. It was an interesting way to shake up something that had been a status quo since vanilla, and give Horde players something interesting to think about -- what did it mean to be Horde? Was Thrall really the leader the Horde needed, or was Garrosh the one they should rightfully have?
On the Alliance side of the matter, events played out in a way that had the Alliance losing nearly every battle they fought. They were ravaged by the Cataclysm itself, they were ravaged by betrayal from within, they were ravaged by the Horde. And not once in the entirety of the Alliance storyline did anyone do anything that felt like a major consequence. Instead, the story focused largely on Thrall, a character that Alliance players viewed as a Horde character, regardless of the fact that he'd stepped down.
The Alliance didn't want Thrall as a hero. Alliance players wanted some sort of story development that had them become the heroes they wanted to be. But Varian sat idly by, the rest of Alliance leadership tied up in novels and short stories that, while riveting, didn't do anything to affect the actual gameplay at all. And that's where the biggest issue comes into play -- reactive vs. proactive storytelling.
In vanilla, Alliance players were proactive. They saw a situation that had gone wrong -- one example would be the disappearance of King Wrynn -- and they actively worked on a solution to that problem. All on their own, they helped Reginald Windsor escape Blackrock Depths. They walked by his side to confront Prestor directly, and actively helped with her defeat. But ever since Varian's return, Alliance players have been relegated, willingly or no, to more of a spectator role -- and it's a role they're incredibly unhappy with.
The Alliance vs. the Horde
Things started looking up in Mists of Pandaria as the Alliance launched a full-out assault against the Horde on the shores of Pandaria, with disastrous results. That assault was told from the space of a proactive story, instead of a reactive one. Yet since then, the Alliance seems to be making its moves purely from a reactive standpoint -- and that standpoint is actively encouraged in game. Varian tells Tyrande to be patient, to bide her time and wait for the right moment to strike. Look, that's all the wonderful advice in the world. It's a good lesson, and one that should definitely be heeded. But it's not compelling, satisfactory gameplay to sit and wait and watch the other side as they go on grand misadventures and screw up.
It's also not compelling gameplay to hear about events after the fact. Theramore was one example of this situation -- the events of 5.1 are another. Patch 5.1 had some really good story on both sides. The attack in Dalaran and its fallout were shining examples of both sides taking a strong, active role in a problem, and the fallout from that was pretty amazing. But while Horde players snuck into Darnassus and sought out the Divine Bell, Alliance players sought out a Monkey King alongside Anduin Wrynn. There's a marked difference in excitement levels in that story. Once has your heart pounding, trying desperately not to get caught and wondering what would happen if you did. The other has you ... searching for a long-lost Monkey King and asking for help. The tension is absent from one side.
And then we have Varian Wrynn, king of Stormwind, heroic figure, and apparently a dude that spends a lot of time making decisions that we never see. He berates Jaina for her actions in Dalaran, pointing out that he was trying to get the blood elves to work with the Alliance. But Jaina didn't know that. Neither did Alliance players. Varian was making these arrangements behind the scenes, and Alliance didn't see any of those arrangements, or even understand fully what was going on.
Perhaps it would have been cooler, more interesting, more engaging, had Alliance players had some sort of active hand in what Varian was planning. Not as diplomats, but perhaps bodyguards to watch over a diplomat as they tried to have some sort of tentative conversation with Lor'themar Theron. It would have actively drawn Alliance players into the story at hand, and put even more tension on the events that eventually transpired in Dalaran -- and players would have felt more of Varian's dismay at what Jaina had done.
Patch 5.3 and an unlikely alliance
And that brings us to patch 5.3, which has Alliance players remarkably upset, and for good reason. The storyline so far, in Mists, for Alliance players, has been "Oh look. The Horde appears to be falling apart." Alliance players were told that this expansion would be all about retribution -- yet it seems that they'll have to wait out the majority of the expansion to actually experience any of it. And will there actually be any retribution at the end of it all? Or will the Alliance get to work with the Horde, put an end to Hellscream's reign of terror, and then ... go home, with no real satisfaction in the resolution at all?
What seems to be getting players up in arms the most is that Alliance players are simply sent to go find Vol'jin, and then take orders from him. Now keep in mind that on the PTR, there are definite reasons for this to be happening. Specifically, Alliance players are sent to Durotar to check in on a couple of SI:7 scouts. Those scouts have been sent in by Varian to assess the strength of Horde forces. Upon arriving, they discover that the Horde forces are far stronger than they'd originally thought -- and the cause of that is that the Darkspear are starting to openly rebel.
So what's the Alliance to do? Amber has a simple solution -- work with the Darkspear, help the rebellion, and let the Darkspear and the rest of the Horde do the dirty work of taking care of Hellscream's defenses. This, in turn, will leave Orgrimmar wide open for a full-on assault by an Alliance naval fleet. It's a sound plan, and after speaking to Vol'jin, players get a note from King Wrynn that advises while he doesn't trust Vol'jin at all, trolls fighting orcs means less Alliance lives lost, in the long run.
Does it make sense? Yes. But hey, here's a question -- why hadn't we heard anything about Varian's plans to assault Orgrimmar before this point in time? Where has he been? Fighting trolls in Dun Morogh with Moira, apparently. King Varian Wrynn is apparently going through these trials of the High King ... yet where, exactly, are the trials? In A Little Patience, we hear him talking to Tyrande. We don't see him taking an active role. In Blood in the Snow, we see him speak to Moira at the beginning, then come in at the end to have another conversation.
Where, exactly, has King Wrynn been? Why hasn't he been doing anything? Why haven't Alliance players seen him actively fighting, why haven't they seen his plans? Why is he sending Alliance players notes, instead of actively getting in there and getting things done? If he is supposed to be the hero of the Alliance, shouldn't some action or indication have been given at this point to illustrate that he is, in fact, a pretty amazing, awesome character, someone that the Alliance should totally rally behind? It hasn't happened yet.
How do you fix the Alliance?
We've been over every inch of Alliance development, but the question remains -- how do you solve the problems that Alliance players have been complaining about? And to be perfectly honest, this is a problem to which I have no ready solution. But the fact of the matter is this: Alliance players don't feel particularly heroic. They don't have a compelling reason to be doing what they are doing. They lack a leader that shows them what it means to be Alliance. And, in fact, they lack that reason to be a proud member of the Alliance at all.
As it stands, the role of the Alliance in World of Warcraft is one of reaction, and it's tied to the Horde and their role of action. What the Alliance does and how it moves or reacts to a situation is fully dependent upon what the Horde is doing at any given point in time. In order for the Alliance to do anything, the Horde must do something first. And that doesn't make for terribly compelling gameplay at all, from the Alliance perspective.
How do you fix it? I don't know. But something needs to be done, because there is one half of World of Warcraft that is coming off with some truly brilliant, innovative storytelling, and there's a side that is simply limping along, waiting to catch up. The Alliance desperately needs a moment of glory. It needs an injection of heroic deeds that make the player feel like they are important, that their actions have meaning, and that those deeds ultimately end with some form of heroic success. They need a leader that understands what they've been through, sees them as the heroes that they are -- and shows enough trust and benevolence to share his visions, his plans, and the victory they sorely need.
Because in the end, that's all the Alliance really want. A victory. Success.
While the comments for this post are open for more discussion regarding this topic, and I wholeheartedly encourage said discussion, I'd ask that commentary be kept constructive and on-topic. Let's talk about the story, let's talk about how you feel as an Alliance player, and let's talk about what you've seen that you wish had been different. Let's talk about what you would change, what would make you happy. And above all else, let's keep it civil, guys.
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.