And frankly, that was the last time any of my Horde characters got any serious play.
Since 5.1 I've felt myself shifting away from the Horde. Part of that was going back to raiding on my draenei warrior, of course. But a bigger part of it was simple ennui, and a general culture shift in the Horde that left me feeling totally unable to connect to it. When I rolled my first Horde characters (an orc shaman and tauren warrior back in vanilla days) there was a real, concrete tone shift when I played them vs, when I played my Alliance characters. A sense of desperate odds, of outcasts banding together to stand against a hostile world, facing off against a monolithic power.
That's gone. It's probably gone forever. Even after the events of Mists of Pandaria, it's impossible to view the faction that banded together from the events of Warcraft III as the same entity anymore - over the course of two expansions, the Horde went from underdogs to aggressors. And while I've heard many players say things like "the orcs are not the whole Horde" to attempt to distance ourselves, fact is, my tauren did the quests in Twilight Highlands. My blood elf led the charge onto Pandaria's shores, and he stole the Divine Bell so that Garrosh could make use of it. Up until patch 5.3, if you played Horde, there was no real way to not aid Garrosh's cause - you were complicit in everything that helped make the Warchief's plan work. The orcs may not be the whole Horde, but what excuse does that give your pandaren or forsaken, when they're the ones who delivered the keys to the kingdom into Garrosh's hands?
Add to this the fact that, when World of Warcraft started, there was novelty in playing the Horde. The Alliance was humans, elves, gnomes and dwarves, your typical D&D party. The Horde was orcs, trolls, forsaken and tauren - the monsters. Playing the Horde allowed you to play something truly different, something you simply couldn't get many other places. The nuances of each race were fascinatingly distinct from their Tolkienian inspirations (in the case of orcs and trolls, anyway) or mythological/cultural underpinnings (how often does one hear the tale of how Theseus sympathized with the noble minotaur?) and had weight and even, in the case of the forsaken, tragic depth behind them. The story of the forsaken was the story of an unjust death followed by an even more unjust parody of life forced upon them, of an outcast people severed from the warmth of life forced to endure, in the rotting remnants of their former glory, hated and despised by their own former people. It had weight and pathos. Let's face facts - in vanilla WoW, the Horde was the more interesting faction. My main was Alliance at the time, but I still rolled two Horde alts and ended up playing one of them a lot, just for the new tauren smell. (Note, I can not actually smell my tauren, and am kind of glad for that, as I'm sure any forsaken player would be to not smell her or his character.)
Shift focus ten years. The tauren have seen minimal story development - Cairne died, and Baine took over, and the Grimtotem were revealed as traitors, but it didn't change them much and didn't alter their position as the backbone of the Horde. The orcs have gone from a race trying to rebuild a life after a terrible period and their own corruption, to a race embracing the same tactics again. The trolls? Well, one of them is Warchief now, and they got to take their islands back. Hardly the oppressed minority of yore. The forsaken have fully embraced turning weapons of horror and madness against anyone who displeases them, invading lands they never held and using the same plague that made them against others. And the addition of blood elves means that there's one Horde race (and the most popular one, too - at 28% of the Horde player base, blood elves are twice as popular as any other race, even orcs or trolls or tauren) that makes the Alliance races look like slouches in the upholding classical fantasy tropes sweepstakes. Even their whole 'on the cusp of extinction' story is in fact right out of Tolkien.
Suddenly, the Alliance, with its werewolves and Light-worshipping demons, has taken a lot of that edge from the Horde and, following the events of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria has a lot of that underdog feeling, too. Even following the Iron Horde's ultimate defeat, how can you feel like you're struggling against a hostile world as a Horde player without also feeling like maybe, the world has good reason to be hostile towards you? The problem with reigniting the Horde/Alliance conflict in the past few expansions was that they made the safe and predictable choice to make the conflict one the Horde started and prosecuted, led by its Warchief - and thus, the end of that conflict, with Garrosh being toppled from power, feels like it was a Horde defeat to the Horde player, but not like an Alliance victory to the Alliance player, who has to see Horde lore figures in Garrosh's throne room, and Horde lore figures helping fight their way into the city. Both sides end up feeling cheated, and the lack of a clear victor to the conflict means we can't even reestablish the status quo effectively. Even the hype leading up to Warlords of Draenor admits that the Horde has a general feeling of having 'lost its way' - and what's sad is, the Alliance ends up feeling much that way as well.
This is without really talking about how weird and quixotic the Horde (especially the orcs) focus on 'honor' ends up feeling. They talk a lot about honor, and then use the sha on their own people and drop mana bombs on their enemies. To an orc in game nowadays, honor is that thing they care a lot about unless it might cost them a victory, then it goes out the wayside and they use any means to gain that victory. Now, that could be an interesting story element if it was acknowledged and explored - if Warlords of Draenor dealt with the legacy of Doomhammer and other Old Horde orcs who brought this concept of honor to the modern Horde, that'd be fascinating. But as it stands, it makes them seem less like the interesting race they were at the start of WoW and more like klingons who stumbled against a freshly green painted fence. Did anyone roll an orc wanting to play Pepe la Pew? I sure didn't roll my orc shaman wanting that.
Frankly, it would be better for both factions if they basically have nothing to do with one another for a while. Failing that, we need a story like the one we're getting in Warlords where both sides have an enemy to fight, one that holds a mirror up to the Horde while giving the Alliance something they can unambiguously defeat. Furthermore, in order for the Horde to reclaim some of that underdog status, the Alliance needs to come out swinging soon - we need to see things, not just have Varian tell us about them if we click a dialogue box after a raid. Show us Gilneas being reclaimed. Show us military action in Alterac and Arathi that puts pressure on the Horde. Show the night elves being aggressive in Ashenvale. Show some Horde defeats. You can't be the underdog if you're never under pressure. There's a reason Rocky Balboa almost always fought dudes way bigger than he was.
This leaves me in the weird position of knowing I'm not going to play my Horde characters when Warlords of Draenor comes out. I usually level at least my tauren right away, but this time? I'll probably pass on the whole thing. I'm tired of the Horde. I'm bored with them. The Alliance has a more interesting premise going into Warlords, in my opinion - they have more to lose, and a lot more to gain. I want to see where it leads. It pains me to imagine not playing Vorn again - I love that stoic old tauren so much that I even nominated him to be my WoW TCG card - but unless Warlords of Draenor does something to establish the Horde that he was a part of again, I'm okay letting him retire to Mulgore.