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Back to the Horde

Matthew Rossi

Six months ago I wrote this post, detailing why I prefered the Alliance to the Horde.

Now I'm here writing about how I've gone back to the Horde.

While I do still find the lore of certain Horde races perplexing and confusing, and I do still maintain that much of the Horde/Alliance hostility is due to the legacy of the Old Horde that the New Horde simply hasn't dealt with (Varian Wrynn being a standout example of a guy who hates the New Horde almost entirely because of things the Old Horde did, like burn his city and kill his father) I also can't deny that given the opportunity to go back, I took it with very little hesitation. A solid 50% of that is the excellent folks I know who play Horde side, but the other 50% is the inherent coolness factor of the Horde. And I'm not just talking about blood and glory histrionics here, either.

Although yeah, that's fun too. But for me, it's the constant struggle to make the future out of the horror of the past that defines what I admire and enjoy about playing Horde.

One of the things I find interesting and fun about World of Warcraft is to play armchair historian for the fictional setting. (Yeah, I know I'm weird.) I do this with pretty much any book, movie or game story I find myself interacting with, and in the case of the Horde the twin pillars of the post-Thrall era of the Horde seem to be a reconciliation with the past and the forging of the future. Each race within the Horde goes about this a different way, of course.

It's no secret that the Tauren are my favorite race in the game, hands down. I'm a large man, and I enjoy playing a large character in the game, but more than that I really enjoy the tauren as a people. Not only are they one of the most spiritually contemplative races in the game (the only race to have both shamans and druids as player options) but they've held on to a relatively calm mindset for generations even in the face of constant attacks from centaur trying to drive them out of their ancestral lands. In recent years, the tauren have abandoned their nomadic ways for the most part and settled in Thunder Bluff, a city built with some fairly impressive mechanical achievements that shows there is more to the tauren than nature worship and ancestor reverence. There's also a dark side to the tauren, as shown by the Grimtotem tribe. Basically, these guys (to me at least) are the heart of the New Horde, aware of the past but looking forward, and their influence on the orcs and trolls has been a good one. If they have a serious flaw in the new Horde, it's that they're often willing to just go along with what others are doing without really making sure it's a good idea. They're less active and driven than orcs or trolls, far less vengeful than undead or blood elves. I love Cairne Bloodhoof to death, but the tauren need an active heroic presence and Cairne seems to be getting ready to step down.

Still, for all that the tauren are my faves and can be argued for the heart of the Horde, the will of the Horde is the orcs. The very Horde concept comes from the time of the Burning Legion's manipulation and enslavement of the orcs on Draenor, and the fact that the orcs continue to organize in this fashion and are still led by a Warchief indicates both that they have not forgotten what happened and that what happened has forever changed them. Right now the orcish internal struggle seems broken up into three basic elements, each represented by a major lore figure. The warrior spirit of the Horde that seeks battle is personified by Garrosh Hellscream, who leads the Horde expedition in Northrend. The orcish desire to reclaim its past clean of Burning Legion corruption is, of course, represented by Thrall. And High Overlord Saurfang stands as a symbol for those orcs resolute in the face of their own awareness of what terrible atrocities have been committed in the Horde's name to ensure that this new future does not repeat the mistakes of the past. In WoTLK Saurfang has gone from a generic badass with a litany of quotes on the forums to a deeply realized, conflicted badass. (If you've seen him in action in Borean Tundra, you know, Saurfang will forever be Saurfang.) In a lot of ways the work done on expanding the Horde storyline in Wrath is another reason for my return to playing the faction, you simply can't deny yourself the pleasure of the Wrathgate storyline from the Horde perspective.

The Undead as a group have some of the most horrible quests I've undergone and I'm not going to back down from saying any group that casually poisons nominal allies to death just to see what happens is not a group I enjoy being associated with. That said, I will give them credit for an unrelenting will to exist and having united under the charismatic figure of Lady Sylvanas in record time. The fact that they've managed to organize into an actual nation in the ruins of Lordaeron is evidence to anyone that no, they're not the mindless horrors the Scourge often is. I don't think this would necessarily be of comfort to the living humans of Azeroth, however: just because that horrible walking corpse remembers you, it doesn't follow that he's any less dangerous. Still, the Wrathgate questline gets one of the worst vipers out of the Forsaken's nest, and assuming Sylvanas can move past the self-recrimination of having actually trusted someone that untrustworthy, the Forsaken have a real shot at revenge at Arthas through their association with the Horde, and Sylvanas has the chance for an actual alliance of equals with Thrall now that the two have fought side by side. The undead are also the ones who brought the Blood Elves into the Horde, and as a result the Horde basically owns almost all of the northern Eastern Kingdoms, everything not under Scourge control anyway. The Forsaken are suddenly in a real position of power, and yet paradoxically are the most vulnerable they've ever been.

Blood Elves are always going to annoy me. I'm sorry, but I don't really think the whole Sunwell deal makes up for everything - even if he let you do it, you still kidnapped, tortured and drained the magic out of an ancient being of pure light and as a people have come off as total facists as well as mana junkies. Seriously, you can see priests teleport into protests and mind control the crowds to agree that everything's hunky dory if you hang around long enough in Silvermoon. Ironically, however, it seems like the Blood Elven presence in the Horde has actually mellowed the undead out some, perhaps by affecting Sylvanas (although she tries to play it down, the quest Journey to Undercity clearly affects her deeply) while their ruthlessness and aptitude for magic strengthens the Horde in the face of increased Alliance hostility and the Lich King's most recent attacks. I find myself taking my new Horde-side DK to Silvermoon for no real reason at all, just to see the place from time to time, and I have to admit that its design and layout was probably the single best and most accessible work in all of the previous expansion. I have to admit that the Blood Elves have provided necessary dramatic tension as well, shaking up the status quo of the Horde and allowing for new storylines and quests that wouldn't have been possible before.

I admit that I don't play Horde because I like troll lore. I do in fact like troll lore, however. I enjoy the various Troll dungeons and raids, although I do think we may have a few too many of them (off the top of my head we have Zul'Ferrak, Sunken Temple, and Zul'Gurub in original WoW, Zul'Aman in BC, and Drak'Tharon Keep and Gundrak in Wrath) and I think what we need more is troll lore that doesn't involve just killing them, While Zul'Drak delivers troll lore, it's a group of trolls that you have to yet again hunt down and kill. Having just killed Zul'jin in the last expansion, I'd like to see more questlines involving the trolls, possibly even going so far as to clear the Echo Isles and get rid of Zalazane.

Essentially, what I like the most about the Horde and the reason I continue to come back to play it is the note of redemption that seems inherent to the faction. In some ways, having never tasted final defeat in the way the races of the Horde have, the Alliance tends to come off as arrogant and quick to jump to conclusions regarding the Horde. Now, some of this is fair... Night Elves have every right to resent Orc encroachment in their forests and the murder of Cenarius, It's going to take a long time for humans to get over the burning of Stormwind... but it's easy to forget that the Trolls had an empire across the Eastern Kingdoms well before humans or High Elves decided to take it, and if Blood Elves and Trolls can work together after centuries of hostility (even if the Darkspears are hardly the Amani) then that alone makes the Horde seem that much stronger. The Horde is several peoples who have been through great hardship coming together to make a stand, and right now I'm enjoying seeing how it all plays out in Northrend. The Taunka's addition to the Horde is yet another example of this philosophy, as they were being hard pressed by Scourge Nerubians until the Horde brought them into the fold.

So now it's your turn: if you play Horde, why? If not, why not? What do you like about the faction, or hate about it?

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