The surreal concept of neutrality in Warcraft

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|03.21.12

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The surreal concept of neutrality in Warcraft
Remember the Argent Crusade? It was a result of merging two factions -- the Argent Dawn, which spent its time in the Eastern Plaguelands trying to eradicate the Scourge, and the reformed Order of the Silver Hand, an Alliance order of paladins formed by Uther the Lightbringer and Alonsus Faol. The Argent Crusade accepted members of both Alliance and Horde who wanted to fight toward the Crusade's ultimate goal: the defeat of the Lich King. Today, the Argent Crusade sits in Hearthglen, working to restore the Western Plaguelands to their former beauty.

The Argent Crusade is just one of the neutral factions in WoW, along with the Cenarion Circle, the Shattered Sun Offensive, the Earthen Ring and many others. Chris Metzen spoke about the Argent Crusade and the concept of neutral factions in our Mists of Pandaria press event interview, citing the Argent Crusade as one of the neutral factions that just rang true, whereas the Shattered Sun Offensive simply didn't feel quite as emotional.

But here's the thing -- the Argent Crusade, while being very active in Wrath, is hardly doing anything at all in the Western Plaguelands. There's a fight for Andorhal going on on the Crusade's doorstep, but they aren't stepping in. The Forsaken -- members of the Horde -- are actively seeking out activities that look suspiciously like Scourge activity, even going so far as to recruit the val'kyr, former servants of Arthas.

So ... what gives?

In between all the Mists of Pandaria news, The Children of Wrath asks that question and many more regarding neutral factions and their place in World of Warcraft. It's a fascinating read that compares the presence of neutral factions in real life to those in WoW and examines why neutral factions come across as disingenuous within the context of the story in game. Specifically cited are the Argent Crusade and its supposed indifference or ignorance toward the events that are going on right under its nose in the same zone. The suggestions that Children of Wrath has to fix this situation are nothing short of genius.

One of the statements made in the article that really rang true was that nearly every neutral faction in WoW has acted in a vacuum. While there are two notable exceptions to that rule -- the Ebon Blade, which promptly dissolved to its various factions' sides at the end of Wrath, and the Zandalar, who once befriended us in order to take down Hakkar and now seek to rebuild the troll empires of old -- other neutral factions stand out like sore thumbs, particularly in the face of Cataclysm faction conflict and even more upcoming faction conflict in Mists.

The Cenarion Circle is led by the night elves, and one of its more notable leaders is Malfurion Stormrage. Malfurion works quite happily with both Horde and Alliance in Hyjal, seeking to reclaim the burned peaks and protect the Well of Eternity. Yet in Ashenvale, the fighting between Alliance and Horde has reached a fever pitch, with Horde windriders openly attacking Astranaar, Maestra's Post, and Silverwind Refuge. In Stonetalon Peak, the Horde detonated a massive bomb, wiping out the druid training area, Thal'darah Grove. The list goes on and on, here. The amount of atrocities committed against the night elves are absolutely astounding.

Yet Malfurion Stormrage, co-leader of the Cenarion Circle and co-leader of the night elves, doesn't seem to blink an eye. He doesn't apparently care about any of this, from the context of the Cenarion Circle. How, exactly, does that work? What kind of strain, if any, has this put on the relationship between him and Tyrande? More importantly, what kind of message is he sending to his people if he continues to ignore the attacks and accept the Horde's assistance without mention of anything that's been going on?

Neutral factions are just an odd concept when you think about it, especially when they involve faction leaders. It's slightly more understandable with Tirion Fordring, who befriended Eitrigg in the novel Of Blood and Honor by Chris Metzen. Tirion understands that some orcs can be honorable creatures -- and he's willing to prove his point by sacrificing his position in the Alliance to uphold his moral standards. So perhaps he'd be willing to look the other way where the orcs are concerned -- but his steadfast ignoring of the val'kyr's presence is more than a little surreal, given how valiantly he fought in Wrath.

Is this simply a case where gameplay and design trumps story? Is there a way to present a dynamic neutral faction and keep them dynamic? It would be odd to see a formerly neutral faction choose a side, but given the amount of faction conflict arising in Mists, maybe it's time we actually see it happen.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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