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Hellscream is not my Warchief

Hellscream is not my warchief ANY

Sometimes, it's not just about the race you choose to play -- it's about how the story behind it is handled. Matthew Rossi wrote an interesting piece about how the race one plays has a direct effect on how one approaches the story in the game. Playing an orc and keeping in mind what it is to be an orc makes Garrosh and his plans look infinitely more appealing than one would consider straight off the bat.

But on the other end of the equation, there are lots of Horde players who don't play an orc. Take me, for example -- while I started out as a Forsaken priest, I've now played a blood elf rogue for far longer. To me, Hellscream's actions are questionable at best, horrific beyond imagining at worst. Yet here I am, still playing Horde and carrying out the orders of Hellscream. The why of it all is the part that is an incredibly clever design move on the part of the story development team.

Hellscream is not my Warchief ANY

Not all of Pandaria was like this. The Jade Forest was probably the single most uncomfortable piece of World of Warcraft I've ever played though. Why? Because I could see what direction things were going, it was not a good direction, but I was powerless to stop any of it from happening. While I may not have known about the Sha, or the destruction of Yulon's statue, I knew that inciting the hozen into fighting a war for us wasn't a good move. But I did it anyway.

After the Jade Forest, it felt a little better. I was still doing errands for people, but it was errands for the pandaren, and in a way it felt a little like atonement. Kind of an awkward apology of sorts for screwing up the continent with my faction's very presence. Was there fighting? Oh yes there was -- but it was directed at the creatures that were menacing Pandaria, rather than at whatever the bellowing orders of Hellscream dictated. I didn't mind that. I liked doing that.

In patch 5.1, Hellscream arrived on Pandaria and my sense of vague foreboding began anew. Garrosh seemed to be intent on somehow harnessing the powers of the Sha and using said powers to either create new warriors for the Horde, or bolster the existing troops. Either way, frankly after playing 85-90 and some end game I knew with certainty that the Sha were a really, really bad idea. You don't mess with the Sha. Why the heck would Garrosh want to mess with the Sha?

And yet, I carried out his orders anyway. I did everything he asked.

Hellscream is not my Warchief ANY

Here's where it gets kind of flip-flopped and weird. Not everyone out there, player-wise, is happy with Garrosh. Not everyone understands what he's up to, and there seems to be a general consensus that whatever it is, it's bad news. As characters in an ongoing story, any race that isn't an orc is likely feeling the same way. In a way, our experiences and feelings as a player are mirroring what our character's experiences and feelings should be, in the context of the story being told.

But it goes much deeper than just that vague sense of foreboding. Because we can sit there as players and say "You know, this is a terrible idea. These are terrible things I am doing. Why is Hellscream asking me to do these things?" all we want, but we still do them. As players, we still do them for the quest rewards, the gold, the valor points, and ultimately to move on in the story. We do them not because they make us feel particularly happy, but because we have no choice or alternative in the matter.

And that is where the character mirror really reflects back on us as players. Our characters have no choice, either -- any member of the Horde who does not carry out Hellscream's orders will be put to death. There is no trial, no judgement by peers, there is a simple accusation of treason and sentence carried out, swift and silent. End of story. If these characters do not do what Hellscream wants, their story will come to a quick end.

Hellscream is not my Warchief ANY

If I, as a player, decide that I no longer want to work for Hellscream, my only choice is to stop playing my character. That, in turn, is the end of my character's existence. We as players are facing the selfsame rock-and-a-hard-place scenario as our characters are, and it puts us in a very strange space. It's a discomforting space where we have no choice but to move on and hope that at some point in the future, the situation improves.

The odd part of all of this is that I end up doing, as a player, what my character would likely choose were she real -- I follow the orders to the letter, and no more. I don't go out of my way to murder Alliance, I don't happily seek to murder anything that stands in my way. In fact, I go about my quests with mechanical precision, completing all that is asked of me, but no more than that.

I find myself wondering if there is a way to measure this reaction in players. How many players just gleefully murder for the sake of killing all the things? How many hold back, and only do as much as asked, nothing more? And what is the racial distribution of these actions? Are players that play orcs more likely to do everything Garrosh asks and more, or are they also feeling that same sense of disquiet?

Hellscream is not my Warchief ANY

What Blizzard's story team has done with this expansion is to turn that mirror between player and character, and reflect it back on us. The feelings that players experience while they are playing are a direct reflection of how the characters in the story feel. For Horde players, it makes Pandaria a remarkably uncomfortable place to be -- but it also gives Pandaria a sense of realness, of true emotion that is pretty brilliant, when you think about it.

Hellscream is not my Warchief. His actions fly in the face of everything I've ever read or experienced, everything that the Horde is supposed to be. For both myself and my character, the Horde that I was introduced to was Thrall's Horde -- not weak by a long shot, but a smarter Horde, one that chose alliances where necessary, and fought where necessary just as well.

Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.