A lack of triumph

There's no real way to discuss this without sounding critical, which isn't my intent, so let me try and front load this one: I believe that Mists of Pandaria may be the first expansion to end, not with a feeling of victory, so much as a feeling of exhaustion. And I believe this to have been a deliberate choice on Blizzard's part, and moreover, I believe it to be the correct choice, because it highlights the ultimate futility of the Horde/Alliance conflict as the main conflict of the World of Warcraft MMO. There can be no ultimate winner as long as the Warcraft setting continues to exist, only a series of temporary highs and lows as each trades blows.

In The Burning Crusade, we ultimately defeated Illidan Stormrage (who, I admit, I was never really clear on the reasons why we were fighting him -- yes, he could have eventually been a threat, but he didn't actually seem all that interested in fighting us) and Kil'Jaeden, a much more real and present danger whose defeat saved all of Azeroth from a repeat of the Burning Legion invasion. In Wrath of the Lich King, we defeated the Lich King, slaying Arthas Menethil and halting the Scourge. In Cataclysm, we defeated Deathwing, balking his plans for annihilating the world entire. These felt like victories. Whether you were Horde or Alliance, you could feel pride in your efforts to hold back the shadow of destruction and save everything you knew from a grisly end.

At the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar, yes, we've toppled a tyrant. But for Horde players, it comes at a monumental cost - the guilt of being complicit in Hellscream's actions, the trauma of having to have raised arms against one's own faction and storm your own city, deaths of those you've known and even liked on the other side of the civil war (Alas, poor Nazgrim, and flights of wolfriders bear thee to thy pyre) and having to see what depths a former hero of the Horde could sink to, throwing away his father's weapon and his father's final legacy in favor of the same naked grasping for power that damned the orcish people once before. And Alliance players? Well, we get to fix the Horde's mess.

On the one hand, it is a victory, and a decisive one. Both factions made a statement with their role in the siege. Both can be proud of what they've done. But can it be called triumphant? I submit that it cannot, that it is no triumph, merely an end to madness.

A lack of triumph

As I've said before, I don't really have a problem with this. In fact, I think after all we've seen this expansion, there shouldn't be a feeling of triumph at the end of it. Garrosh's fall doesn't undo the damage he did, or that we did either alongside or opposing him. The lesser of two evils isn't good, it's just less evil. Condemnation aside, it's not laudable to bring a full scale conflict to a foreign land and destroy vast swaths of it in your infighting. The Horde and Alliance left devastation in their wake in the Jade Forest, seized large portions of the Krasarang Wilds, and if Garrosh's use of the Heart of Y'Shaarj is primarily on his shoulders (indeed, as we saw in the trailer, the Alliance wasn't even involved in that fighting) it's cold comfort at best to the dead, and not much of an excuse to offer to the people who have seen their most sacred place destroyed. The actions of the Alliance player in Dalaran were in response to Horde players stealing the Divine Bell, a weapon of mass destruction, but it clearly went too far. Things are not clear cut, and no hands were left unstained.

Then again, it's also unfair to blame the Alliance and Horde alone for this. One of the great tragedies of this war is the same tragedy of so many other wars, that it dragged in others and exacerbated other conflicts. The Jinyu and the Hozen in the Jade Forest, the rise of the mogu and their Zandalari allies, whether it be allies or simply those looking to use the circumstances to their advantage, other forces made this conflict more dangerous. In the end, while we can't be blamed for everything (it's fair to cite the long isolation of Pandaria as part of the place's woes) that doesn't excuse us for everything either. And it is that lack of clear cut blamelessness that makes this so particularly grueling, that makes this last long march through the streets of Orgrimmar and its cavernous deeps to bring Hellscream to justice so simultaneously satisfying and unsatisfying. We win, but what do we win?

When we defeated Deathwing, we know that for better or worse, we'd utterly changed the world and brought about a new age. But Mists of Pandaria shows us the cost of that new age, our successes and our failures are on our shoulders. The world will be what we make of it. If we allow bad leaders to make bad decisions, we'll be stuck with those bad outcomes. In the end, it's all on us, on we transient mortals with our short lives and our hot tempers, and when we make mistakes or allow them to be made, people suffer, people die, and order must be restored. And it must be restored by us - no dragon or watcher or god is going to come fix our mess.

There is no triumph here. And I think that wholly appropriate. We can bicker and argue over who killed who -- we can debate who's hands have more blood on them -- or we can fix this mess. That's all, in the end. There is no triumph, but there is a victory to be had.