A division lost is freedom’s gain.

The unthinkable has finally happened. The first split in the armour, the first leak in the dam. Is it too little too late though?

Cross-faction gameplay is something that’s been asked for by the player-base for a long time now. Up until now, the developers have staunchly refused to even consider loosening the faction divide in even the smallest fashion, with the sole unique exception of mercenary mode in PvP.

FFXIV’s meteoric rise to become the MMO in the world has caused Blizzard to suddenly reconsider their long-held position on the faction barrier. All of a sudden, before even the next expansion (which shows how knee-jerk this is), we’ll be getting the following available as cross-faction in patch 9.2.5:

  • Raids
  • Mythic+
  • Rated PvP/Battlegrounds
  • Communities

This first iteration will be limited to the above activities and Communities.

However, the core experience for most in WoW is being part of a guild. And it appears that even that is potentially going to eventually become cross-faction (perhaps for 10.0), if this 9.2.5 “experiment” works as smoothly as is hoped.

Fade recently (in the past month) felt no recourse other than to faction and realm switch to Tarren Mill Horde, because recruitment on even the largest EU Alliance server, Silvermoon, had become unviable as an option. That’s how bad the faction balance is in terms of sheer numbers at endgame, compounded by the fact that we’ve had more recruits and interest in the past week as Horde, than we got in our final several months as Alliance.

Perhaps that imbalance has been a large factor in this sudden relaxation of the previously sacrosanct faction divide. That, coupled with the drop in player numbers following the scandals of last year, and the above-mentioned fall from the long-held MMO spot to FFXIV have conspired to force Blizzard to hit the “Break glass in case of dire emergency” button.

And not before time.

For players who’ve been playing Warcraft for over 20 years, since the original RTS game right through to Shadowlands, the faction “war” is both tired and done at this point.

Intelligent players will acknowledge that neither side was ever going to “win”.

As such, any “war” was moot, and a crux for story-telling, such as the beginning of BfA where a painfully forced faction war kicked off the expansion.

However, no matter how much lip-service was paid to factional conflict over the years, such as BfA and Mists, in every single expansion’s lore, both sides eventually work together to overcome major threats:

  • Vanillla: C’thun
  • TBC: Kaelthas & Illidan
  • Wrath: The Lich King
  • Cataclysm: Deathwing
  • Mists of Pandaria: Garrosh Hellscream
  • Warlords of Draenor: Archimonde & Gul’dan
  • Legion: Kil’jaeden & the Legion
  • BfA: N’Zoth
  • Shadowlands: The Jailer

We’ve spent more time throughout WoW’s lifetime fighting together against major threats than we have fighting each other. Even the lore characters acknowledged at the end of BfA that the faction war was played out, and that they, alongside the mature playerbase, had grown past it. They finally admitted that both sides had more in common than they did that divided them. That together, both sides are better and stronger, and that they need the other side in order to face threats bigger than themselves.

And that, let’s face it, is what World of Warcraft is all about: gaining power and taking out major threats to not only Azeroth, but the Warcraft universe overall.

Ion Hazzikostas has told IGN in an interview today that going forward the factional conflict is not a story that they’re overtly interested in telling any more.

Hopefully, in a new era for WoW, where Alliance & Horde are nothing more than an ideological identity or label, rather than the basis for blind bloodshed, the game will thrive once more, without artificial barriers to friends being able to play together.

As for me, as soon as cross-faction guilds become a reality, I’ll likely be going straight back to Gnome. I love my Orc, but of all the races in WoW, Gnomes are my first and strongest love.

Finally, some hope. Just a shame it’s taken the game to be on its knees for players to finally get the ability to play with friends, no matter what anyone’s favourite race or faction is.

Regardless, this is a fantastic change, and hopefully a toe in the water towards cross-faction guilds and full freedom for those who want it, in 10.0.