Black, White, or Gray?

Black vs. WhiteOne of the strongest differences in the lore between Warhammer Online and World of Warcraft are the gray areas.  Namely, WoW has them and WAR does not.

Within WoW, neither the Horde nor Alliance are predominantly good nor bad.  And because of this, neither faction predominantly defines your character.

I have to confess, I didn’t notice this at first.  I took it completely for granted until I began playing Warhammer.  And I have to say, I miss the gray.

Within Warhammer, Order is good and Destruction is bad.  Heck, even their names tell you that.

So, for my first Warhammer character, I rolled on the Order side as a Shadow Warrior.  Shadow Warriors are High Elves and High Elves are good.  They love the land, protect the animals, and don’t drive 55mph in the carpool lane with a chain of people behind them.

Well, last night I rolled a Dark Elf…

…and it was a bit of a shock how much the black and white factions can predefine your character and your immersion within the game.

As a High Elf, I had been defending the Elven homeland.  Now as a Dark Elf, I was invading it.

That didn’t sound so bad.  Invaders can be cool.  Vikings were invaders.  And, well, Vikings are awesome.

Then I started doing the quests…

Wipe out the defending High Elves.  Obvioulsy.

Help gather supplies.  Makes sense.

Slaughter the local wildlife.  Typical.

Use innocent civilians as bait so you can kill their rescuers.  Uhm… Okay.

Unleash savage beasts on mourners of the dead to demoralize the defenders.  Yeesh.

Brutal… but… okay, let’s keep going.

Then I got to the first town, and there amongst a group of laughing onlookers, was a Dark Elf torturing a wounded lion.

Alright, why am I running errands for these guys?  And therein lies the problem.  The more I played my Dark Elf  the more I found myself ignoring why I was doing anything, so I didn’t feel like a schmuck for doing it.  I was purposefully not immersing myself in the game.

So there’s the problem.  When you push a game’s factions to extremes, you also push the to immersion to extremes.  Sure there wll be those who just don’t care, but for everyone else, those who are sucked in by one faction are going to find themselves repulsed by the other.

Is that really a problem though?  Afterall, there are two factions.  If you don’t like one then stop whining and go play the other.  Unfortunately for many of us, our faction is chosen for us as we either follow our guild or simply go to where all of our friends went.

So I must prefer WoW, right?  Gray is more accessible.  From a storytelling standpoint Gray is more interesting.  It offers characters who are complex.  No hero is all good, and the best kind of villain is the one who in their eyes thinks they’re the hero.  This is all true, but actually no, I don’t prefer WoW’s way of handling factions.  And I don’t prefer Warhammer’s either.  I’ll take choice “C”… Age of Conan.  In other words, one faction.

No AoC is not a perfect game, and when taking everything into account, I’d rather play WoW or Warhammer.  But as far as faction design goes, I prefer AoC’s.  Why?  Freedom!  Factions?  My friends, my guild, and my guild’s alliances are my faction.  When it comes to PVP, it’s a free for all.  If someone’s cool we can party up.  If they’re a jerk… well that’s what my bow is for.  The game does not dictate who my friends and enemies are.  The world becomes much more of a sandbox where I can do whatever I want.

On a game mechanics side, one faction also means I have a much better chance of getting to play with all of my friends.  In WoW, WAR, or other games with multiple factions, launch day is marred by having to say, “I’ll catch you next time, buddy” to some of your friends who are going to the other side.  And that well… sucks.

The downside of a game with only one faction is it’s hard to pull off.  Good drama, good storytelling, comes from conflict, and it’s tougher to put together a great story when you don’t have as much control over that conflict.

So there you have it.  Whether it’s “Black vs. White” or “Gray vs. Gray”, they both offer their own unique benefits and drawbacks.  For my money though, I’d rather be given the paintbrush and make my own colors.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dangablad October - 2008 at 11:23 am

A mention on the Black vs. White.

There are gamers (a large number of them if GTA4 sales numbers are anywhere close to true) who ENJOY playing villains. It’s the reason why Bioware RPG’s include a (Light/Dark Side, Open Hand/Closed Fist, Paragon/Renegade, Good/Evil) dichotomy. Some people can’t Kick the Dog in real life (courtesy of, a wiki every writer should visit) so they choose to fulfill their dog kicking fantasies in their games. While I don’t espouse the concept, and dislike playing anti-heroes, I’ll admit that even I have wanted to be Ming the Merciless from time to time.

To be fair, the “Gray vs. Gray” aspect is one of the big problems with WoW pvp. I’ve played WC3, and don’t like killing Hordies. Thrall’s a decent guy. Cairne Bloodhoof even moreso. Why should I want to kill them? Why must we endlessly fight over farms, mines, and giant elemental gods? What is actually worthwhile about the Eye of the Storm in the first place?

Oh well… Fable 2 soon, another Bioware RPG where I get to be a beacon of purity and kindness… or kick dogs.

2 Cocles October - 2008 at 2:51 pm

Thanks for the tvtropes suggestion. I’ll check it out.

And yes, the gray areas of WoW does make PVP lore motivation a bit… iffy. Fortunately, a lot of this will be fixed in WotLK. More on that later. 😉

As an update on the Warhammer side, I’m currently playing my Disciple of Khaine a lot more than my Shadow Warrior. Class mechanics one out for now. Hopefully they’ll fix Shadow Warriors soon.

3 Angelo di Verita October - 2008 at 9:37 pm

This is completely off topic but I would love to see your analysis on Blizzard’s direction with the Dragon Aspects. I’d like to see if you think of anything I haven’t.

4 Cocles October - 2008 at 11:43 pm

Dragon Aspects? I can definitely do requests.

5 Dangablad November - 2008 at 9:24 am

In light of what little I’ve seen of LK so far, I second the Dragon Aspects suggestion.

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