I HATE ALIGNMENT GRIDS

alignments

… but I can see how they might end up shaping the design sensibilities of the guys who’ve been developing RPGs in a post-D&D world. The problem isn’t alignments themselves, but when the forces that represent those alignments end up being lopsided. The alignment system (and specifically the application in the grander cosmology of the D&D franchises) is supposed to be about balance. And when the application of that system results in a universe that is inherently out of balance, I’ve got some issue with that.

For example, take the most powerful semi-omnipotent forces we have in the universe of Warcraft.

The Titan Pantheon represents Law. Their whole spiel involves ordering worlds, creating systems that will create and regulate life.

The Old Gods and their lieutenants the Elemental Lords represent Chaos. They go to war with each other when they aren’t going to war with someone else, whether it’s the Titans, the Titans’ creations, or any other force they come across. Harbinger Skyriss definitely implies that they’d go to war with the Legion if the opportunity presented itself.

The Naaru represent Good. When it comes down to it, their job involves fighting against Evil wherever it’s found, whether it’s the Legion or the Illidari.

And the Burning Legion represents Evil. They’ve got both lawful and chaotic elements to them, but the chief objective of the Legion is to destroy the creations of the Titans so that Sargeras can create a new universe under a new order. This differentiates them from the Old Gods, who want to destroy everything because destruction.

And yeah, there are other powerful entities at play, like the Ancients, the August Celestials, Elune, the loa, the gods of the Arakkoa, but all of them feel like they’re lesser players in the game, and to an extent aren’t as easily identifiable with a single extreme on the alignment grid. You’ve got lawful and chaotic and good and evil loa, for example.

Maybe it’s a property of how Blizzard needs to constantly create new enemies for us to fight against, but it feels like there’s a lot more evil in this universe than there is good. Fighting the Legion, or groups that were created by the Legion, or the Old Gods, or groups being controlled by the Old Gods, has defined virtually every conflict we’ve had in the game up until the Iron Horde. (And with 6.2, with the Iron Horde basically joining the Legion… well, yeah. Pattern holds.)

Meanwhile, we’ve never directly encountered the Titans; we’ve dealt with constructs they’ve left behind, constructs that more often than not have been corrupted by evil forces (like all the Watchers in Ulduar) or are programmed to kill whatever steps into their area (like all the Watchers in Uldaman and Uldum) because they’re a glorified security grid that can or must be compromised. The closest we’ve gotten to the Titans is Algalon the Observer, and against all logic and reason he spared Azeroth after we wailed on him for a few minutes. So the Titans are mostly absent and for the most part imperfect.

The Naaru made a big showing during Burning Crusade, showing up to rescue the draenei and the Sons of Lothar and helping them fight against Illidan’s dominion over Outland. That beef expanded to include the greater Legion when Kael’thas betrayed the Illidari (and yeah, Rise of the Horde implied that by rescuing Velen and the exiled eredar, the Naaru were opposing the Legion even then). But what was demonstrated about the Naaru repeatedly is that they have a life cycle: deplete the Light enough within one and it becomes a destructive creature of the Void. Beat the hell out of that Void creature, as we did with Entropius, and there may be a kernel of Light left in it, such as what Velen used to purify and jumpstart the Sunwell. Generally speaking, though, the light-dark life cycle of the Naaru happens over the span of millenia. So to a great extent, the Naaru have the potential to be as malevolent as they are good, with everything depending on where you encounter them in their life cycle. And with all the Void-stuff we see in the Legion, one could argue that the Legion may have a bunch of darkened Naaru enslaved to their service.

Meanwhile, look at the evil and chaotic forces arrayed against us. The Old Gods do not live and do not die; they are outside the cycle. In the comics, even C’thun’s corpse still had enough juice in it to empower Cho’gall, as well as attempt to corrupt Med’an. Yogg-Saron sounds triumphant when we kill him in the sepulcher at the bottom of Ulduar, as though we’ve released him from his ultimate prison. Y’shaarj was killed by the Titans but his last breath created the Sha, which were powerful corruptive forces across the continent of Pandaria. The Old Gods can’t really be stopped, only delayed. To an extent, having this kind of immutable eldritch horror that always finds a way to resurface is okay… it works in Diablo, after all, and the Old Gods beat us over the head with it whenever we interact with them, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

Between the past… resilience of Nathrezim dreadlords and Alex Afrasiabi’s recent tweets about Archimonde, we’re now being led to believe that with every demon in the Legion, regardless of where or when they’re killed, their souls just yo-yo back to the Twisting Nether, and can be summoned back from there at any time. The Nether spans all realities, so it’s the same Nether whether we’re in Main Universe Azeroth or Alternate Universe Draenor.

So the Mannoroth that Grom killed in Demon Fall Canyon during the Third War is the same Mannoroth Grom kills in Tanaan Jungle in the opening cinematic for Warlords of Draenor, and it’ll be the same Mannoroth that we’re fighting again in Hellfire Citadel in Patch 6.2. (This gives Mannoroth’s big line in that cinematic a whole new meaning: “Did you bring these mongrels here just to watch you die?”) And the Archimonde we fought and killed at Mount Hyjal in Warcraft III (which we then just re-lived during the Hyjal raid in BC) is the same Archimonde we’re fighting in Hellfire Citadel. It’s not an alternate universe version, but instead the SAME GUY.

So I guess the supposition is that if we go to the Twisting Nether and kill the demons on their home turf, then that permanently ends those demons (just like we had to go to the Firelands to permanently end Ragnaros). And maybe that makes it so the Burning Legion can actually be beaten.

But that’s ultimately the problem I have with Afrasiabi’s comments. He’s acting like this was always the case. Like we should have always known that the Legion was basically unkillable, and that every demon we’ve killed, every big boss like Archimonde, the Eredar Twins, Brutallus, Mother Shahraz, Magtheridon, Supremus, Malchezzar, down to every satyr or felguard or succubus ever, even potentially Gul’dan and Illidan (because both of them ended up being more demon than orc/night elf by the time we killed them) wasn’t ever really dead. They were just delayed.

Learning that now, ten years after starting this journey, feels like a punch to the gut. It takes a ton of satisfaction out of killing those guys when now, after the fact, we’re told that all it did was just delaying the inevitable, not because these guys are saying “you may have killed me but the Legion will win” but instead “I’ll not really dying, this is just A SETBACK”. It feels like a breach of contract. It feels like something we should have been told ten years ago, so that we knew that it was just buying time. Moreover it feels like something that characters who know more than us, like Wrathion, should also already know.

Because what the hell is the point in Wrathion trying to create an army that can defend Azeroth from the Legion if the Legion is infinitely capable of coming back again and again, because they get to ignore death and no GOOD force in the universe can do the same thing?

It’s out of balance. It’s artificial, it’s backhanded, and it shakes my faith in the narrative cohesion of Warcraft as a franchise because it feels like with a handful of tweets, Afrasiabi has just changed the rules that govern the entire conflict.

And to a great extent, it feels like it’s happening because someone really loved alignment grids in D&D and couldn’t think outside the nine-part box.