World of Warcraft – Cross-Faction Instances Preview

In an attempt to deal with some faction imbalances, World of Warcraft seems to be turning to the nuclear option. According to this development update on the MMORPG’s website, an upcoming update will allow you to create cross-faction groups and tackle the game’s content that way.

Here’s how this is going to work, at least in the short term:

For years now, many players have questioned whether the rules restricting communication and cooperation between Alliance and Horde need to be so absolute. The faction divide could keep close friends from playing together, or cause players to feel that their faction leaves them with far fewer opportunities to pursue their favorite group content. But these downsides have long been justified in order to preserve a central element of the Warcraft universe—it all began with a game titled, “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans,” right?

But, to quote a one-time Warchief of the Horde, “Times change.”

I am pleased to announce that we are working on adding the ability for Alliance and Horde players to form premade parties together for dungeons, raids, and rated PvP. There have been two decades’ worth of code and content crafted with the assumption that parties can only have players of a single faction, and while we want to make this feature available as soon as possible, the extent of the change means that it couldn’t be ready in time for the upcoming Eternity’s End content update. Instead, we are planning to test and release it as part of a subsequent 9.2.5 update. We’re eager to hear your feedback about the details we’re sharing today and on the details of our implementation when this feature becomes available to the Public Test Realm following the release of Eternity’s End.

In crafting the ruleset for this new feature, we were guided by two goals:

  • Focus on organized instanced gameplay. Dungeons, raids, and rated PvP have been at the center of the most compelling arguments for relaxing the faction divide. This is content that by definition requires a premade group, and thus social barriers will have the greatest negative impact on people’s ability to access these experiences on their preferred terms.
  • Make this an opt-in feature as much as possible. In terms of in-world fiction and player preferences, there are decades of animosity to overcome. While we are excited to offer players the choice to reach across the faction divide and cooperate to overcome common foes, we know that there are many who will react warily to this change, and we don’t want to override those preferences. This is about increasing options for players.

These guidelines led us to the following system:

  • Players will be able to directly invite members of the opposite faction to a party if you have a BattleTag or Real ID friendship, or if you are members of a cross-faction WoW Community.
  • Premade Groups in the Group Finder listings for Mythic dungeons, raids, or rated arena/RBGs will be open to applicants of both factions, though the group leader may choose to restrict the listing to same-faction applicants if they so choose.
  • Guilds will remain single-faction, and random matchmade activities like Heroic dungeons, Skirmishes, or Random Battlegrounds will all remain same-faction (both because there is less faction-driven pressure around random groups, and to avoid compromising the opt-in nature of the feature by randomly placing a queuing orc in a group with a night elf).

Once in a party together, members of the opposite faction will remain unfriendly while in the “outdoor” world (and fully hostile in War Mode!), as they do today, though they will be able to communicate through party chat. Upon entering a dungeon, raid, or rated PvP match, however, all members will be friendly and able to assist each other in combat, trade loot, earn shared achievements, and otherwise fully cooperate the same way members of the same faction have always been able to. A major goal in announcing this feature in advance is to make sure we’re capturing all the expectations and requirements for this to be a smooth experience. A group raiding, doing Mythic+ keys, or chasing higher PvP ratings should be able to operate seamlessly whether they’re a same-faction or cross-faction group.

This functionality will also apply to legacy instances, and is available at all levels, though there will be several older instances that cross-faction parties cannot enter, at least for now: Battle of Dazar’alor, Trial of the Crusader, Icecrown Citadel (remember that Gunship Battle?), and a handful of others that similarly have extensive faction-specific components that will have to be reworked to support cross-faction parties.

There are likely those who have read this far with some unease, worried that this is chipping away at a foundational principle of Warcraft. At BlizzCon in 2019, when an attendee asked about cross-faction play, we responded at the time that “Alliance and Horde separation … is a pillar of what makes Warcraft, Warcraft.” But upon reflection, that’s an oversimplification: Alliance and Horde identity is what is fundamental to Warcraft. And while at times that identity has been one of division and open conflict, we’ve seen Alliance and Horde finding common ground and working together ever since Warcraft III (notably including the last time a Warcraft chapter was named “Eternity’s End” …), and the instances of cooperation in World of Warcraft itself are too numerous to count.

We’re hopeful that these changes will serve to actually strengthen faction identity by allowing more players to play the faction whose values, aesthetic, and characters they find more compelling, rather than feeling forced to choose between their personal preference and the ability to play with friends.

Following the events of Battle for Azeroth, the Alliance and Horde are poised in an uneasy armistice. The factions still stand apart, and even as some of their leaders cooperate in the Shadowlands, countless members of each faction will neither forgive nor forget the wartime actions of the other. For every Jaina, there is a Genn, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon. But why shouldn’t players be able to make that choice for themselves, especially in cooperative settings where the story revolves around coming together to overcome dire threats?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on this feature both now and once it arrives for testing on the 9.2.5 PTR. We’ll see you in Azeroth.

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Val Hull
Val Hull

Resident role-playing RPG game expert. Knows where trolls and paladins come from. You must fight for your right to gather your party before venturing forth.

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