Could it, though? I’m genuinely unsure. Let me think out loud, for a bit.
I think it is a big conceptual problem with the faction war that one side can only gain something by taking it from other players. You can’t destroy Teldrassil or Undercity without making Night Elf or Forsaken players lose a place they all love. Permanently. I think if it is justified or not isn’t the most important thing here. The loss is real either way. And, as many stories tell us, as much as we might be motivated by revenge, any joy we derive from it is usually short-lived, while our grief and loss isn’t.
Even worse, to some degree our yearning for revenge will always stay unfulfilled. We can never root out or even dissolve the other faction, can never kill all the characters we might want to kill.
So it seems that in balance everyone loses out, doesn’t it?
I guess there are possible ways around that.
One way might be to conquer instead of destroying. The Horde takes Teldrassil, the Alliance takes Undercity. Both factions can simultaneously gain and lose stuff. Even better, the loss doesn’t have to feel permanent, since an obvious goal would be to free your stuff from their hands.
This method would have the problem of substancially lowering the stakes, though. Avoiding afflicting losses makes for the feeling of a children’s story, and the people who would prefer a faction war story would usually also prefer something more “real”. They can always throw out casualty numbers, but as long as they don’t really make them relevant to the story they really don’t mean anything…
But at least putting the option of conquest out there and not just all-out destruction might mitigate some problems.
Another way they could go about it would be to give the factions victories at places where the player of the defeated faction never played and thus have no real relation to. There could have been some great victory of the Horde, with great characters on both sides involved, at some Kul Tiran fortress the Alliance player never visited for questing or anything else, for example. The Alliance player would only hear that some fortress fell, while the Horde player would have some real victory on their hands. Remember how the Alliance player rooted out the vampires that were trying to ally themselves to the Horde that the Horde player never got to hear about? It would be just like that. They even tried to give us a personal reason to hate the vampire boss.
…but it also had no impact on the greater story whatsoever. And that is a problem with this way of doing things. You have to give both factions two fully independent storylines that still fit together perfectly. You also can never copy+paste the same quests for the same areas for both sides while doing this. Both certainly shouldn’r be impossible for Blizzard, but it wouldn’t be easy. And in the end… while both factions get the triumphs without feeling the losses… neither faction would get triumphs over the players of the other faction. I am quite certain not everyone would like that (though I might).
Well, nothing is perfect. So how does a classic PvE scenario compare? Some baddie shows up and we somehow gather power and fight it. While the threat often is played as enormous, actual losses in characters or cities aren’t that common (I think WoD’s blasted lands are quite unique in that a NPC-army actually took long-standing factio fortresses - and minor ones at that). Our long-term absolute victory is guaranteed, though we might lose some battles along the way.
So… in-universe the stakes are unimaginably high, but since we know we can’t lose they actually feel pretty low. And while losses still hurt, at least we take every loss with the almost certainty that we will make the culprit pay in full. So… I guess this ranks somewhere between the “real” faction war and the conquest idea in terms of feel. We do have losses, but we get full revenge, and it does lack real weight, but not as much as a kind of amicable faction conflict would. The more you try to make the fight against the NPC matter, the more you will have to dial up the losses.
I guess as a result the NPC-conflict is more of a compromise solution than a clear winner against the faction conflict ideas… depending on your tastes.
But I guess I haven't really evaluated the conflict as a story. It is a fact that there are many open wounds between the factions that realistically would flare up at some points. I'm just not very comfortable with arguing on that basis alone, since there are quite a few gameplay restrictions.
- Faction membership can never be changed:
This pretty much rules out many more backstabby political maneuvers that would be realistic. They can tell us that the Blood elves had talks with Varian, but nothing could ever have come of them, and they would always need to find some reason why talks failed. Garrosh can be an orcish supremacist, but in the end player orcs and trolls have to stay together and the story has to be bent in a way that makes it possible.
- Neither faction can really lose:
Since both factions have to continue to exist, the war can’t be won. Whenever one side has the clear upper hand, something has to happen to change it, at least in the long term.
- Both sides need triumphs and losses, preferably equal:
The devs have a bit of wriggling room here, but they truly can’t just let happen whatever would happen, since the players are likely to scream bloody murder, if one faction was clearly getting a better deal than the other.
Combined this means that they really can’t just let things happen as they realistically would. They always have to have a hand on the scales. They always have to throw out plot devices to prevent one catastophe or the other. So I’m not sure we can get very far by arguing what would happen between the factions if WoW were real.
If we are talking about realism… I would think both factions have become too large and too diverse to survive very long without internal fighting and rebellions. There is no unity of purpose, not even in opposing the other faction. And after 35 years filled with war after war after war there shouldn’t be any ressources for anyone to fight anyone else, really.
So that’s why I wasn’t talking about a realistic story, but about how the story would make players feel. Because realism in the story isn’t possible, in my eyes, and player reactions are so much more real.
The story will always be forced, bound by gameplay restraints, and a faction war story will be more forced than most.
Enough ranting. Good Night.