Blizzard has announced the unthinkable: the Horde vs. Alliance factional divide in World of Warcraft is being relaxed. As in, soon you will be able to invite an Alliance character to your Horde instancing party and vice versa. No longer are we to be enemies! Now we shall be... ugh... argh... gah.... I can't quite say it... Friends.
The news comes from WoW boss Ion Hazzikostas, who announced and explained the decision on the game's website.
"For years now, many players have questioned whether the rules restricting communication and cooperation between Alliance and Horde need to be so absolute," he wrote.
"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 favourite 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," he added, "'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."
The idea is you will be able to directly invite members of the opposing faction (via their BattleTag or Real ID) to your group - or open the applications to both factions when using the Group Finder - and then fight together as friends inside an instance. This will not, however, carry over to the outdoor, open world. There, you'll remain unfriendly to each other, or hostile if in War Mode, even if you're in the same group.
Guilds will not join the pan-faction love-in yet, but as as Hazzikostas told IGN in a supporting interview, "At this point I know better than to close any doors."
On the WoW website, he added: "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," he wrote, "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 3 (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."
As to when this will happen: there's still some time to go. Part of the reason Blizzard is talking about it early is to get lots of feedback before it sets anything in stone. Cross-faction instancing won't be included in the upcoming 9.2 patch Eternity's End, then, but it will be added to the Public Test Realm afterwards in patch 9.2.5.
There's no release date for Eternity's End but it's been on the PTR since December, and most new patches tend to spend a couple of months there before release. This month, then - February - is likely to be when it appears.
"Following the events of Battle for Azeroth," Hazzikostas concluded, "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?"
Why not indeed.
This is unlikely to have anything to do with Microsoft's recent, eye-watering $70bn acquisition of Activision Blizzard, before you ask. The deal isn't likely to complete until 2023, at which point Microsoft will be in charge.