World of Warcraft's orcs and humans will soon be able to fight together in raids and dungeons

World of Warcraft
(Image credit: Blizzard)

The cornerstone foundation of Warcraft is simple: Orcs over here, humans over there, and never the twain shall meet except to beat the hell out of each other. But times change, alliances change, and soon the divide between gaming's most timeless enemies will change too: Blizzard announced today that it is making changes to enable Horde and Alliance players to team up in dungeons, raids, and rated PvP.

It's a big change—World of Warcraft has been around since 2004 but the conflict in Azeroth goes back a full decade before that, to Warcraft: Orcs and Humans in 1994. With that in mind, Blizzard said the change is being guided by two basic goals: To focus on organized instanced gameplay, where "social barriers will have the greatest negative impact on people’s ability to access these experiences on their preferred terms," and to make it an opt-in feature as much as possible to ensure that players who enjoy Warcraft's established fiction aren't suddenly thrown into a new, unwanted era of peace and cooperation.

Very roughly, here's how it's going to work:

  • 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).    

Members of opposing factions in the same party will be able to communicate through the party chat, but will remain unfriendly outside of instanced dungeons and fully hostile in War Mode. But once they enter a dungeon, raid, or rated PvP match, all members of the party will be friendly and able to fully cooperate as though they were all members of the same faction.

"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'," World of Warcraft game director Ion Hazzikostas explained. "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 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."

All of this is still quite a distance off. It's a big job, for one thing: Hazzikostas described World of Warcraft as "two decades’ worth of code and content crafted with the assumption that parties can only have players of a single faction," and the extent of the work required means the change won't be ready in time for the release of the 9.2 update, which is currently on the PTR, but will instead be added in a separate 9.2.5 update. Even after it goes live, some older instances will not support cross-faction parties, including Battle of Dazar’alor, Trial of the Crusader, Icecrown Citadel, "and a handful of others that similarly have extensive faction-specific components that will have to be reworked to support cross-faction parties."

"For every Jaina, there is a Genn, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon," Hazzikostas wrote." 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?"

So far, the reaction to the news seems pretty positive.

(Image credit: Preheat (Twitter))

A date hasn't been set, but Blizzard said the 9.2.5 update will hit the World of Warcraft PTR soon. And this isn't the only big WoW news of the day: Earlier, Blizzard announced that it's also taking steps to clamp down on boosting.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.