Once again welcome to Ramses Reviews. I finally decided to finish my look at the factions. The original intent was for this to be two separate posts, one for each faction. However, the more I wrote, the more it became clear how much the problems of the two factions were intertwined.
The Empire of Stormwind
But first, a story of personal taste. I've said before that, of the two factions, my favorite is the horde. However, I was recently also asked my favorite race. It was actually a rather tough question for me, since I like almost every race in the game. In the end, it was actually humanity that won out, because I really dig the seven kingdoms.
Okay, bit weird to have your favorite race not in your favorite faction, but perfectly possible. Either you really dislike the other alliance races, or have all the horde races in really high regard. Then I thought what my second favorite race was; the night elves. Third; the dwarves. Fourth; the draenei. And yet, the alliance still isn't my favorite faction. The hell is the deal with that?
Well, I kinda touched upon it in my first look at the alliance, but I don't think I gave it enough emphasis. The idea behind the alliance is that they're separate nations, banding together to stand against outsiders who could overwhelm the individual nations. Their leadership and militaries coordinate together, with a very open sharing of information. In the highest level of government, this means coordination and trust between kings and generals. On the lower levels, it means that the nations of the alliance share information that could strengthen each others' armies.
At least, that was the intent when the alliance was formed back in warcraft II (though you can argue it goes back all the way to the conjurers in warcraft I). Nations remain separate entities, even as they strengthen and defend each other. It's a noble affair, though it brings with it the inherent problems of trust, either with ineffectiveness coming from nations not trusting each other (Gilneas pretty much being an in-name-only member of the alliance) or their trust being betrayed (Alterac selling out the alliance in the hopes the horde will spare them).
So, we can basically boil the alliance down to two things: “Independent nations” and “united against common enemies”. The former is why I'm a lot less hard on the night elves joining the alliance than the forsaken joining the horde. Sure, they're equally different from the factions they're joining, but with the alliance, a big part of the appeal is to see very diverse nations stand side-by-side.
However, the problem lies with the second one. There is no common enemy that the alliance is forming a united front against. Each of the various nations is busy fighting unrelated stuff. Stormwind is dealing with the defias rebellion, the dark horde, the black dragonflight and itself. The night elves are busy with the corruption overtaking their lands and the dark forces that would ally with it. The dwarves and the gnomes are the only ones who have common enemies, dealing with the troggs that were freed with the opening of Uldaman and the Dark Iron Dwarves.
And well, there you basically have the problem. The alliance is defined by nations uniting against common enemies. They are not doing so. For the entirety of Vanilla, the alliance did not exist. They were just some relatively friendly nations. Okay, that's a slight hyperbole. There is actually a single location where the alliance did exist, and I mentioned it in part 1 as well. I just don't think I did justice to the sheer insanity of the idea that the alliance only acted as an alliance in this one single place: Alterac Valley.
Think about that. The dwarven lands being infested by underground monstrosities, with the entire gnomish capital being lost and their population nearly driven to extinction? No action. The night elf lands being corrupted from the inside-out and tainted monstrosities taking over most of it? No action. The entire human kingdom of Stormwind falling apart as orcs overrun the east, bandits overrun the west and start on the center, and the south is abandoned to hordes of undead? No action. A territorial misunderstanding in a remote, strategically-uninteresting corner of the world? Full support! Humans, dwarves and night elves must stand together to help these archaeologist invade and wipe out the frostwolf clan, for surely there is no greater threat than reclusive primitives that misunderstood the intention of explorers. Surely, there is no cause greater than exterminating an entire clan in the name of dwarven imperialism? Not even the alliance can do this alone, for the cenarion circle must also forsake its neutrality and send an arch-druid. Truly, there is no greater threat to the natural world, no greater aberration to the natural order than... SHAMANISM! Because lord knows that the horde doesn't use shamanism anywhere else.
To be fair, it's not like the other battlegrounds made any sense either. Warsong Gulch requires Thrall to be acting completely out of character and everyone to overlook every single other source of wood ever. Arathi Basin has the forsaken invading Stromgarde territory because they need the resources there, despite the fact that it's at the other side of the continent from where they operate. I'm entirely willing to entertain the idea that the original vanilla battlegrounds were just the developers trolling the lore fans. I actually kinda prefer it over the idea that they were genuinely trying.
Anyway, back to the point I was originally making; After warcraft III, blizzard had no real solid plan what to go for with the direction of the factions, and both are kinda left meandering for both vanilla and TBC. As much as I hate to say it, Wrath of the Lich King really was the first expansion to legitimately give the alliance a well-defined role again, even if that role was a terrible, terrible idea.
You can argue that TBC was a little better than vanilla. It did indeed add one more quest hub, Honor Hold, where there was a sense that the nations of the alliance were actually, you know, allied. Still, it was too little, too late, with the rest of the continent again being all about the various nations doing their own unrelated stuff before being forgotten in favor of the naaru.
I honestly don't get why the writers seem to have so much trouble with writing the alliance. I realize I'm only talking as a backseat driver here, but it really seems like it wouldn't be so hard. Pick a main enemy, pick a few randomly selected alliance armies (remember, nations can have more than one army. It's a good opportunity to establish some variety within a single nation), have representatives from these armies stand in a single room to plan strategies, give the armies bases in zones that seem the most thematically appropriate (don't be afraid to have two different armies near each other, or even building their bases side-by-side), have them assault nearby bases of the main enemy and have multiple armies working together whenever appropriate. Frankly, it's not exactly a complicated formula. And yet, it never seems to occur. Instead, the alliance either acts like a bunch of non-allied, but friendly nations, or like the stormwindian empire of stormwind, serving stormwind for the glory of stormwind.
And yeah, the alliance in Wrath of the Lich King becomes the latter. Both in- and out-of-universe, it's rather disturbing. Apparently, the idea behind the radical shift in direction was that they were planning to introduce some sort of Thrall-like figure for the alliance in the form of Varian. And completely missed the mark. That's something that actually happens surprisingly often with Thrall. The basic idea is understandable. The horde had a focal figure in the form of Thrall, who was able to speak for the entirety of the horde. So they wanted a focal figure for the alliance, who could do the same.
Thing is, they kinda got things in reverse. Thrall can't speak for the horde because he is its leader. Just because you have formal leadership of a faction doesn't mean you can accurately represent all of it. Thrall is a leader, because he has learned to speak for the horde. Thrall is very much a diplomatic character, and is always portrayed as having a large circle of friends and advisors. Thrall can speak for the tauren, because Thrall has spent enough time with Cairne and Muln to actually know what the tauren would want. Thrall can speak for the darkspear, because Vol'jin is one of his closest friends and he knows what he'd want. Thrall can speak for the orcs, because he keeps enough of an eye and ear on his people to know what they actually want. You'll notice that you never see Thrall speak for the blood elves or forsaken, because, get this, he's not close enough to them to speak for them.
Varian is written in the exact opposite way. He doesn't need advisors or input from other nations to lead the alliance, because, as leader of the alliance, he naturally knows best how to lead it. Whenever Varian has a problem with leadership, it can only be because of outside influence by dark forces. Without leadership from the Wrynn bloodline, all the lands under his domain fall into chaos. Only if the Wrynn were allowed to lead again could those lands be restored. Even the divine forces of the universe make it clear that Varian, or others of his bloodline, should be in charge.
Now let's talk on real life writing and philosophy from the late middle ages. Back then, it was a common claim that royal families had been selected by God himself to serve as leaders of men. Because of being blessed by God, they were naturally better rulers and it was only right that they lorded over the lower classes, who didn't possess the natural ability to lead. Without the leadership of the king, the land would fall apart into barbarism and anarchy.
Anyone else seeing a weird parallel here?
Yeah, Varian is basically a straight import from the late medieval era, though I doubt it was deliberate on part of the writers. I'm guessing they were trying to use some of the 'true king' tropes popular in fantasy, and used them with such a lack of irony and thought that it just happened to resemble six hundred year old propaganda. It's absolutely amazing how the writers somehow skipped centuries upon centuries of developments in society, morality, philosophy and literature. I'd be impressed if it wasn't for the fact I meant I had to deal with stormwindian empire of stormwind overtaking my favorite races.
Actually, that's being a little unfair. Despite appearances, the empire has surprisingly little to do with stormwind. Sure, they're led by Stormwind's king, carry the stormwind flag, see stormwind as their capital and use Stormwind architecture. However, there is a bit more to the nation of Stormwind than that. I actually feel a bit sorry for how I talked about Stormwind in previous reviews. Oh, it's still the most boring faction in the game by a long shot. But that's only when you look at the kingdom as a whole.
You see, Stormwind does have a surprising number of interesting sub-factions. I'm personally quite fond of the people's militia, a group of westfall farmers who've been abandoned by the kingdom in their struggle against the defias, and who've formed their own military. In addition to the militia, you've also got the Night Watch, which struggles against the horrors of Duskwood, the stormwind marshals, lawkeepers who have to keep the kingdom safe from outside threats now that the army is abroad, and SI:7, the rather shady Stormwind Intelligence agency. Even the stormwind gryphon masters seem to be their own organization, with special uniforms and their own flag, though I don't think we ever got any elaboration on them.
The thing is though, none of these factions show up again. Oh sure, sometimes it looks like they get focus again, like when the people's militia turned up as the westfall brigade in Northrend, or when SI:7 formed the alliance vanguard in Pandaria. But really, it's only the names that re-appear, not what made those factions interesting. The Westfall Brigade is no different from any other generic alliance force in Northrend, and SI:7 is now a multi-national generic rogue organization, rather king-loyal internal security for Stormwind.
So, obviously, we're gonna need to differentiate. The generic Stormwind-themed alliance forces as commanded by Varian Wrynn shall now be known as the Wrynn Empire. It's a term I'm going to need for the next segment.
One thing most fans of Warcraft can agree on is that the alliance really hasn't had a good record with the newly added races. The night elves have been turned into pale imitations of the glory that made them so popular. The draenei were essentially forgotten after their expansion, and even there, most of the focus was on non-alliance draenei. The worgen are the worst off, as they might as well not exist after their starting zone and Silverpine. Many fans will tell you this is because blizzard is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole with these races. That they (especially night elves and worgen) are just not good matches for the alliance.
Honestly, I have to disagree. In my opinion, the night elves, the draenei and the worgen were all perfect new races for the alliance. Sure, they don't really fit the artistic style, culture or armies of the other alliance races. But that should be a good thing. I want to see siege tanks and ancient protectors march into battle side-by-side. I want to see warriors clad in crystalline armor hold the line as savage berserker packs charge in from behind them. That's the entire point of the alliance being an alliance; nations that are different in style banding together for a common cause.
And that's why I think the three races are such good fits for the alliance. Sure, night elf society is pretty much the exact opposite of dwarven society. But nobody is asking them to mingle, just work together. The nations having vastly differing histories and looks is what makes them capable of standing as an independent force within the coalition known as the alliance. There is a good reason that World of Warcraft gave the dwarves and gnomes much more distinction.
However, while these races fit perfectly into the alliance, capable of standing alongside Stormwind, Ironforge and Gnomeregan as equals, they don't fit at all into the Wrynn Empire. Hell, neither do aforementioned Stormwind, Ironforge and Gnomeregan. See, there's the big difference between the alliance and the wrynn empire.
In the alliance, all nations are powerful, independent entities, working together only at the highest levels. This originates all the way back in Warcraft II. The horde was a mass of clans that followed a roughly similar culture. Sure, one clan would chew bones, and one would ride dragons, but the overall framework for the various orcish clans was the same. Even the non-orcish members of the horde were absorbed into these clans.
The alliance however, consisted of independent kingdoms. There was no overall authority, not even really any indication of an overlapping culture. Even the church of the holy light, the closest thing to a thread connecting the seven kingdoms, was treated more like an independent power than a thing to bond over. The contrast is the starkest when looking at the non-human members of the alliance, which maintained their own kingdoms and vastly different cultures. Basically, it's like the immigration debate. Horde is integration, alliance is multi-cultural.
Warcraft III continued this trend. The different factions in the alliance all got different building styles and a lot of the time, you faced only one or two kingdoms at once. Contrast this again with the horde, which had jungle trolls, wyverns and tauren forming a single traveling army under leadership of Thrall in RoC, and form another single unified army along with ogres in TFT.
However, the alliance is not the same as the Wrynn Empire. In the Wrynn empire, there is absolutely no room for races with their own history and culture, because it means that they have different views of the world. An ancient race that stands as guardians of nature? Theocratic planet-hoppers who have been driven to near-extinction time and time again? Cursed Man-wolves? These are not going to hold the same views as your average medieval warrior-king. To have them in the same alliance means that Varian Wrynn is going to have to communicate, negotiate, and occasionally even compromise.
Obviously, we can't have that. It would mean that the alliance was actually about an alliance, rather than Lord Wrynn's personal empire. So, we got increasingly weak excuses to keep these races subservient. Elune revealed that it was her divine will that the night elves follow Varian, offering no real reason. Goldrinn also made Varian his champion, despite him never doing anything that would make him appeal to Goldrinn. Velen suddenly had visions that Anduin Wrynn would be the one leading the army of light, so his support was for the Wrynn family. And the worgen just kinda dissipated into the human and night elf populaces, because they had no religious leader that could suddenly have a vision proclaiming the Wrynns to the best thing ever.
All the hordes
It's been my observation that blizzard really didn't want to move the franchise forward anymore after The Frozen Throne. What they wanted to do was revisit the glories of previous events, and explore completely new peoples and environments. They actually do the latter really well, giving us a lot of interesting new societies. The centaur, the qiraji, the ethereals, the arakkoa, the magnataur, the stone lords, the jinyu and the pandaren are all great additions to the warcraft universe (okay, some were already there in warcraft III, but they didn't really get history and society until they appeared in WoW).
However, it's the former that's causing problems. Now I love warcraft's past stories. Warcraft II gave us epic global warfare, ToD finally showed us the world that's been talked about since the first game, Warcraft III gave us powerful personal stories and TFT explored the darker sides of the universe. But here's the key aspect: World of Warcraft isn't any of those games. It doesn't take place during any of those games. Even if it wanted, it couldn't replicate what made those games good, because it has vastly different gameplay. And there's nothing wrong with that. World of Warcraft isn't any of those games. It takes place in the future, in a time where the outcomes of all those beloved events can be seen and explored.
But no. Instead, all future developments are turned into weak attempts to imitate the past, or are ignored entirely. We've already seen it with the alliance as a whole. Barely acknowledge to exist until Wrath of the Lich King, where the entire faction was now defined by an attempt to combine Anduin Lothar and Thrall in a single character.
Unlike the alliance, the horde got assigned identity from the past right from the start of WoW. However, the problem was that they couldn't just pick a single identity. Instead, the horde has been stuck between four different directions, all of which are throwbacks to earlier games.
1) The Monster Horde (Warcraft I). This horde is a dark force of monstrosities, alien and chaotic. The Monster Horde relies little on technology or tactics, instead preferring to rely on pure, dumb strength. This is subverted only by a rare few individuals. It is through these rare individuals, whether they be warlocks, warlords or infiltrators, that the dumb hordes become a true threat to the planet.
This is the only version of the horde under which the inclusion of the forsaken makes sense, and it shows up in a few quests in Cataclysm as well, like the battle for Northwatch and large parts of the Twilight Highlands.
2) The War Machine Horde (Warcraft II: ToD). Like the Monster Horde, the War Machine Horde is a dark force that will overwhelm the planet. Unlike the Monster Horde, it will do this not through mindless violence, but through large-scale industrialization. For this version of the horde, everything is a resource to be consumed. Massive industries consume wood, metal and oil at an unprecedented rate, spewing forth weaponry, fleets and siege machines. Dark magic is fed into young children, turning defenseless infants into fully capable warriors. Not even the dead are safe, with removed souls, corpses and stolen magic being used to craft the elite core of death knights.
This version of the horde is what became dominant in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, exemplified by the goblins joining and doing what they did to Azshara. The orcs and undead also joined in on the fun, shifting from mundane armies with iconic magic (shamans and mind-control respectively) to armies that are heavily technology-oriented. No longer is the orc an honorable warrior or a monstrous brute. He is but a cog in the war machine.
3) The Rebel Horde (Lord of the Clans, of Blood and Honor, Warcraft III tutorial). This is a bit of a weird one, and I debated whether I should include it at all. It didn't star prominently in any games, and was more of a reaction to a short-term situation than an overall theme. But the more I thought about it, the more it fit. Because while the rebel horde existed only shortly in canon, it did have a big impact on how people viewed the horde.
The rebel horde was the horde formed during Lord of the Clans and persisted until the orcs took off for Kalimdor. It was a time when the orcs were trying to be honorable warriors, but still struggling with the sins of their past. They wanted to be left alone and return to their old culture, but they couldn't do so with their people still in chains. It was a sympathetic struggle, though one could definitely argue the morality of it.
This version of the horde really struck a note with fans and producers. I suspect it's because everybody loves the underdog, and the orcs were definitely in that role. They were a small bunch of rebels, hiding in the hills, trying to free their people, fighting against a massive continents-spanning alliance that, while not actively malicious, certainly didn't give a damn about the wants and needs of the orcs. It was a great situation, and one that I wish the series had explored a little more. I'd have loved it if the battlegrounds were actually old battles from this era, with neither side in the right (“We're freeing all orcs, no matter what horrid acts they committed!” “Each and every orc should be held accountable for the actions of the horde, regardless of what they themselves did!”), nor in the wrong (“Our people are born in captivity and die in captivity. We cannot abide the systematic repression of our people!” “These people endangered our entire world. We cannot sit by and let them do this again!”)
The problem comes when trying to recapture this glory. You see, to recapture this, you need to have the horde as persecuted underdogs. And the other directions make this impossible. The Monster Horde can be a persecuted underdog, but they're all evil, so it's not like that makes them sympathetic. The War Machine Horde has more room for moral individuals, but is by definition not an underdog. Finally, the Settler Horde just wants to tend to their homeland. It's hard to make them a persecuted party without turning the other side into very obvious villains, which the writers (for very good reasons) weren't willing to do.
And to be fair, the official stance has never been one of the horde being persecuted victims. But it does pop its ugly head on occasion, with some isolated quests and developers. I've already mentioned aggresionitis hominum in my look at the lost isles, but it pops up with other races as well. The idea that the forsaken got their name because they were forsaken by their former comrades is a common one as well, adding a sense of persecution as a central theme, despite that being based on absolutely nothing in canon
4) The Settler Horde (Warcraft III). During Warcraft III, the orcs and trolls traveled west to Kalimdor, finding lands left unclaimed (or at least, left unclaimed by anyone we're supposed to care about). While life still isn't easy, the members of the horde now finally have a place to call their own. The horde is family, and together, they will secure a future.
The main purpose of the Settler Horde is to tame these new lands. From the barren wastes of Durotar, to the grand plains of Mulgore, to the monster-infested jungles of the Echo Isles, to the plagued wastes of Tirisfal to the darkened woods of Quel'thalas. These lands are hostile and deadly, but through the horde's strength, perseverance, strong sense of personal identity and bond with the land, they shall be tamed.
Now, I personally prefer the settler version of the horde, both because I just think it's an awesome concept, and because it's what the series left off on in The Frozen Throne. However, while I would have definitely disliked the series going back to the old rebel or war machine hordes, I could probably get over it, as long as it was well-executed.
Obviously, that's not what happened. Instead, the horde of World of Warcraft tries to be all four hordes at once, and fails utterly because the four are utterly incompatible. “We will tame this land through our connection to the natural world! Now go help the monstrous undead create a horrid plague, while we try to claim a land that's easier to tame!” “The alliance settlers on Kalimdor are threatening our way of life! Quickly, start aiding the alliance settlers on Kalimdor!” “The forsaken have a strong sense of individuality. That is why they all uniformly chose to serve the same person” “We serve the will of the elements. Now go help our newest members: people who enslave the elements.”
And mind you, that was all stuff from before Cataclysm, back when the fact that the developers couldn't agree which direction to take with the horde was still hidden in the background. It's only after we started hearing the developers talk about Garrosh in such conflicted ways that it became apparent that, no, the writers really weren't going anywhere with all the contradictory stuff, like we'd assumed. Say what you want about the horridness of the alliance becoming the Wrynn Empire, but at least we knew what was going on most of the time.
Races, hordes and intersections
I wish I had the time and the patience to go into the sheer amount of contradicting, dropped and minimized story directions for the horde. Once you start paying attention to that sort of stuff you'll quickly become overwhelmed. Remember how much it was set up that the tauren were going to the mentor figures for the horde? Or how important individuality was for the forsaken? Or how the entire blood elf race was traveling to outland? Or how the orcs were switching to a theocratic society? Or how the jungle trolls...
...actually, never mind about the jungle trolls. They never really had anything approaching an actual direction, did they? I guess you could count the whole “casting off eviler traditions” from the RPG and the warcraft encyclopedia, but that was never really treated as an ongoing process.
While we're talking about specific races for a moment, let's address the blood elves, because they're a very good example of multiple styles of horde clashing. The blood elves had a long development process to get them to fit into the horde. What did they become? Fel-crazed, murderous anarchists, who will not only reject, but outright attack any spiritual authority, will corrupt and exploit the land and have three-quarters of their history retconned to make them have always been completely evil of their own volition. Basically, they were turned into perfect members of the war machine horde.
Luckily, before TBC rolled around, someone actually seems to have realized that they didn't get around to turning the rest of the horde into monsters yet, so having this version of the blood elves be tolerated in the horde would make as much sense as having the forsaken be tolerated in the horde. And that would just be silly.
So, the blood elves received a pretty major re-tool before the release of TBC. Pretty much the entire RPG was thrown out the window, with the history from TFT largely restored. Usage of fel magic was seriously wound back, with most of the population not knowing of it and instead relying on mundane sources of arcane magic. And the blood knights got themselves a rather poorly executed redemption story, which was coupled with the entire blood elf race now getting holy energy pumping through their veins.
Which becomes a problem again in Cataclysm, because the blood elves from TBC have absolutely no business staying in Garrosh' horde. Like the orcs and the tauren, the blood elves were set up to be primarily concerned with their own homeland, which they have regained. The scourge's hold on the region has been broken, the mana addiction resolved, the internal politics cooled down and even Zul'aman has been thoroughly weakened. The fact that the blood elves stayed with the horde through WotLK is already questionable enough, but supporting a war whose only purpose is to kill alliance and get the orcs more wood? That makes no sense.
Neither do any of the other internal politics of the horde. It's again because of the different directions thing. The writers want the horde to be several things at once, when those things are obviously incompatible. To make it happen anyway, we need to completely ignore several aspects of the setting. Orcish honor and different tauren tribes? These things cannot be explained in a way that makes sense when you haven't decided on a direction for the horde.
Which is why I was so surprised when they were.
A happy beginning... I hope.
To my utter and eternal amazement, after Cataclysm had driven me away from the franchise, I was pulled back in. I'm not going to act like Mists of Pandaria was a flawless expansion, because it wasn't. But it was the first expansion where it really felt the writing was pulling together to at least make for a cohesive experience. I know some people are going to vehemently disagree with me, but for me, MoP was the first expansion that truly felt like it belonged as a sequel to warcraft II and III. It wasn't an amazing sequel or anything, but it actually managed to tap into what made warcraft warcraft.
And yes, this is also true for the portrayal of the factions. The horde finally settles into a single role, that of the War Machine, though with enough elements of the Settler Horde shining through (and eventually, taking over) that I wouldn't call it derailment. The orcs of Garrosh' horde, no matter what else you may say of them, do have a sense of honor. Nazgrim, who the player hangs out with for most of the expansion, is the most obvious. However, even the obvious villain orcs, like Malkorok and Ishi, are shown to be driven by honor. I don't agree with all aspects of the portrayal of orcs, but it at least felt like these things could be happening in the same, consistent universe as earlier events.
The same goes for the other races of the horde. The tauren actually start acting like their own nation, with its own interests to uphold. Dezco is in Pandaria for his own mission, and Baine is not just going to blindly follow Garrosh. Speaking of Dezco, we finally get some acknowledgment of tribal identities through the dawnchaser tribe and the tribe-specific units seen in the TCG. The trolls, for the first time, get some actual direction for their race, as laid out in 'shadows of the horde', and are also finally allowed to react to Garrosh' actions in a rational way. The goblins finally get a consistent feel for their level of technology, rather than wildly fluctuating between useless and deus ex machina, as it did previously. Blood elves get a good show on the isle of thunder and in the siege of Orgrimmar, finally giving the non-magister parts of their race an opportunity to show their worth.
The alliance doesn't quite get the same degree of improvement the horde did. 5.0 was spent trying once again to turn the alliance into the story of the Wrynn's, to the point where the main reason for the alliance being in Pandaria is getting back Anduin. However, the further the expansion progressed, the more they actually seemed to realize what the alliance is supposed to be. The various nations actually start acting like independent entities, pursuing their own interests with their own forces. Dalaran and Ironforge get stories about their own internal politics, while unnamed night elf nation has its own campaigns on Pandaria and gets some acknowledgment of the internal developments that were skipped over almost entirely in Cataclysm.
When the forces do work together, it's no longer at the cost of their identity either, as you can see in 5.1 and 5.4. The alliance forces are no longer the homogenous masses seen at Wintergarde, Highbank and the SI:7 team. Instead, every nation brings its own specialties to the field, strengthening the whole and looking damn spiffy while they're at it. Unless they're worgen or pandaren.
Regardless, it's a big improvement on both sides of the coin. Warlords of Draenor, at least the parts of it that we've been shown, seems to continue the trend in a big way. You can count me among those that are once again excited about the future of the franchise.
That doesn't mean I'll stop snarking it though. See you all next time.