WoW! Thoughts! — On the Choice of the Wandering Isle

Thoughts on the tragedy of the story of the Wandering Isle and its poor influences on player's choice.


Although it’s been available since Mists’ launch, I only recently took the opportunity to play through the Pandaren starting zone, the Wandering Isle.  The area has been available long enough that most of the plot points had been spoiled for me, but it was still fun to see events play out.  My only complaint after completing the zone is that the big decision about which faction to join at the end did not feel so big.  If I was a new player and this was my first exposure to the Alliance and Horde, I’m not sure which faction I would have chosen, and if I would have chosen appropriately.

The beginning of the Wandering Isle introduces us to the characters who will journey with us into Azeroth proper.  First, there is Aysa Cloudsinger, the aspiring monk who practices the Tushui way of patient practicality, and then there is Ji Firepaw, the Houjin representative who acts on impulse and values action over debate. After helping them round up some uncooperative elementals, players work with them to discover that there is a thorn in the side of the massive turtle upon which the Wandering Isle sits, Shen-Zin Su.  It is through attempting to remove this thorn that players and their Pandaren counterparts first encounter the Alliance and Horde.

Ballooning around the turtle-island, it becomes evident that the thorn is in fact a crashed Alliance airship that has embedded itself in Shen-Zin Su’s back.  Players are then led to Korga Strongmane, a tauren prisoner of the Alliance who escaped the crashed airship, along with several crewmen and horde druids. The Horde seem peaceful, only looking for freedom, and it is not readily clear why they were taken prisoner on an Alliance ship.  The Alliance just comes across as a bunch of stranded shipwreck survivors – there is no great reason to like or dislike them.

Events come to a head as Ji and Aysa disagree over how to remove the ship.  Ji hurriedly decides to use explosives to blow the ship off of the turtle, without worrying about how to tend to the resulting rivers of blood until the time comes, while Aysa simply insists that there must be a better way.  Before she can come up with her better way, Ji enacts his plan, and uses the Horde druids and Alliance priests to heal Shen-Zin Su, effectively saving the day.  All Aysa is left to do during the climactic sequence is complain that Ji was acting without forethought and lament that there must have been an alternate solution to using explosives on the back of a living creature.  Due to time constraints (imposed by Ji’s rapid action), she is never able to devise such a solution.

The end result is that Aysa, who comes across as capable in prior quests on the island to the point that Ji idolizes her, is depicted as impotent.  When faced with a crisis that may destroy the island, Aysa is unable to fix the issue.  While a large part of that is Ji’s decisiveness once he arrives at the idea of using the explosives, the other part of the problem is that Ji’s solution works.  Despite temporarily causing Shen-Zin Su additional pain, the Horde and Alliance healers are able to seal the gaping wound.  Because Ji’s plan is so successful, Aysa’s measured stance appears to be completely incorrect.  Ji’s quick thinking yielded results, and Aysa is upset but her complaints feel hollow in contrast.

After the conflict dies down, players return to the Temple of the Five Dawns in the center of the Isle, and all three Pandaren are offered a choice of joining the Alliance or the Horde.  Ji leads the Houjin pandas to the Horde, Aysa and the Tushui join the Alliance, and the players are left to choose their fate themselves.  While Blizzard would like to think that it’s a challenging decision and that each faction was well represented, (or at least, players will feel justified in joining whichever group they had already decided to join), the way the story plays out, Ji and the Horde seem like they were right.  The Horde was the group that had been imprisoned by the Alliance for no apparent reason and Ji’s instincts served him well in healing Shen-Zin Su. The Alliance had taken these seemingly innocuous Horde members prisoner in the first place, and Aysa was unable to counter Ji’s plans in the end.  There simply is not a compelling reason to join the Alliance as the story plays out on the Wandering Isle.

What really makes that final decision so tragic is not just that Aysa and Ji, who seemed like they were on their way to becoming friends (if not more), are then split across faction lines (not unlike Koltira Deathweaver and Thassarian after the Death Knight starting zone).  The real tragedy comes when Ji joins the Horde.  Korga and the druids on Shen-Zin Su show no signs of the hostility and aggression of Garrosh Hellscream, and Ji, by serving in Orgrimmar as an ambassador, winds up beaten to within inches of his life during the Siege, as Garrosh’s Kor’kron guards assume he has knowledge of Pandaria’s secrets (which, as a resident of the Wandering Isle, he does not), and brutally “interrogate” the Pandaren.  If players can clear the area quick enough, Aysa arrives to defy Varian’s orders to forego her relationships with those who joined the Horde, and leads Ji to safety.  Its a touching reunion that would not be necessary if Ji had not rushed into joining the Horde, and underscores the danger of the Huojin philosophy of acting before thinking.  Such a demonstration of the dangers of Ji’s actions and subsequent consequences are exactly what is lacking in presentation of the Wandering Isle.

For the player who was not familiar with either faction, I am curious how they would handle the decision for which side to join, and how they would feel playing through Mists of Pandaria. As a loyal Horde supporter for nearly the last decade, it was tough enough to watch Garrosh drift down a path of tyranny.  It must be even worse to watch that path knowing that you are doing so only because you made a poor and permanent decision due to a lack of information about either faction.

For players, it’s easy enough to reroll a character and join the other faction, if not to outright pay for a faction change, so whatever shortcomings may exist on the Wandering Isle are not destructive.  It is still sad that Blizzard had the first opportunity to present players a truly challenging decision in joining the Alliance or the Horde, and they didn’t quite get it right.

WoW! Blurbs!

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Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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