WoW Factor: New classes in a post-Legion world

So World of Warcraft patch 7.1.5 is out now… but I’m going to be honest, that doesn’t feel like much of anything. It’s there, it’s all playable, but it feels kind of… perfunctory? There’s not a whole lot of additional meat in this patch, it’s just refinements and prepwork for the Nighthold and continuing to do the stuff you already do. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t exactly fill up my senses.

It’s a John Denver reference. Look it up.

Instead, I want to talk about Demon Hunters. And Death Knights, and Monks, and where we’re going from here. At this point, we’ve brought the game’s initial lineup of nine classes to a not-much-higher 12… or, if you’d rather look at endgame viability, we’ve brought the nine viable endgame specs up to a sense-shattering 36. This raises the question of whether or not we actually need or even want more classes at this point, given the huge number of options we already have.

Style, though.Let me start by making something very clear: I can think of a half-dozen additional classes I want off of the top of my head right now. For example, one of the top entries on that list is and always has been Wardens. I adore Wardens, I love seeing them get more elaboration in this expansion, and I love that their attitude remains one part Clan Crab from Legend of the Five Rings and two parts general anger. Lore-wise, they’re fairly limited (lady Night Elves only), but after this expansion there’s plenty of reason to say that the order had to expand its recruitment and now there are a whole lot of other Wardens out there.

But… do we need it? Do Wardens actually give something new to the game that could not just be accomplished with some cosmetic flair? If we had a Warden transmog and perhaps a couple of glyphs, could you not make a Rogue or Warrior into a convincing Warden? Is there something distinct to Wardens that makes them uniquely cool?

I think that’s a hard sell. And I say that as someone who, again, really likes Wardens.

The point I’m making here is that we are not, by any stretch of the imagination, low on options for making new classes. If the designers want, we could easily get a new class with each expansion over the next decade. (So… three classes. Rimshot.) The question isn’t whether or not we can support those classes; the question is how much they add to the game.

Personally, I’m glad that Demonology has been shifted to focus more on “summon all the demons” instead of “turn into a demon.” But that removal still has an impact; with Demon Hunters getting that bit of identity, the designers felt that it couldn’t be shared by Warlocks. It was too distinctive. And that’s important because the classes in World of Warcraft are all built upon ideas drawn from a variety of sources. They are a combination of many different abilities from here and there, distilled into one shape.

Death Knights are Death Knights, but they’re also necromancers, frost mages, and bits and pieces of bigger undead monstrosities. Mages have three wholly separate schools of magic that they incorporate. Paladins are defenders, avengers, and armored clerics at the same time. Demon Hunters only have two specs simply because there wasn’t enough space for them to fit a full three in; a third spec would have meant fundamentally changing the ideals of Demon Hunters in uncomfortable ways.

I’m not saying, of course, that there’s no space to drive in a new class or two. But there’s more than just the mechanical identity to consider beyond that; there’s also the lore identity.

The fact of the matter is that Death Knights have not had much reason to hang around after Wrath of the Lich King. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting that everyone’s Death Knights should have been deleted, especially as I quite like Death Knights. It’s just that they haven’t really felt thematically at home in the game since that expansion. There, they had a clear purpose and plenty of lore surrounding their appearance; they felt integral. Subsequently, they’ve felt… present, and supported, but sort of not in fitting with what’s going on.

Shaman has basically had no place in the lore - or design documents - since Cataclysm.Monks have had the same problem; they make sense in Pandaria, but they make less sense everywhere else. And I have a feeling that unless we’re still fighting the Legion in the next expansion (unlikely), Demon Hunters will have a similar issue. Our new classes each exist in a specific time and place, and the more they’re pulled out of that setting, the less relevant they feel.

Is this a bad thing? Not exactly. It’s kind of neat that Death Knights get to go to places where you wouldn’t expect them to go, and I like the idea of having classes that are kind of expats from earlier stories still running around. But it’s another thing worth considering that’s going to have an impact on new classes. What class is intimately tied with this expansion to the extent that it cannot be represented with any of the current classes while also making sense for the future?

And that’s neglecting the fact that any new class is also going to either need to be a Hero class (and thus bypass a good chunk of the game) or have some other catch-up mechanism akin to the Monk (which worked for 85 levels, less so for 110). Catching up becomes more and more of a problem as each expansion raises the level cap further, and odds are pretty much absolute that the next expansion will compound this problem further.

In other words, any new class has to do things that no existing class does (or that an existing class can afford to lose without major damage), do so in a way that’s distinct for the specific expansion, and otherwise justify their existence beyond some cosmetic glyphs and flavor. With the expansion of the transmog system and the opportunity to really allow for wide-scale ability graphic rewrites via Inscription, this is even more difficult to pull off.

And do we even want another class? The game currently has 36 specs to balance, and Blizzard has always historically balanced things by swinging a hammer and hoping things arrange themselves in more or less the right shape. Each new spec just adds to the wild swings. It creates a more complicated mess, and there are a large enough number of complicated messes already running. Wide-scale redesigns tend to go hand in hand with new class introductions, so perhaps that’s all the more reason to just let things be for a while.

I want to be a Warden, but I think a transmog set and some glyphs will do for that. I don’t know with any certainty if we’ll get any more classes in the game, although I know there’s space for them. But I’m really just peachy with the idea that we may have seen our last class in this expansion.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time around, I want to talk about professions in Legion, what has and hasn’t worked, and future improvements both planned and needed.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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