WoW Factor: Allied races and a dearth of class choices

Local Panda Recalls When She Was Special.

Last week, we got confirmation that Kul Tiran Humans and Mag’har Orcs are coming to the Allied Race roster for World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. We don’t know when, but I have a bit of a theory about that as it is; from what we know, it’d make sense to have Dark Iron Dwarves and Mag’har Orcs brought in at the start of the expansion, while the Kul Tiran Humans and Zandalari Trolls are brought in after you’ve finished the leveling story for the respective factions. The former are more solidly members than the latter, after a fashion.

But we don’t know for certain when they’re getting added, just that they will be. And that’s interesting, because it means that both factions have significantly increased their race options within one expansion. And that becomes kind of relevant when you look at how many choices individual players have in terms of having something for all of these different races to do.

Let’s explain that one by stepping backwards a little bit to the game’s initial launch. At that time, you had eight classes per faction and four races, but due to the way that talents worked you had a bit of a wider field in terms of playstyle. When The Burning Crusade came out, all of the various specs were actually viable, so you could realistically have at least three different characters of any given class.

“Wait, why are you limited to three?” You aren’t! But from a realistic standpoint, you’re probably not going to be super-eager to level up Roguefifteen with the same talents, skills, and racial abilities as Roguefourteen. Racials also don’t make up a core part of most gameplay anyhow, so it’s mostly about “how many characters can have unique options.” Even the addition of dual specs in Wrath of the Lich King didn’t change this much; not every character had dual specs anyway, after all.

As time went by, of course, the systems changed. You wound up with fewer individual skills to pick through the talent system, which meant that it was less likely you could have, say, two Feral Druids who actually played differently. Dual spec became more easily obtained. Armor stopped being separated by spec, which meant that you had less reason to worry about whether or not a given character had taken gear for that spec.

WHY CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS? Oh, right, all those things we did.

Legion has done a lot of good things for the game as a whole, and at the time it launched, the ever-present ability to switch specs and talents in rest areas was a good thing. (It still baffles me that people were complaining about that much limitation, but that’s a rant for another time.) It still is. You can try out a talent without feeling locked into it, and the refinements to the talent system that’s coming with Battle for Azeroth promises to make it a bit better; the designers overall have noted that it doesn’t feel fun to choose between AoE damage, single-target damage, and survival, so the tiers of most trees are being arranged so that you’re choosing between types of AoE damage on a set tier. All good.

But all of this has kind of demolished the idea of having an alt of the same class for a “new” experience. It’s even worse for some particular classes; almost no one wants to level as a healer, which means that even if you primarily play as a Holy Paladin, you’re probably using Protection or Retribution to level up. Even as the specs have become more separated in gameplay, they’ve lost the sense of “pick one and go for it.”

I think this also extends to why, say, healers are so awful to level at this point. Before, you had to go out of your way to pick up another Paladin spec for leveling up; now, you have access to other specs at any inn, and the only thing that’s really going to slow you down is leveling your artifact. Battle for Azeroth’s system is even killing that requirement.

How does this tie back into the allied races? Well, the odds are that in the past decade and change, you probably have made alts on all of the classes that you want to play. If you wanted to have one character of each class and one character of each race, you already couldn’t manage that; there would be some doubling up to begin with. If you want to level an allied race, you are probably increasingly running out of things for your allied race to be.

You might technically have 36 options between specs, but that’s assuming that you enjoy every spec equally, something that seems unlikely in the extreme. There are some specs that I absolutely never want to play (Beast Mastery) and some classes that I usually have one spec in a given expansion which I find fun (Mages). When faced with another quartet of races to make alts for, it’s easy to just find yourself staring and muttering about maybe managing another Monk on this server for some reason.

I suppose this is a problem I'm happy to complain about.

Some of this is further exacerbated by a paucity of options. Assuming that Kul Tiran Humans can be Druids (which seems likely), Alliance players are at least getting another option there. But if we assume that Zandalari Trolls cannot be Paladins (and Mag’har Orcs almost certainly cannot), we’re left with a Troll race that can basically just be all of the things Trolls already do.

Is this a huge problem? Yes and no. Yes, it’s an actual problem with how many character options you have and how you can make a roster of alts fun and diverse. No, because not everyone necessarily cares all that much about having rows and rows of alts. Some people are happier having few alts or none at all. Of course, those people may not care much about allied races anyhow, but…

The promise of a better distribution of tiers does help this somewhat. Sure, there might be an optimal choice on any given tier of talents for the “best” AoE option, but two separate characters can at least make different picks. Of course, it’s also possible that a given tier has one fun option and a couple of unpleasant ones, which cycles us right back around.
Ironically, that (purely speculative) column from a few weeks ago about adding a dual spec system would solve the issue nicely. After all, even the most restrictive system there still opens up the prospect of some thousand combinations.

On a whole, I don’t think this is something that’s necessarily easy or straightforward to fix. Considering the sheer volume of Allied Races we already have on deck and the ones that seem like shoo-ins at this point, this is going to just be a problem we have to deal with through this expansion. We’re not going to get a big new class overhaul with this expansion; wait for the next one.

But it is something to consider, and to my mind, it hints at more options coming for the future. After all, it’d make a lot of sense to give people new options for races that they may not have a use for now… only to offer more options as the next expansion rolls around. And considering that Allied Races as a concept have unlocked the ability to make a lot of races very quickly (we’re getting more playable races with this expansion than we have from every prior expansion combined), one wonders if we might have something similar waiting in the wings for the future.

What that might be, I don’t know. Single-spec classes? Prestige classes? Dual classes? Cosmetic options? Your guess is as good as mine. It might even be nothing; it just raises the question.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to Personally, I might actually make a Feral Druid for that Kul Tiran wicker nightmare. That stuff is exceedingly my jam, and while I generally find myself put off by the lack of my character from form-heavy druid specs… I could learn to love being a snarling wicker monstrosity.

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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