All right, calm down, this is not actually going to be done in the same format as a brief history of flight, if for no other reason than the fact that we don’t have several expansions with allied races in World of Warcraft. We have one. That one has granted us a number of races, and I’d really like to see more in the near future (there’d be a comfy circularity to having as many allied races as normal ones, and I want playable Eredar), but the historical weight isn’t there for a slow dissection of the topic.
However, it does tie into Pathfinder. And it also ties into the anniversary event.
See, I’ve made no real secret about the fact that I clocked out of Battle for Azeroth as an active player pretty quickly. Yes, I kept up with the game’s story developments and community because that’s my job, but it was pretty clear to me from the beta that this was going to be a mess. When it became clearer to me that the actual patches weren’t fixing things, I sharply limited my play time… until I had the prospect of riding Deathwing around. Which prompted a project.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s mounts. Mounts are fun. Mounts give you a great opportunity to say a great deal about how a character works and what that character values with a purely mechanical ability. For a roleplayer, mounts are an excellent form of passive roleplaying, and so I am all in for neat mounts.
Of course, I knew I would need to put in some work to finish getting up my gear level and actually playing WoW to earn the mount, because there was a limit on earning the mount; I had to have a gear level of 370 to take part in the raids, after all. And as long as I was already putting in the work on that, it made sense to make use of that reputation boost and such to actually unlock the allied races and Pathfinder along the way.
That was just about a month ago, and as of writing this (which is actually before you’re reading this, so it was less than a month ago for me, but cool it), I’ve pretty much wrapped all of that up. It may even be done by the time you read this! Timelines are like that.
And you know what? It wasn’t actually all that bad in terms of time investment. Also, it was absolutely horrible, because allied race requirements are a damn mess.
Let’s start with something that should at least give you a baseline to understand my evaluation of “not actually all that bad.” During this past month, I have been working on my National Novel Writing Month challenge, working my normal workdays, making sure to cap out two separate characters in Final Fantasy XIV on tomestones every week, playing a couple of games for reviews elsewhere, and fitting in time to do other things and house chores as well. This is with the understanding that this month-long project took a month’s worth of work, but not multi-hour sessions of play every day. Adjust your baseline accordingly.
Within that timeframe, yes, I was able to get my reputation raised enough, clear the quests required, and generally make my way through the important content. This was indeed time-consuming. I don’t feel as if it’s hugely out of the question to say that if you really want an allied race, it should probably take you about a month’s worth of play to unlock it. That’s some time, but it’s not that bad in the context of potential multi-month projects.
But it’s also… really terrible. Because this is just porting over requirements from allied races from the end of Legion without understanding why those were not that bad.
People were upset about those requirements, but I generally went to bat on that one simply because… well, these requirements did not task players with going far off the beaten path if you had been playing Legion during much of its then year-and-a-half runtime. It wasn’t awarded from an obscure reputation grind that you were unlikely to have been done, but from reputations that you probably had long since gotten to Exalted just by the basic pacing of the game. At that point, Exalted with a connected reputation and level 110 as requirements were mostly a matter of “have you actually been playing the expansion?”
Certainly there’s a case to be made that even that boundary should not have been there, and those of you who feel that way have no doubt already commenced to jigglin’ down in the comments. What’s important here is that this was kind of a non-requirement for much of the active playerbase in the waning days of the expansion and made sense as a requirement.
Unfortunately, this was not the case in Battle for Azeroth. The exact same requirements were there up front, and this time you ran into the same problem that Pathfinder caused.
I mentioned in the aforementioned history of flight that Pathfinder’s big issue is ruining the way the game structures rewards vs. advantages. Taking flight and turning it from “a new way to experience the game at the level cap” to “a reward for having basically beaten the game” upends the entire experience. The situation is identical here. While allied races at the end of the last expansion were functionally a reward of “here’s a new thing to do until the next expansion launches,” now they’ve become “here’s your new race after all that grinding, get ready to grind again for a new round!”
Making matters worse… some of them don’t even make a whole lot of sense, or have limitations that you can’t help but think about as you work at this stuff. Why isn’t the Kul Tiran body type just an option for players for any variety of human and vice versa, since they’re not biologically different? Are mechagnomes really that different from regular gnomes that they can’t just be a body type choice? Ditto Mag’har orcs, if we’re being real here. They’re nice to have added, but all that work for a new set of racials or class combinations is kind of… off.
And treating these things as rewards feels weird, because they’re rewards that by definition you’re not going to use. The racial mounts are nice little perks, yes, but at the same time your max-level character probably already has a preferred mount. The big cosmetic reward of heritage armor is unavailable forever if you level-boost the character or race-change your main. Instead of new gumballs for the stuff you’ve already been doing, it’s a whole lot of work to unlock something ultimately superfluous.
Is the actual grind terrible? No, I feel like getting access to something you want in about a month’s worth of play is… not perfect, but within the general loose timescale I think of as fair. But what becomes terrible – or at least more terrible – is the way that this once again carries over an old standard without thinking of the actual message or impact on how things feel in play.
New races should be a fun new way to experience a game, and if you’re excited to play a Dark Iron Dwarf or a Zandalari Troll or even just a Mechagnome, it kind of sucks to only get that option when you’ve done all of that game stuff. Telling you to now do all the leveling work you did before again to have it on the character you wanted to play in the first place is one of those systems the designers realized was a bad idea back when it was floated as a potential way to make Death Knights work.
The requirements were fine when most players would have already gotten this done in the background during a year and a half before the addition. But you can’t just pretend that one set of requirements will always have the same impact forever, because it’s just plain not true.