WoW Factor: Everything can be an allied race, but nothing *must* be one

Get back.

As the alpha builds continue to mount along for World of Warcraft’s next expansion, a new debate has begun that is kind of difficult to explain to anyone not… well, familiar with the WoW community. Basically, the datamining suggests at this point that there is a basically humanoid race associated with each of the four major covenants in the expansion, and each one has a spread of customization options as well as a skeleton that can support a fair amount of armor. This, naturally, has led to a back-and-forth debate that spends a lot of time chasing its own tail.

On the one hand, you people who are absolutely convinced that this means [RACE X] is going to be a new Allied Race for… well, either faction, doesn’t matter. Those debates are boring. On the other hand you have people just as vociferously stating that Blizzard wouldn’t make them an Allied Race with no forewarning or promise of same, especially since the lore wouldn’t make any sense, so how could you even think that?!

Both sides are wrong. Let’s all have a nice cup of tea and sit down, yes? We can talk about this calmly.

You look trustworthy, join our party!

First and foremost, let’s make something clear: Blizzard has been exceedingly vague when talking about adding more allied races. It’s not said yes or no. The statements are deliberately ambiguous. You could read them as implying that we’ll totally be getting more in this expansion or in the not-too-distant future, but you could just as easily read them as implying that we will not get anything ever again and the developers would like us to quietly stop asking. This isn’t not knowing the answer; it is purposefully leaving the answer vague.

Beyond that, there’s a very obvious reason that the models are mostly rigged and able to wear gear: It’s because many of them are basically using existing skeletons. This is pretty much totally normal for this game and is something that the studio has always done because why would you not do that.

As it stands right now, there are a lot of skeletons for models already set up in the game. By my count, we’ve got about 15 player race skeletons (ignoring the ones that are re-using existing models, so most allied races), and that means that grabbing one of those and adjusting it is a quick and easy way to make something that looks different while still being easy to animate as needed. Even better than that, you can usually put gear on those models, so you get a lot of additional appearances without having to go through and model every individual look! Instead of making New Scary Monster Model, then New Scary Monster With Armor, New Scary Monster In Robes, and so on… you can just play around a bit with the model for Pandaren and bam, you’re done.

This isn’t lazy; this is making efficient use of the time and effort already involved in making one of these models. You can get more use out of it this way. When you already need to populate a world with lots of different NPCs, this speeds the process along by reducing your needed workload – which, you know, is also partly where allied races came from in the first place.

Again, this should not be a surprise to anyone. When you’ve already done 90% of the work needed to make a given race playable and people want it to be playable, why not do that last 10% and get it there? Sure, it’s kind of created a bottleneck where there are way more races than playable classes with notable distinction, but hey. It’s a reasonable prospect to get the most bang for your developmental buck, so to speak. So that’s a fine reason to say that if a bunch of the heavy lifting has been done for these races, why not make them allied races? Why not go the extra mile if people like them, or they add new options to a faction? Might as well.

Friends now.

“But the lore!” you cry, and I understand. On the one level, the lore definitely does not support the idea that these races are anything other than stewards of particular dead souls. On the other level, and the far more relevant one… that’s literally never been an impediment to anything, ever.

Remember when the Draenei all looked like shriveled worm people before we found out that was a specific sort of Draenei and there were lots of others that looked like Eredar but significantly more blue? Remember when all Orcs actually liked summoning demons? Remember when uncorrupted Orcs had brown-shaded skin when every Orc had always been greenish since the very first game, long before we had the slate-skinned Orcs show up later? This list can keep going.

One of the things I’ve talked about before is the idea that lore is a framework, not a set of absolute rules. That’s true in WoW, and it’s true everywhere: Any game in which writers set the parameters of the world can change if the developers so choose. When the game is well-written, these changes feel highly motivated, as if you’re learning about something you simply haven’t heard before rather than tacking on new elements, but it doesn’t change the fact that the lore can be changed if the developers want it to be.

Rest assured that if the team behind World of Warcraft figures that there’s more positive momentum for the game to be gotten by making these races player options, there will be player options. And if the team doesn’t want to do it, then all the lore reasons in the world will not get you your playable Night Fae, even if there’s a whole subplot about them wanting to join the Horde or something.

Lore is just what’s written about the game world today, in other words. Tomorrow something different might be written. That’s not a problem, just a reality of the environment, and it means that lore is an impediment only in the sense of speed limits theoretically slowing your car down.

That’s the real end point here, though. There’s absolutely nothing to indicate that these won’t be allied races… but there’s also absolutely nothing to indicate that they will be. This isn’t “could go either way” so much as “there’s no evidence indicating anything whatsoever.” The fact that you can slap armor on them isn’t so much a hint about what’s happening next as an observation of fact.

My personal tendency is to assume that based on prior trends, Blizzard would kind of like to consign Allied Races to the ashcan of the game’s history, as it has attempted to do with each system or idea that didn’t quite work out as intended. This seems especially clear with the as-yet-unconfirmed change that seems to remove the Exalted reputation requirement, one of the big sticking points for a lot of people. So it wouldn’t surprise me that if we ever get another race, it’ll be a more traditional pair of races or even one split between both factions.

But that’s a guess, not a fact. We simply don’t have enough information at this point to do more than limply guess at what the ultimate plans for the new races might be. Just keep in mind that there isn’t really any implication in any direction yet, just lots of people already hungry for the next hoofed option.

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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