There are some things that exist in games because they make sense in-universe, and there are some things that exist solely as a game balance mechanism. We all know that from a realism standpoint, the only reason casters in Dungeons & Dragons can’t normally wear even leather armor has nothing to do with any factors beyond game balance. This is accepted by players because the alternative is ugly; we just all recognize it doesn’t make sense. Some things are arbitrary for the game, fine.
That brings me to World of Warcraft’s class and race restrictions, which have never made sense. At all.
This isn’t meant to be a call to action; the time for this to be changed was forever ago, and the fact that we’re still dealing with some of these limitations seem to indicate that the developers just don’t want to change this stuff no matter how much evidence there is that it makes no sense. But since I was reminded of it recently, I want to pick it apart, and it’s something that goes back right to the start of the game.
Let’s start with something that’s very obvious right from the launch. Why were only Tauren allowed to be Druids on the Horde side? That doesn’t make sense.
Again, we’re not picking apart later lore that made it clear there are a lot of sources of Druidic lore that have nothing to do with the Night Elves; that’s an issue that comes up later that would imply that lots of other races should have access to Druid. But even just from the lore we do have in the base game, it makes no sense. The Night Elves want more Druids, fine. Instead of picking any of their immediate allies, they teach the Tauren. Fine, they’re both from the same continent natively and that ensures Druids in the other major political faction. All right. Fine.
But why do the Tauren not share this stuff?
Literally, once they know what they’re doing, the lid is off that particular secret. And this is before any sort of weirdness between the Horde factions because Thrall leads the Horde and Cairne leads the Tauren. These guys are supposed to be best friends. You cannot convince me that Cairne would choose to honor an agreement made with his ostensible enemies who completely ignored the Tauren if Thrall (his best friend who helped save his life and his people) said, “Hey, just teach, like… five Orcs how to do this stuff?”
It just keeps going from there, though. Why couldn’t Dwarves be Mages? There’s literally an express train to Stormwind, a place full of mages, and there are Gnome Mages living right in the capital. Why can’t Gnomes be Paladins? Same deal, but roles slightly reversed. Sure, you could tell me that these things aren’t usual cultural pursuits, but that’s a reason for not seeing many NPCs in these roles, not an explanation for why players can’t be a Dwarf who happens to really like casting spells.
Why couldn’t Humans or Undead be Hunters? We know there are people even in the original game who are supposed to be Hunters; Nathanos Blightcaller, for example, is clearly an Undead Hunter. And this is even more basic than some of the other classes. There’s not some secret lore to hunting; there are skills involved, sure, but it’s not hard to find people who could teach you those skills.
“All right, but Shaman and Paladin. Those make sense as being faction-specific!” And it sort of works, except then you have to start asking what, exactly, the difference is between a Priest and a Paladin. Like, there’s already not much reason that Undead can’t be Paladins. Sure, there’s that obscure bit of lore stating that former Paladins can’t be raised by the Scourge, but there’s nothing saying that a Paladin in training couldn’t be… and knowing Sylvanas and her access to, oh, basically everything in Lordaeron, you can be betting she’d want her Undead Paladins working in short order.
Again, you can’t have Undead Priests and try to claim Undead Paladins are somehow more special and holy. It doesn’t make sense.
As for Shaman… well, Wildhammer Dwarves have always been a part of the Alliance. Yes, I recognize that the big in-character push happened in Cataclysm, but it’s not as if the Wildhammers were sitting off in isolation before then. You’d think that maybe one or two people would want to learn more about Shamans just because the Horde has a bunch of them, right?
Once you actually start getting later into the timeline and lore, of course, it gets even more ridiculous. We’re now asked to accept that despite two separate human nations having druidic traditions, somehow there’s never been any sort of association or even one dude from Stormwind who wanted to learn how to turn into a cat. Even though there’s a long line of Paladins in the heart of Troll culture, not a single Troll outside of Zandalar ever said, “Yeah, let’s do the Paladin thing over here.”
For heck’s sake, we know that Blood Elf Druids make sense because there’s literally a dungeon with them as antagonists. And these are the Blood Elves who don’t have access to all of their racial history. Silvermoon is surrounded by woods shaped by nature magic. Why is this not a thing?
In fact, the one place where these restrictions would make some sense is the one place where these things have been all but eliminated: Hero Classes. Hero Classes actually do involve an altered state of being in some fashion. Being a Death Knight is not just a set of skills but a result of entering a state of not-alive not-dead that’s separate from undeath in places. Yet now everyone can be a Death Knight.
Sure, arguably you would need a bit more justification for making new Demon Hunters now that the Burning Legion is supposedly defeated, but really, that’s the same issue you have with having Demon Hunters running around at all right now. That’s not creating a new problem, it’s highlight an existing one.
Of course, the real reason for these restrictions is not and has never been about anything related to lore. The real reason has always been about creating a sense of distinct identities for races by ensuring that each race does different things, while at the same time avoiding any major holes in terms of faction capability. This was true before and it’s true now.
The problem – to the extent that there is one – is when you act like there is a lore reason, that only certain races can be certain classes. In most of these cases, that relies on having civilizations in bubbles that do not actually exist in the game, wherein somehow no one talks with anyone else even about useful and powerful stuff that could have a major impact on factional politics.
There is no special organ that allows a handful of races to be Druids. There is sort of a special organ that allows certain races to be Death Knights, but now everyone can have that. So there’s not much reason to act as if it’s more special and rare to be the former as opposed to the latter.