WoW Factor: World of Warcraft’s class and race restrictions have never made any sense

    
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Through the fire and the flames

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?

Do I look like a patient cow?

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?

Startlingly lacking in curiosity.

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.

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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Bryan Correll

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Druidbacca Defense.png
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Bruno Brito

You’ll be our temporary Schlag.

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Wayne Crawford

In Dungeons and Dragons, the reason mostly only clothies cast spells is because heavier armour gets in the way of movement and gesture necessary for casting the spell. Paladins get a pass on this is because they are simply asking for a god to cast a spell. Seriously, it’s in the rule books.

(Edited by mod to remove ad hom. Please review the commenting code.)

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Mark Mealman

That’s simply not true at all. In the beginnings of D&D the “class ability” of fighters was they were able to use the best weapons and armor. In particular being able to use swords gave them a big edge over clerics that could just use maces. Swords were a far more common magic weapon.

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Wayne Crawford

I said nothing about weapons. Also, it simply is true.

(Edited by mod to remove ad hom. Please review the commenting code.)

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Mark Mealman

The text from the PHB is just the in game lore excuse. Elves in earlier editions of D&D could wear plate and cast arcane spells just fine. Elves were balanced out by having a lower level cap.

As for looking things up, I’m quite familiar with how D&D was designed all the way back to Blackmoor.

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Wayne Crawford

There is an easy solution for you then. Make your own RPG and use your own rules. Let us know how that works out for ya. lol

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Bruno Brito

Make your own RPG and use your own rules.

Considering that the golden rule of RPGs is that “There is not rule” and the storyteller can, within consensus with the players, pretty much change everything, that’s exactly what happens already.

lol.

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Lucas Lucas Lucas

“There us no special organ that allows a handful of races to be druids”

Hello?????? Cenarius? The Cenarion circle? Anyone???

Back then, you neeeded acess to the emerald dream to be a druid, so Cenarius could easily control who could and who could not be a druid. Why the tauren didn’t teach orcs to be druids? Because they could not. Even today the races need some sort of higher being to teach them druidism. See Cenarius, the Loa and the Drust. Good luck convincing Cenarius, Ashamane and Ursoc to teach some orcs and undead how to be druids.

Even if the Tauren could teach someone without the guidance of Cenarius, if Cenarius ever saw a orc in the emerald dream that would be an declaration of war. Remember, Cenarius absolutely hates orcs. Then again, the tauren were chosen because they had a better connection to nature than any other race. The Cenarion circle wanted to fill their ranks to protect Kalimdor, not to gain power for selfish reasons.

And why Forsaken can’t be paladins? Because they cannot use holy magic, thats a big reason the cult of forgotten shadows exists to beign with. In game, they could use holy magic mostly because game balance. It would be very stupid if forsaken and trolls could only be shadow priests.

I do agree that some races should just teach everyone else to be hunters, mages and so on. And blizzard does use that logic when its convenient for them. But i also believe thats dishonest to say there never was a lore reason for this stuff. Like, it is very easy to ignore the reason why Draeneis and NElfs can’t be warlocks and say there is no lore for that.

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Robert Andle

I’d love to see the back of these restrictions. Right now, demon hunter is my favourite class in the game but I hate the new night elf models. I’m fine with the blood elf models but all my other toons are on the Alliance side so playing a blood elf demon hunter seems weird. The same goes for lots of others. I want to play an Alliance druid but my only options are races I can’t stand playing. I like shamans but having a few more options for them would be nice.

If someone argues that it doesn’t make sense, can they please explain how a 3 foot gnome can tank a 60 foot boss? That doesn’t make sense and never has yet it’s still in the game.

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Sorenthaz

This seems like such an old argument topic that’s been talked to death years ago.

There were valid lore reasons why certain races could only go certain classes and they were playing heavily to class/lore fantasy in a lot of cases. Over the expansions they steadily eased up on stuff and created lore explanations for each instance of a change, even going in depth to explain why Tauren could become Paladins.

From an MMO/mechanical perspective, sure, the class/race restrictions never made any sense. But the lore arguments have already been made time and time again and nothing’s going to change that race/class restrictions made sense for their time(s).

And all this because people weren’t happy that Undead couldn’t be Paladins. God I remember arguing this junk way back in WotLK. That’s how old this argument about class/race restrictions is.

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Bruno Brito

It never made sense not even lorewise, except some specific combos, like the Undead Paladin you just mentioned ( which actually falls flat when you realize that Undead Priests are still infused with Light ).

But Dwarves not being able to be Mages, Gnomes not being able to be Priests, Orcs being a practical race with arcane knowledge yet all they know is Shamanism and Demonology is pretty bad lore. Specially when they have Trolls to teach them magic.

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Woodrow Fulmer

I completely disagree. The race class distinctions have always been based heavily in lore (at least prior to allied races).
Tauren Druidism stems back in the War of the Ancients books where Furbolgs, Tauren, and other native Azerothians allied with the elves and Malfurion taught some of them in the ways of the druid. And almost all the magic classes in WoW are based around spirituality. Orcish culture is heavily shamanistic not druidic.
A even better example of this is dwarves. Dwarves were originally limited to priests and paladins because the players were specifically playing Bronzebard dwarves. The dwarves of Ironforge practice a spirituality around the Light similar to humans. In Cataclysm, dwarves were able to become mages, warlocks, and shaman because that’s canonically when characters could play as Dark Iron or Wildhammer dwarves (like I said, allied races get weird here). Dark Iron dwarves practice more arcane magic, hence mages and warlocks. Likewise, Wildhammers practice a more shamanistic spirituality, hence shamans.
Chris Metzen probably had this exact arguement 15+ years ago and I’m sure he
could still explain every lore reason why the class distinctions exist.

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Bruno Brito

In Cataclysm, dwarves were able to become mages, warlocks, and shaman because that’s canonically when characters could play as Dark Iron or Wildhammer dwarves (like I said, allied races get weird here). Dark Iron dwarves practice more arcane magic, hence mages and warlocks. Likewise, Wildhammers practice a more shamanistic spirituality, hence shamans.

I think this is a mistake. They started having more contact with those clans but we weren’t able to play as them yet. I still remember the reasoning for those being “Dark Iron Dwarves are now accepted because Moira and they parted some knowledge with their Bronzebeard counterpart. Same with the Wildhammers”.

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Fisty

Undead Paladin? Really?

Chutra13
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Chutra13

Death knight?

RedHerringPlotPoint
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RedHerringPlotPoint

Against the backdrop of several highly successful MMOs that don’t follow a rigid class/race exclusivity puts WoW in a rather precarious position when it comes to their gameplay choices. After branching away from WoW and playing games like Guild Wars 2 and FFXIV, trying to return to WoW has become something of a chore. While I understand their choice to limit classes to specific races in the past, all the changes to the game since Cataclysm really shed a light on how fast-and-loose that Blizzard plays with their choices. When you take into account that there are now several races with access to nearly every class, the limitation becomes even more arbitrary. Hell, it becomes even more ridiculous when you realize that Dwarves and Zandalari Trolls are each a single class shy of full access to every conceivable option outside of Demon Hunter. Honestly I’m moderatly convinced that the only reason all options aren’t available at this point is because Activision has such a tight grip on the WoW Dev team that it may not even be feasible for them to just break the limitation altogether.

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Utakata

I suspect it’s was all one part practical reasoning, one part aesthetics and 3 parts half baked assumptions. >.<

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James Ledden

Druids were absolutely the worst example for this. The reason Tauren didn’t share the “secret” of druidism (spoiler, it’s not a secret) is because, aside from trolls who are now able to be druids, no other Horde race has the innate connection to nature necessary to become a druid.

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rosieposie

Wow, that’s the most racist argument I have seen in this thread.

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Bruno Brito

I wonder if Shamanism is not a connection to nature.

quark1020
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quark1020

Its silly, but WoW’s shaman focus on the base elements that make up nature (earth, fire, etc.) while druids focus on life (plants, animals). “Natural” is too broad a term in this setting.

Who knows? Maybe shamanism is too deep into the core of a world to focus on the things growing on it? It doesn’t help that the elements tend to rely on an alternate dimension or plane of existence.

Anyway, its all moot. The point is, I want orc druids…

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Bruno Brito

It’s bad lore. It was always bad lore. It’ll be always bad lore.

WoW’s reasoning for locking classes was terrible, and their reasoning to give us new class combos was also terrible.

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Keith Dunham

Shaman magic come from the elemental plane not druid magic comes from the emerald dream

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Bruno Brito

Yeah, and as pointed out: That makes no sense and it’s just convoluted lore for the sake of reasoning something that has no reason. The elements are as much part of nature as druidism is in WoW. Shamanism is basically you asking Nature and the Elements permission to wield it’s powers. Shamans are as much a order interested in balance as Druids are.