The Soapbox: Where does WoW need to go beyond Shadowlands?

I'm going to master letting this play instead of me.

Ion Hazzikostas has started talking in recent months about how World of Warcraft is first and foremost a roleplaying game. It seems as if he actually means it ,too. More customization has been a big selling point of this expansion; Blizzard has really been pushing character customization for all the races, ability customization through soulbinds and conduits.

We’ll see how long the soulbind and conduits last, given Blizzard’s “develop and dump” methodology when it comes to expansion features. But the customization talk had me thinking not about how customizable WoW is but how much it’s still going to be missing when we compare it to contemporary games. The rest of the big four MMORPG all have character customization far beyond what WoW offers.

Given that Hazzikostas and friends are (belatedly?) realizing that character customization is so very important to the types of people who play in this genre, I thought I would take a look at some of what I would want to see in terms of customization in Shadowlands and beyond.

More explosions! I mean, character customizations

As an RPG, WoW should have character customization out the wazoo. It is what makes an RPG different than something like Doom. In Doom you can use different weapons to lightly adapt your gameplay, but there’s no real customization to speak of. Customization helps build stickiness and helps keep players engaged and drawn into the game. We get more attached to our characters the more we can make them match our vision for what we want them to be. Players are unlikely to make decisions on which game to play solely on how much you can customize characters, but it’s definitely a factor.

Sometimes I’ll flit back to a particular game for no other reason than that I love my characters in that game. Guild Wars 2 is like that for me. Lettuce Elves (aka Sylvari) are my favorite fantasy race ever. I will go back knowing that the game at large won’t hold my attention because I just want to play my Sylvari.

Yet despite the relatively lower effort to implement more customization and the added stickiness, WoW is still bringing up the rear of the pack by a large margin when it comes to cosmetic character customization. When you play as many different games as I do, it’s always jarring to come back to character creation in WoW for how incredibly limiting it it. It seems like Blizzard has now started to realize this in recent years, as it’s started to dedicate engineering time to adding more customization in Shadowlands.

It’s absolutely a good step in the right direction, and it needs to keep going. I don’t think that WoW needs a character creator like The Elder Scrolls Online has, and most assuredly not like Black Desert Online‘s — a character creator that is widely praised but I think deserves plenty of criticism. But WoW needs to be more than what it is right now. In post-Shadowlands, the studio need to continue adding more. Blizzard needs to decouple all the different customizable parts. My Void Elf should have more facial customizations than “round cherubic face” and “slightly desiccated corpse.” My face choice for Blood Elves and Night Elves shouldn’t impact what eye color I have. If my Worgen wants racing stripes, I should be able to add those to any fur color.

Blizzard will never achieve the most robust character creator in the world, but it can catch back up to the baseline that the broader industry has set.

There’s also something to be said for silly race-class restrictions and how those don’t now, nor have they ever, made sense. But Eliot spent a whole column on that topic that you should definitely check out.

Glyphs, glyphs everywhere

Beyond just straight-up character customization, the studio could really expand the glyph system to allow for more ability customization. Do you want your mage’s fireballs have pink pigtails billowing out behind her? You should be able to do that. Do you want your outlaw rogue to yell “Ya’rrr me mateys!” every time you get a honorable kill instead of the wordless kiai you have now? Those are silly examples, but we already have the proof of concept of ability customization with scribe glyphs. The glyph system is really well-designed (ignoring the glyphs locked behind high-end raids), and I really like the player interdependency that it creates. I just think that WoW needs more.

Blizzard has made moves in the right direction with the glyph system, but it just seems unwilling to commit to doing anything meaningful with it. The system is there, it works, it’s fun, and players love glyphs if auction house prices are any indication. The company just needs to spend the effort to do more.

I will also say that the Soulbind system with conduits also seems to functionally customize your abilities. This is also good! I love the idea of Blizzard finding ways to make theorycrafting less mandatory for the average players without sapping all player agency from the game. We don’t know how the system is going to work in practice yet, but I like the concept.

Dye dye dye!

This expansion hype cycle, I’ve heard more about how to customize your character and less about raids than any other WoW expansion in recent memory, and I can’t see that as anything other than good.
One of my favorite aspects of games like ESO, GW2, and late Wildstar is the dye system. I loved being able to futz with the different color channels on the armor I picked up to match whatever color combination I was feeling at the moment. I think a dye system like that would be a game changer, but since most of the armor design in WoW is visually busier than a Jackson Pollock painting, a more reasonable expectation would be something similar to FFXIV’s dye system, where a single dye changes the color palette of the entire piece of gear.

I’m not as much of a fan of something like that; I prefer being able to customize different aspects of my gear. But the realist in me recognizes that if WoW were to ever implement a dye system, it’s more likely to be the latter. Regardless, something is better than nothing. There are many pieces of gear in WoW that I would love to use for transmog — I love the design but hate colors. Giving me options to be able to customize that would be so very welcome.

Conflict evolved

You know what makes zero sense to me? Twenty-someaught years of war in Azeroth but the battle lines are still drawn across racial lines instead of ideological ones. This has quite honestly always been problematic in the game, but the events of the recent months have made it exceptionally problematic. In short, any race should be able to be part of either faction. It’s time to make this a reality.

The factions should still exist, though. The Horde and the Alliance approach situations from very different perspectives, and the ideological differences between the two make sense. The Horde has always been populated by misfits and the Alliance by the cool kids. What doesn’t make sense anymore is that there are no orcs who think the Alliance is better than the Horde, or that the entirety of the Alliance is so toxic and xenophobic that they wouldn’t accept a Horde-raced character — and vice versa. The strict racial segregation in WoW is nonsensical both from a meta-perspective and within the game itself.

What I would love to see happen is two-fold: first, that Blizzard decouples the race choice from the faction choice, and second, that Blizzard finds a narrative-driven way to maintain faction identify and pride while allowing the factions to play together. During the run-up to Battle for Azeroth, I thought that was the logical conclusion to Warmode. The war is over for the main factions and they can start peacefully coexisting (aka playing together), while having those people who were in Warmode still having the faction warfare. But that didn’t happen, or at least hasn’t happened yet.

There are inklings throughout BFA that Blizzard might finally be dropping the Horde vs. Alliance as a constant conflict, but who knows? The BFA narrative cycle has pretty epically missed the mark in implementation. I fully believe that Blizzard had a wonderful, compelling story to tell that it just completely missed the mark on. I hope that all the contradictory messaging about the future of the Horde-Alliance conflict is actually Blizzard setting up to finally let it drop, but it’ll be while before we know.

Also, my guild is Alliance and I really, really, really want to play my vulpera with my guild, and it feels real bad to not be able to.

The future of WoW

I don’t know exactly what patch 10.0 will bring us, but Blizzard remembering that WoW is an RPG is a promising development. I don’t know if it’ll keep going down this path of allowing us to really customize our characters, but I hope it does. This expansion hype cycle, I’ve heard more about how to customize your character and less about raids than any other WoW expansion in recent memory, and I can’t see that as anything other than good.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

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I kinda want to see us explore new themes. Suramar and the theme of revolution and uprising against an impossibly powerful evil really resonated with me. Maybe making the scope of the stories smaller instead of saving the universe would help make the world feel important again. In terms of game systems, I feel like we’re in a good place with WoW, and been better each year. Combat feels great, and there’s plenty to do regardless of what you like. BFA was amazing for PVP in particular. Would like to see a path for alts to level quickly without the need to go through all the quests again, possibly an heirloom or buff that lets battlegrounds or dungeons achieve parity with quests after the first run through for story content.


Customisation is just a spectacle, flair with no essence. I like it, but it won’t keep me playing. Case in point: article author and GW2.

Dyes i imagine are impossible without massive changes to the game engine. They should do it at least for epic sets though.

As for racial segregation, that’s the last bit of Word of Warcraft that’s actually Warcraft. I wouldn’t mind seeing a neutral faction that anyone could join, similar to Anarchy Online. But turning both factions into a carebear salad would be the final nail on the retail coffin for me. If anything i would like to see them grow a pair and do a proper pvp expansion, like BfA was supposed to be!

And someone kill Anduin!


Thank you for the solution based commentary!

Kickstarter Donor

I don’t know where it needs to go as much as where I think it shouldn’t go: Back to more of the power progression systems layered on top of one another. 8.3 is the worst example so far: Corruption stacked on top of Essences piled on to Azerite armor all crushing down on the old standbys of class abilities, talents, and plain-old-gear. While I’m sure there’s someone out there who think this is all a great thing for the game, I haven’t found that person. Sadly, Shadowlands looks to be more of the same in that regard.

I probably like vertical progression more than most people commenting here, but I hope they reign it in to a few simple, comprehensible systems that don’t scale out of control. And spend that time designing something else, anything else. Another raid tier? Sure, that’s my thing. Player housing? Not my thing, but it’d make a lot of people happy so go for it. Baking cookies to send to everyone who plays? Delicious!

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Ryan Allgood

I’d really like to see them distribute all hairstyles to all (or at least most) races.

One of the hardest things for customizing characters in MMOs for me, especially with western MMOs like WoW, is the designers seem to hate the fuck out of short hair for men.

Short hairstyles will be like: here’s Bald, Balding, Mohawk, and bad 80’s Flat Top. Done. (Maybe you’ll get DBZ Goku spiky hair if you’re lucky)

Long hairstyles: here’s 47 variations of ponytail and top knot and braids.

But even just spreading out existing hairstyles to other races would make a huge difference. I might actually consider a Human if could put that combed short Void Elf hairstyle on him.

They should even decouple it from gender. If someone wants to play a Blood Elf male with luscious lady locks, let them (they already practically can). But I’d kill for that sweet ass short fade that Dark Iron Dwarf females have to put on my Orc.

Admittedly, some limitations make sense. A Tauren running around with that fergilicious Draenei updo maybe doesn’t make sense. But I don’t see why a Human can’t have combed hair and an Orc can’t have a nice short hairstyle.

And god forbid a Night Elf male have a short hairstyle that doesn’t make him look like either Mr. T or like some kind of owl has roosted on his head.


*The pigtails wants to hire Mr. Andy as the new lead developer for WoW*


Eliot Lefebvre
Eliot Lefebvre

You wound me, Utakata. I thought we were… well, not friends, but there was respect.


…you can be lead system developer…or what ever developer looks after all the asinine stuff to which you can remove when taking over. I hope this helps! <3

Bruno Brito

I mean, do you really want to be WoW’s lead dev? It must be hell :C


Id like to see different stances for different weapons for character development. Example would be a Brewmaster monk in legion carried his/her staff over the shoulder. I think there were others but that one really struck me as cool.

Bruno Brito

Here’s my ideas:

A new profession, called Woodworking. And all the secondary professions get mixed into one called “Survival”. Woodworking will allow you to make bows, staves, shields, and other wooden tools. Skinning gets revamped into Foraging, where you can skin mobs and gather wood from new nodes called trees.

All the professions get access to building furniture, for a Housing system. The Housing system is basically similar to LOTRO, where you get into every main city, a “Home District” that players can buy a home to and have neighboors. Professions are revamped so their best gear is similar to raid gear, taking off the focus from Raiding and encouraging self-sufficiency and player interaction.

Gut the sharding bs, and just merge servers. WoW is already as messy and uninteractible as it is, right now. Just pull of that bandaid.

Bring the talent trees back. Revamp them so you get more meaningful choices. Don’t to the idiocy of what Cata did, locking you into one spec. Just allow players to hybridize if they want. Blizzard has a terrible issue of wanting people to play how they think it should be played. It’s moronic.

Bring Hunter’s pet training back, and improve it to mesh well with nowadays style of gaming, while still being complex.

Give every class a new spec, that adds a new layer of roles they can play, and make Support role viable: Warriors get Tactician, a buff-debuff dpser. Rogues get Blademaster, a evasion tank using twohanded swords and axes or dual wield with bursts of damage and threat with Windwalk. Hunters get Combat Medic, a nature-focused physician healer that wields a pistol with offhanders and has some damage dealing to heals. Priests get Inquisitor, a tank mail-armored cleric with a large array of Holy damage spells for tanking and some shadow. Warlocks get Corruptor, a melee light armored tank based on Shadowfire damage, and passive buffs to increase his own sturdiness. Mages also get a melee tank, Arcane Warrior. Druids get nothing cuz they already have four specs. DKs get a healing Unholy variation based on protective effects and passive healing per second, and summons that heal the party, DHs get a spellcaster damage spec, and paladins get a new dps spec based on ranged damage.

And stop creating systems to get rid of them every xpac.


I like how you think :P.


Considering going back to WoW in the ESO content drought. Can’t decide between retail or classic through. I do have a paladin that I last played in Cataclysm that I was quite fond of. Also have a bunch of characters in Classic as well.

Not sure I would enjoy retail as I have not played since Cata, whereas with Classic I know what I’m going to get.

Oh, an ESO ‘any race any alliance’ kind of thing would be good.


Any class with any race would be awesome