I am not sure this is one of my better ideas, but I am going to take a leap of — well, not really a leap of faith per se as I don’t have all that much faith in myself.
I have been meaning to get back into blogging for a while now, but I never really knew what I should write about. I am someone who needs a great deal of inspiration to think of something to write, and then I have to deem it worthwhile. Not exactly worth my while, but worth the time the readers put into reading my outpourings — and much has to happen to convince myself anything of mine is worth anyone else’s time. As I said, not much faith in myself.
Now, I normally think about stuff for a long while until I write about it. I am not the impulsive type, but I am also always willing to test something new. And this time, the latter outweighs the former.
You see, Cynwise (who has to be one of my role models when it comes to blogging) wrote an article a while ago about how he didn’t think so much about what others did and just wrote stuff to get it out of his system. He didn’t correct things afterwards, didn’t even proofread them. That impressed me, to say the least. I don’t know if I was just the lucky reader of a singular tweet or if this is an actual “thing,” but someone (I honestly don’t remember who it was, sorry!), upon reading the article, dubbed this method the “Cynwisean School of Blogging.”
And I am going to test it. Right now.
Well, alright, I might actually proofread this when I am done, but that is mostly because I think in very not-straight-forward ways, therefore change the structure of my sentences five times while writing them, and I am not a native speaker of English. The small “benefit” of grammatical proofreading is all I am granting myself, though. No changing whole paragraphs or deleting sections.
So, onto the actual article …
Race Doesn’t Matter (To Most)
As some of you might know, I am German. Now, we Germans are generally not very comfortable when asked to talk about “race.” Even the word sends a chill down our spines. Mind you, that is most Germans, not all of them. Some are dumb enough to not have moved on — there’s a black sheep in every family, I guess (not that there’s anything wrong with being a black sheep — damnit, I’m doing it again!) — and others are courageous enough to admit past mistakes and move past them.
But this just as an aside. I am not talking about race in the real world, but in the context of World of Warcraft.
The question I came to ask myself lately is if race in WoW does even matter anymore. I don’t have a universal answer to that question, mind you, only my own thoughts and opinions. And in my opinion it does matter, albeit not to a very large degree. However, the question cannot be answered quite that easily. When considering if race is important, one has to look at the different types of players and what race means to them.
As we all know, choosing a race for your character does not only provide you with a certain appearance. Besides getting the muscles of a male orc or the (arguably) perfectly shaped (lol)butt(lol) *wink* of a female night elf, you are also granted certain racial abilities and bonuses. Some of those bonuses grant extra utility while other have advantages in combat or in trade. While some players choose to see these racial bonuses as just that — bonuses –, to others these abilities are a pivotal factor when choosing a race, to the point that they will pay real life money to change the race of their characters to get the “better” racial abilities.
In the following paragraphs, I will be taking a closer look into the relationships between players and the races of their characters by creating a few player archetypes (who are just inventions by me, so there will be no clever citing and adapting of sources here; no copyright infringement or anything of the sort is intended) and assessing how much the race of a character matters to each archetype. I will focus mainly on PvE content, as I consider PvP to be a very different environment from PvE; plus, my experiences with PvP, though going back 6 years, are very lacking. As with all archetypes, they are theoretical categorizations, which means that you will be hard-pressed to find perfect examples of any archetype in nature — or in World of Warcraft. Most people reading this will probably come to the conclusion that they are a mixture of all of the archetypes below, to different degrees, or even conclude that they don’t belong to any of them.
1. The Hardcore Raider
For the context we are talking about, “hardcoreness” (which is not a very exact type of measurement, as you might imagine) is defined by the following criteria:
- The hardcore raider raids more than 12 hours per week (randomly picked number) stretched out over several days of raiding — maybe between 3 and 7.
- The hardcore raider is not very interested in any other aspect of the game other than raiding. You will probably not see them roleplaying very much.
- The hardcore raider is aiming for perfect performance and will do everything in their power to get the most out of their character.
For the hardcore raider, appearance is a very important part of their gaming experience. However, this appearance is linked to the things the player has achieved in the raiding environment and not to the physical (or pixulated) appearance of their toon. Most hardcore raiders won’t care much about what their characters look like and, consequently, are less likely to use tools like transmogrification to alter their toons’ appearances. If anything, they will leave their gear unaltered to “show off the sweet gear” they have obtained through their mastery of the game. Of course, this particular vanity has more to do with the accomplishments linked to said gear than with the gear itself. And since gear does not change (much) with race, the physical appearance the race provides is not a consideration for the hardcore raider. To them, the racial abilities are a much bigger concern. After all, the way your warlock waves their arms when casting a Shadowbolt wouldn’t have averted a 1% wipe (and potentially granted you a world-, region- or server-first kill), while 1% extra crit or an extra 20% haste cooldown popped at the right time might have done the trick.
2. The Achievement Hunter
If we are talking achievement hunters, I should specify that:
- We are not talking about the hunter class.
- I will leave guild achievements, especially the likes of “Stay Classy,” out of the equation. We are only concerned with personal achievements in this context.
The achievement hunter couldn’t care less about race, as there are no race-related achievements. Well, that is not exactly true. There are certain achievements that will be made easier through special racial abilities. The goblin Rocket Jump might make difficult terrain more accessible, while humans get 10% extra reputation, which makes grinding rep a whole lot easier. However, apart from that, races don’t contribute anything to the hunt for achievements.
3. The Professional
There are people in WoW who live for only one goal: to satisfy their needs, their wallets, and their customers. Now, I am not talking about Goldshire RP, nor am I suggesting illegal activities of any sort. I am, of course, talking about professions. Some WoW players have found their calling in forging swords (and documents), enchanting chests (not like that!), fishing Murglesnout, and cooking delicious meals. For a price, of course. Not for nothing is nothing for nothing. For the professionally-ambitioned WoW player races have only one real appeal: the profession bonuses some races get. What is better than 15 extra points of Engineering, I ask you? Nothing, that’s what!
4. The World of Dresscraft Player
Hail thee, almighty transmogrification! The World of Dresscraft player (this term was not invented by me and, unfortunately, I do not know who coined it; however, Vidyala might have been one of the first to use it, and Manalicious is certainly the place I’ve come across it first) is all about outward appearance. Both the appearance of their gear (albeit for cosmetic purposes, unlike the hardcore raider) and their race is of the utmost importance. They will change their looks at least once a week. While most World of Dresscraft players have focussed on the “more beautiful” races and aim for beauty and perfection, some have made it their goal to create the most horrific combinations of race and gear and thus create the ultimate fashion abomination.
5. The Never-OOC Roleplayer
Roleplayers are hard to define. Many roleplayers will behave similarly to a World of Dresscraft player in that they will search for the perfect (read: most fitting) combination of race and gear. However, there is more to roleplayers than outward appearance. They shape out their characters’ backstories in addition to their looks. They like to play with stereotypes, either confirming them or acting outside them (or some clever middle way where the toon tries to escape stereotypes and is appaled by them, yet only acts on them and therefore confirms them … what was I talking about?), and interracial conflicts. As such, the race per se is more important to the roleplayer that its innate looks. Racial bonuses don’t play any role here — or if they do, they are integrated into the character, not innate to the race. So might one gnome be an escape artist, yet another one will never be able to get out of trouble. Or the worgen “curse” might have rejuvenated an old Gilnean citizen who, through transforming to a worgen, has found their long forgotten adolescent strength and might never transform back into a human out of fear that old age will cripple them once again. Or … — well, let’s just say the possibilities are endless.
Race or Class?
It can clearly be seen from the preferences of the above archetypes that races in WoW aren’t merely defined through their appearance, but also by special abilities. One might say that Blizzard is racist to assume that certain races have certain racial traits that are exclusive to that race, but let’s not open that can of worms. The racial traits are there to make choosing a race more meaningful and intriguing. Plus, the bonuses are, in most circumstances, pretty insubstantial — to make choosing a race less meaningful from a gameplay perspective.
Now, the last two sentences might seem contradictory, but only so if we see race as an isolated criteria. However, the next thing after choosing a race is choosing the class of your toon. The class of your toon has a much heavier impact on your gaming experience than their race does (for most players; if all you do is crafting items and selling them on the auction house, you couldn’t care less what class your toon is). This is due to the fact that classes play a lot more differently from each other than races do. For example, classes have a myriad of abilities and mechanics unique to them, while races only have a few. A troll rogue will play very much like a night elf rogue — and this has nothing to do with their shared heritage (face the facts, elves!). Conversely, a troll rogue and a troll mage will play massively different from each other.
The real question when considering this now becomes: if choosing a class is more important to playing the game than race, why do we generally have starting zones for races, not classes?
Let’s look at starting zones. A worgen warlock will play the same starting zone as a worgen warrior does. That, per se, is not a problem. Playing through the zones for each race, you get a good look at their culture, their habits and quirks, their struggles, their mindsets, and their attitudes towards other individuals both of their and of other races. This, and the story lines specific to those zones, help you immerse yourself into the game better. However, these zones have one flaw: they don’t tell you anything of import about your class. Whether you’re a rogue or a priest, the quest givers and NPCs (and most players, too) will treat you the same. The only quests that are different in those zones are the “learn your first new ability and use it on a dummy” quests — and those were only added with Cataclysm — and one class quest around level 10. However, they don’t tell you very much about what it is like to be a mage in contrast to a rogue or priest. This sweeping under the rug of class, sadly, continues throughout all of your questing experience.
Class-specific quests like pick-pocketing a certain guy are all too rare and, unfortunately, tell you little to nothing about what it is to be a rogue. I take rogues as an example here because of the recent addition of their legendary quest line. Now that are class-specific quests! Sure, they are very challenging, but at least they give you the feeling of being a rogue, not a dagger- or sword-wielding warrior who happens to wear leather.
I would love to see class becoming a more important factor in your leveling experience. Show the rogues that they are rogues, not some blood elf / dwarf / gnome / goblin / human / night elf / orc / troll / undead / worgen that uses energy and has abilities X, Y and Z at their disposal. And, to be even more demanding, tell them how to use X, Y and Z properly, while you’re at it.
How to Integrate Class into Starting Zones and Beyond
In theory, this is really easy to do, but it does require some effort.
Starting zones are there to introduce you to the game and your place in it. The first five or six levels are usually spent in the first subzone, opening up after that. When you first learn a new ability, you have a special quest teaching you how to use this ability. Then, around level 10, you get one class-specific quest where you have to do something that “only you can do.” What if we took those level 10 quests (or level 8-15, depending on when you get them) and eloborate on them? Instead of one quest where you use one ability, make it a sort of mini-training camp for your class. Once you have completed your first task, you are asked to complete another, with a focus on another aspect of the class, and then another and then another and so on. You could easily go with five quests for each class.
Ideally, these quests would become available (and probably mandatory) at level 10, when you can choose your spec. The quests would first teach you about the class per se. Then there might be a quest to show you differences between your class and others (although I don’t think that will be added since there is a chance that new players might become wound up in a vicious circle of getting to level 10 and then starting a new character because the other class always seems cooler). The last three quests would then deal with the respective specs (this is where you could choose a spec) and how they differ from each other — during those quests respeccing would be for free, of course — after which you choose your final spec.
Let’s take the rogue as an example again. The first quest could deal with stealth, how to avoid being seen (like when you try to enter Gilneas or Ravenhold Manor during the rogue legendary quests) and what you can do in stealth. As that would only be Ambush, Sap and Pick Pocket at this point, a stealth quest (chain) could look something like this:
- Your trainer sends you to retrieve an important piece of intelligence. First, you have to get through a corridor with NPCs patrolling all over it. Use stealth and your cunning and overview to get through here.
- The next corridor is blocked by an NPC standing in the middle (besides more patrols, of course). Sap the blocking NPC and slip through at an opportune time.
- Now you need the key to open the vault. Pick another NPC’s pockets without being seen (they are immune to Sap and walk around a bit, making it more difficult).
- At last, you stand before the vault. Use the key to open the door. But what is that? Someone is stuffing the intelligence into their bag. You have no choice but to Ambush them and loot their corpse.
- Upon looting, you realize that there is a secret passage the other intruder came through. You take this passage and return to your trainer.
Similar to this chain, you could set up some other quests for the different specs.
Of course, this has disadvantages, too. You would have to do the quests on your own. However, 15 minutes apart will hurt almost no group of levelers, and maybe you could even — since this is training — choose to watch your companion do their class quest if you are in a group. Spectator mode, anyone?
After completing these quest chains (which would yield little experience, but maybe nice gear for your class), a new player would have a much better grasp on what it means to be a certain class. And it doesn’t have to stop there. You could insert short quest lines now and again that further your expertise as a member of that class. While I would prefer the first class quest chains at level 10 to be mandatory, the later quests could be voluntary. If you want to further your understanding of the class, you can. If you want to follow the story instead, you can do that, too. Maybe the class quests could even be repeatable (and scaling) quests that you can practice with — or just kill some time with.
The Dead-Headed Stepchild of Starting Zones
There is one starting zone that is very class-specific already: the death knight starting zone. Alas, even this one only covers one aspect of the two most defining traits of your toon: race and class. The death knight starting zone is exactly the same whether you’re a gnome or a tauren. The only difference is when you have to kill your former buddy, who will always be the same race as you are. It seems that WoW can only ever concentrate on one side of the coin. That is sad.
Admittedly, it makes sense for the starting zone to not care about race. After all, you are just a tool for the Lich King. And that guy doesn’t care if you’re a troll, a halforc or part-demon-part-angel-part-nightelf-part-highborn-part-gnome. In that sense, the Lich King is very equal opportunity. If only he could expand that onto living things …
Unfortunately, Blizzard is notoriously bad at connecting these two aspects of race and class. While the other starting zones don’t bother with class at all, this one doesn’t touch race (except for the example above). At the end of that particular starting zone, you are sent to either Orgrimmar or Stormwind, to pledge allegiance to either the Horde or the Alliance. Now, what would prompt a death knight, who has no recollection of their former life — illustrated by the aforementioned kill-your-former-comrad quest (I might be wrong here, as I didn’t pay too much attention when playing through it) — to either join the Horde or the Alliance? Nothing, really, except that you are told, based on your race, to join this or that faction. Your own feelings (hah! Good one!) have no impact here. The worgen and goblin starting zones do a way better job at telling you more about the faction you have joined, albeit out of necessity and without another choice.
Of course, these are cases of gameplay trumps lore. However, I think you could circumvent this easily. It wouldn’t have been too difficult to add a few more quests to the death knight starting experience where Alliance-race DKs can choose to go into a phased version of Orgrimmar and Horde-race DKs into Stormwind, are attacked and barely escape with their lives. Now they go to their (alleged) faction capital, and although they are hated there as well, at least they is no attempt on their lives. You could choose which faction your toon wants to experience first. And although this is only a fake choice (as you will eventually end up in the same faction every time), I maintain that it would be better this way.
While the DK starting zone does a spectacular job at giving you a feel for what it’s like to be a DK, sadly, it doesn’t really teach you about the different specs and important abilities, either. A few voluntary quests would go a long way here as well.
Going Forward with Mists of Pandaria
Seeing the history of how Blizzard has dealt with the different races (and in the case of DKs classes) and their introduction or lack thereof in the leveling experience, I am somewhat worried — and in more than one way — about the upcoming introduction of both pandaren and the monk class. All pandaren share the same starting zone (which has a very intriguing story behind it, by the way), so we can’t expect to see something along the lines of the DK starting zone for the monk. Which is not a bad thing. However, I fear that, as it has been in the past, the pandaren starting zone will be exactly the same for every class the pandaren can choose to play. There will be no pandaren rogue quest to retrieve a special
keg of ale piece of intelligence for your trainer, and I doubt there will be specific quest chains for monks of any race. I am also extremely worried about how pandaren will decide between Horde or Alliance and I fear that this aspect, which represents a crucial and pivotal point in the development of your character, will be sold short.
Even the goblin and worgen starting zones basically tell you nothing about the faction quarrel. As a new worgen player (who doesn’t know much about the lore and therefore doesn’t know about the old Alliance of Man) the only thing you know is that the undead are attacking you, driving you into the arms of the night elves, who then become your best friends because they teach you how to control the beast within (which they were responsible for in the first place). Similarly, as a new goblin player you get caught up in the conflict between Horde and Alliance and are forced to join the Horde to survive.
Here, again, we don’t have a real choice as to what you are going to do. The pandaren introduction to the Alliance vs. Horde conflict has to be really good in order for players to make a factional decision that is informed by your experiences with the factions rather than whether your belt (or whatever Blizzard decides to make the bearer [heh!] of visual distinction between Horde and Alliance pandaren) is red or blue.