By a simple process of deduction I’m going to attempt to predict the identity of the second WoW hero class. I have no special or inside knowledge but I will put my experience as a game designer to the test and go through all of the potential design considerations that Blizzard will ultimately have to face during their “hero class” strike team meetings. It goes without saying that Blizzard will have many decisions to grapple with in order to come up with the perfect hero class for their upcoming and untitled 3rd expansion.
So what can we already assume about the next hero class?
Let’s look at the precedents that Blizzard has established with the Death Knight and apply it:
- it will be playable by all races
- it will start at level 55 or higher
- it will most likely use an existing plot of unused geography for it’s starting quest hub
- it will be incorporated into the lore and storyline of the 3rd expansion
- it will be overpowered™
Other then those 5 assumptions which we can pretty much take for granted, what are the other considerations that need to be decided?
Consideration 1: Will there be another hero class?
This one is easy. The answer to this will be a resounding “yes”. While I am personally not in favor of how Blizzard implemented the first hero class: the Death Knight, I think Blizzard feels that allowing players to experience a specially prepared storyline and play a very powerful class was a driving force in making their Wrath of the Lich King successful. It was also a great marketing tool tying in the Death Knight class to the arch villain of the expansion: the former Prince Arthas and current Lich King.
Once Blizzard makes one hero class available it naturally follows that more will be forthcoming in future expansions. Players expect it. If Blizzard were to stop creating hero classes it would make the Death Knight seem rather awkward and out of place. Expect Blizzard to continue offering new hero classes with each expansion.
Consideration 2: Do we need another Tank class?
The Death Knight was partially created to solve the tank shortage that existed during the release of the Burning Crusade expansion. Back at the time many paladins and warriors had succumbed to the temptation of switching to DPS talent builds and had all but abandoned the role of tanking. The reason for this is that it was far easier to obtain epic gear in Arena PVP then it was in PVE groups and raids. Naturally tanks are plate classes in WoW. So now that we currently have 3 plate classes, 3 cloth classes, 2 mail classes and 2 leather classes I can guaranteed this: the next hero class will not be a plate or tank class.
Decision: it won’t be a tank or plate class
Consideration 3: Primary Class roles – DPS or Healing class?
Given the fact that there are 3 main types of classes in WoW: tank, DPS and healing with hybrids and many possibilities among them, it’s obvious that the next class will either be a DPS class or a healing class due to the fact that the first hero class is a tank capable class. The next shortage of class types that Blizzard has been trying to address is the lack of healers. This almost guarantees that the next hero class will have healing capabilities as a major strength. Since all classes have damage capability it’s almost certain that the next hero class will be a damage dealing healing hybrid.
Decision: DPS-healing hybrid
Consideration 4: Secondary Class Roles – Crowd Control?
Currently in WoW we have 3 solid crowd control classes (rogue, mage, warlock) and we also have 2 classes with situational crowd control abilities (druid, hunter, priest). Therefore given that Blizzard likes classes to have crowd control functionality to make them useful in groups/raids I predict that the new hero class will have at least situational crowd control capabilities.
Decision: situational crowd control
Consideration 5: Mail, Leather or Cloth?
Since a plate class has been eliminated due to tanks being well represented let’s examine the available armor types in the game: mail, leather or cloth. This leaves us with 3 cloth classes (mage, priest, warlock), 2 leather classes (druid, rogue) and 2 mail classes (hunter, shaman). From this we can easily eliminate a cloth class since they are already over represented. The next hero class will either be a leather class or a mail class.
Decision: leather class or mail class
Consideration 6: Melee, Spell or Martial Power?
Given that we have plenty of weapon wielding melee classes and spell casting classes my guess is the new class will be neither and it will be a martial arts class. Martial classes have been very popular in video games for quite a while and WoW does not have one. A martial arts class would be just the thing to generate more interest in WoW which by that time will be 7 years old.
Decision: martial arts combat
Consideration 7: Moral Alignment – Good or Evil?
For the first time in the WoW’s history Blizzard made players do evil deeds in order to progress a class: the death knight. It follows that the next hero class will most likely be a “good” class in contrast to the inherently “evil” and morally questionable nature of the death knight.
Decision: expect a “good” aligned hero class
Prediction: Next Hero Class will be a Monk/Martial Arts class
The next hero class will probably be a variant of the classic traditional MMO “monk” class. It fits the bill perfectly for almost every major decision that the decision team at Blizzard will have to face.
- The monk is a leather class — not a plate or tank class
- The monk can heal/meditate which addresses a chronic shortage of healer classes
- The monk has a “good” alignment which will balance out the intrinsic “evil” nature of the first hero class the Death Knight
- The monk uses martial arts combat which would be an exciting and fresh change for WoW (it will probably be able to use staves and fist weapons as well as hand to hand, kicking, etc.)
- The monk can do situational crowd control (the EverQuest monk could split mobs which was considered a an important form of crowd control)
- The monk would appeal directly to Asian cultures where martial arts have a cultural foundation and would provide an alternative to many of the western style RPG classes currently in WoW
- The monk class would be a perfect fit for a future Pandaren race in WoW (note: the Pandaran exist already in Warcraft RTS games and in the Warcaft RPG).
- There are NPC monks already in the game such as the Crimson Monk, Scarlet Monk, Condemned Monk, Auchenai Monk so there would be no problem with the lore
Enter the Runemaster
I expect Blizzard to slightly morph the monk into one of their own creations and use one of the existing classes from their Warcraft RPG or RTS games. The Runemaster is the natural candidate as he incorporates magical runes which should give the archetypal placid monk a injection of pizazz. Martial arts classes are fun to play and quite popular in today’s video game culture. The kids Blizzard’s now and future demographic seem to love kung fu. The only problem I forsee is that Blizzard will have to add some additional animations to every race such as kicks and flips. Currently the human race has a kick animation but I’m not sure about other races.
The challenge will be to cleverly weave the introduction of the next hero class into the lore and storyline of the next expansion. After the polish and resources spent on the totality of the Death Knight experience, players have great expectations from Blizzard.
When I researched this article after my initial analysis, I found some good posts on the official WoW forums that seem to support my prediction. It has come to my attention that Tobold published an article with some expansion predictions which seem to echo my previous article last year. I also found this hint from former Lead WoW Designer Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan who stated this in a recent Blizzcast (emphasis are mine):
Jeffrey Kaplan: Yeah. I think the class choice was super hard and eventually we had it down to three front runners which was pretty cool. We were talking for awhile about a necromancer. He would kind of be a range caster, do a lot of corpse explode, that sort of thing. Things we ended up incorporating into the death knight. We also had a cool idea for a rune master. That was going to be more of a melee type. Think rogue or monk type character, but death knight ultimately fit.
Since the necromancer is inherently “evil” and the Death Knight was also “evil” it seems to me that Blizzard would not choose another dark class therefore the Runemaster is a sure bet for the next hero class. I have a feeling that Blizzard will most certainly unveil their choice at Blizzcon 2009 this summer. Stay tuned!