WoW: The Problem with Hero Classes

ArthasAs the release of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft new expansion Wrath of the Lich King looms ever nearer, I’m starting to feel unease at the prospect of a hero class emerging from the icy wastes of Northrend. MMO’s are complex organisms and the introduction of a new gameplay feature to an established MMO can be potentially beneficial or disastrous depending on how things play out.

The true skill of a game designer is the ability to predict the future with respect to how a new feature will interact with existing features and mechanics. Enter the first hero class: the Deathknight. From my point of view, there too many problems with how the folks in Irvine, CA will be implementing hero classes. Here are some of the reasons for my concern: 

The Deathknight: A Normal Class Disguised as a “Hero” Class

Hero classes first appeared in the single player game Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. Blizzard has a complete page devoted to the Hero class for Warcraft III.  According to a Wiki article, hero classes were meant to be more powerful then normal units:

…hero units are considerably more powerful than normal troops and take a greater part in the completion of missions…

Now on to the current notion of what a hero class is taken from the official Wrath of the Lich King deathknight interview (emphasis is mine):

…During the Second and Third Wars, the people of Azeroth learned to fear these merciless, unholy opponents and their terrifying powers. Leading legions of the undead into battle during the Third War, the Lich King’s death knights proved both their strength and their cunning on several occasions, making them an invaluable part of the Scourge army…

So it’s clear that Blizzard is now promoting the hero class with adjectives like powerful, terrifying and invaluable. They want players to play this new class and feel *gasp* heroic. However, notice the fine print later on in the interview:

It’s also important to keep in mind that even though the death knight is a hero class, that doesn’t mean it is more powerful than the other classes, just that it will offer a very different playing experience.

What we have here is a classic bait and switch. Using the introduction of the Deathknight as WoW’s first Hero Class to lure people into purchasing the new expansion yet the reality is that they will be just like every other class — subject to the principles of class balance.

Prediction: Deathknights will be very powerful for a few months to help sell the expansion then will receive a major nerf a few months later.

Bottom Line: Players will expect that hero classes will be more powerful then normal classes but the truth is Blizzard has no intention of allowing this. In this case, perception isn’t reality. Hero classes are just a fancy way of introducing new classes into WoW which in turn helps to sell the next expansion.

Inserting New High Level Classes will Make Azeroth Feel Even More Abandoned and Empty

Blizzard has stated on a few occasions that after a quest is completed in the new expansion a player will be able to create a new Deathknight that starts at a high level. It’s been rumored to be anywhere from levels 55-60. I believe this is a terrible idea that could cause serious problems in the future.

It will allow players to bypass all of the low to mid level content from levels 1-60. MMO’s have a serious problem in that as players level up, low to mid level areas feel empty as they become devoid of players. New players have a tough time as it stands now trying to find groups and other players to interact with. Allowing Deathknights and future hero classes to skip all of this content will further add to this problem.

Bottom Line: Blizzard already has the easiest leveling of any major MMO to date, allowing a hero class to start off at a higher level is unneeded, unnecessary and harmful to the health of the MMO. Hero classes should start at level one — like every other class.

A Glut of Hero Classess Will Weaken the Viability of Other Classess

Let’s look at a hypothetical time-line of the introduction of the first 4 WoW hero classes using the current expansion development time of 2 years. (Note: the expansion names and hero class names are placeholders).

Projected WoW Hero Classes Chart

This chart shows an obvious disparity between starting levels of hero classes and non-hero classes. Once future hero classes will be released, players will have to ask themselves: Do I really want to spend time leveling a new non-hero class when I can just do a quest to unlock a hero class? Players who want to create an alt will have to spend a considerable amount of time leveling up an original WoW class then they do a hero class.

If a hero is just like any other class, then is it fair to people who wish to create non-hero classes that they have to start from scratch at level one? Not only is this unfair to the traditional classes of WoW it will create a glut of hero classes. Having too many of any class is always harmful to any MMO as it creates a dull, predictable, cookie cutter world. MMO’s designed with class interdependency should absolutely require that there be a healthy diversity of classes.

Bottom Line: Allowing hero classes to bypass potentially 60 and more levels of content will create a glut of hero classes and devalue traditional WoW classes. The negative side effects of doing this could be disastrous for the future of the MMO. Besides, real heroes don’t take $49.95 short cuts to the maximum level.

High Level Hero Classes Devalues Content and Player Status 

Another issue is that by allowing hero classes to come into the world at such high levels, is that Blizzard is sending the wrong message to players that low to mid level content is unimportant and trivial. Blizzard seems to want to reward high level players that complete the hero quests by exempting them from potentially 60 or more levels and all the “trash” content theirin. For me, every time I create an alt I fall in love with WoW all over again. I love the carefully crafted newbie zones and all of the immersive and polished quests.

In a level based character progression game, allowing hero classes to skip all of this content devalues the whole notion of status and the accomplishment of players reaching high levels. Existing players may end up resenting players who play hero classes because of this. Blizzard is already besiged by an angry players due to the fiasco of PVP vs. PVE arguments. Do they really need to give players another reason to become unhappy and disgruntled?

Fix Existing Tanking Classes Before You Introduce A New One

In the official WoW Deathknight interview, the Blizzard design team acknowledges the current shortage of players that want to play tanking classes such as warriors, druids and paladins. While that concern is commendable, why are they introducing another class with tanking abilities when the existing classes should be made more attractive to players? If players don’t want to play tanks, then Blizzard needs to find out why. Introducing a new tank class will not solve that problem and has the potential to alienate the existing tank community.

Part of the problem is this: Blizzard has created a MMO that is item-centric and damage-centric. As a result, nobody wants to play tanks or healers. I seriously doubt that players will want to play Deathknights to actually tank. The majority of players will play them so they can do some serious damage.

It’s only reasonable that Blizzard should start addressing the concerns of warriors, paladins and feral druids immediately — well before the release of the expansion. They need to reach out to each community to assure them that their issues will be addressed when the Wrath of the Lich King is released. Still, I predict that after the introduction of the Deathknight there will be fewer tanks then more tanks.

Bottom Line: Blizzard should make a serious effort to make tanking classes more attractive to players. Less time focusing on esoteric features like voice chat and more time focusing on the core mechanics of the game would be most welcome.


I am disappointed that Blizzard has chosen to introduce new classes in WoW as “hero” classes. Not only is their proposed implementation seriously flawed it cheapens the notion of a hero. Predictably, heroism comes cheap in most video games these days. Now with Blizzard it comes even cheaper — at the cost of another expansion.

We already have 10 million hero candidates in WoW: the existing players. Every class should have the potential to be a hero by choosing a permanent pathway that begins with culmination of talent spec and ends as a full fledged hero class. Players should be given the option to turn their existing beloved characters into heroes by performing a special epic quest. Once they pass through that door there should be no turning back via easy respecs. True heroism entails sacrifice and bravery, not a shortcut to level 60. But, we’ve already seen how Blizzard has butchered a word like “honor” with their abominable PVP system, it’s not unreasonable to think that the term “hero” will suffer the same fate.

If new classes are truly needed in Azeroth then introduce them equitably and ensure that they make sense and are compatible with other classes. Despite the clever connection to the lore of the Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard’s Deathknight seems like more of a marketing gimmick then a sound design decision that will benefit the WoW community as a whole.


26 thoughts on “WoW: The Problem with Hero Classes

  1. I totally agree with you. I keep seeing decisions here and there from Blizzard that I think are seriously damaging to the game long term. Short sighted, in other words. Or maybe they aren’t even planning for long term? I mean, profit-wise, they’ve made so much back from what the game originally cost them, that even if it went belly-up tomorrow it’d still be seen as a very profitable investment. And that’s the bottom line, I guess. Maybe in their mind a ‘long lived’ MMO is maybe 6-7 years, then it’s totally okay for it to fold to a handful of servers, while folks move on to their ‘WoW 2′ (or whatever secret mmo project they’re doing now).

  2. Your stance seems a little alarmist.

    Blizzard changes lots of stuff, including changing the level grind to take less time as of a few patches ago.

    Also, I think people are always starting alts, and there’s usually a few people around at the low levels, and always will be, so long as the game maintains some interest.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they maybe decided to allow for expansion holders (either this or a later one) to start mid level characters, in the same way that death knights will start at an elevated level.

  3. I agree completely. There is nothing heroic about unlocking a lower level version of yourself that is basically just a different spec.
    Personally, I think they should have characters transform into heroic versions of their classes, if they choose, that are either pvp or pve based. That would be more compelling and interesting. They also need to have one for each current class for this first expansion. Releasing a single tanking class is boring and underwhelming since its been in development for 2 years.

  4. I think the post is -very- alarmist.

    The first quotes on the power of the hero classes seem taken a bit out of context: they mostly relate at what role the hero classes were playing in Warcraft III. Yes, they were more powerful than normal units.

    I am not very pleased as to how Blizzard has gone about the hero class(es). Actually, I agree that it is a very dumb way of just introducing a new class.

    Shortcut to lvl 50? I agree it’s unnecessary.

    But I don’t think that it will break the gameplay, upset the balance or create a cataclysm of epic proportions in the game. I don’t like that decision, in the same way I don’t like many other decisions in the game. It’s still a great game with good gameplay and lots of options to offer.

    As for: “For me, every time I create an alt I fall in love with WoW all over again.”. Using a personal opinion to justify your point makes the whole reasoning fail. I hate playing the same contents again over and over when I want to start a new char. I had the misfortune of choosing a “pure” class, which can only DPS, when I chose my first character, thinking that a hybrid class would be something different to what they are nowadays. If I want to experience what tanking in the high-end dungeons and raids is, I have to level a tank to 70 (which I have alrady done). Now I am faced with the daunting task of levelling a healer to level 70 to experience the same contents from the point of view of healing. I am stuck at level 48 and getting quite discouraged. I loved the buff to XP received in the 20-60 range, and if Blizzard would offer a way to fast track that even more I would be grateful.

    But make it for all classes, not just for the DK.

    I think that the DK is somehow offered as a dangling carrot for the huge playerbase. Think of it as a great marketing maneuver. After all, they want to -sell- the game. But I agree that it has to become a normal class after all (doing otherwise would be unfair), I agree with your vision that it will probably start overpowered and be gradually nerfed over the patches. Let me add something: by the time the next expansion hits the shelves “Into the Maelstrom”, as you imaginatively named it, the DK will probably be available from level 1 from the initial character creation screen. But, yes, the will reward those who did the “unlock-your-DK” quest chain with a fancy title (“Awakener of the dead”).

  5. Pingback: Random Bytes #6 - "R.I.P., Mr. Gygax" | Random Battle

  6. I don’t necessarily disagree with your conclusions, but they are very premature. There is almost no information about the Death Knight yet, is the hero class just a class you can’t access at levels 1-50? No one knows. How different is the death knight from other classes? No one knows.

    But from all the information we’ve seen, the Death Knight is using a completely new system that is unavailable to other classes. There has been no mention of an ability tree for Death Knights. I’m inclined to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt.

    As for availability of the class, we know that you need to have at least 1 character who is at level 80 before you can unlock a death knight. But does this mean you can only create a Death Knight on the server you created or does it apply to your entire account? Again no one knows.

    Inserting New High Level Classes will Make Azeroth Feel Even More Abandoned and Empty
    Well… thats going to happen no matter what. Almost everyone who plays wow has alts. Many people who raid or are long time wow account holders have alts. And a vast majority prefer to speed level their alts rather. They might do the occasional instance but let’s face it reaching the level cap is the main goal. So Azeroth is going to be empty with or with out Hero Classes.

    A Glut of Hero Classess Will Weaken the Viability of Other Classess
    Again, the quest to unlock the Death Knight requires you to already have a character at max level. How is this different from leveling all your alts from 70 to 80? I have 3 level 70 characters and I intend to eventually get them all to 80 along with the new hero class. Its not really a short cut. Its another alt. And like all alts i you want to raid in end game content, you need your guild’s approval as well as better equipment etc.

    And again we must remind ourselves and trust that a Hero Class while its basically another new class, is different enough to be unique. As to why we should not worry about having a whole raid of Death Knights? Play Style. Some people just don’t like the way certain classes play. I for instance don’t have a Warrior or Pally. I don’t like playing tanks of any kind. Does that mean I’ll pass on the Death Knight? No. But will be it my main character? Probably not. Am I excited to level one up? Sure! This is the first new class in WOW since it started in 2004.

    Bottom line
    Don’t be too quick to judge. Personally I was VERY disappointed because I wanted each class to have its own Hero Class. perhaps even starting at level 1 again as this new class. Or to have our classes morph into a new uber class. For example my Holy Priest will now be …. an Angel Class (Yes I can dream).

    Instead, all we have is 1 single class, the Death Knight. But I have faith that Blizzard will make the expansion fun and addictive just like its done with WOW and TBC.

    Just my 2 cents :)

  7. Thinking about anything after WotLK and subsequently criticizing choices made in WotLK is really misleading and you know it. You make it sound like the fact that they PR called DK “hero” class is the biggest mistake Blizzard ever made. You know what was the image of Shamans when WoW started ? They were the “hero” class of vanilla WoW. Blizzard thinks that DK will bring more players to tanking because you don’t have throw away your car sized twohander to tank, it doesn’t have anything to do with actual in game abilities.

  8. Pingback: WoW: Tanks Being Left Out in the Cold? | Random Battle

  9. I think the post is -very- alarmist.

    I disagree. I think any new features that Blizzard introduces need to be given a thorough and full analysis with regard to their ramifications on the welfare of the game and community as a whole. I don’t think Blizzard has fully considered the impact of their decisions. My article is an attempt to forecast what may happen if they go ahead as planned. If my article is alarmist then at the very worst it has caused people to think. At best, Blizzard may actually implement some changes.

    The first quotes on the power of the hero classes seem taken a bit out of context: they mostly relate at what role the hero classes were playing in Warcraft III. Yes, they were more powerful than normal units.

    Thank you for pointing that out. I have cleaned up the quotes and given them the proper accreditation. My point was to show that the players have certain expectations of hero classes from previous incarnations of Warcraft.

    As for: “For me, every time I create an alt I fall in love with WoW all over again.”. Using a personal opinion to justify your point makes the whole reasoning fail. I hate playing the same contents again over and over when I want to start a new char.

    To clarify, I wasn’t trying to use my own anecdotal experiences of playing alts to bolster my argument. It was just a personal observation that I wanted to share. Also, not all alts share the same experiences from level 1-70. Each racial group has it’s own starting areas (with the exception of gnomes and trolls) so creating and playing a new alt can be a completely unique experience with new lands and new quests. Clearly Blizzard wants players to create alts as it keeps people subscribing.

    I think that the DK is somehow offered as a dangling carrot for the huge playerbase. Think of it as a great marketing maneuver. After all, they want to -sell- the game. But I agree that it has to become a normal class after all (doing otherwise would be unfair), I agree with your vision that it will probably start overpowered and be gradually nerfed over the patches. Let me add something: by the time the next expansion hits the shelves “Into the Maelstrom”, as you imaginatively named it, the DK will probably be available from level 1 from the initial character creation screen. But, yes, the will reward those who did the “unlock-your-DK” quest chain with a fancy title (”Awakener of the dead”).

    That’s an interesting observation which I find intriguing. I too wonder if Blizzard will offer the Deathknight as a unlocked player class for the expansion after WotLK? It may be one way to equalize class population more fairly.

    Thanks to everyone for their great comments!


  10. Pingback: Don’t blame the Deathknight, blame the creator. « Hardcore Casual

  11. “Blizzard already has the easiest leveling of any major MMO to date”

    Actually this is very, very false. EQ1 for example if you have a high level druid friend you can level very rapidly. If you know a Warrior who has an earthshaker you can go 1-level cap in under 24 hours…real time…not played time.

  12. I see an opportunity here for Blizzard to have their cake and eat it too. They can introduce a character class that is overpowered as compared to other classes, if they balance that by making it a royal pain to level and play that class.

    This way they can offer something to those players that bemoan the slide to casual easiness and long for the days of severe death penalties.

    A “hero” class should be heroic.

  13. Wow, I couldn’t disagree with you more about the leveling thing. Leveling is an awful, boring process, and the only reason I play any MMO is for the activities available at the end-game/highest level. I’ve done every quest in the game, and if I have to do them again, I will scream! I do agree, though, we will see less and less of the other classes as other people like me who hate leveling choose hero classes to skip doing the same old content again… and again.

  14. Nice post. The only thing I wanted to point out is that you contradict yourself in the “tank” argument.

    First you say that tanks are broken and that by introducing another tank, it will be a disservice to the Warriors, Druids, and Pallys. Then you say that WoW is very damage focused and most people will play their new DK offensively.

    To me, that means they’ll still need to improve defensive tanks and introducing DK’s won’t have changed the situation for the better or worse.

  15. First off, your view on the whole DK introduction in the next expansion is a little discerning. Blizzard is one of, if not, the richest gaming company in the world. They are sitting at the top of the hill, pushing all contenders that come close. I believe the introduction of DK is not only just for lore or something different. They are doing this to secure the “replay factor” of their #1 hot product. It’s more of a business tool if you ask me. And yes, they want to introduce something new to the player/fan base, because if they didn’’d have a lot of bored people looking to other games. Players not wanting to tank? Wow. Apparently people haven’t been paying close attention in the game. Pre-bc it was all about the warrior tank. What was a pally or druid back then? Mainly healing. Now with the previous patches, I am seeing more and more Prot Paladins and Feral druids leading the pack in tanking. All the warriors I see have gone to DPS. The introduction of a new dps/tank class is nothing more than giving a player a new view on tanking or dps mechanics. You will still see tanks in paladins, druids, and warriors. It will take some time for players to figure out how to play a death knight, but we’ve all been there when we first started the game. It was like “what does this do?” or “how do I use this?” It’s going to be a learning experience all over again, while progressing the current characters we have. This also includes the new profession of Inscription. Having the ability to customize your current abilities to do different effects is pretty cool if you ask me. But again, it will still be a learning experience. That’s my 2 cents, hope you enjoy.

  16. Pingback: Wolfshead Online » Blog Archive » WoW: Could Deathtards Be the Worst MMO Blunder of All Time?

  17. Pingback: The Sky Is Falling Upwards! « Apathy Inc.

  18. You know, I agree with the whole everyone could just have their own hero class, and that their should be no turning back, but what will happen If Blizzard were to do this? You might not see WOTLK for a really long time. Just face it designing a game to appeal to everyones desires is just impossible. You’ll have some that hate it you’ll have some that love it, that’s just the way the dice roll. Sure I probably haven’t been playing for as long as all of you guys seeing that I only have like one character that’s almost 70, but you have to look at the big picture. Blizzard want’s us all to be happy, and if they make a few bucks on the side its a plus. I might even pass on the playing as a DK but I will do the quest so I at least have the option to play as one if I get extremely bored. I mean come on, what’s more fun than taking your already powerful hunter going to a low lvl area taming a low lvl beast and put yourself on PVP then using eyes of the beast to literally rape the competition. Look at the DK as a better way to just mess with low lvl players. Sure that might be wrong but whose having fun huh?

  19. I think it’s not as bad as you fear. I’ve been trying out the DK in the WOTLK beta, and honestly have never had so much fun with any of the classes. So far they are powerful, but not that much more than any 55 level class who’s got really good gear and has built good stats. And while I enjoy the class, it will not replace any of the others. I’ve played all the classes, and in a lot of situations find myself saying: “If only had I had my hunter in this situation… or mage… or warlock…” Same with the DK. AND the biggest downside to starting a DK? You are starting at a level higher than your skills- meaning, the DK is 55, but your ability to control him/her is 1. Talk about survival of the fittest.
    The only other point I’d like to add is this: The Dk isn’t for all WOW players. It’s for the people who’ve been playing long enough to have a level 55. Otherwise, 80 might be to far to go “again” from 1.

  20. Azeroth Is Empty. There will probably be an eventual matrix shift for subscribers. Current subs will have an automatic adjustment to their lvl’s. They’ll use Azeroth as a free trial marketing promo. It will be a platform of newbs. It’ll be a safe place, where 5 million Warriors are asking for directions. “Premium Subscribers” will start @ lvl 1 (formerly lvl 60-70) with Outlands and Northrend as the starting continents. Its all about the money, you know?

  21. Pingback: Predicting the Second WoW Hero Class | Wolfshead Online

  22. Pingback: Challenging the Sacred Cash Cow of Quest Based MMOs | Wolfshead Online

  23. i have a level 75 dk and a 65 ret pally. I do however have MANY alts most in their 30’s and one it its 40’s.. and i will say even at that level it is impossible to get groups to do instances… i feel as though those past levels have been forgotten, swept under the rug never to be recovered again. Blizzard has made it alot harder for low levels to actually play the game and enjoy it, i know that i really dont. : /

  24. I know this is an old post but I wanna say this. You say its unfair to someone who wants to play another class because they have to start at level 1, but that makes no sense as the playing the DK would have to level another toon to that lvl to play. Many people level to 55 then make a DK never to play that other toon again till thier dk is maxed. I originally leveled a priest and after being maxed was tired of being a squishy and wanted to make a plate wearing melee class but did have the time to level from 1 and the DK gave the perfect opportunity. Also about it being unfair, these people leveling other classes can also make a DK so its not “unfair”. The adding of the hero class was in no way a bad idea.

  25. Many or all classes could be considered hero classes based on Warcraft III.

    The best example are Paladins, who are a hero class in Warcraft III, and in the Death Knight tool tip it is said that they are the evil counterparts of Paladins. Arthas was even a Paladin before he became a Death Knight, which may be the case for all Death Knights, so Paladins are just as much of a hero class as Death Knights. Furthermore, there aren’t any regular Paladin units in Warcraft 3.

    Preists are regular human units in Warcraft 3, but they are also similar to Paladins since they can heal, use inner fire which increases armor like a Paladin’s Devotion Aura. In WoW they also have Power Word: Shield which is sort of like Divine Shield, and have Resurrection which is like a less powerful version of the Warcraft III Paladin’s Mass Resurrection. Also due to balancing reasons, they had made more formidable to Paladins.

    Druids could be considered a hero class as well because there is a type of hero called The Keeper of The Grove who can use Entangle, Summon Treants, has Thorns Aura, and Tranquility. Furion is considered a Keeper of the Grove and he is definitely a druid. But there are also Druids of the Claw and Talon who were just regular Nightelf units.

    Warlocks could be considered a hero class, since Archimonde was also considered a hero and a Warlock, but there are regular, non-hero orc warlocks in the game too.

    You could even say that Mages could be considered a hero class since Archmages and Blood Mages are both hero units, but there are also plenty of regular mage type units.

    Shamans weren’t hero units in Warcraft III, but the Far Seer heroes, including Thrall, seemed like a hero version of a shaman. Shamans in WoW even have Far Sight and Chain Lightning just like the Far Seers in Warcraft III do.

    Hunters aren’t really heroes, but there is a hero called the Beast Master, which Rexxar is considered, who was able to summon pets such as Misha the bear, similar to how hunters get pets in WoW. There is also a hero called the Shadow Hunter who has a ranged attack and whose primary attribute is agility. They are also similar to Elf Rangers and Priestesses of the Moon, of which Sylvannas and Tyrande were respectfully and who both had Trueshot Aura.

    The Blademaster hero could be seen as a strong warrior or rogue. He has bladestorm, just like Warriors. His wind walk ability also acts like Stealth and Ambush, since when he attacks, it breaks stealth but also does extra damage. Hit critical strike ability could be considered similar to eviscrate, just because attacking more increases the chance to get a critical strike or a more powerful eviscrate. But all classes have basic critical strikes as well.

    Monks are like the Pandaren Brewmasters heroes, and Chen Stormstout was one. They even have a spec called Brewmaster with similar spells. The Wind Walk spec is surely named after the Blademaster’s Wind Walk too.

    But at the same time, in WoW, there isn’t really any outstanding playable classes that could be considered heroes, because everyone is basically a regular unit with hero-like mechanics from Warcraft III (basically being able to level up, buy and carry things in an inventory, and having a variety of spells to use) to keep things fair. The closest thing to a hero in WoW would be a raid boss, but sometimes even those are soloable by players and may have less spells to use than a player. Today, Death Knights are a good solo class, but so are Paladins and Druids. The only big difference is that Death Knights start at a higher level, which makes sense if they were all previously Paladins (even though in Warcraft 3 Arthas became level 1 again for some reason).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>