Classes Shouldn’t Be Restricted By Race

Five years ago, Everquest 2 decided to buck the trend and be one of the first and only MMORPGs to allow any race to be any class. It was a decision that was I all in favour of and one I don’t understand why it hasn’t been adopted by more games, especially considering the focus now seems to be more on the MMO and less on the RPG.

Although I’ve dabbled in real roleplaying, I’ve never done it seriously and know very little about the background and reasoning behind restricting class choice by race. Presumably it’s all about keeping the choices of the player limited to the confines of the world they play in in an attempt to maintain some sort of logic and keep it “real”. Barbarians couldn’t possibly be Wizards, for instance, because they aren’t smart enough and Erudites couldn’t be Warriors because they aren’t strong enough.

Apart from basing these decisions on assumption (there’s no reason why a Barbarian couldn’t go off to Wizard school due to some explainable reason), it seems to have very little practical implications on modern MMORPGs. I can understand it being more important in traditional table-top RPG games but, if you look at a game like World of Warcraft, the RPG element is merely an afterthought that no one really cares about. So why does the game even bother to restrict class by race? It seems to be more out of habit than anything else.

It’s not like class/race restrictions are cast in stone and carry any sort of weight anyway. We only need to look at the forthcoming Cataclysm expansion and the new combinations it offers to see that these decisions are arbitrary to say the least. WoW isn’t the first game to open up new class/race combinations either, Everquest did it a few years after it’s release. Adding new class combinations seems to be an easy trick to offer some new variation to the player without having to put much work into it and cheapens the whole argument of preserving the integrity of the game lore. Looking at the new class/race combinations in WoW, it appears that each race can go almost every class apart from one or two, a kinda meaningless remnant.

The reason I don’t want classes to be restricted by race is because I feel that I should be given the flexibility to make the character that I want. If I want to make a Draenei Rogue or a Dark Elf Paladin or a Stygian Dark Templar (why that combination doesn’t already exist boggles my mind – but that’s another post), then that should be my choice entirely.

Plus, how I roleplay my character should be up to me and I shouldn’t confined just because of some throwback to the original Dungeons & Dragons. Besides, wouldn’t be a lot more interesting to see some strange race/class combinations walking about and be able to read/hear about their individual back stories?

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29 Comments

  1. Psynister says:

    I agree with your post here. I don’t fully agree with all of the points made in the post, but if Blizzard gave me the option right now to roll whatever race/class I wanted I’d be all for it. I hate being restricted in this way more than any other.

    But, minor details aside, I love the idea of allowing all races to pick all classes and have been longing for it since the day I started playing.

    • Gordon says:

      Funny thing is, after Catalcysm, race/class combinations will almost be meaningless as there are very few forbidden combinations left.

      • I look forward to that.

        I remember in beta, I played a Dwarf Mage and LOVED him. When the game was released, there were no more Dwarf Mages, so I was forced into Gnome Warlock. That didn’t work well, and I’ve been hopping mains for 5 years.

        I look forward to Cataclysm, though, because I will be able to race change my Draenei Shaman to a Dwarf and not worry about not playing the Dwarf like I want to. I could always level my Priest form 72 to 80, but it takes so long…and this time, third time is not the charm. :(

  2. Tesh says:

    Alternatively, go with a classless system. ;) It’s all about the freedom.

  3. Longasc says:

    It depends on the MMO/world. In general I favor the free form approach. I also think we should find a replacement for levels/classes. Even if people say skill-based systems cannot be the answer to everything, they are right in this regard, but this is no reason not to try it! :)

    Some MMOs have a strong lore/background where certain things just would not work out. Think of LOTRO, some consider the runekeeper already to be a cardinal sin and out of character. But in WoW the story is largely irrelevant and weak, as the devs changed it according to their needs several times already.

    Tauren Paladins are rumored… holy cow! In this case, they also committed the sin of dual-classing, they should be consequent and dump race restrictions completely.

    • Gordon says:

      After playing EVE, I definitely agree with the classesless system. I find it a lot more rewarding although it’s certainly harder for new players to get into.

      LotRO is actually one of the games I can understand why people are so precious about the lore. Of course in new fantasy IPs, it doesn’t really matter at all.

  4. Kane says:

    Agree. As someone who DOES RP, I like having the option to have unusual combinations. That said, the RP community in every MMO I have played is a joke. I’ve always thought a skill level system would work very well. You would have all your traditional special abilities, but instead of getting new ones being based on your character level, you would need to level your weapon skill. Certain skills would only unlock if you leveled multiple weapon skills to a certain point. Some skills could combo differently depending on the other skills you have such as a high Sneak level would allow for backstabbing.

  5. Erik says:

    Completely agree that all races should able to choose all classes. Personally I can’t wait to play human/undead hunters.

    On the otherhand, from a development standpoint, it isn’t simple to make all the new class specific animations for each race, which can take some time for a game as large as WoW. So maybe Blizzard wasn’t sticking to arbitrary notions, just didn’t want to put the dev time / cost into it. *shrugs*

  6. Andrew says:

    As already mentioned, take it one step further and just remove the artificial confines of classes. What good are they, anyways?

    • Moorgard says:

      The value of classes is that they set clear roles and expectations which new players can understand fairly easily.

      ARAC (any race, any class) seemed like a good idea at the time. In hindsight, many of us probably would have gone with our original plan to restrict race/class combos. There are a couple obvious reasons for this:

      1. You can use race/class restrictions to help illustrate the core values of your races and their organizations. If only humans and Iksar can be monks, that makes you interested in the story behind that limitation.

      2. Depending on your animation workflow, duplicating class animations across all your rigs can be a significant investment. If you restrict race/class combos, you could spend your time making lots of interesting animations across fewer rigs rather than adapting fewer animations across lots of rigs. (This is why it’s easier to introduce new race/class combos later in a game’s life.)

      So it’s not a matter of restricting roleplaying or anything like that. As with all aspects of game development, race/class combos have a cost to them. Note that eliminating classes alone doesn’t solve this problem; you’d still need custom animations for whatever skills you can choose for your character across however many races you have.

      • Stabs says:

        “If only humans and Iksar can be monks, that makes you interested in the story behind that limitation.”

        I’m afraid to say that as a player I’d assume it was more or less an arbitrary decision and that story was minimal or cliched.

        I do take your point about creating animations for each combo but isn’t that the real reason for most developers and do players not intuit this or something like this? In other words only animating half of the possible combos then claiming “it’s because the World Tree got struck by lightning” doesn’t convince anyone.

        For example in Warcraft there’s a highly detailed backstory about why only Night Elves and their Tauren pupils can be Druids but a) almost all of us felt it was just some random restriction that the lore then got twisted to fit and b) they’re chucking the lore out of the window to have werewolf druids next X-pack.

      • Gordon says:

        I’d certainly agree that it can create a very accessible path in terms of story and gameplay. It’s probably a lot easier for a new player to pick an Iksar Monk and get stuck in and absorbed in the quests and starting a classesless Iksar and trying to figure out what they want from life.

        I’m really curious – what were your reasons for going with ARAC in the end?

  7. Stabs says:

    With regard to pen and paper rules function differently to rules in a computer game. It’s perfectly acceptable to break the rules in pen and paper if your GM agrees.

    For instance at the time Drizz’tt was first written about Drow were an evil race with class restrictions and Rangers were good only. Making a character a Drow Ranger was specifically breaking the rules in the name of good roleplay. Cliched it may seem now looking back but at the time it was highly original and a brilliant example of breaking the rules to create an interesting character.

  8. lsg404 says:

    ” …especially considering the focus now seems to be more on the MMO and less on the RPG.”

    The real question is, do you see this as a positive, or a negative trend, or neutral? As the audience off MMO’s grow, the games evolve to adapt to the bigger crowds. Class-race combos are clearly an “RP-ish” part of the game, if you call the integrity of the game setting that. (This also opens up the opportunity for more-rp focused games for a different, smaller audience, what may still could be big enough to design games for profitably, but that’s another story.)

    I’m sure I could “explain” to you in short sentences, why tauren paladin and worgen druids become possible, as the expansions also symbolize the passing of time, in which the face of the game world changes also, allied races can learn from each other, etc. (I personally especially liked the background of blood elf paladins in the previous expansion, syphoning out the energy of Light from a captured naaru)

    But that’s not the point, in the end, this is up to personal taste. There are settings where certain combinations would be unimaginable, say, dwarfs never going to wield arcane magic in a DnD environment, because this is an important feature of the race.

    • Gordon says:

      Personally I think it’s a bad thing that the RPG element is being lost. I don’t think it takes a lot to implement it either but when I see that WoW (the biggest MMORPG there is) doesn’t even offer the ability to provide a character bio for everyone to see, it really makes me sad :(

  9. Ferrel says:

    Fundamentally I agree with your argument that these days the RPG means less than the MMO. From a “game” stand point the race/class combination don’t make any sense. These days races have been relegated more to appearance more than lore. An MMO might come along that challenges that, however, and returns the lore importance again. Obviously WoW isn’t that game.

    Moorgard also makes a good point about cost. Animations cost money and restrictions to race/class can reduce that. I imagine in the crunch making animations work for all models is a lower importance.

    I prefer to have every choice in my MMO though. When D&D changed the system to allow any race/class combo I was upset! A gnome paladin? That is an abomination!

  10. SmakenDahed says:

    I like Moorgard’s first point which was what my immediate thought was.

    His second point rings true too. I’d rather see many different things from restricted sets (class/race combo) than all the same stuff from wide open sets.

    I think that might be an underlying dislike I had with EQ2. It all sort of looked and felt the same.

    • Gordon says:

      EQ2’s going in the other direction and trying to give the races more flavour now with unique starting areas like Kunark and Halas. I think that’s probably far more important to the player than just restricting their class choice with a paragraph of text (if we’re lucky) about why that is.

  11. My main gripe with WoW and EQ and any of the other DIKU MMOs is that they are class based at all. I still hold that skills-based games like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies (pre-NGE) hold the most intricate and fun leveling systems. SWG proved that one can implement XP into a skills-based game and still have an immersive world.

  12. His second point rings true too. I’d rather see many different things from restricted sets (class/race combo) than all the same stuff from wide open sets. Thanks for this nice post.

  13. luvy duvy says:

    iknow there gonna do it, there adding some class changes to see how people like it and now since there is few differences within the classes one day wether it be a patch or another expansion you know there gonna do it.

    this is what there doing now most likely they still lots to design like what would a gnome druid turn into and they have to adjust all the armors to make sure the tauren looks rite with the warlock armor T5 or whatever they have to adjust armor sets make new designs but it WILL HAPPEN! doing all of this is like when they are actually finally going to let us be able to fly in Azeroth it takes time to do these things

    things i will make: Gnome hunter, gnomedruid (he’s gonna be awesome in kitten form), a undead druid (undead bear form lol awesome) and undead shaman (firebolts from a undead guy = Deadbolts for the name

    what they really got to work on is the Nightelfs I tried every haircut there is and no matter what i put on him he still looks gay i say no more haircut race restrictions! everyone can get anything a nightelf getting a bloodelf haircut (spikey or swept) will rock

  14. rowan says:

    Were animations really that big a factor? I am pretty sure, based on things like the Armory and Figure Prints, that the various animations are fairly generic from a class standpoint. For instance, though there are no Human or Forsaken Hunters now, those races still have gun and bow animations, because warriors and rogues both use ranged weapons, too. And animations like calling your pet are the same as shouting.

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