Years after Hero Classes were first mentioned, they have finally arrived. Or, will arrive for the next World of Warcraft (WoW) expansion. Or, will arrive piece-wise, after the release of the next WoW expansion. The whole thing strikes me as rather silly, with Blizzard having stated, not long ago, that Hero Classes were off the table, and now suddenly back on, but not as a neat package. Really, if Blizzard was going to do Hero Classes justice, they should have an expansion expressly for them, rather than have a single Hero Class herald the coming of its eventual brethren. Let’s step back for a second, however, and consider what Hero Classes are.
Warcraft III differed from its predecessors by incorporating “hero” units, which had special abilities and were more powerful than other units. These heros were “named”, and were intricate parts in establishing the lore of the Warcraft world. In WoW, the idea of hero units lived on, and Blizzard planned to allow characters that were exemplary (i.e. a Hero Class). For each normal class, Blizzard would offer a “Hero” variant, which would likely be more specialized. In other words, a Hero Class would be like “specializing” in a particular talent tree.
While Blizzard could have a done a lot with the idea of the Hero Class, they dropped the idea because they weren’t sure how to implement it appropriately. Apparently, they never figured it out, and with the coming of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, they prove they still haven’t figured it out. Much like the Jedi class in Star Wars Galaxies, the whole Hero Class concept looks like it will do little more than rattle the very balance that WoW marginally enjoys at this point in its development cycle.
The Death Knight, being the first Hero Class announced, which will be accessible once the expansion ships, is a DPS/tank class. The ridiculous thing is, it does both of these duties at the same time, capable of tanking while dual-wielding or using a two-hander. With this concept, the Death Knight spits in the face of everything we currently know about tanking. Worse, it’s available to every race, and unlockable by every class. Where is the “evolution” from an existing class, and how will Blizzard possibly be able to balance the Death Knight with existing classes, when it is capable of playing two roles at the same time?
What we’re going to see when the new expansion arrives is everyone and their mother rolling a Death Knight. In fact, there’s no reason not to, since all it involves is completing a quest chain. Worse, Blizzard didn’t like the idea of players complaining about “losing” anything in the idea that they would “convert” their character to a Death Knight. So, players will unlock the ability to start a Death Knight, and will still be able to play their old character. Why should players not be penalized in some way for getting a more powerful class? Simple – an overpopulation of Death Knights. Just as how everyone rolled a Draenei or Blood Elf with the last expansion, everyone will want to try out the new DPS/tank class, and servers will be packed full of them, which directly contradicts the whole premise behind hero units in the first place. Just as Star Wars Galaxies ended up having a ton of Jedi running around, WoW will have Hero Classes running around by the thousands. If the plague of Death Knights isn’t enough, since Hero Classes are unlockable by only a quest chain, every Hero Class announced will have players unlocking them one by one, and rolling yet another “rare” class.
If Hero Classes really are as powerful as they seem to be, no one will be playing normal classes anymore. Eventually, instance and raid groups will be made up entirely of Hero Classes. If there’s any utility left in the normal classes, Hero Class players will have the best of both worlds, because they never have to make the decision to play one or the other.
Hopefully, Blizzard will re-evaluate how they intend to incorporate Hero Classes. My proposition is simple: one Hero Class per account per server, and the “conversion” of the character who unlocks the Hero Class. This way, people will think twice about playing a Hero Class, and the population of “hero units” on individual servers will stay low. Let characters who unlock the Hero Class “try out” the Hero Class for a given amount of time, and if they don’t like it, allow them to revert back to the normal class. In this way, characters can unlock all the Hero Classes they want, but only be able to play one. Furthermore, make Hero Classes extensions of existing classes, and limit the Hero Class to races that can roll the derivative class. For example, if the Death Knight is a combination of the Warrior and Rogue (tanking and melee DPS), then limit the Death Knight to races who can roll both Warriors and Rogues. Or, at the least, to races who can roll Warriors (since DPS Warriors are feasible).
Finally, more than one Hero Class should be available from the get-go. Don’t stretch this Hero Class shit out over the next two years, because balancing these classes over time is going to be that much more difficult.
Right now, I’m not enthused about Hero Classes at all. With so much potential for the idea, Blizzard already seems to be royally messing it up, and in turn, messing up the essence of class balance and the rest of the game.