All Races, All Classes?
A new face on the PTR's
I can, of course, claim credit for the latter. In the comments of my Blizzcon predictions from earlier this week, I wrote:
"It doesn't sound like Blizzard is willing to throw in the towel on lore-based race/class restrictions just yet (this WILL happen, but not as a marquis feature of this expansion), so we can scratch Pallies, Shamen, and Druids and figure that the new races get the other seven classes. /yawn."
When I write something like that, Blizzard tends to make me look foolish in relatively short order.
Now, a few new combinations (one for each race except Draenei, with two Tauren and Dwarves) alone does not prove that they're allowing all races to be all classes. Once you look at the actual list, though, it becomes harder to understand.
- Dwarf mages were removed during WoW's beta because the lore says that the Dwarves of Ironforge don't do arcane magic - that's the evil Dwarves. Not the hugest stretch, but they clearly did feel strongly about this once upon a time.
- Dwarf Shaman is a bit more of an issue. The Alliance didn't have Shamen until the Exodar crashed in Kalimdor. Was that really enough time ago for someone to have class changed? Then again, the lore says that Draenei Shamen were founded by a fallen Pally, and Dwarves can be Pallies, so maybe.
- Troll Druid begins to push it. We've never seen a single druid outside of the two traditional races, Night Elf and Tauren.
- Night Elf Mages?! Wasn't the whole reason why the High Elves split from the Night Elves a disagreement over the use of arcane magic?
In short, it appears that my far-fetched expansion idea may not have been as far off as I thought. If MMO-Champion is right - and it's a credible rumor, emerging at about the right time relative to the con - then this will be an expansion that heavily encourages alts, giving Blizzard time to revamp the remainder of the old world of Azeroth (including flight). New races and new race/class options may increase demand just enough to allow that to happen.
Expect the new expansion to be all races, all classes.
No Gear Reset?
The other half of the rumor is that the level cap will only increase by five levels, and that the Onyxia revamp is only the beginning of the raid content revamp. This is a game changer for itemization, because it paves the way for the next expansion to avoid a total gear reset. A few of the various things that become possible in the context of a smaller level increase:
- Blizzard is pressed for time, and old content is sitting, unused and ready to go.
- Between 10 and 25 man loot and hard modes, item level inflation is going to be absolutely out of control by Icecrown. Bringing the level 81 quest reward greens up to that level would be nuts.
- By extension, the decision to add better loot to existing 5-mans makes sense if there will be no gear reset, with expansion content tuned around higher end gear from current dungeons.
- Icecrown, like Naxx v1.0 and Sunwell before it, would arrive relatively close to an expansion. A smaller level increase with no gear reset would make that content remain relevant as possibly the level 85 entry level endgame, allowing more players to actually see the end of the Wrath story arc.
- This also avoids the problem Blizzard faced at the Wrath launch, where there was only time for either an entry level raid OR tougher content and Blizzard felt that they had to choose the entry level. With the older content (Icecrown and recycled stuff) serving as entry level, they will be free to tune the new content for elite players.
- The talent trees get more and more precarious every time Blizzard adds 10 more points. Meanwhile, Blizzard has shown no interest in adding more than a handful of legitimately new spells each expansion. Five levels means fewer new talent points and fewer levels without new spells.
- With recycled raid content, Blizzard could conceivably provide a leveling path in raid content. There's no need to disperse your guild into half a dozen five mans if there is raid content that offers good loot upgrades and experience straight from level 80-85.
Overall, if this is how the announcement plays out, there does seem to be a little something for everyone. Group players don't have their gear reset. Alt-a-holics get a vast world of new possible race/class combos, including new races, and revamped content to make the leveling path more polished. Blizzard gets to reuse a ton of content, launching the expansion faster than anticipated for lower development costs while they work on their Mystery Projects.
That said, there are some catches. Will there be as much new leveling content for the 5 new levels as for 10 of the current expansions, or will new solo content for characters currently at the cap get the short end of the stick? Will players, solo and group alike, miss having legitimately new content to go with their revamped stuff, if there indeed will not be a new continent? How big is the demographic that really always wanted to make another WoW alt but never got around to it because they weren't happy with race choices or travel times? If they do balance expansion content around ilvl 200+ epic gear, how will new players who hit level 80 gear up for the new expansion?
Obviously, we can't be certain that this isn't some red herring, if for no other reason than because I have now written about it. (Some of my earlier speculation may end up being relatively accurate, but I guess that's the advantage of the shot-gun approach.) They HAVE to know that people datamine the PTR's by now. If this all holds up, though, we certainly won't be able to say that they just gave us another continent and 10 levels just like the last two expansions. For that reason alone, the Cataclysm sounds like it might be the way for WoW to go.