If you’re familiar with the term ‘hero class’ in World of Warcraft then you’re probably a long time player considering the first one introduced was the Death Knight way back in Wrath of the Lich King, a lot of people’s favourite expansion. The second was the Demon Hunter introduced in Legion but the term ‘hero class’ wasn’t really used much in their hype train. It was more focused on the “You can be Illidan.” Kind of hype.
Both of these classes had one requirment that made them stand out. You had to be a specific level in order to play them. With Death Knights it was level 50 and Demon Hunters it was level 100. (Because WoW’s level capped used to be 120, crazy I know.)
All this really meant was that hero classes were A) A reward for long time players B) A way to introduce new and lore friendly classes that could immediatly, or relatively quickly for Death Knights, join in on current content. And C) A great way to keep people playing and thus paying.
With the announcement of the third hero class coming in Dragonflight, the Dracthyr Evoker, I wanted to take a look at what Blizzard has done with hero classes and what they could have done.
Class & Playstyle Variety
The first major, and probably obvious, thing that hero classes introduced was variety. When Death Knights were introduced it was the first time ever that a new class had been added to the game. In Burning Crusade the Horde got Paladins and the Alliance got Shamans but you could easilly get around that with a second character. This was different. This was exciting. This was DEATH KNIGHTS!
Death Knights could be tanks or DPS and while these roles aren’t new to WoW how the Death Knights went about tanking was fairly unique in terms of mechanics and playstyle. If you remember tanking pre-Pandaria then you’ll remember it wasn’t all that simple. Managing your aggro with various abilities and also having to monitor your damage because you needed to do just the right amount or it could cost the raid/dungeon. Death Knights didn’t change this perse but instead changed how you did it.
A lot of people complained, at the time, that Death Knights were basically just DPS tanks. And they’re not wrong. Instead of managing various cooldowns, aggro, etc. You kind of just played like a DPS and the tanking came with it. Of course there’s more specifics to it but overall, it was a big change.
Demon Hunters are basically more of that but even more drastic. I came back to WoW for Legion and stayed for the Demon Hunter. My previous main was a Retribution Paladin. I know, not very original. Demon Hunters were all about life-steal and survival through self healing rather than damage mitigation. Of course they still had that but they were more like Monks in Pandaria than they were your classic Protection Warrior. They were also incredibly mobile tanks. Vengeance Demon Hunters could leap across the battlefield multiple times so if, for some reason, a new enemy joins the fray you didn’t just have to rely on your short range taunt in order to rectify the problem.
Hero classes were meant to be played by veterans of WoW. Heroes even. Now we could argue all day about whether or not these class’ playstyles were actually more technically demanding but that was the vibe that Activision-Blizzard wanted to put forward. They wanted the hero classes to have gravitas.
Lore and Story
I’m not going to say that the hero classes were the first to have lore and story but what they did with the story is pretty exciting and cool. The Deathknight had an introductory questline that, instead of introducing you to your race and faction, it introduced you to the world and where you fit into it as a Deathknight. You start out as one of Arthas’ own Deathknights. What this means is that you have no free will and submit to the will of the Lich King.
Without going into dramatic detail you obviously free yourself from his control, rebel along with your other Deathknights and then join the faction your race would normally be part of. But throughout this starting questline you get to experience how the other half lives. You slaughter innocents, force choke prisoners like you’re Darth Vader and literally get to be a bad guy.
There’s a bunch of cool little lore moments in the questline like forging your own runeblade, talking with and being educated by characters that were previously raid bosses in Naxxramas. It also reintroduced a pretty under used faction in WoW the Scarlet Crusade. Throughout all of this you are a part of the story. You are the centre of attention. You are the protagonist.
With the Demon Hunters, again, it’s all the same but turned up to 11. Not only are you important to the story, you are literally the leader of the Demon Hunters. (Along with thousands of other players named 1ll1d0n.) Through the Demon Hunter questline you are almost deified in your actions of retaking the Demon Hunter home plane and striking a grievous blow against the Legion.
With the introduction of Class Halls in Legion, all of WoW’s classes got a similar treatment of becoming the leader, or at least a high ranking member of your classes Order Hall. Throughout the expansion you have your very own quests that feel like they’re just for you. Not only that you even got quests related to your specialization in the form of artifact weapons. Whether or not you liked the overall borrowed power kind of vibe Acti-Blizz had created with this, it did feel pretty cool to be acknowledged as a Retribution Paladin or a Vengeance Demon Hunter or even a stupid Hunter.
Where Are They Now?
So here is where the problem comes in with Hero Classes. So far, all three hero classes are being introduced in order to combat a specific enemy. With Death Knights it was the undead legion. With Demon Hunters it was the legion legion. And with the Dracthyr Evoker it’s going to be whomever is the big bad of Dragonflight.
This is a perfectly fine reason to introduce a class. It works with the story and often is released before the expansion itself in order to set up key plot elements and also get people hyped. The problem then lies in what happens after the expansion. Because with DKs and DHs, we won. We beat the big bad. In Wrath we actually KILL the Lich King. He’s dead, done, caput, dethroned. So all of a sudden the Death Knights are left adrift with no master to serve and no great enemy to defeat other than the enemies of their faction.
For five expansions the Death Knights were just another class, nothing heroic about them. Until Bolvar Fordragon begins stirring and we get another dive into who we are as a class in Legion. Now I’m not saying the Death Knights weren’t involved in WoW lore but they weren’t used particularly well nore was it explored in any detail what it meant to be a Death Knight post Lich King.
If you’ve read some of the short stories we did get to explore what it meant for Sylvanas now that the driving force for her existence, her murderer and former master Arthas, was dead. The short answer is, she kills herself. Literally throws herself off the top of Ice Crown and impales herself on the spikes below. Of course she comes back and this was, supposed, to be the first hint at Shadowlands. She finds new purpose and continues on. My question is: Why weren’t the Death Knights mentioned in this? Why couldn’t she find solace and comfort in the Death Knights who were also adrift? Darius Mograin, an excellent character, had nothing to say to her? Darius Mograin had no significant involvement in the next 5 expansions. I guess he was just off moping about his dead Dad?
With Demon Hunters it’s almost more complex. At the end of Legion we don’t kill the big bad. We imprison him. The creator of the modern demon hunters, Illidan Stormrage is his jailor and eternal combatent. Why exactly would any of the demon hunters not simply join him in the monolithic task of keeping a titan in chains? Demon Hunters are people who voluntarilly gave up everything they possibly could to forge themselves into weapons to fight the Legion. That’s it. That was their soul purpose in life.
Now you could argue that, yes, there are still demons in the universe and on Azeroth. But their driving purpose was the defeat of Sargeras the Fallen Titan. I’m not saying that they now have no purpose but what I am saying is that there’s no real lore reason for them to stay with their faction. They already abandoned them almost a decade ago to become Demon Hunters. They faught against their faction when they assaulted the Black Citadel. So why now, all of a sudden, do they need to stay?
It’s only been two expansions since Legion but we’re already seeing Demon Hunters fall into the background the same as Death Knights. I don’t want it to sound like DKs and DHs should be more important than other classes. My point is more that these are factions in and of themselves and should be treated as such in the story. If you’re a horde player there is no longer a Warchief. Instead there is a council that has representatives from each race. In my opinion there should also be representitives for the Demon Hunters and the Deathknights.
While yes an argument can be made that all classes should then have a representitive. Other classes aren’t the same. Two Shaman do not necesserilly consider each other as kin. A hunter does not first acknowledge another hunter by their bow, animal companion and weird look on their face. Other classes are members of the Horde/Allience first and their class second. For Hero Classes it’s the reverse of this. Death Knights are united by their shared traumatic experiences and undeath. Demon Hunters are allies against the greatest threat to the known universe. Their bonds as a profession are more important than anything. And yet, there really aren’t any notable Death Knights or Demon Hunters influencing or involved in faction politics.
None of that would really be an issue if there was a reason for it. A justification other than “You have joined our faction, here’s a badge and a mount, go murder the other guys.” It also doesn’t have to be handled in game. Activision-Blizzard has shown they’re quite happy to explore lore outside of the game with short stories posted online or whole books.
We don’t yet know the major points around Dracthyr Evokers yet but what we do know is that they can only be played by Dracthyr and Dracthyr can only play Evokers. We also know that they will chose a faction much like the pandaren did. We currently don’t have a justification as to why they would chose between the factions of the mortal races and not just work with/for the Dragonflights, we don’t and won’t have a justification as to why they stay with them. We also don’t know how it’s going to feel story wise to play them. Will it be like Legion with that order hall vibe? Or more like Death Knights where you do your amazing starting quest and then it’s just “play the expansion.”
I’ve recently been playing Star Wars The Old Republic and while their are generic quests everyone can do, each class has its own set of story quests that carry you through the story of each expansion. If BioWare can do that with whatever two penny pieces EA throws their way, I don’t see why we couldn’t get something similar from one of the most popular MMOs of all time.
I truly would love it if every expansion I had a neat quest line to play through that just kept me updated on what my class is doing and why it’s important. “Hey I know there’s all this Titan stuff going on but that doesn’t mean Demons have all stopped being a problem. Come smack this guy down please.” I mean the Shamanistic order is literally supposed to be stopping Azeroth from cracking in two if the new firelord gets a bit miffed. Why aren’t we, as one of the most powerful and notable shamans on the planet, not involved in that? Warriors have existed since any sentient species picked up a stick and hit their enemies with it. Surely there’s something that order hall could be doing on the side instead of standing around in literally Valhalla all day. And I’m sure there’s an angry cat somewhere that hunters could go pester.
Overall if you look at the hero classes in modern WoW, they’re just another class except they start at a higher level. If you look at them from a story perspective, their hay day is over and there’s basically no reason for them to care about what’s going on on Azeroth. So ultimately, what makes them heroes?