WoW Factor: How could multiclassing work in World of Warcraft?

Not so long ago, our editor-in-chief was talking about how World of Warcraft needs some form of multiclassing system. So let’s talk about how the game could do that, yes? That’s something we haven’t talked about.

It’s actually one of those weird things that has, for various reasons, never actually come up at all as a promised feature of any sort, especially as the various specs within a class have become more and more diversified. In the earliest days, an Enhancement Shaman and an Elemental Shaman both had the same tools and had talents to emphasized different ones; these days, they share a minority of abilities and mostly get their own unique kit. You can swap between specs pretty freely, but not between classes.

But that’s not to say we couldn’t get some form of multi-classing. Heck, it felt like the various spec-bending talents for Druids were already halfway toward this sort of support, and Druids themselves sort of lean into the direction of multiple classes under one roof. So with absolutely no indication that such a feature has ever been seriously discussed beyond fan theories, let’s look at how this could work in World of Warcraft.

Sometimes you feel like a Rogue (The Final FAntasy XIV method)

On the weekends, I moonlight as a Priest.The simplest and most straightforward option here is to just let every character unlock a second class. Heck, that could even be a way to have a character in a class normally not available for a given race. Sure, you can’t make your Draenei a Rogue from the start, but once you hit level 50 you can do the unlock quest and bam! You’re able to be a Rogue now. If you want to be generous, you can imagine that you retain your overall level; you can just swap over to the other class if you’d prefer.

I also think that this sort of configuration would serve well to make hero classes more distinct by letting players swap from them but not to them. Since both Death Knights and Demon Hunters require some rather specific operations performed upon your character, it’d make sense in both directions. You can learn to be a Paladin, but you can’t learn to be a Demon Hunter, and once you have learned you can’t exactly leave that to one side.

The bright side to this system is that you would get more options for your characters and be less inclined to make a totally new character just to try out a different class. Down side? Well, it doesn’t really offer a lot that you don’t already get from swapping specs; the biggest thing it could offer are, again, classes that are normally not available to your race but can be added into the mix. It’s basically just dual spec, only more so.

Would it be fun? Sure. But it doesn’t exactly rewrite the structure of the game, just tweaks it a little bit.

Just a hint of Paladin (The Star Wars: The Old Republic method)

Astute readers of that header will point out that the game in question most certainly does not allow class swapping. And that’s true! But the Legacy system does offer you supplementary abilities for maxing out another class. Max out your Inquisitor, and you can splash some Force Lightning in for your other characters. Leveled the heck out of Trooper? You can blow stuff up accordingly.

You couldn’t necessarily do that with a Legacy system, but it’d work well as an additional system to allow you unlocking something from another class. Complete the quest chain, for example, and now your character has enough Paladin to be able to pull out some basic Paladin tricks. You could even fill it up with now-deprecated abilities, so you unlock Seals and Holy Light for Paladin or older tricks like Slam for Warriors.

And if you make these abilities not normally part of the class makeup, you get something out of having your Warrior do the quest to unlock Warrior secondary abilities.

The bright side for this is that it keeps balancing relatively straightforward; you’re not rewriting the core functionality of a class, you’re just adding an additional clump of abilities that are probably straightforward to balance around. On the other hand… well, you’re still basically part of whatever class you were before. It works for giving the feel of multi-classing, but it’s not actually multiple classes, just a dash of flavor and design. It would work, but it wouldn’t really fill the slot.

I consider myself something like a Priest.

A Survival Hunter in Arms Warrior adjunct programs (The Final Fantasy XI method)

In theory, subjobs allowed for a whole lot of blending of different mechanics, since with 22 different class options you could literally have 484 different combinations. In practice, you had about four or five choices, and all of those choices were drawn from a pretty narrow pool. But the point here is the idea, and allowing you to have a subjob in World of Warcraft would definitely open up the door to having multiple simultaneous classes.

Of course, the important thing to note about subjobs is that you do most definitely have a main class. So your Demon Hunter is still, fundamentally, a Demon Hunter; you can’t wear Monk gear or use all of a Monk’s tricks. But you could use the lower-level and more foundational abilities from a Monk spec, and allowing you to shift your subjob’s spec alone offers lots of options. Play a Demon Hunter/Paladin and use two tanking specs to be far more durable. Solo with a Fury Warrior/Mistweaver Monk to self-heal your way back from insane amounts of damage. Bring back Gladiator Stance with Protection Warrior/Outlaw Rogue.

You couldn’t quite use the simple shorthand that subjobs used, where your subjob is half the level of your main job; most of the various classes in World of Warcraft have the majority of their kit before the halfway mark anyway. But the philosophy at work would still work well. You have about half of the things that make the class work, about half of the tools. You can’t tank if you normally can’t, but it does boost you if you can tank.

This would no doubt lead to certain “optimal” configurations, and I wonder about the long-term impact about your choices if you could use two tanking specs at the same time to be really tanky. Would that become the new meta, or would people advocate all DPS specs for subjobs all the time? But these sorts of balance challenges are neither new nor unusual. It’d create some opportunities for interesting combinations, at the very least.

I employ techniques which use methods that some have described as priest-like.

Will it blend? (The Guild Wars method)

What marked your class in the original Guild Wars? Put simply, it was that you had access to a “unique” skill for that class and the armor type of that specific class. Beyond that, you could mix your main skills and your sub skills easily. So let’s go with that. Your “secondary” class lacks its Mastery skill, but past that you have the skeletons of two classes on the same class. Two sets of resources, two options for armor specialization, one character.

This would be kind of messy, but it would strictly work all right with a little tweaking. Obviously, having two different resources would be complex, but it would also mean that you could go through an aggressive rotation on one class’s abilities before doing the same on another class. Heck, you could even choose between all of the talents for both specs at once, thus keeping you limited to one set of talents; you might be a Warrior/Monk, but you can pick up mostly Monk talents to work with your Mastery and your ability choices.

One big problem with this is that it would, of course, be a fairly fundamental rework of the game’s entire design from the ground up. We’ve lasted more than a decade without any sort of multiclassing, and thus you do have a lot of classes with notable ability overlap because it’s almost a necessity. But it would also mean producing a very different sort of gameplay, and it would certainly change and revitalize some existing class design. It just requires the most work out of the options.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. For the record, if you’re wondering why I didn’t just go back to talent trees and let people select a free mix of talent trees: One, that requires casting the game’s design back about a decade, and however much I may have historically liked talent trees, that ship has sailed. And two, someone already tried that, and it was called RIFT. That had a totally different set of issues.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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