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Lichborne: Why I play a death knight

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. In the post-Cataclysm era, death knights are no longer the new kids on the block. Let's show the other classes how a hero class gets things done.

You know, starting at level 55 and not being a vanilla WoW class, you arguably have to go through a unique process to decide to play this class. It's true that you make a conscious choice to play what class you play, but somehow, starting from level 1, it's as much a dabbling as anything, a solid start point that could branch off. With a death knight, you're already in the game. You make a solid choice to leap from one class to another. It's probably more true of those of us who started at the beginning of Wrath, deliberately choosing to leave our mains to start anew, but on some level I think it can apply to just about anyone who plays a main death knight.

With this in mind, I thought it might fun this week to establish why we play our class, focusing on my own reasons for playing it and sticking with it.

A storied history

I will admit, I tend to be sort of a sap when it comes to stories. I like stories that are clashes between good and evil, with defined boundaries. I like my knights in shining armor fighting the forces of darkness. Some people find that too simple and tidy, but if I want shades of gray, I can find plenty of that in real life. Sometimes, I just want to kick some evil ass.

Of course, this weirdly enough is tempered by a love of the whole lawful evil ideal. I love powerful evil empires that believe in strength, discipline, and dominance. Nothing quite gets to the heart of that like the trope of the dark knight. He has a code of honor, but rather than protecting the weak, he dominates them. He fights with sword and shield, but he conquers rather than liberates. He believes in what he does. He may have past trauma, and he may just believe the good guys are hypocrites, but you understand why he fights even as you understand his goals and methods are evil.

This is probably why growing up, I liked fictional characters like Lord Soth, the Nazgul, and Arawn Death-Lord. This is probably why my favorite character in EverQuest was an Erudite Shadowknight. Driven from the main Erudite city for their heresy, the shadowknights of the evil citadel of Paineel both fought to spread their doctrines of fear and dominance and to avenge themselves against the "good" Erudites.

When I first heard of WoW, I was dedicated to the idea of playing an undead death knight for this reason. The undead seemed to have a nice, lawful evil society that spread death and destruction even as they ostensibly claimed to have been wronged by their living sisters and brothers, and the death knight was the ultimate expression of the idea of a martial knight.

Unfortunately, my friends decided to play Alliance, and death knights weren't even a beginning class, so I was stuck with other characters until Wrath came along. You can understand why I leapt on the death knight when the expansion hit, though. While death knights are ostensibly good, they have that edge of darkness and rage tempering them that feeds my love for powerful lawful evil dark knights.

Why we fight

Of course, lore and backstory is all well and good, but to really stick with a character and class in a game, I still need to like how they play. Luckily, death knights scratched that itch too. As long as I've been playing RPGs, whether they be pen-and-paper, early text MUDs, or later MMOs, my instinct has been to go for the hybrid types, the ones who can generally hold their own in a front line fight but also provide some sort of extra "flash" or utility, be that some extra offensive magic, a couple of heals, or even some buffs and debuffs. I like having that balance of swords and sorcery to keep things interesting. In past games, I've found that with knight-type characters or sometimes even bard or ranger types.

In WoW, before the death knight came along, it was difficult to find a character like that. I just couldn't get into the paladin, if only because they seemed too caster-like and not physical and in your face enough. As it was, I found myself splitting my time between druid and hunter. The druid delivered a better balance of melee and utility, but unfortunately, shapeshifting meant I spent much of my time as a pure melee player, having to shift to provide any of the extra stuff I liked to do. I got good at it, but it didn't feel the same. The hunter didn't require me to shift and provided some interesting utility in the form of traps and shot debuffs, but it didn't really have the in-your-face component, although having a pet in melee helped a little.

That, then, was another reason for going after the death knight. It provided a heavy melee bruiser who also had a good selection of interesting utility and magical flavor that felt more visceral than a paladin but less closed off and limited than a druid. In story, theme, and in-game play, death knight seemed like a match made in heaven for my preferences.

The love affair continues

Of course, it's one thing to start a character; it's another to keep on. Sure, I write about death knights, but if I ever truly could not stand my death knight, it'd be sort of dishonest for me not to walk away. Luckily, I'm still in love with it for some reason.

Part of it, I think, is the disease rotation. As much as I complain about the annoyance of applying diseases, it feels like one of my favorite parts of being a death knight. Having the constant presence of diseases on my target makes it feel like I'm always contributing and always in the heat of battle, especially combined with the debuffs I can give.

The flexibility of the specs helps as well. With unholy, I can play a pseudo pet class, feeling sort of like a knight-commander as I direct "troops" into battle in the form of pets and get a mage-knight feeling that no other class really replicates through the use of Death Coil and diseases. Blood has the self-healing that I love, even if it's been scaled back in Cataclysm. Being a self-sustaining vampire is fun from both a gameplay and look and feel, in addition to providing additional gameplay options via extreme soloing. Finally, frost allows me to use Howling Blast to cut devastating swathes across the battlefield, while at the same time allowing me to sate my lust for swinging around heavy weapons via Frost Strike and Obliterate.

All of these not only have a distinct feel to them, but they allow for a nice shake-up in playstyle with a simple respec, while still holding to the core game play of a front-line heavy hitter with a good suite of debuffs and magical backup.

It's hard for me not to like the death knight. In story, flavor, and gameplay, the class really is the full package. So now I'm curious: How did you come to play a death knight? What keeps you playing?

Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.

Filed under: Death Knight, (Death Knight) Lichborne

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