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How flexible is too flexible when it comes to gameplay?

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Way back in the days of vanilla WoW, your character was something you were stuck with, as well as your talents. If you wanted to unlearn your talents, you were certainly welcome to do so, as long as you didn't mind paying a lot of gold to do so. Once you made a character on that server, it stayed there. Once you chose your gender, hair and facial features, you were stuck with them. If you chose Alliance, that character remained Alliance for good.

Over the years, we've had a lot of small things introduced that allowed us a little more flexibility with the characters we love to play. You can change realms, factions, hair, gender, race -- you can completely change who your character is at the drop of a hat. Mists of Pandaria is introducing a host of new features intended to give the game some added flexibility by allowing characters to share achievements, mounts and pets across an entire account. This means that players are no longer limited to what character they play. You can switch between characters and still have the same benefits.

There's just one thing that Blizzard has never, ever wavered on, one last point of rigid inflexibility when it comes to the characters we play: class.


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Cynwise over at Cynwise's Warcraft Manual had an excellent post the other day with an intriguing point: Why, out of all of the sweeping changes Blizzard has made to character flexibility, do we not have an option to change the class we play? Currently, Blizzard is doing everything in its power to make sure those who wish to play a new class can do so without losing the achievements, mounts and pets they may have gathered on their main character. I have a guildmate who has changed classes more times this expansion that I care to think about. He has achievements and rare mounts scattered all over his cavalcade of alts.

One of his characters defeated Icecrown Citadel on 25-man heroic mode. One has vaulted through Firelands with us; one was present in Blackwing Descent. I can't keep track of which of his characters has done what -- and I don't know if he can either, at this point. Some have achievement drakes; others do not. He is a flexible player, however, and he will happily start playing yet another alt as his main if the guild needs him to do so. But each of his alts have spotty records as far as accomplishments go. Some have heroic kills of current tier; some only have kills of older raids.

In Mists of Pandaria, no matter what character my guildmate is on, he'll finally have a combined total of all accomplishments he's garnered in his raiding career. His achievements -- all of them -- will finally be viewable. The mounts he's gathered over years of play will finally be accessible. Frankly, the only thing he's mourning at the moment is that his TCG loot items are still tied solely to one character -- but otherwise, he's thrilled that he'll be able to use everything he's obtained over the years.

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But in his post, Cynwise has pointed out the one really odd thing about Warcraft gameplay. Blizzard has given us a ton of options for swapping the appearance, gender, race, and location of our characters. Now it is giving us a way to use items obtained on one character on another. Much of what they are doing in Mists, the features they are offering, are for players like my guildmate -- players who want to swap classes but are loathe to do so because it means they'd lose thousands of achievement points, rare mounts and pets. It seems that Blizzard is going out of its way to make changing classes as painless as possible.

The easiest and simplest way for players to change classes would be to simply allow class change as a paid service. Pay $25, $30, $50 and you could go from a max-level rogue to a max-level mage. Poof, zip, done. Why then, Cynwise asks, hasn't this been done? What would be the harm in allowing it? If Blizzard wants players to have the flexibility, why not remove the one thing keeping a character from being completely flexible?

It's an interesting change to consider, but there are several factors against this, some of which Cynwise touches on -- gear for example, particularly tier sets. If a character is draped in the best tier gear, what would happen to it when they swapped to another class? How would the database handle class-specific mounts like the felsteed and paladin's charger?

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I think the biggest obstacle in allowing paid class changes is simply this: It would limit the scope of the game in terms of replay. Players would no longer feel the need to roll alts or play them -- why would you, when you can simply pay to change to the class you want? In addition, there's also the fact that leveling isn't just about replaying content. It's about learning how to play the class. By the time you hit 85 on an alt, you've reached a basic understanding of how to effectively play. If you simply pay to class-change, how would you know what attacks to use? What rotation is best? How would you know how to play?

In the end, while the question of paid class changes is an intriguing one, I think perhaps it's the one thing that shouldn't be allowed to change. Flexibility is all well and good, but too much of it leads to instability and frustration. There needs to be a solid base, and flexibility can be built around that base as long as that base is still intact. In World of Warcraft at least, a chosen class forms the base of what a character really is, not their race, gender, or physical attributes.

What do you think? Do you think class changes should be a paid service? Do you think it would be good for the game? Or do you think the account-wide achievements, pets and mounts on top of everything else is enough as far as character flexibility goes? If you had an option to pay and change your class, would you take it?

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Mists of Pandaria

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