Neither Cataclysm nor Mists of Pandaria have introduced another hero class. The former instead chose to bring us two new races, the goblin and worgen, while Mists of Pandaria added the pandaren race and the monk class, but the monk starts at level 1 like any other class. Forum poster Lobster asked point blank if monks were a hero class, and the answer was a definitive no from Ghostcrawler.
This got me thinking: do we want another hero class? Clearly, Blizzard isn't ruling it out. As the game continues, max level increased, and we all find ourselves having to get from 1 to an ever increasing number, the idea of starting at level 55 (as per the DK) or perhaps even higher starts to have some serious appeal.
Pros and Cons of the Hero Class
The positives of the current idea for hero class design are fairly simple to enumerate. You start at a higher level, meaning that it takes less effort to get one to max level. You can skip all the content below your starting level, and since the DK had a unique starting experience that teaches class abilities, you are effectively given a kind of tutorial in how to play your character as well. In addition, since you have a set of gear to start and an improved set of gear at the end of the starting experience, you're all set to begin running dungeons as soon as you step out of it.
Using the DK as our hero class template, we can see that a central location for them was provided, serving as a simultaneous training hub and neutral home base if and when it's needed. The DK has the unique runeforging system, meaning that DK's never use weapon enchants, and their resource system is unique to them. They get a free epic land mount. In addition to all of this, their leveling experience also provides the player with a very singular, tailored experience unlike what other players will undergo that give them a real sense of class identity.
There are downsides, however.
When the death knight was introduce it was not easy to balance the class against others. In fact, they were more unique when they went live, able to tank or DPS in any spec, which the designers felt made them so difficult to balance against other tanks or melee DPS that they had to lose that concept. Hero classes aren't designed to be inherently stronger than others, but it's often very difficult to preserve the cool new features while keeping them balanced with other classes. Also, because the death knight can skip up to 58 levels of content and almost immediately jump into Outland, they don't necessarily feel much like they're part of the world. And we all remember seeing dozens of DK's everywhere we went once Wrath went live. Even today, they're a very popular alt to roll because you can get them to max level much faster. This can kind of dilute their coolness and unique feeling.
Hero Classes Done Differently
Of course, just because the death knight is our only hero class to date, it doesn't follow that any new hero class would have to slavishly ape its every aspect. Blizzard seems to be defining the hero class as simply a class that starts at a higher level and gets some neat perks and that's it. You don't have to have them start at level 55, they don't have to use a unique resource system, and they don't have to have an elaborate starting experience or a trainer hub. Heck, druids have Moonglade and they're not a hero class.
You could just as easily have a hero class start at level 20. That's still higher than most classes start. A hero class doesn't have to have a runeforging analogue, doesn't need to have a unique resource mechanic. You could justify a hero class that started at whatever level made sense for the expansion it launched during, which got a full set of blue gear or which didn't, this is all to be determined when the idea for the class itself is decided upon. The runemaster, if it had made it in as a hero class, could have used an entirely different kind of rune system, could have started at level 35, it really comes down to what will serve the presentation of the class better. I personally think a hero class starting at level 40 would be cool and interesting, as that's still high enough to avoid a lot of the lower level quirks of not having x ability or y talent yet and still gives you a fair chunk of leveling to do to unlock all your talents and abilities.
In the end, as it stands the monk ended up a normal 1 to 90 class, the same as everyone but DK's. Do we need another hero class? I couldn't say. I don't really think we need more classes, period, we have plenty by this point. Several class ideas like blademasters, demon hunters, runemasters and necromancers have some or all of their conceptual kits parceled out to classes we already have. But in the end, if Blizzard comes up with an idea they love, we could well see another hero class.
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!