Instant Class Switches – The Last Bastion of Character Restriction

Some time ago Tesh voiced his support of Allods’ class change coupons in a minipost. While he called it the small and simple things, it is remarkable how this one feature among convenience features is still essentially taboo in most of today’s MMOs. And why is that?

When World of Warcraft started off in 2004, the answer to most player wishes concerning character freedom was NO. Over the years slowly but surely, the strict regiment of a character of one name, one race, one faction, with one same look and tedious respecs, changed completely. Today, there are hardly any final parameters left for an already created character. For a fee, you can not only change your server or your character’s looks but significant allegiances such as faction or race. With WotLK, Blizzard also introduced death knights, offering players not just a new class but instant level 55 character. For the Warlords of Draenor expansion, one instant level 90 per account has already been announced, in an attempt to draw parts of that retired audience back in.


These guys could all be one character

In the light of such overwhelming flexibility, the question of instant class switches remains unanswered. You would think that in this day and age, where players are not only used to extensive alting and multi-classing in other games (Final Fantasy XI already featured this for the same character in 2002) but adjusting quickly to race -, spec- or faction-related switches, there were no genuine reasons left to prohibit such freedom in WoW or elsewhere.

What does it matter if I choose to go shaman with my priest? Will I not put in my own time to adjust to all the new abilities and have quests and dungeon runs as my harsh teachers? If I ever went back for WoD, boosting my old priest to level 90, I would essentially have to relearn the entire class after all this time. How is that so different? And who doesn’t already have several high-level alts anyway (except for me…), so why not make different classes available on the same character for those who like?

It makes no sense any more. I wonder when they’ll notice.


  1. If we’re strictly talking about this as a change to World of Warcraft, then maybe. As you said, so many people already have alts, and you can already change so much about your character anyway. With the addition of free high level characters, on its face, this seems like a no brainer.

    Only, I am not so sure I want this to be any sort of standard for the genre, and I am willing to make a stand against it here. Players should have to earn their progression, and that includes both their levels and their class. I’d hate to see World of Warcraft make this the new normal so that every upcoming MMO lets you completely alter your character for the right price, right at launch.

    Don’t feel like leveling? Cha-ching, here’s your max level character. Don’t like your server? Cha-ching, you’re elsewhere now! Oh, your class just got nerfed? Cha-ching, enjoy learning this new one. Haven’t been playing for a few content cycles? Cha-ching, here’s your current tier starter raiding setting.

    I mean, it’s not much of a game if you spend all your money avoiding playing it.

    1. I would agree with this more if there was truly so much ‘earning passage’ in the leveling process of WoW and similar games. But let’s be real, that just isn’t the case any longer; leveling up is quick and all focus is on endgame. It’s max level 5man dungeons and heroics where players get training for raids, if even that. and from that PoV I don’t think the argument is valid – not for games that have made leveling up a trivial matter, anyway.

      1. I agree. Leveling has largely become a trivial matter, and functions as little more than an elaborately annoying time sink. I’d rather fix leveling though, not further degrade it.

        That’s wishful thinking, especially when it comes to World of Warcraft. But again, there are precedents and expectations that I’d rather not see be established. It isn’t necessarily the case that class switching in WoW will lead to it in more and more games, but I’d rather not take that risk.

        At least I agree with you where it counts though, right?

      2. Hehe well, and even if you weren’t agreeing with me that would be fine. 😉 but yes, I do hear you – it’s just personally I am not sure this is a state I want to go back to myself. I’m not sure it is truly needed to restrict your players when it comes to something they need to achieve themselves, either way. what I would tell developers is look, good players are good players; they have to find their own way learning character mechanics and they will. there is no facilitation required here, just let people experiment with things. as for slower players, well they too only learn at their own speed.

        If you want to make sure people learn what’s required before endgame, all you gotta do is put the proper hoops and gatekeepers and gearchecks etc. in the game. control content difficulty and pacing. let players decide about how and in what shape to tackle the challenges. ain’t no better teacher than failure. 🙂 but that’s me, and I am as harshly for player freedom as I am willing to take the punishments that go with it. not everyone is.

      3. WoW doesn’t even want you to focus on the 5-mans any more; if you want to run something quick, do a 3-man Scenario. Want to gear for raids? LFR. 5-man instances are about to be consigned to the dustbin of WoW’s past, along with leveling out in the field.

        And no, I don’t like that one bit.

  2. Here is where I point out that The Secret World already has what you’re talking about in essence. By tying abilities to whatever weapons the character wields, switching “class” or trinity role becomes as simple as swapping weapons. The standard way to unlock the skills and abilities is by applying XP earned through playing, but boosts are available in the cash shop.

    At the same time, the RP community is as robust as any I’ve seen in a game; perhaps better than most.

    1. I find that last comment interesting. Do you think such playstyle freedoms do considerably also benefit roleplay in TSW, then? I am not very familiar with RPing myself, so that thought didn’t occur.

      1. While i am not a very active RP player, i also think TSWs system here is superior.

        I mean, one day you are a male human templar with a sword on his side, the next day you are a male human templar with a rifle on his back. In either case, you still have the same name, race and faction and thus people can relate to you. It’s not that surprising that a factions soldier (no matter how superhuman you are, you’re still a kind of soldier or agent) might be trained in the use of several weapons, after all.

        Now i take a look over the fence: one day i speak with a male elf warrior. The next day, the player invested in a change of race and gender, so now it’s a female gnome warrior. I don’t know if the “i use a sword, carry a shield and have metal armour” really is that much of a basis for roleplay, i presonally would have my doubts…

    2. I think there’s no respec in TSW *at all*, though, is there?

      So if you’re starting a a new ‘class’ on your character you’ve still got to invest XP/skill points in it starting from whatever you’ve already have in the stuff it uses, which might be zero. Opening up those skills is still part of the progression game.

      I think that’s quite a different experience from swapping to a different class as if it were a respec. Admittedly I’m don’t whether that is what Allods is doing.

      1. No respec is needed.

        And on “starting from zero”, it might happen, but it’s rare. Every weapon even in the inner wheel, which is incredibly cheap, carries along one or another role mechanic. While you can’t use more than 2 weapons in a setup, you can use the passives of all weapons, and no matter which role you try to fill, there will be passives of other weapons which synergize nicely with your setup, thus you are very likely to have at elast a solid basis of every role while just working on your chosen role.

        The bigger question thus is not, if you have the necessary abilities, you acquire them quite naturally. The real limitation is, if you never collected any gear for a role different from your primary role. But this also can be remedied with very limited effort.

      2. @SKapusniak
        Well….at the end of the day, switching class really isn’t much else than a very big respec. 🙂 one could look at it this way.

      3. You can’t “respec” per se, the abilities are exactly that, purchased (with AP) just like spells and moves in other MMOs. The skills don’t quite have as close an analog to other games, they’re more more like levels, in that they determine the Quality of weapon you can wield. Having said all that, there are straight up skill and ability points (not to mention XP boosts) available for purchase in the “Secret Store” item shop, giving an example of both instant “class swap” and “P2W.” I think they’re a bit pricey for what you get though. And I prefer the leveling/questing game over endgame anyway.

  3. If we’re going to start wishing for things I’d wish that the option for all the other examples on that list – server, appearance, faction, race, gender etc – were removed, not that another was added.

    I much preferred it when, if you wanted a different hairstyle let alone a change of race or gender, your option was to roll a new character.

    1. I’m all ears! would be nice if you elaborated on your reasons for this, maybe also how all these extra options affect you / your gaming experience. I do see a few possible consequences of course but when it comes to cosmetic restrictions like these, how do they actually make my life worse as a player? I make no secret out of loving the barber shop! 😀

      I would much rather see things like proper hoops and atunements back over telling players how many characters they need to roll.

      1. Rowan just posted a follow-on to your post and I replied there too. Basically, it’s all about character. As a “player” I’m primarily the facilitator and observer of my characters. They tell me what they want to do and I help them to do it. It needs to be consistent with their worldview from a perspective that stands within the culture of the virtual world in which they exist. (This is not role-playing, by the way).

        If the virtual world/game can be constructed in such a way that a class/race/gender change is logically consistent and culturally appropriate from the perspective of the character then that’s absolutely fine.

        Enchanters in Everquest, for example, can cast illusions on themselves that allow them to appear as all kinds of other races or even inanimate objects. A magic system that encompassed changes like that, only on a permanent basis and applied by, say, an NPC or a device, would work for me.

        Basically, I am absolutely fine with game developers permitting, encouraging and selling just about any good or service within an MMO up to and including what amounts to 100% re-writing of the character as if it had been made anew. All they have to do is gloss it with a lore-appropriate explanation that my character, not I, can understand.

        MMO developers used to do this routinely when the genre still cleaved to its RPG roots. Over time they either got lazy or younger developers, not from an RPG background, took over and it became acceptable to add utility without reference to lore, milieu or context. Only it never became acceptable to me.

        If my character can’t understand how something has happened to him or or her then it shouldn’t be happening. It’s the same rationale as why wolves shouldn’t drop plate armor.

        These things are very easy to do well yet they seldom are done well. The player who doesn’t remotely care about a lore-consistent explanation will be happy to speak to an NPC to get a haircut. A change of gender, race or class could be carried out by a powerful mage,. an ancient artifact or through a complex ritual.

        My hardline attitude as originally expressed arises out of a long-time frustration with developers just throwing in all these revisionist options with no explanation or backstory whatsoever. Because experience has taught me not to trust them to do these things the “right” way I feel it would be safer if they didn’t do them at all.

      2. First of all, your hardline stance makes absolutely no sense for something as simple as a haircut. Why *wouldn’t* they have barbers around? Why *wouldn’t* female characters be able to change their make-up and hairstyle at will? That’s hardly advance technology or magic. Depending the game you’re talking about, most barbershop/cosmetic alterations I’ve seen introduced were perfectly logical in the game world.

        Beyond that, your self-perception as an observer and facilitator of your characters is perfectly fine, for you. It is not remotely the common view of the MMO playerbase at large, regardless of their roleplaying chops. The developers are not introducing these options to ruin your game, but to cater to the (economic) demand for such options.

        It’s not a case of “if you build it, they will come.” It’s a case of “they will come, you must build it.”

      3. @bhagpuss
        “If my character can’t understand how something has happened to him or or her then it shouldn’t be happening.”

        While I would take the same exceptions as Rowan when it comes to cosmetics, I do like what you’re saying there. and that’s the thing: I don’t expect multi-classing without any effort to unlock/learn new classes. I would LOVE to see unique, epic questlines for each new class – hey, make them as long as leveling a char from 1-80 if you like (just to counter subscription timesink arguments). that would be ten times more exciting than starting over and doing the same new quests, traveling the same new areas in a different skin. nobody (well, not me) is saying multi-classing should come for free.

  4. I’m not sure I can put an argument against allowing class switches into words… just that I have a gut feel that it’s a step too far. But then, I think of free and easy respecs as being a step too far.
    I’ve always liked Sid Meier’s description of a game as “a series of interesting choices”. To me, that means that they have consequences and by and large you have to live with them, or they aren’t really choices (it also means that your game design has to make sure there’s some reason to pick any of the options, otherwise they aren’t choices, they’re rather nasty “gotcha”s). If I choose to play a shaman rather than a priest or a warrior, then that means I should be accepting that I have all the good things that go with being a shaman and in return I can’t have the good things that go with being some other class. If I can just go click on an NPC and become that other class, then there’s nothing that makes me special compared to the next character I see. In a game where people can swap class, there’s actually only one class – dilettante.

    1. If you’d rather have a less insane justification for my earlier-expressed point of view than the diatribe I posted above, Tremayne just expressed it perfectly.

      What he said!

      1. What these people said — reposting my comment from Rowan’s blog:

        If you have no classes, then people calculate the optimal point investments to make the best DPS, tank, or healer. Everyone then goes those.

        Classes allow for non-optimality — sure, your mage may do 1% less than a warlock, but it would take you months to get a warlock at the same level of gear and skill. And you probably picked a mage because you liked the archtype/playstyle. Probably don’t want to have to switch playstyles, but if you could fully respec on a whim you’d be expected to in order to optimize.

      2. Maybe. But alas, while it’s been a while since i bothered for WoW, i remember that i saw an analysis of the distribution of classes over different level ranges, and the numbers supported the assumption, that the “1% better, even if only by perception” classes had significally higher numbers in the higher tiers than similar classes which were perceived as slightly weaker. At the same time, the distribution on lower levels was more even.

        My personal conclusion? People locked into “inferior” classes, even if they are just perceived as inferior, either switch the class or drop the game. Neither of that is really an advantage for the “weaker” class.

        That all being said, i also dare to point out that players perception of the “power” of a class is quite unreliable. During my university time, i operated a MUD (Mult User Dungeon, the predecessor of MMOs) with some friends. Among our classes, we had 3 different clerics (good, evil, neutral) and players of either branch regularily gave us “reliable analysis” of fights, “proving” that one of the three branches cleariy is out of balance with the others. We administrators always “promised to look into it”, but actually never did anything, because in terms of code there was only one cleric soul, the only difference between the 3 “utterly different” kinds of clerics were the text message describign their actions.

      3. Balkoth, *some* players optimize their battle utility. (Especially when the game is almost entirely based on that utility.) Some players just role play. Some players just explore.

        None of these players will have the same goals in the game. That’s part of what makes these MMOs work; that there are a variety of players who somehow still manage to share a world.

        Increasing options to allow for more playstyles is a Good Thing in such a game.

      4. “the “1% better, even if only by perception” classes had significally higher numbers in the higher tiers than similar classes which were perceived as slightly weaker.”

        That’s not true to a significant degree at this point. All classes are brought to normal and heroic raiding. Something like 90% of specializations are brought to raiding (and those that aren’t are example where a single class has two DPS specializations or something similar).

        Class balance was wildly off through BC and I wasn’t playing during WotLK, but from Cataclysm on it’s been quite balanced overall with a few minor exceptions.

        “Balkoth, *some* players optimize their battle utility. (Especially when the game is almost entirely based on that utility.) Some players just role play. Some players just explore.”

        Who besides the battle optimizers has a need to change class?

      5. Balkoth, I’m not sure I follow your logic. there is no direct connection between multi-classing and optimization any more than there is to alts. People like to multi-class for similar reasons like having alts. They like to spend more time in the game and try different things. Are you claiming only battle optimizers have alts? Because that would be completely wrong. explorers, collectors, RPers, achievers, socializers all care for alts and developing their character(s). and yes, it can “also” be a way to learn about other classes in order to optimize. how is an optimizer’s “need” greater than anyone else’s? being a raider isn’t the only valid playstyle in an MMO.

        The main difference between alts and multi-classing is how we like to approach character: do we think of ourselves as one character or do we prefer the split into many different alts? in the end, a question of identification.

      6. “Balkoth, I’m not sure I follow your logic. there is no direct connection between multi-classing and optimization any more than there is to alts”

        I’m saying that you’ll be most invested in your main and have more gear/progression on it.

        In other words, let’s say I play a warrior and a rogue. Warrior is my main. Due to gear or other character progression he deals 10% more damage. Suddenly a patch makes it so that a rogue does 1.5% more damage than the warrior all else equal.

        Switching to the rogue would leave me 8.5% damage behind until I “caught up” — so unless I am fully committed and have enough time to catch the rogue up (which is likely very difficult), I might as well stay on my warrior.

        In a “free class” system, I’d be expected to immediately respec my warrior to be a rogue, even though I’d prefer to play a warrior — because the rogue is now better.

        The inability to switch on a whim allows me to keep my preferred playstyle.

      7. I see what you mean now. yeah that situation may occur for players in that sort of very competetive raid guild. but then, hardcore PVErs already have to play specs they might not like today or reroll class in the type of progress-oriented guilds you speak of. my own guilds used to enforce such rules back in vanilla. for example, we didn’t allow shadowpriests in raids, paladins had to be holy and rogues were encouraged to reroll warriors for a while.

        In the end, it’s a player’s own choice to join a guild like that, and the issue you mention is created socially rather than because of multi-classing alone.

      8. Rogues were encouraged to reroll warriors in Vanilla? Rogues were amazing DPS with great threat management.

        Shadow Priests and non-Holy paladins weren’t really raid viable at all, that’s very different from what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a situation where one class goes from being 2% worse to 2% better or something. You’re talking about a situation where a mage/warlock/etc are 300% better than a Shadow Priest or something. Any Shadow Priest in a raid in Vanilla was just a novelty.

        “In the end, it’s a player’s own choice to join a guild like that, and the issue you mention is created socially rather than because of multi-classing alone.”

        Guilds like that (meaning guild which want to progress through bosses) want their players to be the best they can be. How eager would you be to keep a player who said “I don’t care if casting Frostbolt does more damage than Fireball, I want to cast Fireball!” while you keep wiping on a boss at 2% or something.

      9. The competitive raid guild pressure is a different discussion you’re having here. even if it ties into multi-classing or alts, for you, it’s still a separate issue that’s rooted in social demands. that’s what I was trying to tell you. it also only concerns one subset of playstyles that are not the only playstyle that’s concerned by multi-classing.

        And yes, at the end of vanilla fury was OP for a good time while being a great rogue wasn’t as simple. we had many ppl using alts for that window. vanilla was full of ups and downs like that, depending on gear tier.

      10. “it’s still a separate issue that’s rooted in social demands.”

        Do you see a difference between people wanting to use 3 tanks and 2 healers in a group (as opposed to the standard 1 tank, 1 healer, and 3 DPS) and people wanting someone to play a warrior which does 2% more DPS than a rogue? Both are technically questions of optimization and both are social — in all likelihood, you could eventually succeed with any of those options.

        However, using 3 tanks and 2 healers is a much different “decision” than using a warrior over a rogue.

        Likewise, a person wanting to play Shadow in vanilla is like the person wanting 3 tanks and 2 healers — it’s a completely different ballgame compared to optimizing rogue versus warrior.

        Though maybe I’m misunderstanding your point.

        “And yes, at the end of vanilla fury was OP for a good time while being a great rogue wasn’t as simple.”

        Er…what? A rogue could get by with 2 buttons:

        Slice and Dice


        A great rogue would use Vanish every 5 minutes, Adrenaline Rush every 3, and Blade Flurry every 2. Five buttons of significance during a fight.

        A combat daggers rogue (the best spec) in Vanilla was extremely simple to play and extremely effective. Fury warriors might have outscaled them extremely good gear but rogues weren’t that far behind (and were still heads and shoulders above most DPS).

    2. @Tremayne (and others)
      I have to disagree with you a bit. 🙂 my main two issues are beautifully summarized here: “….just that I have a gut feel that it’s a step too far. But then, I think of free and easy respecs as being a step too far.”

      Gut feels are one thing and while they matter too, in this debate I am looking for sober comparison and potential technical backlash. now, it’s the second part of that quote which is so important and why I’m playing a bit of a devil’s advocate for multi-classing. let’s face it, being able to dualspec (some races include up to 4 roles) and log on an alt in one minute, playing 10 alts a week isn’t any different. that supposed ‘specialness’ is lost on me in WoW. and people have in fact discussed the issue of “alt dilettantism” for years there. also, where does it say unlocking a new class on your main needs to be easy? what if it included questlines and achievements that are that much harder than a mindless quest grind from 1-80 that you already know by heart? Don’t think just WoW here, think bigger. FFXI had heroic classes you couldn’t easily unlock on your main, it took effort. It made for fantastic new stories on your main.

      Either way, no matter your playstyle, someone still needs to prove to me how logging on my alt VS switching to my second class (which I earned rights to) is so incredibly different in MMOs. the only argument I would accept at this point is leveling = timesink for subs. and a game can offer alternatives for that (such as heroic questlines).

      1. I think that I’m going to go with what’s probably the Bhagpuss answer to your question – swapping to an alt is swapping to an alternate in-game person, while changing the class of a character is a fundamental change to the very nature of that in-game person. It would be like me waking up one morning as a fantastically-accomplished rock guitarist instead of a moderately skilled telecoms consultant – it would weird me out. Or to use an example of two of my old WoW characters – Timberwolf was my orc shaman, Seethe was my orc rogue. I had no problems doing one raid as Timberwolf and my next one as Seethe, any more than I have a problem with writing two different chapters of a book from different points of view. However, it would be wrong for Timberwolf to lose his connection to the elements and start stealthing about with poisoned weapons because, well, then he wouldn’t be Timberwolf.

        Now, none of this matters from the ‘gamer’ perspective where your online character is just a “toon”, a set of skills you use to achieve your objectives. From that point of view, having to level up separate characters for each class is just an unnecessary barrier. But it’s a very real issue for those of us who find the idea upsets our old school roleplayer DNA, because if it makes the game feel wrong to us we probably won’t play it. And if we don’t play, we don’t pay.

        As an aside – I have no problem with the sort of role switching you have in RIFT. Maybe because it makes sense within the game lore, or maybe I’m just inconsistent 🙂

  5. I don’t know, I’m all for giving people options but I think there needs to be a certain amount of restrictions and differentiation between certain types of characters. Having adaptable characters is good but not when that removes the distinction between them.

    I personally like the interdependence that happens when classes can’t do or be everything. You rely on others are creat interesting combos to compensate.

    I also think it would cause a bit of a crash in wow if it was implemented. It seems to me like the main time factor in wow now is levelling alts and keeping them geared, without that people wouldn’t stay dubbed nearly as long. You see a crash after an expansion like 3 or more months later, instead with that you might get one.

    Have a look at the long term interest of games with Nd without some sort of restriction. Alting in GW2 is massive and in TSW minimal. You want to create content for people, especially on release and this adds a huge amount of more time to consume players.

    1. You are right on the fact that Alting is less frequent in TSW than in other games. But even there, i know people who run several alts, even of the same faction. They do so for either roleplay reasons or for they “feel” different and perform different roles on different characters.

      Next to that, i also dare to point out that interdependence is very much a thing in TSW, too. While you don’t have fixed classes, you still rely on everybody in your team doing their assigned job. At the same time, as long as everybody has the necessary gear available, you can re-distribute your tasks if somebody just can’t handle one thing or just that day is not in best shape.

      One good example of this flexibility is dungeon, where my tank when we started out regularily failed to protect me. So while he was a rock-solid tank for all the rest of the dungeon, we always switched roles at that one specific fight. In the end, him being the healer for several fights taught him the problems and he learned to intercept them. We still, no matter how the roles were distributed, very much depended on each other, but due to everybody doing what he at that fight felt more apt to do, the overal experience was better than if we’d been locked in fixed classes.

    2. @J3w3l
      I agree with you that WoW is simply built that way and adding a timesink to the game via alts. however, if you see my response to Tremayne just above, very strictly speaking I can imagine much better ways for that ‘timesink’ that could go with multiclassing.

  6. I’m in ‘no thanks’ camp on the one hand. But on the other hand I’m playing FFXIV. By this point I’m easily last person in my guild with only one job and to some extent that defines my character; I’m the Not Dilettante in a world of dilettantes.

    Even more absurdly I got into the crafting last month. No-one is a goldsmith but anyone is a goldsmith-at-the-moment. I’ve deliberately ignored one crafting and one gathering profession to prevent myself getting Master of the Hand and Land titles, as having them defines the ‘crafter guy’ in our guild. In 3-6 months I’ll be the only guy without them.

    1. Sounds like you’re playing like me 😉 hehe….I only ever have one main, especially in games that force me to alt otherwise, and I don’t tend to craft much. but I am still having this debate because what fundamentally bugs me is that multi-classing should be worse or even so different from what people do with their 10 alts in WoW. it isn’t – and that’s why I have to poke holes into the whole theory, whether it concerns my own playstyle so much or not! =D

  7. Personally, I don’t see why not. I have to admit the advantages are not as big as they would be in the old times; nowadays all characters are expected to be viable in any part of the game, save maybe for the most difficult content; and many special rewards or achievements can be shared among characters, so people don’t end up without their favorite whatever when they start to feel a different playstyle would suit them more. It can happen – after all, most games “tell” you next to nothing about the classes while forcing you to chose one. Will I find this class fun? Will I find it boring? Who knows, I’ll only learn what I was tested from much later, when the decision has been made. (The same can be said about server transfers – you’re going to be tested from things you will only learn much later.)

    There’s still advantage for business, after all, I would say their characters (and characters’ items, achievements etc.) is one thing that keeps people from moving to a different game. The other is their friends but these days it’s much easier to keep in touch with friends after leaving the game than it was… but still, a person who leaves because they decide they may as well start in a new game when they’re forced to start over, may take some of their friends with them.

    Lore is an interesting argument – the class really is more like a calling and it would be nearly as odd for a character to switch races. Sorry if you find me ironic in a rude way. 😉 I’m not worried about players’ lack of experience in playing new characters either, what kind of experience is there that makes e. g. retribution paladins really good at healing as holy but doesn’t transfer to playing arms warrior?

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