Does racial customization remove the need for Allied Races?
This week, we found out that Void and Blood Elves were getting a series of customization options that would include skin tones and glowing blue eyes that would allow either to look like a Warcraft II-era High Elf. Now, some might be upset that this means it’s unlikely that either faction will ever truly get playable High Elves, but to me this feels like the dawning of a new era in World of Warcraft, one that could finally allow for players to make those rare characters they’ve always wanted to play without whole new mechanics being introduced.
We’ve talked before about allowing for customization options that would allow, as an example, a Forsaken Warlock to play as a Necromancer — leave all their spells functionally exactly the same, but add cool new spell effects and skins for demons to make them look like undead instead. You could do this with special class options for specific races, so that Blood Elf Paladins and Warriors could be Spellbreakers, Tauren could be Chieftains, Night Elf Rogues could be Wardens, etc. With this change to Void and Blood Elves that allows both groups look like High Elves, I’m going to ask the question — what if every race and allied race got special customization options that let them look like members of other races? Would that mean we would no longer need any new Allied Races?
The case for customization
Imagine if Kul Tiran and Human characters could make themselves look like Vrykul. Maybe Orcs could look like Chaos Orcs or Pale Orcs. Tauren could get Taunka and Yaungol options, and there would be a whole host of options for Trolls to look like Amani Forest Trolls or Frost Trolls or what have you.
As cool as Allied Races are, they have some distinct downsides. They tend to require reputation grinds, they often have to be designed and balanced with unique racial abilities — maybe we’d be better off with any future groups that could be added as customization options instead of whole new races going that route?
For example, Ogres might not be something we could do with any current race, and Naga would be an even harder sell. Some races, yes, you’d need to design and implement them. Vulpera? Absolutely. But Mechagnomes? We could have done them as a series of options for all Gnomes, ultimately. Imagine if we let Pandaren make choices that would make them look like Furbolgs. You wouldn’t need to introduce a whole Furbolg allied race to do it — just give Pandaren fur and body choices that make them look more like other kinds of bears. There might be edge cases where it would make more sense to do them as allied races — Furbolgs, for example, definitely feel like they could work either way. But letting options like the potential High Elf inspired customization allows for more player freedom without the work of potentially unbalancing racial abilities.
Fewer Allied Races, not none
Now, this isn’t me saying Allied Races are bad. Far from it. The whole reason I made the case for some races being better modeled by Allied Races is because I believe that to be true. But in many cases — say, the original Night Elf Worgen, or the aforementioned High Elf — we can achieve the same purpose without going so far as to make a whole new Allied Race experience to do it. Let’s use the original Worgen like Ralaar Fangfire as an example. The way to make them would be fairly simple — you could pick a specific Worgen skin with elongated ears and longer arms, and that would then make your non-Worgen form a Night Elf instead of a Human. Customize the Night Elf form as you would any Night Elf. I’m not saying this would be easy to engineer, but it would likely be less work than creating a whole Allied Race to do it. Their racial abilities would not need to change or be adjusted in any specific way — they’d still be Worgen.
I think for quite a few of the Allied Races we have now — Lightforged Draenei, Highmountain Tauren, Dark Iron Dwarves, and Mag’har Orcs coming to mind — they could have simply been customization options and we wouldn’t have been particularly upset. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s bad that they exist, or that they should be rolled into their peers — a lot of work went into them, and players have done their chores so to speak to unlock them. But it’s fairly clear that with the plethora of racial options we now have, it’s time to consider if it’s necessary to go so far as to make an entire Allied Race when you could simply add the customization in to make the same basic thing.
We can do a lot with a little
The very fact players are calling the Void and Blood Elves with the blue eyes and different skin tones High Elves proves that players are more concerned with what they can accomplish than how it is accomplished. If a player can finally play that character concept they’ve had for years, they’re not concerned that it isn’t strictly speaking true — they’ll make that dark-skinned, blue-eyed Elf, call it a High Elf, and be happy, even though in terms of racial abilities it’s a Void Elf. And that, to me, says that we can get pretty far with these customization options — perhaps far enough that we could only bring in new races when they’re really required to add options for players.
So while I wouldn’t go so far as to argue that Allied Races are never going to be necessary again, I would say that they’re not as necessary — the excitement over ‘High Elf’ Blood Elves and Void Elves proves that we can accomplish a lot of the same results with a lot less effort just by letting players have the tools to approximate the look and feel they want, instead of having to design an entirely new experience for them.
Playable Naga? That’s going to require a whole new race for that to work. You can’t just give Night Elves or Nightborne a scaly option and be done. Some changes will still need more than cosmetic options, and that’s fine in my estimation.
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