With the announcement of WORLD OF WARCRAFT’s new expansion BATTLE FOR AZEROTH, there’s a ton of information to take in. But as a long-time fan of the series, one feature, in particular, stood out for me: the so-called “Allied Races” system. With this feature, Blizzard and WOW are finally giving us additional customization options, chiefly the ability to play as variants of existing races.

The idea of “subraces” is nothing new to the fanbase. WOW has a rich backstory, with dozens of unique cultures. Each race has several variants, representing their kingdom, clan, or tribe. None of these subraces are available to the player, a major frustration point for roleplayers and lore-fiends alike.

For years, players have wanted additional options for their characters, including the ability to choose their subrace. Forums are flooded with countless posts on the subject, with speculation, suggestions, and even entire design documents on how best to implement such a system.

I was actually planning on writing an article about this. I wanted to illustrate just how important these features are to the player base, and I even had ideas on how best to implement such a system. Before I could release the article, however, Blizzard must have read my mind, offering everything I wanted out of this system and more.

With “Allied Races,” Blizzard is finally throwing a bone to large, but often neglected segments of their playerbase: collectors, roleplayers, and lore-lovers. This system may not appeal to raiders or arena champions, but make no mistake: this is a big deal for a lot of people.

So, why should we care about this “Allied Races” system? How could it improve the gameplay? Why do features like this matter in the first place? Well, let’s take a look!

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Allied Races Ties Itself Into the Gameplay

For several years, Blizzard expressed interest in adding subraces to the game, but they wanted to do it in a way that enhanced the gameplay. A lot of games throw in new customization options, but they’re usually nothing more than cosmetic. Blizzard is going further than that. Allied Races ties itself into the gameplay, becoming part of the experience.

The details are vague, but here’s what we know so far:

Each subrace gets the full treatment, with unique skills, emotes, and voices. It’s unclear how to access each race, but at least some of them are unlocked through gameplay. From there, each Allied Race begins at level 20. When they reach level 110, they’re given unique, cosmetic “heritage armor.” As the name suggests, this gear is tied to your subrace and adds an additional layer of immersion through player expression.

WoW Allied Races Battle For Azeroth Subraces
A few of the Allied Races revealed so far.

This extra level of engagement is arguably what sets Allied Races apart from other systems. Blizzard easily could’ve given us some race re-skins and called it a day. Instead, they’ve gone the extra mile, merging these races into the gameplay and mechanics.

Granted, we have no idea how any of this will work in practice. Will the subraces be fun to unlock? Will they be fun to play? For now, we’ll have to wait and see. At the very least, Blizzard has exceeded my expectations with this initial announcement.

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Who cares?

You may be wondering why any of this matters. Ostensibly, WOW is a game about killing monsters and collecting loot. Why should we care about anything else?

Well, let’s be honest: killing monsters isn’t enough for everyone. I say this all the time, but people play games for different reasons. Sure, a lot of players rush to the end-game so they can raid with their friends, but others want a more diverse selection of activities. Be it pet battles, achievement-hunting, or collecting rare items, WOW is full of these entertaining, engaging diversions. Some people think they distract from the “real game,” but for others, they keep the game fresh. They give the player an excuse to explore the world, to go to new places and meet new people. These activities keep the game alive.

Visual Variety

Since its inception, WOW has placed a lot of emphasis on its visual style. The cartoony, over-the-top, painstakingly detailed aesthetic is a major draw for people who are sick of the dark, gritty, “realistic” games dominating the market. As such, WOW’s visuals are deeply ingrained in every aspect of the community. Whether you’re a top-tier raider showing off your gear, a roleplayer looking for the perfect outfit to express yourself, or a collector looking for the rarest and most unique mounts to complete your set, visuals are core to the WOW experience.

Subrace, Allied Races WOW
God, this game is beautiful.

That being said, character creation has always been lacking. While most modern MMOs feature bodysliders, dozens of hairstyles, and countless ways to personalize your avatar, WOW’s character creator is severely limited. There’s a couple of faces, some skin tones, and several hairstyles for each race, but that’s about it.

Part of this comes down to design choices. Each race has an immediately identifiable body and animation set. Orcs are bulky, lumbering, and aggressive in their gait. Night elves have an exaggerated, almost freakish athleticism, granting them an alien beauty. These restrictions make every race feel unique and cement the bold visual style the series is known for. But this comes at the cost of player expression.

With Allied Races, Blizzard offers additional customization without sacrificing their lore and art style. Each of these subraces fit seamlessly into the world and offer their own unique customization options. Player expression is an essential component to any MMO, and this new system is a net benefit for the player.

A Flavorful Experience For WOW

“Flavor” is a pretty vague term in the industry. In general, flavor is all the fun contextual stuff that makes a game immersive and enjoyable. Flavor is the lore, it’s the NPCs that populate a city and give it life, it’s the cool visuals you get with every spell you cast. Flavor is the difference between swinging your sword at a dragon and pressing “button 5” on “enemy #378.” It’s all the “useless” stuff that a game simply can’t exist without.

With Allied Races, Blizzard is giving WOW a new jolt of flavor.

A Roleplayer’s Dream Come True

Believe it or not, WOW has a strong, vibrant, and passionate roleplay community. Entire servers are dedicated to RP, where players create backstories for their characters and craft their own narratives with their friends. Too often, these communities feel ignored, with little content catered to their creative whims. Well, the Allied Race system is tailor-made for roleplayers.

For years, Blizzard’s character creator has been a thorn in our collective side, with various restrictions and limitations. WOW’s world provides limitless opportunities for expression. There are six races of trolls, each with their own cities, culture, and appearance. There are three clans of dwarves, each with their own leaders and visual theme. WOW is a wellspring of creativity for roleplayers, but these options were blocked off to us. Allied Races changes that.

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More Variety in Each Faction

For over a decade, members of the Alliance have asked for playable High Elves. A race historically tied to the Alliance, most of them recently joined the Horde (as Blood Elves). Many Alliance-loyalists have wanted to play High Elves without betraying their faction, and for years it was unclear if this would ever be possible. With the inclusion of “Void Elves,” another High Elf variant loyal to the Alliance, Blizzard is finally allowing this.

On the flip side, the Zandalari trolls are coming to the Horde. These trolls are arguably the oldest race on Azeroth. They’re extremely intelligent, magical, and have played the role of both ally and enemy at various times.

WOW Subrace Allied Races
They’re also just flat-out cool.

So on the surface, systems like Allied Races may not have a direct impact on the game, but they matter nonetheless. Games need this sort of flavor to stay relevant, to motivate the player, to bring context to the mechanics. Raiding and battling is one thing, but without a sense of context, flavor, or personality, a game has no foundation on which to stand.

The Point

At its core, WOW isn’t much different from any other fantasy MMO. In a lot of ways, it’s even a bit outdated. In light of this, I often find myself wondering why it’s still so popular. If you ask someone this question, you’ll likely get a dozen different answers, each valid in their own way.

There’s a certain magic to WOW that keeps me interested. I think if you break it down, it all comes down to the atmosphere, the gameplay, and the world of Azeroth itself. When I play WOW, I feel enthralled by its playful world, its sprawling history, and I never run out of things to do. In this sense, Allied Races exemplifies every reason I still love WOW. Systems like this should be an object lesson for developers. The “core” gameplay is important, but in order to separate yourself from your competitors, you need to let the player engage with whatever makes your world unique. Whether that’s your lore, your races, or your story, something tangible needs to tether the player to the world.

When all is said and done, this is why I find Allied Races so compelling. This is why it stuck out to me amidst the deluge of equally important features and announcements at Blizzcon.

Sure, maybe my hopes will be dashed when I see this system in action, but for now, I’m optimistic. If nothing else, I hope developers find inspiration in this system and acknowledge the importance of atmosphere, diversity, and flavor in video games.

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