At the start of every World of Warcraft expansion, current, new and returning players all start anew on similar footing. But before each expansion, those same players need to answer the most crucial question in World of Warcraft: Which class do I play?
It’s a decision that can define the entire two-year expansion cycle. It can be the difference between enjoying your time with World of Warcraft and letting your subscription crumble after only a few months.
Discovering the class for you isn’t easy, even for veteran players. But for new and returning players, it’s easy to get lost in all 36 specializations. To help you out before you dive into Battle for Azeroth, we’re going to go over what the classes are, how to pick one and why decision is so important.
Why pick a “main”?
World of Warcraft has 12 unique classes. Leveling and gearing each of these characters is enough to fill hundreds of hours. Raider or not, picking a class should be thought of less like trying a different character in a fighting game, and more like sticking with the same save in a Bethesda role-playing game.
Your main will be the character you spend the most time with, and while you can certainly start over as something else (called re-rolling), it’s a good way to waste a lot of time and potentially burn yourself out on the game.
However, depending on your level of end-game commitment — activities like raiding or other endeavors — you may have time to level a bunch of other characters, called Alts. Plenty of players have lots of Alts; some even have Alts of every class in the game. But even these players have one character that they do everything on first.
Don’t take the decision lightly.
How to pick
There are a few key decisions that players will need to make early on in the class selection process. We’re going to speed through a few of them here and focus on how to pick the best class for you.
The factions aren’t typically very important in a main-picking conversation, but Battle for Azeroth is all about faction identity. We’re going to take a second here to talk about the two reasons you should look into what faction you want to play.
First and foremost, you need to poll your World of Warcraft friends before you pick a faction. Each faction — Horde or Alliance — can only play with that same faction. If you’re on Horde and your friend is on Alliance, you can’t dungeon, level or raid together. If you ever see each other in the world, it’ll be as enemies.
So, the most important thing you need to figure out is what faction your friends play. If you’re coming in with a group, make sure you talk about it first and then all pick the same one. Of course, none of this matters if you’re playing solo.
The second reason is faction identity, which is only barely important. However, since the Horde and Alliance will have different campaigns and starting areas in Battle for Azeroth, it’s worth talking about here.
The Horde are all about honor and glory through combat, and they have a strong bond between the other races associated with them. The Alliance is your typical fantasy kingdom. It has elves, dwarves, humans, werewolves and more. Both sides are supposed to be the good guys, but that doesn’t work out as often as Blizzard would probably like.
Going into Battle for Azeroth, the Horde have a pretty controversial leader in Sylvanas Windrunner, while the Alliance have a relatively young and untested king, Anduin Wrynn. If you want to be forced into morally questionable situations and be a part of a relatively unstable faction, choose the Horde for Battle for Azeroth. If you want a stable but boring faction, pick Alliance.
The racial decision is one filled with caveats. Each faction has specific races, and only certain races can play certain classes. The faction and class decision should trump race selection every time. Basically, never choose a cooler race if it means you can’t play the class you want.
Once you’ve figured out your class and faction, you may be tempted to pick the race with the best abilities. Don’t do this. Most racials have very low impact on the minute-to-minute gameplay of World of Warcraft. At best, they give you a nice bonus to reputation or other systems.
Instead of focusing on anything interior like abilities, the race choice should be completely cosmetic. World of Warcraft is a behind the back kind of game, meaning you’ll be staring at the back of this character’s head for hundreds — if not thousands — of hours. Pick something you like the look of and goes with your class fantasy.
This is the most important part of picking a class. Chances are you have some idea of the class archetype you like to play in games. Big, melee brawler? Spell-slinging caster? Friend to all woodland creatures? There’s something like that in World of Warcraft for you. The key is to understand what you want in your class, and then go with the idea you like most.
If the idea of a holy cleric that beats things with hammers while healing their allies sounds good to you, pick a Paladin. Is it possible you could like the gameplay of another class more? Of course, but in our experience, class fantasy is more important than anything else in World of Warcraft, especially when you’re just starting out.
Once you reach a certain point in the game, you should feel so comfortable with your class that the rotation becomes muscle memory. Instead, you’re focused on the encounter. At all the points leading up to that moment, you’ll need to reconcile with why you’re here and why your character is fighting.
Pick an archetype that you like, and let the rest sort itself out. If you go in and try to read all of a character’s abilities or their rotation, you’ll get bored and probably pass out. Read a description and pick what sounds cool, interesting or fun. If it catches your eye, it’ll probably end up being all three.
Pick a Class, not a Specialization
It’s important not to pick a specialization you like, but instead pick the class that holds several specializations that sound interesting. You can only choose your class once, but you’ll have access to all of that classes’ specializations for as long as you play. Pick a theme that you identify with that’s broad, like “Paladin,” rather than going narrow with a specific specialization like “Paladin healer.”
So instead of reading one specialization of a class, getting excited and going for it, the best move is to look for the offerings of the entire class. Is it pure damage? Does it have a tank? A healer? Do you want those options? Demonology Warlocks are great, but are you going to have no fun if you’re asked to switch to Affliction? Would you be comfortable switching to Holy Paladin from Retribution for a group if they asked you to?
Be aware of everything your class offers, instead of just jumping in for one, specific flavor.
What are the classes?
Now that you know how to pick a class, it’s time to make the decision. But before you do that, take a moment to look over what each of the 12 classes can do, as well as each of their subclasses.
Death Knights are undead soldiers that fight at melee range. They’re lumbering death machines that are slow to move but they hit very hard.
Frost Death Knights use ice magic in combination with their dual swords to slow targets and deal damage in groups. Unholy Death Knights use plagues, boils and monsters to sicken their enemies and beat them down. Blood Death Knights absorb and tank damage for their teammates, healing through attacks while spreading a blood plague among their enemies.
Half-demon, half-elf, the Demon Hunters can double jump and use their wings to glide around the world. They’re an up-close melee class that moves fast and attacks faster.
Havoc Demon Hunters are all about dealing damage and quick movement. Vengeance Demon Hunters transform themselves into hulking demons to protect their allies from danger.
Druid are one with the nature of Azeroth. These sages commune with the earth and learn to transform into different forms to suit their various needs. They can heal, tank and melee or ranged DPS. Druids are the ultimate hybrid class.
Guardian Druids protect their allies in the form of a great bear. Restoration Druids heal their allies with the power of nature and life. Balance druids keep the dusk and dawn in balance to cast light and dark nature magic at their foes. Feral druids take the form of a cat to lacerate their targets, causing them to bleed over the course of a fight.
Hunters are the typical rangers, trackers and pet-trainers of the fantasy world. They are comfortable in the natural elements, although they use their own tools to bring down their enemies, unlike Druids.
Marksmanship Hunters all about the perfect shot, and they spend their time accurately firing arrows from a distance. Beastmaster Hunters command a small army of pets to do their damage for them. Survival Hunter is the only Hunter melee specialization, utilizing a spear, traps and explosives to take out enemies.
Mages are the masters of the arcane arts. Through their different elements, they cast spells and dispel evil everywhere they go.
Frost Mages uses the power of ice to slow and shatter their enemies. Fire Mages get on hot streaks and focus on rapid-fire spell-slinging. Arcane Mages use their mana bars to ebb and flow between full and empty, augmenting their damage.
Monks are martial artists. Their job is to take down their enemies with rudimentary weapons such as sticks, poles or their own two fists.
Windwalker Monks use their fists to strike enemies down with speed, doing back-flips and launching flurries of punches. The Brewmaster Monk is the typical drunken master, and uses their dodging skills to protect their allies from harm. Mistweaver Monks use the rejuvenating power of the mist to heal their allies.
Paladins are holy warriors, channeling their connection with the Light into their weapons. They’re powerful, heavy armor-wearing clerics that act more like religious knights than barbaric warriors.
Protection Paladins use the Light to defend their allies, and absorb the damage meant for their party members. Holy Paladins use the Light to heal targets close to them with big, powerful heals. Retribution Paladins use the Light to play judge, jury, and executioner with their targets, distributing holy righteousness with a two-handed sword or hammer.
Priests are cloth-wearing holy mages. Much like the Paladins, the Priests wield the Light to defend and destroy.
Holy Priests are the de facto healers, using the Light to mend allies wounds, whether it be a single target or the whole raid. Discipline Priests damage enemies to heal allies around them. Shadow Priests harness the dark powers of the void to deal sustained damage against their targets.
Rogues are thieves and criminals that hide in the shadows. Masters of stealth, traps, and poisons, Rogues are the assassins and spymasters of World of Warcraft. They are neither seen nor heard, unless they choose to be.
Subtlety Rogues are all about sneaking around, cloaking themselves in shadows before they strike their targets down. Assassination Rogues are all about making their target bleed to death as they slowly poison them. Outlaw Rogues are swashbuckling pirates that use luck to their advantage.
Shamans are the elemental sides of Druids. While Druids convene with nature, the Shamans control the very elements themselves. Shamans use their unique powers to summon storms, heal with rain and smash with rocks.
Enhancement Shamans use a weapon in each hand to ignite and pummel their foes with melee damage. Elemental Shamans use the power of lightning and earthquakes to deal damage from afar. Restoration Shamans harness the power of rushing water to rejuvenate their allies, healing their wounds.
Warlocks use dark and mysterious magic to twist the world around them. They can corrupt and destroy foes, all while summoning a massive army of demons for them to command.
Destruction Warlocks are all about hitting enemies hard with fire from range. Affliction Warlocks place damage-over-time spells on targets, creating a high maintenance, high efficiency rotation. Demonology Warlocks spawn legions of demons into the world to attack their foes for them.
Warriors are the typical, brutish, barbaric fighters that every fantasy melee hero dreams of being. Big axes, big armor and whirling blades fill the ability bar for Warrior players.
Arms Warriors are slow and methodical, dealing damage with big hits over the course of a fight. Fury Warriors are extremely fast, asking players to use abilities as quickly as they can push the buttons to force the Warrior into a rage-filled rampage. Protection Warriors use the traditional sword and board to protect their allies and immobilize their foes.
How to stay happy with your choice
If you took our advice and went with class fantasy, chances are you’ll have a great time no matter what you do. However, it’s easy to get class envy in random groups or when talking to your friends. There are a few practices for casual players that can help keep you satisfied with your choice and having fun.
Ignore the numbers
Once you’ve reached the end game in World of Warcraft, it’s easy to get obsessed with your own performance. It’s great to know how to push yourself to be better, but looking up damage rankings based on classes may just ruin your time. If you’re class isn’t performing very well at the moment, it’s OK. Stick with it and hold out for a balance patch.
Blizzard usually tries to move things into a balanced state pretty quickly. But even if you stay at the bottom of the meters for weeks, each class has unique tools to offer their groups. The most important thing is that you improve as a player, rather than jumping onto a new character that can theoretically do more damage.
Pick your own talents
Similar to the message above, looking up a talent calculator is pretty standard practice for late-game World of Warcraft players. Some players love to optimize their builds, and it’s very important for pinnacle players. Casual players, on the other hand, don’t need to worry about the damage difference between two talents.
If you think one of the extra abilities in the talent tree is fun and the other isn’t, don’t ruin your good time for the better numbers. Save that for when you decide to join a guild. When you’re just starting out, play what sounds and looks fun to you, don’t worry about what’s more powerful.