Combat Archetypes in WoW and how they inform class design.

When asking for a new class in WoW, many players look at it as “What could we add that will add more in a certain breakdown of classes”. For example, they might say “Oh the game needs more tanks and/ or healers”, or “We have too many plate/leather/cloth, the next class should wear mail”.

One you hear less often is going by what the class DOES. Examples I’ve heard include “All three classes added since launch have been all melee” or “We need more classes that use bows and guns”. I personally find this perspective to be very interesting. So in this post, we’re going to take a look at Combat Archetypes in WoW

Combat Archetypes are, in my mind, not necessarily a definition of what the class can do, but more of “What do they do it WITH?”. What are the tools at their disposal to fulfill their role? Visuals are a big part of this. Combat Archetypes give you a baseline for what you imagine your character look like when they fight.

After considering it across WoW and many other RPG style games, I think I have come up with the 5 basic Combat Archetypes a character can have. These are the baselines you start out with when visualizaing how a character fights, and you can flesh it out with many more details from here. They are as follows:

  1. The Melee Weapon Wielder
  2. The Range Weapon Wielder
  3. The Spellcaster
  4. The Weapon + Magic user
  5. The “Body as Weapon” wielder

Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail, and then discuss which WoW specs fit into these archetypes. Bear in mind that we’re classifying a particular spec in an Archetype if it fits in during their normal combat performance.

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The Melee Weapon Wielder

This one is pretty self explanatory. You have a weapon, something not a part of your natural body, something you hold or possibly even wear, and you apply it to the bad guy from a close range. Swords, Hammers, Spears, Daggers, all of that fits in here.

In WoW, the following Specs fit into this archetype
1. All three Warrior Specs
2. Combat and Assassination Rogues
3. Survival Hunters

You’re probably starting to ask about the many other melee classes in the game, well go back and look at the 5 archetypes, and you will hopefully realize we’re getting there eventually.

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The Range Weapon Wielder

Again, not hard. See above, but instead of close range, you’re doing the same thing from a distance. Bows are the most common example in fantasy games, but crossbows, throwing weapons, and even guns if your world is advanced enough for that stage apply (and we all know WoW is that advanced).

We’ve only got 2 WoW Specs that fit in here, Marksmanship and Beast Mastery Hunters. Yes, rogues can throw weapons, but they don’t normally do so in combat, so we’re not counting them.

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The Spellcaster

Be it Arcane, Divine, Nature, or whatever you might have in your world, if you’re tapping in to an energy source outside of your own body and using it to make things happen that are outside the normal laws of nature, you fit here. Note that this includes those who use it to heal as well as harm!

Azeroth is a world of magic, and the number of specs in this archetype reflect it, with more than any of the other 4 by a significant margin with 15 total specs. Perhaps this is why we haven’t had a new spellcaster-focused class since WoW was released!

In this category, we have the following
1. All three Mage specs
2. All three Warlock specs
3. All three Priest specs
4. Restoration and Balance Druids
5. Restoration and Elemental Shaman
6. Holy Paladins
7. Mistweaver Monks

I have never played a Mistweaver Monk, so I wondered if they would fit here or more with the other monk specs. I read the descriptions of their various abilities, but most of them lacked enough flavor text to be useful. Ultimately what sealed the deal was this line from the in-game description: “Monks can also specialize in calling upon the restorative power of the mists to heal allies”. That seems pretty specific to me in that the Mists are the source of their healing power, so they go here.

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The Weapon Plus Magic User

Here, we’re looking at those who wield weapons and magic with equal proficiency. Long-time D&D players refer to this role as a “Gish”, which originated as a term specific to a race called the Githyanki for warriors that mastered both blade and magic. Over time it got adapted by players for any character build that used both magic and weapons.

Remember when I said Azeroth was a world of magic above? This archetype holds the second highest number of specs in WoW, with 9.
1. All three Death Knight Specs
2. Both Demon Hunter Specs
3. Protection and Retribution Paladins
4. Enhancement Shamans
5. Subtlety Rogues

Again, I struggled with where to put Sub Rogues, here or in the Melee Weapon wielder category, but given the sheer number of their abilities that reference Shadow energy, I feel like they belong here. Probably wouldn’t before their Legion redesign, but for now they feel appropriate in this category.

Also, you can make the case that this should be split between melee and ranged like their non magic-using counterparts, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m avoiding it because WoW lacks any Range Weapon + Magic users anyway.

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The “Body as Weapon” Wielder

These are the guys who, through training or just natural toughness, feel they don’t need anything external to themselves to take down their foes. You could perhaps call this archetype the “Martial artist” and indeed, they are likely the most common representation among players of various RPGs, but that term doesn’t necessarily apply to every possible instance of using a body as a weapon.

If you’re counting, you’ll note that there are 4 specs I haven’t mentioned that by process of elimination must go here:
1. Brewmaster and Windwalker monks
2. Guardian and Feral Druids

And you’re doubtless thinking “What?? You’re crazy! Druids totally USE magic to turn into their bear and cat forms!” And I’ll confess, I went back and forth internally thinking about whether or not they belonged here or in the Gish category above. Ultimately, though, think about what I said at the start. Combat archetypes are all about visuals, what the class LOOKS like when fighting. And when you’re fighting as a Bear or Cat druid, you’re spending at least 90% of the time using your teeth and claws. Parts of a body. Same for the monks, sure they do use weapons part of the time when fighting, but the majority of their fights, you are punching and kicking your foes.

So that’s our look at the basic Combat Archetypes and where the WoW Specs fit. Now, let’s take a look at a matrix putting those classifications up against the three game roles

Role Tank Healer DPS
Archetype
Melee Weapon Wielder 1 5
Range Weapon Wielder 2
Spellcaster 6 9
Weapon & Spells 3 6
Body as Weapon 2 2

So looking at these numbers, my thought process for an addition of a new class in WoW is that it should make an attempt to fill one or more of these blank spots, or bump up a low number.

My idea for how to do this is a Tinker class, based on the Warcraft 3 unit. It would equip guns as it’s primary weapon, probably wear mail, and have tank, healer, and range DPS specs. The Tank spec could use taunting turrets to help place bosses or the Tinker’s famous claw backpack to mitigate damage. The DPS spec would make extensive use of various damaging gadgets, gunfire, and possibly extra turrets. As to the Healing spec, I want it to be the game’s first non-caster oriented healer! I’m thinking a lot of alchemical fluid being sprayed at friends that mend their wounds. This would add a 1 to every role in the Range Weapon wielder row, an area I’m sure you can agree is lacking representation.

I’d love to hear your own class ideas that would add numbers to the low areas of this chart! Share em in the comments below or in your own blog!

Until next time, help control the gnome population, roll a troll today!

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