Death Knights, Lore, Dwarves in the Horde and You

A few weeks ago I got into The War Within Alpha and immediately logged in and created an Earthen Death Knight to check things out. I was really excited to see they could be my favorite class, Death Knight. This excitement was because there’s been some… strange backs and forths with new races being able to play as Death Knights. Unfortunately with the release of beta today Earthen can no longer be Death Knights and I think this is a huge mistake. Let’s start with a brief history lesson.

For those who played back in Cataclysm, or those recently checking out Cataclysm Classic, you know that the brand new Worgen and Goblin playable races can be Death Knights! You may be asking yourself “How is this possible? There were no Worgen around at the start of WOTLK?” Goblins are obviously an easier inclusion since there have always been Goblins in the Horde. Thankfully Blizzard decided to put in a simple explanation. We were a Worgen that was from outside of the walls, who was killed in Shadowfang Keep. Does this shoehorn in playable Worgen DKs without any problem that players would care about? Yeah. It did. It worked great and we got to enjoy our favorite new races as our favorite class.

Fast forward two years and despite a Pandaren being at the founding of Orgrimmar there was no similar shoehorn for Pandaren. Player Pandaren cannot be Death Knights. This was even goofed on in the next expansion with a Pandaren Death Knight garrison follower. It was clear the player base was being deprived of a new race for Death Knight for absolutely no good reason. A precedent had been established and nobody cared because we got to play our characters the way we wanted to.

Fast forward to Shadowlands. We’re going to the realm of the dead and-- Wait lets back up. Legion. Bolvar Fordragon is dead and the Lich King died with him. Except not really. After the events on the Broken Shore we were recalled to Acherus and instructed to find powerful artifacts to help us battle the Legion. We were instructed to do this by the Lich King. The being we defeated and imprisoned. We were told we should trust him since it was the remains of Bolvar Fordragon wearing the crown. This was foolish and it lead the Death Knights to commit severe atrocities that we have not been held accountable for to this day. The future Deathlord was empowered by the Lich King to raise Death Knights of their own and we raised heroes from their eternal peace. At the time what we knew about life after death in WoW, pre-SL, was if you died and didn’t stick around as a ghost or were raised into undeath you were just dead. There was peace. Possibly paradise based on the Crusader Bridenbrand story. “The light doesn’t abandon it’s champions.” well it does if you’re raised into undeath because all we knew about that afterlife is you see only darkness. Arthas said it. Sylvanas said it. It was clear that being raised as undead was an eternal curse forfeiting any sort of peace after death. So we raised the new four horseman, slaughtered Ruby Dragons to raise one of them as our mount, and eventually died ourselves at the hands of Argus but that didn’t last long. At least we saw consequences for the massacre at the Ruby Dragonshrine. Until Dragonflight of course where all is forgotten.

Back from that tangent-- It is 2020 and we haven’t had a new playable race for Death Knights added in 10 years despite many more being added. In the lead up to Shadowlands being released we got the short story We Ride Forth which provided the justification for new player Death Knights and the character assassination Darion Mograine and the entire DK story. It turns out that the Lich King could still control us and compel us to carry out his will. And he was, despite the story saying Bolvar was trying not to. So what was our own choice and what were we forced into? I already hated that I was directed to go and raise Tirion Fordring as a Death Knight and had to invade Light’s Hope Chapel to do it. Killing plenty of Paladins who were on our side against the Legion. Was that still a poor choice I decided to go along with? Or was I compelled by the Lich King? In the end while Bolvar is still the Lich King we get a short little intro sequence where you are raised as a level 10 Kul’Tiran or Pandaren or Zaldanari etc DK and you swear loyalty to him. Completely going against what we had fought for at Light’s Hope the first time. The complete inversion of the free DK to the shackled DK was complete.

And nobody really cared. Sure us lore geeks care. But gameplay has always come before lore in WoW. The times where it doesn’t it’s generally bizarre and appears to be a cover for different priorities than the player base. For instance there’s absolutely no reason why Dracthyr couldn’t be warriors, rogues, mages, hunters or any other class. Even Death Knights. There’s only so many person hours amongst all developers across the development of a new WoW release and I fully understand that some things need to be cut so other things can get released. I am grateful and excited that we will eventually get to play Dracthyr as other classes. I am nervous that one of those won’t be Death Knight.

In 2024 I don’t think we need any kind of lore justification for why a race is Death Knight. We barely had one in 2010 and in 2008 it was explicitly told that any race could be a Death Knight. In 2020 the lore justification was paper thin. If you want to still use the same Allied Race intro for DK for Dracthyr and Earthen absolutely nobody will care. You can throw in an extra line without VO that says “You were once a fossil and now you will fight to protect Azeroth.” or something. Or “We have met many of your kind before but not one of your size, we need you now to raise the banner of the Ebon Blade and defend Azeroth.” Or add in a little tiny instance using an existing zone that is just for Dracthyr or Earthen. Have the Four Horseman raising you from the dead saying something like they’ve been sent by the Deathlord to bolster our ranks with beings familiar with these unfamiliar lands. It doesn’t matter. At all.

Like it doesn’t matter that the Earthen can be in the Horde or the Alliance. There’s peace between the factions anyway in what has been the best story direction in a long time. There’s plenty of War in Warcraft without needing the major factions to be warring with each other. War mode allows that to still exist for gameplay purposes and any new Battlegrounds or anything could be hand waved in the exact same way. It doesn’t need to be fighting over lumber to make a BG. The Earthen aren’t even dwarves. They’re more like Jumbo-Rock-Dwarf-Cousins. Some people may fret but more will be happy that they can play the character they want with their friends.

I’m going to stop before I continue into a longer rant about the need to dissolve many more of the boundaries between factions. How the gameplay of WoW has long since outgrown them. I hope that things will continue in that direction but for now there is a very simple change you can make. One that existed in the Alpha that I was playing in.

Let Earthen be Death Knights.

Suffer well.