Race/gender locked classes

Although I’ve not been following the upcoming MMORPG Crowfall that closely, the news posted on Massively OP that the devs are removing the planned race/class locks seems a positive development. The game is shifting from the original idea of race and class being bundled in one choice to having the more standard subset of classes available based on the choice of character race.

Race locks, and to a lesser extent gender locks annoy me – I came to this hobby from pen and paper RPGs where such choices are part of the fundamental creative process when making a new character. That’s not to say that restrictions of race/class combination are totally foreign to the RPG hobby, D&D in its early incarnations had a bunch of them. In general the hobby, and its online equivalent, seem to have moved away from limiting freedom of choice at character creation – though I wonder if the trend is now reversing due to the apparent smaller budgets for new MMORPGs and less ambitious vision this implies.

Such restrictions can stem from different origins: there’s the RPG/lore oriented variety, a tradition of class = set race/gender combo and a practical restriction relating to the cost of making new classes available to a wide set of races or both genders. I’ve come across all three types of character restrictions in other MMORPGs over the years.

The lore-oriented version of limited character creation options was a big thing in World of Warcraft in its earlier years: Paladins and Shamans were very limited at first (even limited to one or other faction), Druids were quite restricted also. Over the years there have been at least two waves of the opening of race/class combinations, and the game hasn’t had any gender locks to date. The newest class, the Demonhunter, is actually strictly race locked to the game’s two elf varieties as appropriate to the lore. WoW is not the only MMO to have such restrictions: Lord of the Rings Online has kept lore-appropriate combinations, and SWTOR had some limits at launch although they are less strict now.

Lore class/race restrictions in WoW. E.g. no Gnome Druids…

Black Desert Online espouses a different MMORPG design philosophy of classes being more of a specific character concept, rather than a blank slate with all the options. Not only are the classes gender specific (some have male/female approximate mirrors but they’re hardly identical), but there are even race and age elements pre-determined in class choice. All wizards are destined to be an older male human of some description unless you work really hard at character creation to break the mold. Vindictus is another MMORPG I used to play that has this kind of “choose the character instead of creating one” approach.

Wizards are all old men, didn’t you know?

Since launch Tera seems to have followed the third (budget-driven) approach; the original roster of classes were pretty open in terms of class/race combos, but all of the post launch additions are strictly limited by race and/or gender. It’s deterred me from bothering to create any of the new classes as the available combinations just aren’t that appealing to me personally.

No new classes for my favourite Tera race 😦

What about you dear reader, do race or gender locks matter in MMORPGs?

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10 Responses to Race/gender locked classes

  1. Shintar says:

    I’m ambivalent about this. On the one hand the freedom to create whatever kind of character you like is obviously appealing. But I also think that limiting class choice is an extremely pertinent way of infusing a game’s world with lore and sends a much stronger message than just writing up some codex entries. E.g. in original WoW, Tauren only being able to be warriors, hunters, shamans and druids made it immediately apparent that they were a simple people with close ties to nature but no affinity for (arcane) magic.

    I’ve never had to deal with age- or gender-locking though, those sound kind of annoying.

  2. Plaidelf says:

    I don’t really mind race locking so much. Sometimes it’s rather annoying when I might really love to have a Night Elf paladin in WoW, but it doesn’t make me angry. Gender locking makes me downright furious. I do play Black Desert and quite like it, but the fact that the female only classes decidedly outnumber the male ones really irritates me. Especially since I really dislike most of the ‘armor’ available for females.
    They did finally release one young preset for wizard, which helps, but I feel the class should never have been age locked to begin with, since there are options for wrinkles that would have allowed you to make them look old even with a young preset had you wanted to, where making them young from the old preset was next door to impossible. If they had male/female equivalents for all classes I think I wouldn’t really consider them gender locked any more either, but they don’t.
    The other thing that annoys me in games with gender-locked classes is that sometimes they also seem to fall in with tired stereotypes. Only females can be healers and the like, and frankly that’s sexist.
    In conclusion, I don’t mind race locking so much, because I can see how a fantasy race’s magical traits or culture might limit their choice of profession. But I get pretty annoyed over the idea that gender should limit your abilities in any way.

  3. I’m not really a fan of restrictions on character creation. Race locks I can understand if the game is based on existing property that already has lore covering such things. You want to stay faithful to the source material. So I’m kind of okay with that, even if it can be annoying.

    WoW is an exception in that their race/class choices and any lore justification have long since parted ways. There are many currently available options that make absolutely no sense from a lore perspective, and even more bizarrely there are several race/class combos that make perfect sense within the context of the lore but are inexplicably not playable. So while I used to support WoW’s class restrictions, I now think they should let anyone be anything. The damage to the lore has been done. Bring on the Gnome paladins and Draenei warlocks, I say. I think the only reason they don’t do it is they don’t want to have to come up with druid forms for every race.

    When you’re creating your own setting for a game, though, I can’t imagine why you’d include race restrictions. Why not write the lore in such a way that any race can be justified as any class? This drove me crazy when I tried WildStar. Why can’t I be a robot and a gunslinger?

    Crowfall having race and class tied together always seemed rather archaic to me, and the fact they’re making a big deal out of removing that restriction as if it’s a really exciting innovation is doing nothing to improve my already dim view of the game.

    As for gender locks, I’ve yet to see a case where it wasn’t just straight up sexism.

  4. Sylow says:

    First of all the big target: gender lock. I very much dislike this one.

    In my eyes there’s two reasons to do that:
    1. Sexism
    2. Being very short on money and wanting to save development cost.

    Everything done because of the first reason should be shot down. The second one is a bit more complicated. I see the point there for a small game. You have limited ressources, you can only afford to get a limited number of models and animations done. Would you rather have two classes in two genders modeled and animated, or wouldn’t it be better to have a total of four classes available, albeit gender locked?

    That’s something i saw in many smaller MMOs out there when i tried them. As long as they didn’t bluntly also put them into “male is tough and strong and goes melee, female is fragile and stands back to do magic” i found it to be acceptable. Only when such biases permeate throughout the classes, it becomes unbearable.

    It turns into a completely different beast when a game reaches a certain number of classes. If you can afford to create 20 classes, with several of them being very similar, production costs are not convincing me any more, and i actually think that it would be much more reasonable to remove the gender lock. After all, i know several people who don’t play crossgender and thus feel locked out of some playstyles with gender lock in place. (And i also dropped one game shortly after installing it when i found that if i wanted to be a healer, i would not just have to play a female character, but even one which looked like made from a pedophiles dream. )

    That all being said, i am all on the “technical” side here. No gender should be locked out of any toolset. What i mean is: imagine a game where there’s the clasical mage. Characters of that class can have any gender. And then there’s the “mages of the fluffy unicorn” class. Their abilities are technically the very same as the regular mage, but their outfits as well as the visual effects of their spells have way more rainbows. And since only somebody who’s firm in his masculinity can ever handle so much rainbows, only male characters can be “mages of the fluffy unicorn”.

    I would be totally fine with that. Nobody would be locked out of any game mechanic and the limitation would be just fluff and for in-game reasons. 🙂
    [And don’t get me started with the “WARRIORS of the fluffy unicorn”… *grin* ]

    For race locking, my point is way more diverse. If the same class on different races would require a lot of additional effort to implement, i can very well understand why developers limit options. Similarily, if the lore of the game (be it based on a known IP or be it original) says that only certain races have access to certain abilities, e.g. only certian races can wield magic, i am perfectly fine with that. Those two things even can go together well. The developer might want to reduce costs a bit and justifies it by the games lore. As long as it doesn’t feel jarringly arbitrary, i am fine with that.

    What i again strongly oppose is faction locked classes in a PvP environment. If one side has a toolset, or just part of a toolset, which is only accessible to one faction, it will always be perceived as unfair. The difference might be minor, but its mere existence will be a thorn in the side of the competitive playerbase. Thus in any game having PvP, this should absolutely be avoided.

  5. Meznir says:

    Are there any MMOs with gender neutral characters? With so many “race” options being robots, lizards, cats etc. if they were really wanting to do one option to save costs, you’d think there’d be more neutral choices – however I’m failing to think of any games that do.

    • Shintar says:

      I seem to remember that the Chua in Wildstar are supposed to be a neutral option, or at least their single sex is not clearly defined.

      • Telwyn says:

        Hmmm, do droids in SWTOR have a programmed gender identity or are they all neutral? I should probably know that but can’t remember – the magic plant/stone ‘robots’ of the Eberron setting (Warforged) do have a gender identity even if there’s no set physical differences.

      • Shintar says:

        I don’t know what the official Star Wars lore says about droids, but in SWTOR the humanoid-looking ones at least always seemed quite clearly gendered to me. You can’t play one though. ^^

  6. Sylow says:

    Hmm. The very only one which comes to my mind is the Atox in old Anarchy Online: geneticaly engineered workers, all muscles, no gender and some cabbage in the pants.

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