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New racesThis section concerns content exclusive to The Burning Crusade.
If you missed all the expansions, the addition of the blood elf for Horde and draenei for Alliance will be new to you. Think of blood elves as the Horde version of night elves, but without the variety of skin color options and different class choices. Similarly, you can think of draenei as the Alliance version of the tauren (although, draenei females are quite slim, so there is extreme gender dimorphism in this case).
Blood elves bring with them the paladin class choice which was new to the Horde in this expansion. Taurens also get to be paladins. Blood elves tend to be tailored to being mages and warlocks based on their lore roots, but also make decent rogues. Even so, their racial traits make them not bad choices as death knights or warriors. They are known as the "pretty" Horde race and are very popular among players.
Draenei tend to be popular as melee DPS and tanking classes due to their healing and hit improvement racial traits. However, mages and priests appear to be popular as well. They have earned the nickname "blue space goats" for various reasons (if goats had tentacles).
If you quit before Cataclysm, the addition of the goblin for Horde and worgen for Alliance will be new to you. The parallels between Horde goblins and the Alliance gnomes will be obvious, whereas the parallels between the Alliance worgen and a Horde race won't be as obvious. However, the worgen appear to match up with the trolls in many lore and story elements.
Goblins make good mages, rogues, and warlocks based on lore, but their racial traits don't favor any particular class, so being a death knight, hunter, shaman, or warrior would be fine also. Despite expectations, they get no particular bonuses. Along with worgen, goblins cannot return to their starting zone. However, unlike worgen, the starting zone of Kezan is completely inaccessible after the starting series of quests.
Worgen racial traits tend to favor DPS classes, but lore-wise the classes (mage, priest, rogue, warlock, or warrior) that fit their human origins make some sense. Their bestial affinity explains their choice of druid and hunter as a classes. Being able to become a death knight is a bit curious, but makes more sense when one sees lands around Gilneas over-run by Forsaken. Although worgen can return to their starting zone after finishing the starting series of quests, the zone is almost completely inactive (almost no mobs or NPCs) and thus not really a place to return to.
A race that started as an April Fools joke in the Warcraft III era has become a reality in World of Warcraft. Despite these dubious roots, pandaren have been given a rich history and compelling play options. Like the new Cataclysm races, they must leave behind their starting zone after around level 20 and never return. Hopefully this will change someday.
Iconically the pandaren make good monks, but also great cooks. Their racial traits don't suggest any particular other classes, so being a hunter, mage, priest, rogue, shaman, or warrior is a good a choice as any. Lore-wise, mages and rogues seem peculiar, but pandaren show surprising deftness despite their rotundity and have learned much of the arcane from and to fight against their former masters, the mogu.
Something unique (and potentially confusing in-game) is that before leaving their starting zone of Wandering Isle, pandaren must choose a faction ( or ) around or before level 20, but are effectively neither until then. This means that any player pandaren you see running around in contested territory could be of either faction, so be wary.
General tips for new races
There were several complaints about racial trait imbalance, especially for blood elves when the Burning Crusade races were introduced, but the racials for later traits were less controversial. Race is largely a cosmetic choice, so choose as you desire.
Remember, you must have your game upgraded to the expansion where the race was introduced to play them. As a quick reminder:
- Burning Crusade: blood elves and draenei.
- Cataclysm: goblins and worgen.
- Mists of Pandaria: pandaren.
New classesThis section concerns content exclusive to Wrath of the Lich King.
Wrath of the Lich King added the first new Hero class in the game (and through Mists of Pandaria, the only hero class), the death knight. Only players who have leveled another character to at least level 55 (and the expansion) will have access to this new class. All races except pandaren can be death knights (the lore explains this based on pandarens not encountering the Scourge, for the most part).
Death knights are kind of like anti-paladins (although that term is really from D&D) in that they are not about healing and righteousness, but damage and revenge. However, they are a plate armor wearing class and can make good tanks. As a hero class, a death knight will start at level 55 in a special starting zone (Acherus: The Ebon Hold, a necropolis floating over the Scarlet Enclave near the eastern coast of the Eastern Plaguelands). This area is instanced and phased for death knights as they go through their beginning series of quests. One of the advantages of a death knight beyond skipping much of the leveling grind is that they will get a set of rare armor and weapon(s) if they finish all the beginning series of quests. Also, death knights can dual-wield 2-handed weapons as an option.
As for fighting styles, death knights mostly fill the melee DPS and tanking roles with an emphasis on melee DPS. The three specializations (largely replaces the talent tree concept as of Cataclysm) for death knights are: Blood, Frost, and Unholy.
- This spec is largely considered the best tanking and leveling spec for death knights based on its high survivability and good damage output.
- This is the primary melee DPS spec focused on high burst damage.
- This is usually more pet-based (ghouls) melee DPS class that features better AoE, sustained damage, and crowd control.